Yousef and Mehmet had been preparing for their ‘Great Journey’ all their young lives and at age eighteen they had set off at its beginning. They neither spoke nor read a single word of any language other than their own for the journey itself was simply a test as far as they were concerned, and a very simple test at that. It would be long and arduous, there would be days when they would eat nothing, days when the only way ahead was nothing more than a mountain track and the only transport, their feet. None of this mattered to them. When, after several months, they first saw the riches of Western Europe they were dazzled by its brilliance, disgusted by the cheap whores showing their flesh, by the smell of alcohol that wafted from garishly lit bars, by the blatant show of wealth. They would find some hidden corner to rest, lay out their prayer mats – the only thing they carried, and there they would kneel to face Mecca, ‘Allahu Akbar’, Indeed, God is Great.
Eventually they reached France and in time arrived at Calais, in Northern France. There they found themselves two among hundreds, halted in their journey by a narrow stretch of water called The English Channel. Any kind of raft or boat they soon discovered was impossible and they made their way into the woods of nearby Sangatte. There they foraged some plastic fertiliser bags and fashioned a rough shelter amongst the stench of human faeces and unwashed bodies that survived in those dank and putrid woods. As Autumn gave way to Winter, rains lashed down soaking through every kind of shelter, turning the ground into a foul quagmire. Nothing was dry, nobody was dry, yet at regular times the woods resounded to the cry , ‘Hayya 'alas-salāt’, (hurry now to payer) and worship continued. From time to time somebody went off to the docks in search of a way across and did not return. These were brief moments of joy and celebration as their assumed success was celebrated and what meagre possessions they may have left behind were dispersed to the most needy of all. Life, Prayer, and waiting went on.
It was almost the Christian time of Christmas when Yousef and Mehmet had their chance. The weather had been particularly bad for many days with a howling wind that ripped through the leafless tress, and an icy rain that lashed down, day after miserable day. Through the trees they could just see the edge of the autoroute that runs from Calais, up into Belgium and beyond. There seemed to be a never ending stream of vehicles on that main Northern artery of Europe. On this night a long Car Transporter had pulled over to the side and they could see its bright headlights through the trees, parked there, right at the edge of the woods. In a moment they had gathered up their prayer mats, ran though the woods, and were at the back of the vehicle. Inside the cab the driver was doing nothing more than brewing a cup of strong black coffee on the camping gas stove that he carried – at this time of night there would be nothing in the Port, he knew. Yousef and Mehmet crept silently onto the transporter and with great care, to its upper deck. There were five shiny new Audi motor cars and to their delight, they were all unlocked. They chose one each, and slid into the back, laying down on the plush carpet behind the front seats. In that decadent warmth and comfort they both fell asleep within minutes, but not before they had whispered softly, ‘Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar’.
An hour or so later the transporter pulled into the Docks. The Customs officers were not keen to leave their warm Portacabins on a night such as this and the checks were cursory – a torch waved quickly over the vehicle, a brief exchange with the driver, who was German and spoke neither English nor French. The papers were perfectly correct, and who really cares if this night there are any damned asylum seekers on this truck, at least they would be out of France. Let the stupid English take care of them, it would be a few less for France to worry about.
The sea crossing was rough, Yousef and Mehmet had never seen the Sea before let alone sailed upon it and as the Ferry tossed and heaved, both men were sick in the back of the cars in which they remained hidden. The Ferry moored at Dover and after that crossing, further crossings were suspended until the storms abated a little. As the Ferry disgorged its cargo, so the English Customs Officers were of an accord with their French counter-parts (not a thing that happened very often). It was cold and wet and my god, that wind. So the trucks were waved on, hastened out of the Docks and on their way. After many hours the transporter pulled into a lorry park in a North London suburb. It was nearly dawn and the dealer to whom the load was destined would not open for another three hours. For the driver it was time again for a brew. Yousef and Mehmet crept out of their now stinking places of concealment, slid down the side of the transporter, and melted away into the dawn. In the distance they heard the call again, ‘Hayya 'alas-salāt’ , the call to prayer. When they had first heard the sound in a European city they had looked at each other in awe and puzzlement. Tracking to the source of the call they had discovered to their complete joy and amazement, that which they thought they would never see again, a Mosque. For the first time in many months, they grinned to each other; The Great Journey was almost over, and they followed the sound to prayer and to sanctuary.
