The sound of police car sirens was the everyday background music in the small town of Mornington. The weekends were when the sirens were accompanied by the screeching of brakes as the police cars came to a rapid halt. The local police were fed up with having to drive out to the site of yet another break in, usually carried out by those out of work trying to increase their income, and those who had nothing better to do. The second group was youngsters whose homes were headed by single parents, albeit unmarried or divorced. The delinquents' most normal complaints were that they were bored, that there was nothing to do. Every household had experienced scenes with the police, social workers, and children's officers. The parents who were able to, moved to another area and took their unwilling offspring to live in a quieter place, away from bad influences. It made no difference in some cases, as once bad habits are learned the child in question will look for, and find, those with a similar outlook on life, and so many parents changed home only to find their children were once more associating with undesirables. Murders, burglaries, muggings were not looked into with as much depth as they should have been, due to the time spent on the crimes committed by those under-age, who were too young to be prosecuted and got off without so much as a fine. The attitude of the adults towards the youngsters was that of having an enemy, not only in their homes but outside as well. The authorities felt that they received no backup from the public and the public felt that the police weren't doing enough. Therefore, there was a stalemate. In all walks of life things can only go so far, then pass a line that is not tolerated by even the lowest of the low.
The boundary between tolerance and permissiveness came one morning just before the Christmas festivities, when the town of Mornington saw the deepest and darkest side of bad behaviour. A group of youths on scooters and motorbikes shot through the traditional Christmas market, knocking down stalls and as many shoppers as they could. When all the food and novelties were lying on the icy pavements, and those hit by the passing vehicles were rubbing their bruised and sore places, the wild pack rode off. Although they hadn't stolen anything, the damage they had caused was far beyond what the locals and the stall holders were prepared to put up with. But worst of all was how another group with nothing more than annoyance on their minds, entered the church and stole the money from the poor boxes that were on several tables near the main entrance and the side door. Then they broke up the Nativity scene made by the children from the school and the Women's Institute. Flowers left in giant vases to be arranged later, were thrown onto the floor. The trail of damage done, they all fled out into the wintry day.
The consternation that all this led to was indescribable. The police advised the vicars and priests to keep the churches closed when services were not being held. Much against their wills, the keepers of the faith did exactly that, and in spite of these actions leading to heavy criticism, the majority agreed it was for the best. Carol singers were not as molested as in previous years, as it was thought that those who had caused all the damage must have been satisfied. In the town square a barrier was placed around the tree that lit up the frosty nights and made the town less dreary looking. The pubs and restaurants around the square employed heavies to keep an eye on the tree and other street decorations.
New Year's Eve followed quickly on the heels of Christmas, which, of course, meant more burglaries, stolen cars, drunken brawls, and general bad behaviour. As soon as the decorations were taken down and life resumed some sort of normality, three elderly gentlemen took it upon themselves to meet in an out of the way cafe. They were all grandfathers, and were fed up with the way their grandchildren were getting away with murder, as they put it. They were Alan, Clive and Robert. As they didn't want to attract attention, they had all dressed in the retired men's outfit, sports clothes with a heavy weather-proof jacket. They wore bad-weather boots.
"Now, let's get this straight from the start. We're in this together or we're not in anything," Alan declared, staring from Robert to Clive and then back again. His two old friends gave him encouraging glances.
Robert said, "Where are we to start?"
"We begin the clean up inside our own families. I've just about had it with my grandchildren telling all and sundry what to do and what they want, and the manners at the dinner table leave much to be desired. I think that in the home is where we must begin," declared Clive.
"I agree, but what are we going to call ourselves?" Alan asked.
"How about 'The Vigilantes', after all, that's what we'll be doing, keeping an eye on things," Robert suggested.
"Hm. Sounds a bit like a western film to me," Clive said.
"What we're about to embark on is rather like a western story," Robert replied.
"This weekend would be a good moment to start, as it's the first one in the New Year," Alan said.
Robert and Clive agreed and the trio made plans to meet the following week to keep up to date with each others' progress.
On Friday evenings the majority of teenagers demanded money from their already cash strapped parents for their fun weekends. Alan went round every Friday evening and stayed till Sunday afternoon to help his daughter, Dina, with all the problems that a single working mother of two teenage boys had. He sat and waited with her till the two rogues returned after spending her hard earned money. Their father had left when they were still very small and had never been near them since. Alan had set a private detective after his errant ex-son-in-law, and had discovered that he had set up home with a woman who ran a dance school and was doing very well. When he was approached for child maintenance, he declared he was out of work, which meant that the other woman was keeping him. As this was obviously not true, he had to be working for her, but how could anyone prove it. Dina had to work long hours to keep them afloat. Without the generosity of her father it would have been too awful to imagine.
The first evening after the vigilantes had been formed, Alan was at his daughter's house. Darryl and Carl, Alan's grandsons, entered the kitchen and said to their mother, "Mum, got our money ready? We're meeting our mates and going down the games saloon."
