Spark Out

Spark Out

Status: In Progress

Genre: Mystery and Crime



Status: In Progress

Genre: Mystery and Crime



Spark Out is a gangland thriller not for the faint-hearted. It's 1982 and Big Mo Dolan is suffering from severe headaches brought on by family worries. He fears his young son is too soft, his wife too easy going, his dad disrespectful and his brother foolish for enlisting. But with Margaret Thatcher's Tory Government in power he sees good times around the corner fora self-employed Armed Robbers like himself. The trouble is with the Falklands War looming, things are about to get a whole lot worse...
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Spark Out is a gangland thriller not for the faint-hearted. It's 1982 and Big Mo Dolan is suffering from severe headaches brought on by family worries. He fears his young son is too soft, his wife too easy going, his dad disrespectful and his brother foolish for enlisting. But with Margaret Thatcher's Tory Government in power he sees good times around the corner fora self-employed Armed Robbers like himself. The trouble is with the Falklands War looming, things are about to get a whole lot worse...

Prolog (v.1) - Website sample

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: March 24, 2017

Reads: 82

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Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: March 24, 2017



‘A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark'
 – Dante Alighieri



















EVERYONE was scared of Reg. Dad’s special friend lodged in the back room, keeping his own counsel until trouble flared and he would spring to life, dishing out his unique brand of punishment.

Reg wasn’t particularly big, but he was squat, unyielding and fear-inducing. He and dad had developed an unbreakable bond. Maurice ‘Big Mo’ Dolan kept Reg around because life was all about respect and discipline and sometimes people needed reminding of the fact. You couldn’t take the piss, swing the lead or tell porkies without dad nodding at Reg, reminding you the enforcer was on hand to ensure you buck up your ideas.

When Reg was in full swing, little could stop him. A squad-car full of Filth tried once and crawled away nursing their wounds. A postman was on the receiving end another time, ending up in hospital with two cracked ribs and a nasty concussion. His only crime was to deliver a parcel to the wrong address. Children, women, ordinary folk going about their daily lives – no one was immune. Named after the legendary Reggie Kray, the enforcer’s reputation was as fearsome on the estate as the one nurtured by those gangster twins across the east end.

For those incarcerated within the mould-dappled walls of No 625 White Tower, Reg sat dormant like a life-threatening illness preying on the mind of a patient in remission. Little Chuck cowered in his presence, though he had never personally experienced the enforcer’s wrath. The boy had seen plenty of his old man’s companions come and go – a procession of rock-like creatures – but they were quickly forgotten. Reg was a constant, grafted onto the family unit since that day dad had brought him home from a tour of duty around the spit-and-sawdust alehouses of Ilford, Barking and Dagenham.

“Just minding his own business, he was, sitting in the corner,” Maurice Dolan confided in his first-born son. “I thought: he’ll do for me. Hasn’t let me down since, ’ave ya, Reggie old son?” The words were accompanied by an affectionate pat while Reg remained mute, his life one of action, not words.

Early memories for Chuck were shrouded in a cloak of casual violence. Particularly small for his age, the boy was often told by Dad that the remedy for his lack of stature was to “toughen up”, a long-term project Big Mo insisted on supervising personally. The mean-spirited nature of this indoctrination manifested itself in one particular incident which would remain burned on Chuck’s memory forever, even though he had been a toddler at the time. It involved a pink pushchair.

Chuck was happily pushing it around in the playground at the back of the flats when the old man returned from tour. Keen to show it off to the person he idolised, the boy ran across the tarmac on bowed, unsteady legs, the pushchair out in front. Big Mo stopped in his tracks.

“Da... da...look,” Chuck said, pride shining on his cherubic face as he nodded in the direction of the toy, a female doll nestling inside. Big Mo sank to his haunches. He directed his gaze firstly at the object of Chuck’s affection then straight into the little boy’s eyes. He grasped his child firmly by the forearms.

“Chuck, son, pushchairs are for girls,” he said. “Are you a little fackin’ girl?” Chuck shook his head vigorously, tears flowing due to the thick gnarled fingers boring into his delicate skin. Despite his discomfort, he maintained his focus on the craggy, fault-lined face in front of him, nestling as it did beneath a roof of short, black bristles. The smell of hops and smoke filled the air, a blend of odours he associated with his father’s unique brand of love.

As he struggled for a reply, Big Mo answered his own question. “Of course not! You’re a boy, ain’t you? So let’s get rid of this nasty, girly thing.” Relief flooded through Chuck as his dad released his arms and hoisted the pushchair in one meaty hand. The fingers, misshapen chunks covered in black matted hair, reminded Chuck of a nest of spiders he had found in granddad’s garden once.

Standing there in tearful confusion, he watched Big Mo march to a nearby roundabout. It was winding down from a spin cycle begun by four teenagers who had moved onto the swings in the dilapidated playground. “Clank!” the noise reverberated around the park as pushchair met roundabout, the metal-on-metal sound bouncing back off the surrounding hi-rise walls, the doll flying off and landing under the see-saw. “Clink!” Chuck stared open-mouthed as bits of metal and plastic went flying, wheels from the pushchair detaching and spinning off, one of them performing ever-decreasing circles beneath the climbing frame, mesmeric in its progress.

Chuck was shaken from his trance-like state by a raised female voice. A woman in tight white jeans, flowery purple smock-top and cork-platform sandals was running in the direction of the playground. “Hey, Stop!” she was shouting, looking back over her shoulder at the bench where Chuck’s mum was sitting. “Bloody ’ell Beryl, your old man’s gone mental! Look what ’e’s doing to our Jill’s pushchair. Shit! Mo, stop that you nutter! It ain’t yours, it’s Jill’s.”

Big Mo’s facial expression never changed as he looked at the tangle of cheap plastic, flimsy metal and ripped nylon that lay in his hands. He switched his attention to the woman arriving in the playground, and for half a moment onlookers might have expected him to admit his mistake, apologise and offer to replace the damaged item. Chuck knew better. His dad never had reason to say “Sorry”.