Some people become Evil in their pursuit of wealth, for others it is the pursuit of Power that eventually turns to Evil and for many it is the pursuit of both. Some people however, are simply born Evil, and such a person was Francis Albert Vetch. It would be a least understandable if it could be said that Francis (Frankie) Vetch was the product of a broken home perhaps, that his father had been a tough drunk who beat him, that a drug addled mother gave him no love, but all of this would be a lie. Frankie Vetch was the product of a loving, perfectly respectable middle-class family. The worst cuss he ever heard was ‘Damn’ from his mother, and that only in the most serious is circumstances, whilst his father worked hard and supported the family well. Indeed, Frankie was not deprived, if anything he was a little spoilt. By the age of nine Frankie was already known in the neighborhood – no other kid bested him when it came to a fight, and it very often did. It seemed that hardly a day passed without a knock on the door, only to be opened to face another irate resident, frequently accompanied by a bloodied child.
The family had a pet Budgerigar and they often let it out of its cage to fly around. One fateful day Frankie was alone in the front room as Joey flew around, eventually perching on Frankie’s waiting finger. It hopped up onto his shoulder, and there deposited a small white mess on Frankie’s jumper. Frankie grabbed the small bird in one hand and looked at it, then slowly, very slowly he began to close his hand. At first Joey was just snug in the warm’ nest’. As the fingers tightened the bird began to panic, pecking down at Frankie’s thumb. Frankie did not even notice. He could feel the tiny heartbeat now through the feathers. He squeezed harder and the bird became desperate, frantic now to escape. At nine years Joey was strong, but now he closed his other hand over the one in which he held Joey and increased, so very slowly, the unremitting pressure. He felt the rib cage crack, he squeezed a little harder. Then, the bird’s head dropped down, and it was dead. Frankie looked at it for a moment , then hurled it hard against the window. It hit the glass with a sickly dull thud, then slid slowly down the spotless glass leaving a read smear in its wake. “Mum!”, called Frankie, “Mum! Joey flew into the window ! MUM!”. Joey’s mother ran into the room and picked up the lifeless bird. “Ah, poor little thing” she said, “Come here son”, and she gave Frankie a long hug,”We’ll have to bury the poor thing in the garden when your dad gets home”, she said.
“Can I have a cat now ?” asked Frankie, looking up at his mother who replied, “ Oh I don’t know about that, we’ll have to see”. Mr Vetch brought the tabby cat home a week later.
Two years later Frankie was tormenting the cat in the back garden, a game he played often, but this time he got a little too close and the cat lashed out a clawed paw, scratching his arm. Frankie went into the shed and returned with an old sack. He quickly captured the cat and took the sack over to the water butt that stood beside the shed. It didn’t take him long to drown it, and he enjoyed watching the bubbles stream up to the surface as the last breath left the cat’s lungs. He thought the way the sack seemed to wriggle under the water was really funny. Sure that nobody could see him, Frankie took the sodden sack to the back of the shed and there he dug a hole in which he buried it, the spare earth disposed of under the shed. It was a tight squeeze for him because the shed was erected against the wall of the house next door, but he managed. The family assumed the cat had simply run off or got lost ( do cats get lost?) and left notes in newsagent’s windows for its return. but of course, it never did.
By the age of fifteen Frankie was very well known indeed. He terrorised the whole neighbourhood. The Police were often at the Vetch home and his parents were at a loss as to what to do. That decision was taken from them when he was finally caught in the act of Burglary, and in view of an appalling record so far, was sent away for two years at Borstal. Those two years passed with ease for Frankie who quickly became ‘top dog’ at the institution, his taste and skill for violence earning him respect from his very first day when he drove a plastic pen into the right eye of the current ‘top dog’, blinding him in that eye and promising to take the other, ‘when he fancied it”.
Frankie had learned a number of skills at Borstal, for example he could get into and start almost any motor car within thirty seconds, could open most locks with a few simple tools, and could deliver a sound beating without hardly leaving a mark. He emerged at just seventeen years old as a cunning vicious psychopath. Three years later he had become a well known ‘face’ in the circles in which he now mixed, and it was at twenty years old that served his first and last prison sentence; five years for manslaughter. He was never convicted of a single crime from the day he left Dartmoor prison on his twenty fifth birthday (any time off his sentence that he might have received was soon negated by the number of prison officers he hospitalised)
He returned to his London ’Manor’ and rapidly gathered a hand picked team of Lieutenants and foot soldiers. Protection, drugs and Vice were all his business, and he took a personal hand and enjoyment in the chastisement of any transgressor. Frankie loved his power and his status. For one of his favourite games he kept a specially chosen small calibre target pistol. The game itself was simple, but needed three ‘players’. Frankie was of course one, the other two were usually lowlifes who had tried to skim little of the flow of cash into ‘The Business’, or maybe tried to sell a few drugs of their own or to pimp a girl without due rent money paid. Frankie would take them to a big empty warehouse that he kept for the purpose and there turn them loose. The Game was to see how many shots they could take without dying. The winner, the one that survived the other, was left to make his own way to safety, and to make up his own story for the bullets that riddled his body. Very few did actually reach safety, and none ever said a word about the warehouse or Frankie. He was a good shot and could make the game last for hours; a knee, an arm, the buttocks – now they were very funny shots, how they howled.
