Thursday 25th February
Alan Callaway sat in the spectator section, at the back of the South-West London Magistrates Court. His short black hair neatly cropped, skin light brown, reflecting both his West Indian and European parentage. He wore a loose fitting light green jacket over a thin red shirt, carrying not an ounce of surplus fat on his twenty-four-year-old frame.
With the exception of two elderly women in their early seventies, sitting directly in front of him, he was the only spectator. It was obvious from the few snippets of conversation he overheard from them this was their regular Monday morning entertainment.
Alan turned his attention to the young man sitting in the dock. He looked bored and resigned to whatever fate the Court decided was appropriate for the assault he had committed several weeks previously. The magistrates had already been out in the retiring room for twenty-five minutes considering what sentence to give him. Alan thought there must be some dispute, because they had called the Clerk of the Court in to advise them some five minutes earlier.
He glanced over at the court reporter slumped back in his chair, lazily reading a newspaper. Alan could just make out the words ‘Terrorist Threat’ in the headlines; the papers had written about little else since the story broke four weeks earlier. He was familiar with it. An extreme environmental group called New World Order had hijacked a canister of deadly bacteria called ‘Bioproxine’ while it was in transit from a United States Department of Defence site in the Arizona Desert, to another in Utah. The Americans had developed the bacteria for biological warfare purposes in the late 1960s and it had the unique quality of being harmful only to humans. It could only live and breed in temperatures of one and two degrees centigrade. Once let loose into the atmosphere, if temperatures should rise above two degrees, the bacteria would not survive for more than two days. This had the potential of allowing the Americans to destroy an army in a given area before moving in a few days later without suffering casualties. In 1972 when the Americans announced a ban on the use and production of biological warfare agents, the bacteria was taken by the Department Of Defence and stored in a state of suspended animation at fifteen degrees below freezing at a research programme site in the Arizona Desert.
The terrorist group was demanding that the western world start the process immediately of reducing their carbon monoxide emissions, USA by 50%, the rest by 30%. If their demands were not met, they stated that on the 4th March the bacteria would be released in fifteen densely populated cities throughout the developed world. It was estimated the bacteria would kill everyone within a hundred-mile radius of the discharge. The group justified their stance by maintaining, that the threat to the lives, or possible death of these civilians, would precipitate a change that would save the lives of many more people in the future.
For the three days following the announcement, not only the developed nations but also the rest of the world seemed to be gripped with panic. The security forces in most countries rounded up everyone suspected of being a member of ‘New World Order.’ Through information given by terrorist members who thought the group had gone too far, it was not long before the FBI had arrested and interrogated three members of the group who had taken part in the hijack. Although the FBI had not been able to recover the bacteria, they had been able to establish that the facilities the terrorists had arranged for freezing the bacteria had broken down immediately after the hijack and they were forced to store it in a cool-bag with a temperature of between three and five degrees. Despite the fact the terrorist maintained they would carry out their threat, tensions were relieved, and all attention then turned to criticising the Americans for not destroying such a dangerous bacteria.
Alan Callaway turned his attention back to the court. He couldn't help overhearing what one of the elderly women leaning towards her friend whispered about the young man in the dock.
"It was only a couple of months ago he was here for beating someone up and if I had my way I'd lock him up and throw away the key."
Her friend nodded in agreement. "I bet a pound to a penny he gets away with probation or something and then he'll be out tonight again stealing some other poor sod's belongings."
Alan was indifferent to the young man's fate. His eyelids felt heavy, after yet another night of sleep being interrupted by bad dreams.
It was now nearly noon, he had been sitting in court for nearly two hours. He moved a hand to his mouth to hide a yawn. Maybe I'll go out and get a bit of fresh air, he thought, then promptly changed his mind. There was only one more case to go before he would be summoned to appear. So instead, he stretched his legs out in front of him and let his mind drift back to the confrontation that had led him here.
He remembered it was about 12.30 am on a Monday night in late January, when he found himself awake, sitting bolt upright in bed, after clawing and screaming his way back toconsciousness to escape the hell that dominated his sleep. He looked into the blackness, only to be confronted again by the images of the dying and the dead, sprawled across grey and rain swept pavements begging for life. Turning on the side lamp, he looked up at the nicotine stained ceiling of his cell-like bedsit. Throwing back the covers he stepped on to the lino, cold on his naked feet and then sat back on the bed, tired yet restless, before reaching over to his bedside table for his cigarettes. He inhaled deeply on the filter tip, which he still considered a luxury after the matchstick style rollups he had got used to during his recent spell in prison. It had been two weeks since his release, and despite the drabness of his new home, the privacy that it offered far outweighed the disadvantages. He decided to make some coffee and went to the small fridge situated next to his sink where the tap constantly dripped but now went unheard due to familiarity. There was no milk but he was unconcerned, it gave him the excuse to go out to the all night garage. He knew the night air would clear his head and blow away the last remnants of the dream.