“You stupid cunt!” shouted Big Mo, stopping the woman in her tracks with the brutality of his words. “You think it’s a good fackin’ idea letting my boy play with a spazzy girly pushchair? Here...” He flung the remnants of the toy in her direction, forcing her to jump back hastily to avoid being hit. “Next time you do that, It’ll be you I’m smashing into the roundabout, you hear me, you slag! No one turns my boy into a faggot.”

Chuck noticed the woman was visibly quivering from the verbal battering. There were tears running down her cheeks as she span on her heels and ran back to the bench, losing a shoe in the process and having to stop briefly to fit it back on. When she reached her destination she took her daughter from Chuck’s mum, clutching the little girl tightly to her chest. Chuck saw his mother mumble something to the woman who, without a word in response, marched off in the opposite direction to the playground.

When Chuck looked back to where his dad had been standing, the old man was gone. There was detritus scattered around, by-products of the human whirlwind that had passed through. The kids on the swings talked excitedly now and though Chuck couldn’t understand exactly what was being said, he got the gist. His dad was the main topic of conversation. “God, that was Big Mo!” said one. “You wouldn’t wanna mess with him, he’s mental!”

“They say he carries this big club, and belts people when he feels like it.”

“Yeah,” said a third. “Brilliant!”

 “Come here Chucky boy.” His mum arrived, holding out her arms. He waddled over and she engulfed him in such a suffocating embrace he thought his ribs might snap. “Never mind, baby, never mind.” He inhaled the aroma of fragrant roses he associated with his mother, as comforting and safe as a warm blanket, and started to feel better again. “Your daddy only wants what is best for you,” she whispered. “We don’t need silly pushchairs anyway, do we? You’ve got your own toys at home and they’re much more fun. Let’s go and play with your cars, shall we?”

Later, lying in his bed, he heard raised voices along the corridor. “He’s only a little boy!” his mother was protesting.

“He has to learn sometime,” said his dad. “You can’t mollycoddle him forever, it’s a tough world!”

“Forever? It’s hardly forever. He’s barely two, for God’s sake. I know you had it tough with your dad but...”

“Don’t bring him up. God. I turned out all right, didn’t I? At least I can look after myself and my own... That’s what he taught me. Look after family. Blood’s thicker ’n water and all that. Your lot were hardly a good example were they? That fuckin’ woman...”

“Oh don’t start on my mother again, please...”

“It makes me sick though. Snooty cow. All them airs and graces and she fucks off and leaves... Discipline is important and there was none of it in your family. Your old man was far too soft, letting her get away with that. She needed a good slap. To my mind you ain’t never too young to learn... or too old. Fuck! Maybe you could do with learning some lessons yourself, girl.”

“No... no. Don’t even joke about it. Why don’t you settle down, have a beer and stop getting yourself all wound up. You know it’s not good for your blood pressure and them headaches. Here let me...”

“Fuck, no. You don’t get ’round me that easy. Maybe I’ll get Reg in to adjudicate...”

* **

Chuck first witnessed the destructive qualities of Reg just after his fourth birthday. One afternoon Dad bundled him into a van despite his mother’s protests. He waved goodbye to her as she stood caressing her bump with one hand and wiping something from her eye with the other. Chuck shared the passenger seat with his dad, looking around to see who else was coming along on the mystery trip.

The driver was a bloke called Cozza, who looked like someone had scribbled over him with crayons. In the back was Handsome Frank, an ex-boxer who bore no resemblance to his nickname, and a scrawny bloke in dungarees called Shooter. Reg sat comfortably between them, resting against the back door.

 “He’s a nice looking lad. He’s got your eyes, Big Mo,” said Handsome, nodding in Chuck’s direction as the boy carried out his reconnaissance.

“You think?” replied Big Mo. “Hell, it makes me laugh, you know? Them bints get together and say ‘Ooh don’t ’e look like ’is Dad’? I can never tell. Them babies all look like Winston bleedin’ Churchill to me. Still, I think I see the resemblance more now ’e’s getting older. Bit on the small side, though. He needs to beef up a bit.”

“Don’t sweat it,” said Cozza. “I got a picture of our Shaun on the piano at our mum’s. Tiny little thing. He’s 13 now and shootin’ up. We’ll have to make a hole for him in the bloody car roof soon... you know, like they did for that dinosaur in the Flintstones?”

 “Bloody Flintstones!” said Shooter, letting loose a honking laugh at the reference to the cartoon series about Neanderthal cave dwellers. In a few seconds the van was rocking with mirth, the happy banter continuing until it juddered to a halt outside an imposing, red-brick building somewhere near the river. The streetlamps were on, the cold, misty air drifting up from the Thames to cloak the London docklands in fog as intimate as a lover’s embrace. It was late for Chuck to be up and, though he adored being with his Dad, he was feeling tired. “Come on Chucky, time you started to learn what life is all about,” Big Mo said, lifting him out through the passenger door and onto the cobbled street.

“Wapping Tobacco; This the one?” Shooter was pointing to a sign on the side of the building.

“Yeah, hang on.” Big Mo removed a key from his pocket, fiddled with the padlock and swung open a small door. “Right boys, in you go.”

Chuck’s immediate reaction was to screw up his nose in response to the dank, musty smell that reminded him of the small cupboard in the hallway at home. At the same time his ears detected the constant drip-drip-drip of water not far away. The dark was impenetrable and he felt scared. He let a whimper escape.

“Don’t be frightened, boy,” growled Big Mo. “Time to be a brave little soldier. Nothing to worry about. Wait here...”

Strip lights flickered on, buzzing like angry wasps. “There... better?”

Chuck nodded, looking around. Packing cases were stacked in corners, old newspapers covering the floor.

 “Is this the stuff you got me out on quiz night to lug around for you?” asked Shooter, pointing to a collection of crates stacked in the centre of the room.  “Dot isn’t happy, I can tell you.”

“Aaah, ain’t she? Shame. See, here’s the thing...” Big Mo curled a finger, indicating for Shooter to approach him with the unspoken promise that he could learn something to his advantage.

“What’s up, Big Mo?”

“I need your help with something, son.”

Chuck noticed the light was reflecting off a damp patch on the man Shooter’s top lip, as if his nose had been leaking water. A tall, gangly figure, he moved hesitantly forward to where Maurice Dolan was fiddling with something in his pocket.