Alan had already informed Dina about his plans for cleaning up the boys' bad behaviour, so she kept quiet as he continued, "If you want money you have to earn it, your mother has to, so why not you two? You're both coming with me to the supermarket, that enormous one that's open till nine o'clock."
"What about Mum?" Carl asked.
"Your mother will be tidying up and cooking the dinner."
"What about our mates. They'll be waiting for us. You can't do that granddad! You're ruining our social life," Darryl moaned.
"Don't make me lose my temper with your silliness. What social life does your mother have? None! So stop complaining."
"We're never going to live this down," Carl said to his grandfather.
At this point they were outside their house and getting shoved into Alan's car. Some of their friends called out to them as the car started up. Both brothers hunched themselves into their hooded jackets in an effort to become less visible.
Clive was helping his son, Blake, prepare the dinner. It was Saturday evening, and they were still trying to come to terms with the events of Friday night. Clive had always made an effort not to interfere in Blake's life, especially when his son's marriage was collapsing. He had never wanted to be known as a nuisance, so he had kept what he considered a respectful distance.
It was when the dust had settled on the divorce papers that Clive thought that he might have done more for Blake's son, Tarquin. The boy had been indulged by his mother, and as a result he never took any notice of his father. After his mother and father had split up, Tarquin had gone to live with her and her new man from Monday to Friday, when he went back to his old home to spend the weekend with his father. Clive then began to visit his son and grandson more frequently. However, Tarquin's wildness was becoming more and more out of control.
"I know I'm to blame for the divorce. I don't know why I was born. Mum's only interested in her kids from her new husband, I don't fit in anywhere," Tarquin moaned.
These words were his only said piece when with his father and grandfather. The rest of the weekend he was taciturn. When the food was on the table he took a tray with his dinner and a drink on it, and went up to his room saying, "I leave you two to get on eating without my unwelcome presence."
Clive thought it was a shame for the boy, and his son, that his ex-daughter-in-law had run off with one of her work colleagues to set up home and have another family. Every Saturday was stressful, with Tarquin's behaviour and Blake's refusal to do anything about it.
Clive had spoken to his grandson, "Tarquin, you are no longer a baby, and soon you can decide where you want to live. If you don't want to live here, you can always come and live with me and your grandmother, we'd be more than happy to have you."
Tarquin stared at his grandfather and roared with laughter, "Live with you two old dinosaurs! You're out of your minds. Dad's bad enough for telling me what to do and when to do it. I just can't imagine living with you two nagging me all the time. Mum's new husband has tried, but he's given up now as he sees it's no good. I'm my own man. I don't belong to anybody else."
"Tarquin, poor boy, you've got a lot to learn," Clive said sadly, nodding his head.
Later that same evening Tarquin was heard on his mobile, "OK. I shan't be long. I've got to get my jacket."
He went stomping his way up the stairs and back down again, "Dad, I'm off out now, see you later."
Blake stood up and went out to the hall, "Just like that, no manners at all, you haven't asked for my permission or said where you're going."
Tarquin was not in the mood to pay attention to anyone. He opened the front door shouting, "See you later." He left banging the front door behind him. Blake stood and stared at the closed door feeling impotent at the impertinence of his son.
Clive said to Blake, "We never advised you or your ex-wife on how to bring Tarquin up. The few times we made a suggestion, we were told to mind our own business and that we had antiquated ideas. If you cast your mind back to when you were his age, you never behaved disrespectfully to us. Cheeky, but never rude. Now you've got what you asked for. How are you and that mother of his going to sort it out?"
Blake sat down in the armchair facing his father, who was sitting on the opposite one. The two men, father and son, sat in gloom for a while, and then Clive stood up, went to a shelf and took down a DVD. "Let's have a drink and watch an old Clint Eastwood film, I think we could do with some escapism this evening."
Blake went over to the drinks cabinet and took down a bottle of scotch and two glasses, and so they spent the next couple of hours absorbed in adventure land.
Tarquin kept really bad company. He and his friends were all of a kind, they felt in some way responsible for their parents' divorces. There were four in the gang, and not only did they dress the same but spoke the same too. They had been part of those who had been pillaging during the Christmas holidays. Tarquin's bedroom cupboards bore witness to this, full of stolen goods. Blake never inspected his son's bedroom, he only tidied the shelves and vacuumed the carpet. Tarquin went to his father's house with a rucksack full of clean clothes and returned to his mother's with dirty clothes at the end of the weekend. Blake could see no reason to examine his son's wardrobe.
"Well, what's on the agenda tonight?" Tarquin asked his fellow delinquents.
"There's a shop that sells guns, all types, and hand grenades. How about breaking in and having ourselves a real party," the oldest one said to his acolytes.
The others were ready for anything, and nodded in agreement.
"Here's what we do. There's a back entrance where an old man keeps watch. He goes off at about eleven to eat or sleep, not for long, only half an hour. That's when we'll have to force an entry. There are cameras, but they are easily sorted. My brother showed me."
Everyone was up for the job and fancied himself in charge of a firearm.