He walked out into the street, silent except for the sound of the occasional distant car. After reaching the end of the block, he heard footsteps echoing on the pavement behind him. Without turning, he knew it was two men, their footsteps keeping the same rhythm as his own. He tensed up but continued walking, careful not to quicken his pace.
A voice called from behind him, "Hey, arse-hole, wait there!"
Alan carried on walking, pretending to ignore them. He sensed their pace quicken. He stopped before turning his head slowly and found himself facing two slim built youths their faces hidden under dark coloured hoodies.
"Give us ya fucking money," one of them demanded, holding up a tightly clenched fist.
Alan's heart was racing. He took a deep breath. ‘Slow yourself down for a minute,’ he told himself. His breathing became more regular as he took control of his fear.
"Give us your fucking money, I ain't gonna tell you again!" the youth shouted. He shook his fist as he took a step closer to Alan.
Alan immediately let loose his right fist, splattering his assailant’s nose and causing his hood to slip to the back of his head revealing a white bloody face with short cropped hair. As the young man instinctively covering his nose with his hands, Alan lashed out with his right foot, slamming it into his shin, causing the youth to fall to the ground, screaming. The second youth now wary of Alan’s speed waited to see how his friend would respond.
Alan caught sight of a blade, held tightly in his wounded assailant’s hand as he lunged forward with the blade aimed at his stomach. Alan turned his body sideways, grabbed the youth's wrist and twisted it. The knife fell from his hand, echoing on the empty pavement. Before he had time to recover, Alan aimed a blow to the side of his face, sending him stumbling across the pavement
and picking up the knife and staring at the second youth aggressively "Do you want some of this!" he shouted.
The youth hesitated and then glanced at his friend moaning on the pavement. He looked back at Alan who continued staring at him calmly. Fear won out over loyalty to his friend and he ran off down the street.
Alan turned his attention back to the assailant on the ground, crouching down with knife still in his hand and looked directly at him, before grabbing his coat and pulling his blood stained face close to his own.
"I'm sorry," the youth mumbled, "please don't stab me."
Alan released his grip and stood up slowly without taking his eyes off him. "Stay away from me do you understand!"
The youth did not have time to answer; they were interrupted by the sight of a police car as it slowed down beside them. Two policemen quickly got out of their car. Alan did not resist as he was flung against the wall. His right arm was forced half way up his back and his face pressed hard on the rough brickwork, as the cold metal of handcuffs were shut tight against his wrist.
Alan managed to twist his head slightly as the youth was being helped to his feet,
then leaned his head against the wall, looked up to the heavens. "Oh shit not again,"he sighed as he was read his rights and arrested for Grievous Bodily Harm. Alan remembered the youth sitting in the courtroom during his first hearing, nursing his wounds in the hope of affecting the magistrate’s decision, as the prosecutor argued against bail. Alan got his bail in the end but his Defence solicitor had to argue long and hard for it. He was summoned to appear at the Magistrates Court today for the case to be committed to the Crown Court for trial.
His thoughts were interrupted by the return of the three magistrates. They brought with them the usual air of formality. The Chairman of the Magistrates was in his early sixties, thick grey hair falling over his ears and resting on the collar of his brown tweed jacket. He sat between his two younger colleagues, both men, in their mid-forties wearing grey suits and nondescript ties. He looked down at the defendant through glasses resting on the end of his nose and said, "Mr Davis, we have considered the Pre-Sentence Report and taken into account your family circumstances, however you have a long criminal record and in the past community sentences have had no effect on your offending behaviour. In view of this we have no alternative but to sentence you to four months custody. "He then looked over at the two policemen who appeared at the courtroom door. "Take him away" he ordered, as the Clerk handed him the papers for the next case.
The young man accepted his sentence without comment. He was led away to the cells by two policemen.
Alan noticed the sentence was not enough to satisfy the two elderly women. The one sittingnearest to him nudged her friend. "Can you believe that?"
"No," her friend replied, shaking her head slowly "Four years would’ve been more like it."
The Clerk turned to the Usher. "Call in Mrs Coles," he ordered.
Alan heard the Usher's voice echo the Clerk's as he walked through the dark wood stained double doors leading out of the courtroom. "Calling Mrs Coles!"