“What is it, Big Mo?”

“Do up me buttons, would ya?” Turning his back on the other man, Big Mo pointed to a spot at the back of his head.

Shooter sniggered nervously. “Eh?”

Big Mo swivelled, his hand now encased in a metal contraption which fit snugly around the knuckles. Without warning, it clattered into the side of Shooter’s face. The man staggered back into Cozza and Handsome, who each grabbed an arm.

“What the..?” he mumbled through a mouth frothing red.

“You heard me, you mug. I asked you to do up the buttons.”


Smash. A cut opened on Shooter’s temple. He bucked and pulled in a wild attempt to escape the vicious assault, but was unable to shake off his two bodyguards.

“Fackin’ ’ell, am I speaking Swahili here, boys?” demanded Big Mo of his two accomplices. They shook their heads and it seemed to Chuck neither wanted to be the next victim of the knuckleduster. “My fackin’ buttons. Do ’em up!”

“Jeez, Mo. OK, OK! Give me a chance to understand... I can’t see no buttons. You ain’t got any, Mo.”

 Big Mo nodded his head slowly, his eyes rolling. “That’s right, Shooter, me old mucka, I ain’t,” he said. “You’ve finally got it... have a gold star.” He gave a mirthless chuckle, paused then delivered the punch line with perfect comic timing. “Strange, though, because the way you’ve been treating me I could only assume you believed my head buttoned up the back.”

Everything was still, silent, just a laboured snort coming from the prisoner, who was trying to clear the blood from his airwaves.

“Wh... what sh’you mean?”

“Ripping me off,” said Mo. “I know what you got from that Holland Park raid. You owe me a lot more and it’s a bloody cheek you held out on me the way you did after I tipped you off to the opportunity. Don’t you know there’s a recession on? I got to look after my family, feed my wife and kid – and there’s another on the way. I really am sorry about this Shooter, truly. I thought you were a loyal soldier and a good mate, but you can see I’ve got to make an example of you, can’t you? I can’t afford people thinking I’m a soft touch. Seems no one can be trusted these days. Handsome? Keep hold of him. Cozza, get Reg, would you?”

“Oh shit. No!” pleaded Shooter. “Not Reg. Look, I’ll make it up to you. Pay you extra, if that’s what you want. Do another job especially for you. It wasn’t on purpose, honest, I’d never do that to you, Mo, you know that. I must have miscalculated is all I can think. I’ve always been useless at maths...”

Chuck let out a whimper. He didn’t know what it was all about but he didn’t like seeing his daddy so cross. Big Mo looked at him and winked as if to say, “It’s all right son, none of this is real”. Chuck told himself what he was seeing was a magic trick, the red stuff on Shooter’s face not blood but tomato sauce, like he had at home on his chips. He watched his dad slowly turn back to face his ‘friend’. “I don’t know what Reg is going to make of this whole unfortunate business, Shooter, but somehow I don’t think he’ll be too happy.”

* * *

HOURS later Chuck was in bed, crying himself to sleep. Big Mo told his wife the youngster was overtired. They had popped into the pub after their ‘bit of business’, just to take the edge off things, and Chuck had fallen asleep. Beryl Dolan looked at her husband.

“You’ve made him a part of it, haven’t you?” she said. “I asked you, even begged you, but you couldn’t help it. You had to ‘toughen him up’. I can only guess what you’ve been up to. You took that... thing... with you. I can see the blood. There’s a stain on my bloody carpet and a trail on the tiles in the hall.”

Big Mo looked out from beneath his thick, black caterpillar eyebrows, pushing his hand wearily through the bristles on his head. He didn’t feel like justifying his actions. It had been a long day. He had done what he had done, and in his mind he had made the right call. A row with the Mrs was the last thing he needed.

Lifting himself from his favourite armchair, Mo reached over and switched the television on, turning up the volume to dissuade his wife from continuing the conversation. A well-dressed man was standing in front of a weather map pointing at various areas of the country, but Mo wasn’t interested.

Bending down slowly, he picked up the three-foot length of wood he had propped beside him on the sofa. Noting the dark stains for the first time, he vowed to rub it down with a hot cloth in the morning to get rid of any ‘evidence’.  Shame. To his way of thinking it just added to the character, like when you had a champion conker as a kid and the more messed up it looked, the more scars it had, the more you knew it had done its job. Walking out through the sliding glass-partition doors, he swung the sawn-off curtain pole at his side, the spherical ball on the end reflecting the light. Resting it gently against the wall in the corner of the small parlour room, he patted it affectionately.

“Night, Reg,” he said.















October, 1981

BIG MO parked on double yellow lines outside a rank of scruffy shops in the East London area of Forest Gate, stuck a badge in the windscreen and strolled to the pedestrian crossing. The parking sticker had been given to him by an acquaintance at the council who owed him a favour and wanted to stay in his good books.

“Hey, you... excuse me, old chap!”

Big Mo ignored the posh-sounding voice, convinced the words couldn’t be directed at him. After all, there were few with the bare-faced cheek to speak in such disrespectful tones to a bloke who stood 6ft 5ins in his stockinged feet and tipped the scales at close on 16stone. If that wasn’t enough, the skinhead haircut tended to discourage interaction.

“You in the sheepskin coat with the cropped hair... You do realise you aren’t supposed to park there, don’t you?”

Mo stopped in his tracks halfway across the street, his actions met by a screeching of brakes as a taxi pulled to a shuddering halt, other traffic squealing to a standstill behind it. A cacophony of car horns filled the early-afternoon air. Winding down his window the taxi driver, a young Asian, leaned out, took one look at the imposing human roadblock in front of him and quickly wound it back up again. Big Mo turned with the deliberate slowness of a heavily laden oil tanker.

“You talking to me?” he asked, fixing his inquisitor with an icy glare. It was the line Robert De Niro used in one of his favourite films, Taxi Driver. Mo borrowed it on occasion because he appreciated its menacing overtones.