The police station was quiet, and all those on duty thought it would stay that way for the rest of the night. At a few minutes past eleven a call came through, "Hello, I'm the night watchman at the firearms shop on Western Street. Someone's breaking in."
The constable on desk-duty replied, "Help is on the way."
"There's a burglary going on at the firearms shop. They'll probably be armed up to their eyes when they leave the place. We'd better go armed," said the detective inspector.
Western Street had late-nighters from pubs standing and staring, wondering what was happening. A policeman got out of a car holding a megaphone in his hands. He gave it to the detective inspector, who raised it to his mouth. "We know you are in there, so, with as little fuss as possible come out and throw the weapons on the ground and raise your hands."
A silence fell over the area. The next sound was that of glass breaking. The police guessed what the delinquents' next action would be. Again the detective inspector spoke through the megaphone, demanding those inside leave the building.
No answer, the only thing they heard was firing through the broken windows. Back up had been called for, and it soon arrived, and with it came a mobile battering ram. The police in charge of the ram, rushed to the main entrance door and broke it down.
The firing continued. The detective inspector and the other police ran across the street and into the building where they were confronted by the group, who were hiding behind the counter. Shots came at random from the group. The police had no idea who or what they were, so they shot to wound but not to kill. After a long volley of bullets was fired, there was a deathly silence. The detective inspector called, "Are you going to give yourselves up now and come quietly, or do we have to go in there to get you out?"
One of the policemen walked behind the counter and called the detective inspector, "You'd better come and see this, Sir."
"They're all kids. Not one who is eighteen or over. Now how do we explain this!" the detective inspector said.
All that night there was a lot of activity around the crime scene. The most difficult question for the police to answer was: How had the four boys managed to get inside the firearms shop? Where was the night watchman when they entered?
In the end the elderly guard admitted that he had gone off for a sleep, as was his custom at that time of night. The owners of the business were most put out on hearing this. They fired him immediately. There was no excuse for his negligence.
Clive and Blake went to the mortuary to identify Tarquin. Blake had rung up his ex-wife and told her the situation. She arrived at the mortuary with her new husband and created a scene that went beyond any decent behaviour. She began by berating Blake, and then saying what a lovely boy Tarquin had been. She was incapable of taking any kind of responsibility for her son's actions. Blake managed to keep his mouth shut about her new husband's presence at the mortuary, he was quite aware of how Tarquin's stepfather had treated him.
On Saturday morning Clive rang both Alan and Robert to tell them of Tarquin's death. Anyway, as it was in all the newspapers and the media, it could hardly be kept a secret.
"I hope you can use my grandson's awful death as an example of how children must take notice of their parents, and how the parents themselves owe it to their children to set a good example. We've been informed that the funerals can be held after Tuesday next."
Alan didn't hesitate in telling his two grandsons about Tarquin's death and those of the other boys. Their faces turned white as their grandfather explained, "You only have one shot at how you live your life. That's it! You mess up, and the end result is worse than bad. Tarquin was loudmouthed and rude, and thought it cool to hang out with those low-lifes, he went with them knowing full well he was disobeying the rules. Next week will be his funeral, and the other boys' too, and that isn't cool."
Darryl and Carl listened, and Alan saw that, for once, they both looked serious and thoughtful.
Robert was at home when he heard the news on the television of the fatal event, and the identities of the boys who had taken part. Shortly afterwards, Clive rang him up and informed him about the previous evening's tragic death of Tarquin.
"However offended your son Gareth and Catherine, your daughter-in-law, might be about your criticism of the upbringing of their daughters, and the subsequent bad behaviour, they should use Tarquin's untimely demise as a severe warning as to what may easily happen when children take it upon themselves to ignore their parents' warnings. That's why they are the parents and not the other way round."
Robert felt deeply sorry for Clive, his wife, and their son Blake. Tarquin had been an only child, and now his old friend would be without a grandson and Blake without a son. What an unnecessary waste of young lives!
"Thank you for ringing. I'll certainly have a strong talk with my son and his wife. Those two girls of theirs are getting out of hand. Let's hope some good comes out of this. It would be comforting if no more youngsters got involved in criminal activities."
There were four separate funerals for the boys. Tarquin was cremated and his ashes scattered on the sea, where he had spent happy summer holidays before his parents' divorce.
The vigilantes met one month after the tragedy. It was February and extremely cold. Blake had gone back to live with his parents, and had put his house up for sale. He doubted whether he would ever go dating or have another child. At times he felt pretty wretched and questioned himself about his poor parenting. Clive was fully aware of Blake's suffering and did his best to cheer him up.
The three old men met up in mid-February at the spot where they had thought up their scheme.
"Do you think we should carry on?" Alan asked his friends.
"Yes, of course we should. It's our duty to warn youngsters of the dangers of bad behaviour," Robert said. "I'm going to Tarquin's school next week, to talk with his class mates in an effort to make them see sense and to ask for help, before things slide totally out of control. I have a horrible feeling that last Christmas we only saw the tip of the iceberg of what actually happens among the young."