The door to the court re opened slowly. An elderly woman appeared. She's tiny, Alan thought. She stood four foot eight inches in her low-heeled black shoes, and her dark blue dress hung loosely on her thin body. She held her head high as she made her way to the dock clutching a black plastic handbag.
The Magistrate waited until Mrs Coles had reached the dock before allowing the prosecutor to make his opening statement.
"You may sit down Mrs Coles," he said warmly.
"Thank you," she replied as she perched herself on the hard wooden seat, her head just visible above the dock.
He then turned to the prosecutor. "You may continue, Mr Evans."
"The facts of the case are these, Sir," the prosecutor said reading from the papers in front of him as he rose slowly from his seat. "On Tuesday the 3rd of February at 8.15 pm, Mrs Coles approached Wimbledon Police Station and took from a plastic bag a common house brick. She then used it to crack the wire mesh windows on the door of Wimbledon Police Station". He paused as he turned a page. "When questioned", he continued," she stated she had broken the window knowing she would be arrested and taken to court. Mrs Coles hoped to give some publicity to her dreams, that she believes warn her that the bacteria we have heard so much about recently will be much worse than originally anticipated. Far from being rendered harmless, Mrs Coles believes the disease caused by the bacteria will wipe out most of the human race."
The elderly women sniggered, as the prosecutor continued. Alan heard one of them whisper.
"She's a bloody nutter. Everyone knows them germs are dead and even if they weren’t, those loony terrorists haven’t got enough to kill everyone. She isn’t going to get any publicity either, the reporter has gone already."
Her friend turned to her. "I bet he'll regret not being here when he hears about this one, it would’ve had his readers in stitches."
Alan couldn't help noticing two of the magistrates were also having trouble hiding the amused look on their faces.
The prosecutor finished his statement. After receiving the nod from the magistrates, the duty solicitor stood up quickly and started on his mitigation.” You will be aware that Mrs Coles is of previous good character."
Alan felt tense as he went over in his mind the prosecutor's opening statement. He could hardly believe how similar the old woman's dreams were to his own.
When the solicitor had finished, the Chairman turned his attention back to the defendant. "Mrs Coles, is there anything you wish to say before we pass sentence?"
She looked up at him. "Yes," she said, "I have something to say, although I realise it won't do my case any good. You’ve just heard the prosecutor run through my statement to the police. Every word of it is true. Messages in dreams are not new to me, I have experienced them all my life. Sometimes they are as mundane as a reminder of where I lost my front door key. At other times they advise me how to conduct myself when I’m going through a difficult situation. I've been dreaming about this terrible time that is almost upon us for about two and a half years, and during the course of time, they have become more and more detailed. They have warned me that a bacteria, which was developed by man, would escape into the atmosphere. It won't survive for more than two or three days, but that will be enough time for it to get into the water system and kill nearly everybody on the planet, but if we act now we may be able to save some people. For example, if everyone is vaccinated against typhoid it will increase their chances of survival, although I must stress that they too would most likely die if they drank the water, but at least they would have a fighting chance."
There was a brief silence, followed by suppressed laughter from the two elderly women sitting in front of Alan.
The Magistrate turned on them sharply. "If you continue with that behaviour, I'll have you removed from the court," he warned.
Sheepishly they murmured an apology.
He turned his attention back to the court. "Thank you Mrs Coles," he said, before continuing. "This is your first time before the courts, and we have taken this into account while considering sentence. We have decided the most appropriate way of dealing with this matter is to impose a twelve months conditional discharge. You will also pay £250 compensation to the police for the broken window."
She gave him a puzzled look.
"Do you understand what we mean by a conditional discharge Mrs Coles?"
"No, I'm afraid I don't."
"It means that no further action will be taken regarding this matter, but if you were to appear before the court within the next twelve months, you would be re sentenced for this offence".
Mrs Coles sighed with relief, "That's very kind of you."
The Magistrate glanced at one of his colleagues and they exchanged a brief smile. "Do you need time to pay the compensation?"
"I only have my pension," she answered.
"Can you afford five pounds a week?"
"I think so."
"Very well, the compensation is to be paid at five pounds a week. You may go now Mrs Coles."
Alan quickly got out of his seat as Mrs Coles left the dock. He waited in the hallway for the few seconds it took her to leave the court room, and then followed as she walked towards the exit.
"Calling Mr Callaway," the usher cried.
Ignoring the call he hurried through the doors and bounced down the steps after her. "Mrs Coles!" he called.