“Yes, man... you.” The scrawny character seemed completely oblivious to the imminent danger in which he had placed himself. Mo noted the bloke’s rimless spectacles and pinstripe suit; bank manager, accounts clerk or office know-it-all, he guessed. “Look, I don’t know how you came to be in possession of that, um, badge in your window,” his accuser continued regardless. “It seems perfectly obvious from where I’m standing that you have no disability of any sort and are quite capable of parking somewhere else and walking to your destination. There are people who need that space far more than you. It’s right outside a doctor’s surgery, for goodness sake. Be a good chap and move it to the car park around the corner, would you? You’re a fit young man. It will take just five minutes of your time.” As others gathered to watch, Mo saw smug, self-satisfaction etched on Mr Pinstripe’s face, as if he was the elected voice-piece for every decent, law-abiding citizen.

Shame I don’t give tuppence for the law, thought Mo, heading back towards the car at a steady pace, the metal segments attached to the bottom of his black brogues performing a relentless tattoo on the tarmac. Behind him, the traffic started up again, the horns dying down. Believing he had succeeded in his quest, Mr Pinstripe began walking off.

“Oi, geezer!” Big Mo’s grating cockney accent was so menacing it stopped passers-by in their tracks. “Would you like one of these disabled discs for yourself?”

When the man in pinstripes looked over his shoulder, Maurice Dolan was rummaging around in the boot of his Daimler. “Eh? Well, no... I don’t have a disabili...” The word stuck in his throat as Big Mo jacked himself up to his full height and turned, the thick wooden curtain pole in his hand. Colour drained from the responsible citizen’s face.

“No disability?” said Mo. “That can be arranged.”

“Now... steady on old chap... wait... you can’t...”

Mo cut down the distance between them, swinging Reg over his shoulder like a baseball player. “Can’t what, eh? Can’t what?” Angry lines contorted Mo’s bullet-shaped head. Realising reasoned argument couldn’t save him, the retreating target broke into a run, feet sliding as he tried to get some purchase on the grubby pavement. His comfortable, expensive slip-ons weren’t suited to a foot race. “Help! Someone call the police!” he shouted.

Mo ate up the ground between them, never breaking into a run. People who had earlier impeded his quarry, moved aside in respect of Mo’s bulk. When he had narrowed the gap to less than 100 feet, Pinstripe suddenly reached out and pulled over a table of ripe grapes, plums, tomatoes and bananas displayed outside a greengrocer’s. The burly woman shopkeeper emerged to remonstrate with the culprit, presenting Mo with a formidable obstacle. As he sought to avoid a collision, the beloved segs in the soles of his shoes became his downfall, combining with crushed grapes and tomatoes to send him flying. He landed flat on his back on the pavement, but was too psyched up at that moment to feel any pain. “Fuck!” he swore, rising in stages as he lost vital seconds racheting himself into an upright position.

The irate shopkeeper now provided another barrier. “Look what you’ve...” He poked Reg into the woman’s flabby stomach, pushing her backwards across another of her displays. “Push off you fat slag,” he said, only refocusing his attention in time to see Mr Pinstripe disappear through a train station entrance.

Brushing crushed fruit from his beloved sheepskin, he bellowed, “Fuck!”, focusing all his pent-up anger on bringing Reg crashing down on an escaped melon. Juicy lumps of its flesh flew everywhere, sending passers-by cowering for cover.

* **

“If you will permit me, you seem a bit tense today.” Mo tried to relax as Sunil Prabhakar dug his fingers into his knotted shoulders, working the flesh as if kneading dough.

“Not fackin’ surprised, Suni,” said Mo. “Everyone seems to think they have the divine right to make a Muppet out of Mo. What’s that about eh? On the way here some string bean insulted me about my parking... made a complete mess of my clothes. The jacket’s fackin’ ruined, I tell you.”

“Sorry to hear that, Mr Mo, sir,” said the confused Indian, failing to make the connection between parking and ruined clothes. His own uniform was pristine, white shirt, trousers and trainers, a knee-length apron draped over the top. “You heard about that IRA business?”

 “How they managed to smuggle a nail bomb into the heart of bloody Westminster is beyond me,” said Mo. “Those bloody left footers killed a bunch of civilians, even though their target was the military. Disgraceful.” On his extensive hate list, The Irish Republican Army had risen to the top.

“At least it was Chelsea Barracks,” said the guru. Though it was no laughing matter, Mo smiled. The guru was making a sporting joke, knowing that if his client hated anyone nearly as much as Irish Republicans it was the Chelsea football team. Sport was one of a vast array of topics they discussed during Mo’s monthly visits, which had started two years earlier, shortly after he had completed a short stint inside for a nightclub ruck that left a rival in hospital.

While incarcerated, Mo suffered severe headaches which the doctor put down to high blood pressure. Refusing point-blank to spend a lifetime taking pills, it was suggested the prisoner try alternative forms of treatment. “Try this bloke,” the prison medic had said. “Name’s Sunil, nice chap, Indian, bit of a guru. To be honest, I see him myself...”

Mo had been sceptical at first, doubtful about putting his trust in a bloody foreigner, but had quickly changed his tune once the guru got to work. The massages were pretty full on and the pressure the Indian applied to Mo’s temples almost earned him a broken nose on the first visit. Mo somehow restrained himself, though, and was amazed at how well he felt after the session. He was even happier a few days later when he realised he hadn’t been plagued by migraines at all since his initial treatment.

Not only was Sunil a wizard with his hands, he was also a damn good listener – a bit like a priest, thought Mo, who didn’t have a religious bone in his body. He found their conversations liberating, convinced that everything he told the guru was bound by the same confidentiality clauses which applied to the confessional or a GPs practice.

“How’s your brother?” asked Suni.

 “Ain’t seen him in ages,” said Mo. “I’ve been so busy lately. Last time he was around was when I brought him here.”

“Nice bloke,” said Suni. “And the Mrs? Any problems like we talked about?”

“Well... you know how it is. It’s all about the young uns for her at the moment. I guess I shouldn’t expect the same treatment as I got before they were born. I miss it, though... the attention.”

“Then why not go and get some?” said the guru.

 “You mean prostitutes?” asked Mo, shocked. “Out of order, mate. I couldn’t do that to Beryl.”