Frankie’s current interest was property and he was running developments all over London. Frankie Vetch was going legitimate, or as legitimate as he would ever be. Right now he was keen to build a shopping centre on a prime piece of real estate. The only problem he had was that the land was occupied by a centuries old church. As luck would have it the church was falling apart and there were no funds in the Diocese to pay for its repair. A few thousand pounds in the right place had ensured that the local planners were behind the development. Accordingly, the church had to either carry out extensive repairs to its crumbling steeple, and commence those within six months, or else the land would be subject to a compulsory purchase order, and time was nearly up.
The other great love that Frankie had (second only to the delivery of violence and pain) was luxury cars. He had just left another meeting with the planning committee and was reclining in the back of his custom £300,000 Mercedes Maybach saloon. ‘”If its good enough for Sam, its good enough for me” he liked to say, as if he had met the actor he idolised, Samuel L Jackson, who also owned a Maybach. He decided that a visit to the church was needed now, it really was his only option. As they left the Council offices the traffic which had already been heavy that morning was now much worse this late into the afternoon, stop start, stop start. “Oh for fuck’s sake!”, shouted Frankie at his driver, having pressed the button that lowered the dark glass panel that was usually between them.” Get us the fuck out of here and round to that pissing church!”, he yelled at his hapless driver. The driver flicked on the radio and soon picked up news of a security alert, diversions were rapidly being put in place, but he dare not inform the Boss, not now when he had ‘one of his moods on’. Oh no, the driver didn’t fancy a trip to the warehouse, well not as a player at any rate and when Frankie was like this anything could set him off. Instead, he used his skill and wove the behemoth of a car around narrow back streets, heading for the church. In the back, Frankie reached down into the special compartment that he had had built under the seats and withdrew the well used baseball bat that resided within. He began to beat a rhythm with it upon the calf leather of the armrest. He was not a happy man, not happy at all, in fact Frankie was seething.
Yousef and Mehmet had been made welcome at the Mosque and had been given a tiny room to share. The room was completely bare with not even a light bulb in its ceiling, and they had unrolled their prayer mats onto the dusty stone floor, upon which they slept. Food was provided that was simple but was hot and sustaining and for the first two months they studied under candle light in their room. Then ‘The Teacher’ arrived. The teachings they received next were very different. They had not ventured outside since arriving at the mosque but now they did so, walking the local streets and learning where they went did until they knew one special route as well as they knew the Goat trails in the mountains of their far away home village. After another three months they went out one evening on a very special mission and returned some hours later in a stolen Ford Transit Van which was quickly concealed in the yard at the back of the mosque. They were oblivious to the watching eyes of the security forces who had been following ‘The Teacher’ for so long and at long last, were closing their net. Over the next few days sacks of chemicals were delivered to the yard, and with great care these were mixed and then packed into old plastic beer kegs. With even greater care, each keg was loaded into that back of the Van until it was full. The Teacher then produced a small amount of conventional explosive and this was placed in the middle of the load. Wires led from the explosive to the cab and there were fitted to a ‘dead man’s trigger’. As long as the button remained pressed, the load was safe, but on its release......
Father Ryan was overcome with both joy and sorrow. Three months ago it seemed St Josephs was doomed. He had been the Priest here for twenty seven years, but soon he had thought, it would be no more. A hoarding outside the church showed the Steeple fund and the £5000 that had been raised. The target was £250,000. The Diocese had no money to spare, indeed The Diocese stood to make a tidy profit on the land. Then, to add to his sorrow, Miss Hastings who had played St Josephs’ organ for fifty nine years had passes away peacefully in her sleep at the age of ninety two. Her whole life had been St Josephs, she had played the wheezing old Organ on the morning of the day she died. Somehow her skilful fingers could exact the most magical of sounds from its dusty old pipes. She had no family, and left all her belongings to Father Ryan, ‘for the church to use as he saw fit’. After the sale of her house and a few surprisingly valuable items inside, Father Ryan was handed a cheque for £311,128, and St Josephs was saved. Already a great maze of steel scaffolding had been erected around the wobbly steeple and more still around the front and sides of the ancient building. Soon the stone masons would arrive to start their splendid work. Sorrow, and Joy. Father Ryan gazed up once more at the Steeple and then went inside the Church to busy himself for the evening service. The big doors at the front of the building remained wide open, as they always were, and the Sun was just emerging from behind the clouds that had threatened rain all day but had failed to deliver.