She turned, looking up at him. “Weren’t you in the court?”
Before he could answer, he heard the voice of the court usher again.
"Calling Mr Callaway!"
He glanced back towards the courthouse, before turning back to Mrs Coles. "You're gonna think I'm a little crazy coming up to you like this," he said breathlessly. "It's just that I’ve been having dreams like yours for the past two years, and I wanna know if you know something I don't, or if this is just a coincidence."
She smiled. "Or maybe you just want reassurance it is a coincidence."
"Maybe you're right," he said taking another quick glance at the courthouse. "Look, I must go back right now. Maybe we could meet somewhere later?"
She nodded, then rummaged in her handbag and pulled out a pen and a piece of scrap paper before scribbling her address. "Call round when you've finished here if you've got time." She handed him the piece of paper, then added with a smile, "If they let you out that is."
He quickly glanced at the note before stuffing it in his back pocket. "Thanks, I'll see you later." “Young man?" she said, as he was about to walk away, "You haven't told me your name."
"It's Alan, Alan Callaway."
"My name is Ena."
Alan's case was dealt with by lunchtime. As expected it was committed to Crown Court for trial. He was granted further bail without any problems, before being told he would be informed when the date for his Crown Court appearance was fixed.
It was early afternoon as Alan made his way along the second floor balcony of the nineteen fifties red bricked block of council flats, the crumpled paper with Ena's address held tightly in his right hand. He noticed that the only distinguishing feature between the row of pale blue front doors was the numbers screwed in an inch above the glass panel. He stopped at the door marked six and took a another look at the note before ringing the bell. He leaned against the door frame and listened to Ena's footsteps making their way down the passage.
"Welcome," she said, as she opened the front door.
He followed her into her living room, which contained a worn three-piece suite half surrounding a dark brown coffee table. A portable television stood on a woodchip sideboard that rested with the other items of furniture on the green patterned threadbare fitted carpet. The warmth from the two-bar electric fire filled the room.
She watched him for a moment as he surveyed his surroundings. "Sit down and make yourself at home. Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?" she asked, making her way to the kitchen.
"Coffee would be great. No sugar please," he called, as he walked over to the mantelpiece, and casually picked up one of the several photographs upon it. It was in black and white. He guessed it was taken in the early nineteen sixties. A man of about thirty, looking very relaxed, sitting on a park bench smiled up at him.
Ena returned to the room carrying a tray. "That was my late husband Harold. He died three years ago."
Alan watched as she placed the tray on the coffee table. "I'm sorry," he said, replacing the picture.
"That's alright," she replied, "I'll always miss him, but you just have to learn to get on with life." "Is this your granddaughter?" he asked as he looked at another photo of Ena with her arm around a young girl of thirteen or fourteen years.
"No, Harold and I weren't blessed with children. That's Lisa, my late brother's granddaughter, but I love her as my own."
Why don't I just keep my big mouth shut, he thought, while moving over to an armchair. He sat down as Ena passed him his coffee.
"I'm intrigued," she said as she stirred her cup of tea. "I've met so few people who have had the dream."
"You mean there's others?"
"Yes, there are others. My grandniece Lisa is one of them. My nephew Phillip, and his wife Rebecca, were separated a year ago, about the time her dreams started. They believe the dreams are just a symptom of her anxieties about the separation."
"How many others do you know?"
Ena placed her tea on the coffee table. "Maybe we will talk about them later," she said, as she sat back in the chair. "Would you like to tell me about your dream?"
"I’d like to see what you make of it," he said, as he sipped his coffee. "They started this time two years ago," he continued. "It was a Saturday night and I was driving to a party in Stockwell when I got involved in a bad car accident. I don't remember the crash. The doctor told me after I regained consciousness that a car had pulled out of a side street and hit the passenger side at high speed. I was lucky to survive. They told me at one point my heart stopped for twenty-two seconds." He paused, and looked towards the window, eyes focusing on nothing in particular. "Go on."
"Now this is the crazy part. Although I don't know anything about the crash, I do remember as clear as daylight, looking down at the scene of the accident afterwards as the medics got me into the ambulance. It seems strange to talk about it now, but even though I knew I may not make it, I wasn't at all scared. I even followed the ambulance to the hospital, watching as the paramedic was in a panic trying to keep me alive."
"Your experience is not unusual; lots of people have out of body experiences."
"Well, I'd never been through anything like it before." He paused. "Anyway, it started getting stranger after that. The next thing I knew I was travelling through what seemed like a long tunnel at high speed. There were beams of brightly coloured lights shooting past me in the other direction."