“Oh I know, Mo, sir,” said the guru, backtracking. “I wasn’t thinking ladies of the night, though. You know, some of the greatest men who ever lived had concubines to ease their tensions. Kennedy, for instance... a great president, but a man with a wandering eye. He was seeing Marilyn Monroe. Everyone needs a distraction – it doesn’t have to mean anything. What about all those army generals, far from home, protecting us? Do they not find another way to relieve stress when their wives are hundreds of miles away? If it isn’t up your street I’m sorry I mentioned it, though I reckon some families have even benefited because the breadwinner returns home not so ‘strung out’.”

Mo allowed the calm voice and soothing effects of the treatment to spread through his aching body. “I hadn’t thought of it in those terms,” he said. “If my Mrs found out, though, I’d end up a fackin’ eunuch.”

The two men laughed. “What about that Mr Tebbit eh?” said Suni, changing the subject with seamless precision. “He wants us to all ride bikes to work. You wouldn’t catch me doing that in this horrendous traffic.”

“He don’t mean it that way, Suni old son. It ain’t aimed at you. You’ve got a job. He’s on about these scroungers, says they should travel to find work. Get on their bikes.”

“You agree?”

“I can carry out my business from most places,” said Mo. “I don’t have to stick around here. Some lazy bastards expect to fall out of bed into a decently paid job. I tend to agree with Tebbit, and with this Maggie Thatcher in charge I reckon some things will get well and truly sorted.”

“Like the invasion of all these bloody foreigners,” interjected Suni.

Mo had to use all his willpower to stifle a laugh, the irony striking a chord. Fortunate he was lying face down, so the guru didn’t notice.

* **

Mo left the guru’s apartment feeling much more relaxed and was soon driving through the traffic-clogged streets of Ilford. As he approached the town centre he noticed something which made his eyes light up. A thin figure in pinstripes was just departing a local newsagents, a briefcase under one arm and a copy of the Evening Standard under the other. “Well I never,” muttered Mo.

Reg being stowed away in the boot, Mo knew he wouldn’t have time to park up without the risk of losing his quarry. He had to act now. Pulling down the flap to the glove compartment he reached inside and found exactly the kind of thing he’d been looking for, hefting it in his hand. The weight was just right. If only he could get a bit closer...

Spotting a break in the traffic he moved across to the left hand lane, drawing level with the target. Winding down the window, he took a deep breath and prepared himself.

“Oi, disability boy!” he shouted. A few heads turned but Mr Pinstripe continued walking. “You! The arsehole in the pinstripes!” This time the man looked up. Locking eyes with Big Mo Dolan, for the second time that day the colour drained from his face. “Catch, you cunt!”

The large, square battery caught him smack in the middle of the forehead and Mo watched in wonderment as his victim sank to his knees, a crowd of onlookers gathering to see what had happened. That will teach him respect, Mo thought, putting his foot to the floor and heading in the direction of home.


























Big Mo cursed under his breath between large gulps of pissy lager. He was sitting at a scarred bench near the door of the 3 Wishes public house in Dagenham, his ire directed at the flamboyantly dressed teens gathered in the corner, pooling their pocket money to put a procession of tuneless dirges on the jukebox. His ears were currently being battered by the ‘pop sensation’ of the moment, a weirdo called Adam Ant who obviously spent too much time as a kid plastering on his mum’s make up. For some reason the yodelling Nancy boy thought his bizarre game of “dress up” entitled him to the name Prince Charming. “Prince Arse-Bandit, more like,” mumbled Mo. It was as if the singer heard the insult, assuring him “Ridicule is nothing to be scared of”.

It had taken barely seven hours for Maurice Dolan’s buzz from his guru session to wear off. The feelgood factor used to last all week, but the longer he continued the treatment, the less effective it became. He supposed it was like developing immunity to a particular brand of painkiller or becoming addicted to an illegal substance. The original high could only be replicated by feeding your habit with increased amounts of the poison.

The word poison made him recall a visit to his dad’s earlier that day, which had been pre-arranged so that Billy ‘The Kid’ Dolan and his wife Viola could fawn over their eldest grandson. The love-in was mutual. Chuck took every word his granddad said as incontrovertible fact, feeding Big Mo’s in-built paranoia. In irrational moments he feared he took third place behind Beryl and Billy in his son’s affections. Billy reinforced those feelings of insecurity with regular barbs disguised as jokes and designed to lower his esteem in the eyes of the boy. On this occasion, Billy had opened the door to them pleasantly enough and led them into his study. It didn’t take long for him to start, though. Walking to the ornate mahogany drinks’ cabinet in one corner of the room, Billy had pressed a button which sent electric gadgetry whirring within. After seconds, a door slid open and bottles and glasses magically appeared on a circular tray from within the contraption. Billy honestly believed the fancy piece of tat was a status symbol owned by such dignitaries as the Lord Mayor himself.

“What’s your poison, son,” he had asked, holding a bottle of whisky up to the light for inspection. “This is a good one, a wonderful oaky single malt. It was a present from one of my Jock pals. Not to everyone’s taste, only the discerning palate. I expect you would prefer a beer.”

Mo had felt the tension creep across his shoulders but refused to take the bait. “No, no... whisky’s fine.”

It was at that moment Chuck chose to show off the garish painting he had produced in school.  It reminded Mo of one of those weird psychedelic cartoons from the 60s, like the one on the cover of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.

Billy had taken the rolled scroll and unfurled it as if it was a priceless piece of art that had been on display at the Tate Gallery. “Fantastic, Chucky boy,” he’d said, nodding approvingly and patting the kid on the head like an obedient dog. “The only things your dad brought home were letters telling me how naughty he’d been.”

Dig No.2 had been right on cue. Chucky had glanced in his father’s direction, unsure whether he had permission to laugh. For the boy’s sake, Mo had manufactured the briefest of smiles while inside the knotted ball of angst grew and mutated. Later, granddad Billy would use the picture again as a weapon with which to beat Mo’s ego.

“What’s this Chuck?” Billy had asked, pointing at a splurge of bright colours.

“That’s the garden, with lots of pretty flowers in it,” Chuck had explaining excitedly. “There is a swing for the children and a roundabout over here.”