St Josephs had been built many centuries ago and now a busy main road ran past it. Directly opposite was Church Street, forming a ‘T’ junction with the main road, right in the very centre of the Church doorway. As the sun set behind the Steeple, its shadow would creep in a dead straight line down Church Street like an enormous celestial sun-dial. It was a sight that Father Ryan had watched many times, standing at his altar. As he checked the Communion Wine he looked up and saw a car, a very big car, came to a halt outside the doors. The driver and a man who had been sitting in the back got out and walked into the church. Father Ryan did not like the look of them at all and wondered why the man who had been in the back was carrying a baseball bat, smacking it against the pews as he walked towards the now nervous Priest. “Please try to refrain from doing that” asked Father Ryan, pointing to the bat,” these pews are as old as this church you know”, he added with an uncertain smile of reassurance.
“So you’re Father Ryan are you ?” said Frankie, almost spitting the words out.
“Yes, yes I am, and who might you be. Can I be of some help ?” replied the Priest. Frankie laughed.
“Oh yeah. You can be of some help alright” he said as he brought the bat down hard onto the altar with a resounding ‘thwack’.
“Please be careful, there are valuable relics here” implored the Priest, eyeing the communion cup nervously.
“Valuable ? I’ll give you fucking valuable” sneered Frankie and this time when he swung the bat it crushed the sacred chalice as if it were paper.
Father Ryan was aghast . “Why? Why did you do that ?”, he exclaimed, and then he became angry. “This is God’s House. Get out. Get out of here the pair of you right now or I will call the Police.”
“You’ll call the Police ? No. No I don’t think so Father. We wouldn’t want that” laughed Frankie.
“Well what then what is it, what do you want ?”
“Oh lets see, tell you what, I’ll call it a round 300 grand. How’s that ?”
“What ?” At first Father Ryan was baffled and then he realised that it was the Steeple money that the two thugs wanted. He was outraged. Reaching forward he made to grab hold of Frankie, but Frankie was way too fast. As Father Ryan moved, the baseball bat caught him under his left eye, shattering the socket. Father Ryan had never felt pain like it and slumped to the ground. Frankie pulled him back up and Father Ryan steadied himself against the edge of the altar, a haze of red in his eyes.
“You must be mad”, he managed to say, “The fund isn’t kept here, its in the Bank, and anyway even if I did have it I wouldn’t be giving it to the likes of you”.
“No Father, I don’t suppose you would” said Frankie,” but my problem is that, well I would rather not have a church here, and you have become THE problem.”
Frankie was as expert with the bat as he was with the target pistol and he began to quite coldly and methodically, inflict as much pain on the Priest as he could. When he finished Father Ryan still remained conscious, but a broken bloodied pulp. He felt pain in his very being, he was dying and he knew in that moment that he would never see his beloved church rebuilt. “I shall pop round tomorrow for my money” said Frankie,” be sure to have it for me”, and he strolled back out with his driver in tow as if he had just attended Sunday Service. His driver had paled and thought ‘A Priest! Jesus Holy Christ, a Priest!’, but had said nothing. They got back into the Maybach and Frankie said “Not such a bad day after all. Cut straight down there “, he pointed to Church Street, “and we can miss all this crap”, indicating the traffic on the main road in front of them. As the huge limousine edged out into the heavy flow it quickly made a gap and was across the main road with ease. “Foot down son”, said Frankie, raising the glass partition once more. The shadow from the Steeple had crossed the main road and was edging its way down Church Street, its outline strangely blurred by the myriad of scaffolding poles that held it in position.
Yousef and Mehmet were on the final part of The Great Journey. For two days they had not slept and now, now they were primed and ready. The Transit Van eased out of the Mosque’s yard and was heading for its destination. Mehmet was driving and Yousef held the ‘dead man’s trigger’. The bomb was armed and only the pressure of his hand stopped it from detonation. They were following the route they had learned so well, Mehmet turned right into Church Street, heading for the busy main road at the top. There he would turn left and then on into the very heart of this accursed country, and there at at last, he and Yousef would make their way to Paradise. ‘Allahu Akbar’.