“Is it your garden, Chuck?”

“Naaah!” Chuck had exclaimed, “We don’t have a garden, Granddad.”

“Silly me, of course you don’t. Shame. You boys really need somewhere to play safely.” Billy had looked over the rim of his NHS specs, something he did when he had a serious point to make. “Maybe if daddy bought you a bigger house, you could run around to your heart’s content.”

The words had stung. Studying the spotless interior of the dining room in this relative palace in Chigwell, Mo had felt inadequate. Yet it wasn’t as if his dad had lived in such splendour when Mo and Clive had been growing up. It was only after a particularly lucrative bank job and some life insurance facilitated by their mum’s passing that he had invested in property. By then Mo and Beryl, desperate to free themselves from parental restrictions, had moved in together and Chuck was on his way.

It was only when Chuck had gone to watch his grandma ice a cake for Billy’s birthday that Mo felt able to vent his frustration. “What was the point in that, dad? Eh?”

“What’s that, son? Don’t remember saying anything to upset you.”

“About the garden... ”

“Just thinking out loud, that’s all. That playground at the flats is a shithole. On the rare occasion I’ve taken them to it I’ve seen needles, empty cans, the works... It’s not suitable for your boys. They can come here any time they like, but it’s not always convenient for you to drop them, I know.”

“How do you propose I conjure up this house with its nice garden then?” Mo had challenged his father. “Are you going to let me in on one of the ‘big jobs’ you’re planning?”

“Big jobs? There aren’t any. Who told you that?”

“People talk. Rumours get around.”

“Can no one keep a soddin’ secret around here?” As Billy’s temper rose, Mo had chalked up an imaginary point on his side of the board. “Don’t you dare go blabbin’ your mouth off, you hear? You always were a...”

“A what, Dad? Eh? A what? You can’t label me a blabbermouth. None of us could get a word in edgeways at home, in the court of ‘King Billy’.” Spitting out the last two words venomously, he had gone in for the kill. “Come to think of it, there you are pouring shit over my school work to my son, when I don’t recall you taking any interest at the time. In fact, you and mum were quite happy to pull me out of school at a moment’s notice so I could look after our Clive and Cilla while you went gallivanting off down the West End. Talk about double standards...”

“Calm down, son, you’ll give yourself a bleedin’ heart attack,” Billy Dolan had said. “Me and Vi ain’t getting any younger and we’re the ones who would have to tidy up the mess if you dropped down brown bread. How heavy are you? Eighteen stone or something? Tsk tsk. You should trim down, boy. You look a likely candidate for a failed ticker if you ask me. Take a leaf out of your brother’s book. Fit as a flea is our Clive.”

“Yeah, maybe if I cut out eating I could save enough money for a fackin’ house,” Mo had responded. “In London. That what you’re saying? You’re kidding, right? You do KNOW how much they cost these days? Still, let me in on the action and I’ll soon be able to afford it... Deal?”

The question was greeted with silence, Mo breathing heavily having got the rant out of his system. After what seemed like minutes, Billy had replied: “You know I can’t do that son. We’ve got our team and we don’t need any substitutes.”

Finally, Mo had run out of energy to fight his corner. Instead, he made a vow to himself that he would be entirely supportive of his own children. He was still fuming long after he left the house, dropped Chucky home and wandered into Dagenham to drown his sorrows.

*  * *

“Hey good looking, what can I get you?” the girl’s blonde hair wound itself around her head and stretched upward to a point, reminding Big Mo of a Mr Whippy ice cream. The look was enhanced by a hint of pink running through it like raspberry sauce.

“Same again... lager,” he leant against the bar, his attention again drawn to the youngsters, who were mock-fighting in the corner. Handbags. He wondered whether they would be so full of their own bullshit if Reg got involved.

“Wow, you’re the talkative one.” The barmaid was leaning towards him, heavy breasts fighting for space inside her low-cut red dress. She had a finger dangling from the corner of her mouth as she chewed on a cuticle.

“Sorry?” He had been so wrapped up in his own thoughts it was as if he was seeing her for the first time. Pleasant, green eyes with an air of wickedness about them.

“It’s a joke, lover,” she said. “I can see you’re the strong silent type. Will Stella do you?”


“You know, the drink... Stella?”

“Oh yeah. Course.” He watched her wiggle off to the far end of the bar, dress stretching tight across a shapely ass and finishing mid thigh, fishnet stockings encased in impossibly high stilettos. He figured she wouldn’t be dressed in such a provocative manner if she didn’t want to attract male admiration. The click-clacketing of her heels announced her return, interrupting his internal debate.

“Here you go.” She put the pint down in front of him and he handed over a fistful of coins. “You a regular?” she asked.

“Yeah. I drink here, The Hope in Barking and sometimes over in Ilford. I haven’t seen you in here before.”

 “Tommy, the landlord, agreed to give me a stint behind the bar,” she said, returning his change. “He thought I might be able to attract a classier brand of customer.” She posed in profile, hands on hips and nose in the air, only realising her mistake too late. “Oh shit, sorry, that came out wrong, didn’t it? I’m not having a go at you. God, you’re about the classiest bloke in here.” Blushing, she carried on talking in an effort to hide her embarrassment. “Better than those little scrotes over there; spent about a fiver between them all night. One drink each and they think it gives them the right to batter our ears with this tuneless crap.”

“Not a fan, then?”

“Hell, no...”

“Audrey! The longer you spend chatting up the clientele, the less they drink,” shouted Tommy from the far end of the bar. “Sorry, Big Mo, but there are customers waiting.”

She leaned across, winking. “Better go... don’t want to get the tin-tack on my first day.”

“I can’t see him sacking you,” said Mo. “You seem to have quite an audience.” He nodded his head in the direction of a sea of leering faces, the dodgy punters clambering up the side of the bar to get a better look. They waved their paper money around to signal they were men of means though Mo suspected broods of kids were at home fighting over fatty cuts of belly pork.

She smiled, resting her hand on his a moment longer than necessary. “Thanks. I’ll see you later. Oh, and if you wanted to change the music... I like Ghost Town. The Specials?”

















“HEY, watch it!” A youth with long, greasy brown hair swung around – the beer stain creeping across the front of his ruffled, white cotton shirt. Dark brown eyes peered out from below lids painted in glowing pink. Mo wrinkled his nose as a stench of body odour hit him, mingling with the sour aroma of spilt beer. Somewhere in the bouquet he detected the pungent scent of joss sticks, the incense burners widely used to disguise the equally revealing smell of dope. He pushed the boy again.

“Get out of my fackin’ way then!” The kid was about five years younger than him and a world apart when it came to fashion. He was dressed like a modern Dick Turpin, the legendary highwayman famous for conducting a reign of terror throughout rural Essex. Mo knew a few boozers named after the criminal up Epping way. Out East they appreciated their bad guys.

It was highly unlikely anyone would name a boozer after this skinny runt, he thought. The freak was in no position to put the fear of God into anyone. Still, there was no point in causing a scene. “Look, I only want to put something on the jukebox,” said Mo. “So sorry if some of that nasty beer splashed on your pretty clothes but just because you dress all fancy don’t give you the right to dictate what music is played in here.” The boy raised his arms and stepped aside. Mo bent forward, pressing buttons on either side of the jukebox, watching the cards flick around until he saw what he wanted. “Specials: Ghost Town”. He put in two 10 pence pieces, which entitled him to five songs.

“Come on, mate, get a move on,” someone shouted behind him. Ignoring them, his eyes lit up when he saw a song that reminded him of Youth Club back in the day. The artist was Prince Buster, the song “Al Capone”. Pushing the appropriate buttons, he was poised to choose again when he felt something in the kidney region. What the..? Some cheeky bastard had poked him!

He span around, a mixture of surprise and anger bubbling inside him. A youth with short, blond hair stood there. He was roughly the same height as Mo but weedy. A large hoop dangled down the left side of his face and he was kitted out in some kind of vintage army uniform, blue coat rimmed with red piped white collar and cuffs, red lapels, cuff flaps and shoulder straps, augmented with brass buttons. Hardly worth bothering about, thought Mo dismissively. He didn’t want to get into a ruck and ruin all the hard work the guru had done to get him to relax earlier in the day. What was it he always said? Focus on something else. His mind drifted over which song he should pick next. He was about to turn back when the new romantic recklessly decided to continue the dispute.  “Mr Big Man, are you?” he shouted in Mo’s face. “Think you can just barge in among us and push Pete here cos he’s dressed different? That’s out of order.” Raising his fists in response, Mo felt another shove from behind, followed by a couple more as a chorus of heckling started up.

“Fuck off, bully boy!”

“Pick on someone your own size, skinhead!”

“Fascist pig!”

Feeling claustrophobic, Mo thrust his arms backwards to give himself breathing space. There was a squeal, then a crashing sound. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw a teenage girl with bright purple plaits lying prone across a collapsed table, blood streaming from a cut across her eyebrow. “Beating up girls now are we? Such a big man,” shouted the blond bloke.

“Shit! That was an accident,” Mo responded, unsure of himself. “You lot were attacking me... what did you expect?”

The bloke in the blue army jacket aimed a haymaker in Big Mo’s direction, but it lacked accuracy and grazed his shoulder. He thought about cutting his losses, making a break for it and rounding up some of the troops or, at least, grabbing Reg from under the table by the door where he had left him. Only, now he was trapped, his brightly dressed accusers blocking his escape. Regaining his composure Mo lunged forward, grabbed and pulled, heard his accuser scream. The younger man doubled over, holding a hand to his ear. Blood poured out, the hoop stained red and lying forlornly under the jukebox. “You’ve ripped my fuckin’ ear open!” he shouted.

The words were drowned out by a familiar sound. “Al Capone’s Guns Don’t Argue!” barked a heavy, echoing voice, followed by the chick, chick, chickity, chick, chick rhythm of the Prince Buster Ska classic. As the horns broke in it was as if Mo had switched to auto pilot. Like a dancer, he twisted and turned, firing out punches in time to the beat.

“Don’t call me Scarface...” Bang! Blood flew from a split lip attached to a stunned face on his right. “... I’m Alias Capone.” Crash! Another New Romantic rocked backwards, knocking over a wooden stand, coats and umbrellas scattering across the floor. “C... A... P... O... N... E. Capone!” Blam. Shit! That was the landlord. He’d cuffed him in the ear.

“Sorry, Tom, I didn’t...”

“Think you’d better go, Mo,” shouted the Landlord above the din. “Not your fault! Hell, I’ll have to ban these fuckers. No good for business. Trying to turn a proper boozer into a bloody youth club.” As if to demonstrate his disdain he pulled the guy called Pete towards him and sent him reeling with a head butt. “Give me a chance to get things straightened out here,” he continued, breathing heavily. “Cops are on the way. Come back in a couple of days and I’ll have a pint waiting.”

Mo turned to leave, only to be confronted by the girl with the purple hair, a screaming banshee lunging towards him waving a small, broken babycham bottle. She was just about to strike when a hand appeared from nowhere, grabbing one of her purple plaits and clouting her around the ear with a closed fist. She dropped the bottle. “Thanks for the tune, mate!” said the barmaid, shaking her hand to relieve the jarring pain caused by the impact her fist had made with the girl’s face. “Like Tommy said, it might be time to go!”

Mo didn’t hesitate, retrieving Reg and making a strategic withdrawal from the war zone. “Fackin’ ’ell Reg,” he said. “A proper bar brawl... You missed all the fun.”

* * *

The more Maurice Dolan thought about it, the more riled he was by the cheeky fuckers who had accused him of starting trouble. They were way out of order. He’d only wanted to use the jukebox but these little brats didn’t seem to respect anyone. Fucking hell, what a day it had been: first being lampooned by some dipstick in pinstripes, then being made to feel an inadequate parent by his own father and finally being targeted by a bunch of clowns in panto costume.

He stood in one of the alleyways that criss-crossed the Dagenham housing estate, watching the entrance to the 3 Wishes. He was pretty much unscathed apart from a small cut below his left eye and the beginnings of a bruise on his shoulder. He also had a cut on the back of his head where one of those delicate creatures had broken a glass on his skull. Very romantic, he thought.