Yousef saw the big limousine first, at the same moment that Frankie’s driver saw the Transit turn into the road from a side street and head straight for them. He could clearly see the two Arab looking people in the front of the Van, As he swerved he swore “Fucking rag heads, haven’t got a clue how to drive !”. Yousef grabbed for the wheel with his free hand and pulled it down hard, “Keep to the left Mehmet, the left!” he screamed. The Transit scrapped by, taking a big gouge out of the side of the Maybach that ran from bonnet to tail. Mehmet lost control and the Van, heavy with its load, somehow crossed the main road without collision and came to rest with a bone jarring impact onto the front of the Church. Meanwhile, the Maybach had also stopped and a very upset Frankie Vetch had inspected the damage to his beloved vehicle. He was still holding the bloodied bat in his hand that moments before he had used to beat Father Ryan.
“Wait here” he hissed at his driver, and began to walk towards the stricken Van, incandescent with rage,“I’ll sort those fuckin’ rag ‘eads out”, he spat, “ Look at the state of my motor! ”.
In the van Mehmet looked around groggily, then reached over to pull Yousef back into his seat. Neither had thought to use the seat belts and Yousef had been hurled at the windscreen. Where he had hit it there was a jagged crack and a red smear of his blood. As he fell back, Mehmet could see that his head hung at an odd angle, that Yousef had broken his neck and was dead. In pitching forward Yousef had trapped the hand that held the trigger between his body and the dashboard. As he fell back his trigger hand fell open and with horror Mehmet saw the trigger device fall to the cab floor. He made a wild grab for it but the electrical current, travelling along the wires at the speed of light, completed its deadly circuit even as Mehmet’s brain urged him to move.
The explosion lifted Frankie clean off his feet and threw him back down Church Street where he came to a stunned rest, siting against the radiator of his prized Maybach. Every window in the street was shattered into a thousand pieces; a rain of glass confetti cascading down the front of the buildings. The front of the church was totally demolished, the huge wooden doors tossed high up into the air. Steel scaffolding poles were flung into the air like matchsticks as the scaffolding around the church fell apart. One pole was propelled straight past Frankie, through the car’s windscreen and decapitated his driver before spearing the rear seats where Frankie should have been sitting. Another came from nowhere through a huge black cloud of dust and smoke, dropping vertically through the roof of the car where it remained stuck upright like the mast of a sailing boat. Yet another pole destroyed a milk float that was parked to the left of Frankie, the milk bottles flying from the wreckage and a pool of while liquid running into the gutter, but he was unharmed. “Fuck me”, he said to himself as he pulled himself to his feet. He took a look around at the wreckage and then grinned “Well at least that fucking church is sorted out” he said picking up a milk bottle that somehow had not broken. He set off, walking down the street as if it was just another day, swinging his baseball bat, and drinking from the bottle. He got about ten paces away. That was when the crumbling foundations of the now unsupported church steeple finally gave out. The steeple fell in a perfect .line, the granite and bricks following its ever extending shadow like an accusing finger. Then, as Frankie looked around in terror, an emotion he had never felt in his life before, several tons of stone, brick and steel, rained down upon him.
When the rubble had all been cleared they found the baseball bat but of Frankie there were only a few shards of bone and a number of bloodied rocks, not enough even to fill a small plastic bag. St Josephs had collapsed in upon itself, becoming a temporary tomb for Father Ryan, but his body was recovered intact and was buried at a ceremony that drew a larger congregation in death than he had ever seen in his life as a Priest. There being so little of Frankie to bury, his coffin was weighted with a few loose bricks, but not from the wreckage of the church. As chance would have it there was a building skip opposite the undertakers and it provided the ballast. Wherever Frankie was, it is certain he would not have been happy to know that he was buried with part of the kitchen wall from an Indian restaurant. Only two people attended his funeral. Afterwards they returned home and carefully removed every single trace of Francis from their house. Mr and Mrs Vetch never spoke his name again. Nobody knows what happened to Frankie’s millions.
The Diocese took control of the steeple fund in the bank and a new, but somewhat modest community hall was built on the site of St Josephs. The Diocese retained ownership of the land. The hall bears a small plaque to the memory of Father Ryan and Miss Hastings. The local authority are trying to push through a plan to move this new building away from its ‘prime location’ and to replace it with a Shopping Mall.