Plotting his revenge, he considered picking off the fuckers one by one as they left the boozer, but didn’t want to attract the attention of the law. While tangling with the police hadn’t bothered him in the past, he had a family to worry about now. It felt like a defeat, though, and Big Mo couldn’t afford to have his reputation smeared. He banged the back of his head softly against the wall to the tune now escaping through the open door of the pub.

“This town...” Yeah, he thought, it’s like a ghost town. He took a long drag of his cigarette and closed his eyes, relaxing to the latest hit by ska revival band The Specials.

“My hero!” The voice came from his left. Turning, he saw the barmaid wrapped in an imitation fur jacket.

“Oh, hi,” he said. “Where did you spring from?”

“Tommy let me go out back, just in case. I need to head in the other direction but was just gonna hang out here ’til those troublemakers had gone. I’m Audrey.” She held out a hand and he accepted the greeting. “You, I hear, are Big Mo. You got a spare one of them?” She indicated the cigarette and he pulled the packet from his sheepskin coat, removed one, put it in his mouth and lit it from the one he was smoking. He passed it to her.

 “Name’s Maurice actually but, yeah, you can call me Big Mo.”

She smiled, dimples showing on her cheeks. Her face was on the chubby side but he liked a girl with a bit of meat on her, better than one of those skinny models he had glimpsed in Beryl’s magazines. Since having the kids Beryl’s own natural curves had disappeared after the crash diet she had undergone to regain her pre-baby weight. Not that he had been given much chance to investigate further. They lived different hours these days – she up early with the kids and he staying out late.

“Why the nickname, if you don’t mind me asking?” She said, watching him casually swing Reg, who was wrapped in brown paper. Mo always carried Reg that way so that if questioned he could say he had recently bought the pole from a hardware store. “Is it because of that? What’s the line? Is that a table leg in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?”

He smiled, lifting Reg so the light reflected off the brown paper. “It’s a curtain pole, actually” he said. “Umm...”

“There he is, get him! He’s with that slag who punched our Rita, too.” Turning swiftly, Mo watched the end of the lane fill with New Romantics, back for seconds. They had tooled up. Mo pushed Audrey behind him for protection as a bottle hurtled through the air in their direction, smashing against the wall next to their heads. Mo smiled. Though he hadn’t wanted it particularly, trouble had found him. The blond boy in the army uniform stood facing him, a metal bar in his hand. The crusted blood around his damaged ear was visible in the misty glow of a streetlamp.

“Get out of here, and I’ll catch you up,” Mo told Audrey.

“Sod that!” she said. “You can’t tackle them on your own.”

“Watch me!” As the iron bar came hurtling towards his head he ducked and struck with the speed of a Cobra, his fist catching his attacker in the throat. The boy’s mouth gaped open and he dropped the pipe. Quickly, Mo lifted Reg and swung the gift-wrapped weapon from over his right shoulder, catching his attacker with a direct hit on the knee, sending him reeling back into the rest of the gang. Out of the corner of his eye Mo saw Audrey scrambling on her knees, reaching for the metal pipe.

“You want it, you bloody ponces?” she demanded, standing upright again. “Come on then!” One boy waving a broken bottle stepped forward out of the crowd, but Audrey was quick, bringing the pipe up between his legs. He gagged and fell backwards, nursing his private parts.

Swinging like a latter-day Babe Ruth, Mo demanded: “Who’s next, eh? Who’s next?” Their leader out cold on the floor, the others backed away. Mo jogged after them, Audrey close behind, hanging on to the tail of his sheepskin coat. He was about to break into a full run and lay into the stragglers when a blue flashing light appeared at the end of the lane. “Shit, filth!” he shouted to Audrey. “Run!”

“We ain’t...”

“Don’t argue, just do it! I can’t afford any trouble.” Turning, he grabbed her hand and they set off at a sprint, the sound of pounding feet and raised voices close behind.

“Hey, you up there... stop! Police!”

Mo hurdled the prone bodies of two of his victims then raised the pace, his brogues slipping around on discarded rubbish. There was an overwhelming stench of dog shit but it was too dark to see where he was treading. Audrey was doing a good job keeping up with him as he changed direction, entering an adjoining lane. Hearing more raised voices and a pounding of feet he feared he had entered a dead end.

“Here!” said Audrey. Grabbing his foot she launched him upwards. Clambering like a squaddie on an assault course, he found himself on top of a yellow gate and toppled over into an adjoining garden, hearing a rip and sensing he’d damaged his favourite sheepskin. Landing with a “whump” on his back he looked up to see Audrey hurtling through the sky above, treating him to a full view of fishnets, suspenders and knickers, the red dress billowing like a parachute. He rolled aside quickly and she landed on her haunches beside him, her expression that of a wild animal, senses honed by the adrenaline of the hunt.

“Shit!” he whispered. “Where did you learn to fight like that?”

“My dad, mainly. He wanted me to know self-defence to fight off the boys. Didn’t factor in my mum, though. She...”

He pressed his finger to her lips. They lay like that for ages, listening to the sound of voices going to and fro, sticks beating rhythmically through overgrown weeds on the other side of the gate. Slowly the night regained the upper hand. There was a roar of powerful car engines then silence.

Mo studied her face in the half light. She looked younger, more vulnerable. He pushed his finger gently into her mouth and felt her suck it, other parts of his body responding to the stimulus. Then he sent his lips crashing into hers and felt her tongue shoot inside his mouth, her hands massaging the bristles of his cropped hair, sending tingles shooting through his body to offset the aches and pains.

She guided his hand up her dress to where the stockings finished and the cold, dimpled flesh of her thighs began. He massaged the skin, pushing his calloused fingers inside her knickers, finding her wet. She gasped and he did, too, a cold hand slipping inside his flies and discovering his hardness. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so alive and so aroused.

“Fuck me, Big Mo,” she whispered, breath hot on his ear.

“I... I’m married.”

“Fuck marriage,” she said.

He did as he was told.



© Copyright 2017 Nick Rippington. All rights reserved.


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