"Did it frighten you?" She interrupted.
"No, not at all, it was fantastic. The next thing I knew I was walking down this street in some town. There were dead people sprawled all over the road and pavement, I felt completely alone. This wasn't so nice, but somehow I knew I was protected." He paused again. "It's hard to explain, it was so real, like being alive but in another world."
She nodded encouragingly.
"It all changed again. The bodies disappeared and the atmosphere changed. Then I saw my mother."
"Your mother?" she repeated, looking puzzled.
"She was killed in a car accident when I was seven. In the dream, if you can call it that, she looked just as she did when I last saw her."
"Now it's my turn to say sorry. Who looked after you after your mother died?"
"I was brought up by various foster parents and in children's homes.” He paused, not wanting to go into unnecessary detail about his background. “Anyway, that's another story. In the dream, my mother told me that one day nearly everyone in the world was gonna die of some disease and I would have a better chance of staying alive because I had been vaccinated against typhoid when I was in the army. "He paused again. "Then I started coming back through the tunnel, and the next thing I knew I was laid out in a hospital bed."
"With the exception of my niece, all the people I know who have had the dream have been vaccinated against typhoid at some point in their lives, including myself."
"That's weird. Do you think it's some kind of coincidence?"
"No, I don't believe in coincidence," she replied.
"Why do you think your niece had the dream?"
"I think she is just psychic, and so are you, but you don't realise it. Nevertheless, we have all been told in our dreams that having been vaccinated our bodies have some Defence against the disease. A few will survive who haven't had this, but most will die. Did you have any more dreams after that?
"Yeah, plenty, but that was the last one to feature my mother. The others were more like nightmares. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, covered in sweat, after bad dreams of people dying everywhere."
"Do you still have them?"
"Yeah. They stopped for about eight weeks. I thought then they had gone for good, and started to believe that they were part of the after effects of the accident."
"What happened then?"
"I had a dream about a multi-car pileup on the M25. The following evening I was watching the news on TV and there it was, the images just as I had seen in my dream."
"Did that worry you?"
"You bet it did. Soon after that the same old dreams kept right on coming. That's why when I hear about the terrorist it worries me."
"So you have made a connection between your dreams and the hijack?"
He frowned. "Well, not exactly, it's just that I feel uneasy every time I hear about it on the TV."
Ena smiled as she placed the cups back on the tray. "As I was saying, you've made the connection but you're afraid to admit it to yourself."
"I wouldn't put it like that."
"How would you put it?" She asked as she got up to take the cups to the kitchen.
He waited until she returned to the room before answering. "I guess hearing you in court today has made me think about it more, but I still can't make up my mind."
She returned to her armchair and looked at him warmly. "I know you've come here for some kind of answer today, but I can only repeat what I have already said in court."
He had decided he didn't want to get into too much of a debate about her interpretation of her dreams. Listening to Ena in court and talking to her now had convinced him the dreams had some sort of meaning, although he couldn't bring himself to believe they were a warning of doom for all but a few members of the human race. The idea was too bizarre to contemplate.
He was beginning to believe the theory that the dreams may well be a warning about the terrorist situation, and that the US Defence Department may have got it wrong and the bacteria may well be active and kill everyone within a five mile radius of the discharge. The possibility of civilization being all but wiped out was too much to comprehend. However, he was still intrigued that they were not the only two who shared the dream. "You said there are others, tell me about them?"
"A few months after I started having the dreams, I placed a small advert in a national newspaper. I had over three hundred replies. Most of them were from cranks; only two of them were genuine. One was from a vicar, Michael Richardson in North Finchley. His wife Judy also believes in his dreams. Michael was recently temporarily suspended after preaching about the dream from the pulpit. Their daughter Jasmine thinks they have both gone a bit mad, but will still take precautions on the 4th March, mainly to stop her parents worrying about her."
"Do you mind if I smoke?"
"No, go ahead."
"What about the other reply?" He took a cigarette from his packet.
"That was from Reg Davis," she said, passing him an ashtray. "He used to be some kind of new age traveller. The day after he had the dream he bought a lottery ticket on a whim. He won two million pounds, and then set up a small community in a farmhouse in Somerset with his girlfriend Helen Baxter and several others who believe in his dream. They have made themselves as self-sufficient as possible, installing both a generator and solar panels."
"He sounds serious,” Alan said amused.
"We are all serious. I've written to the newspapers about it, spoken at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park and when none of that did any good, I put a brick through the police station window."
Despite the fact Ena still wore a smile, he noticed there was now a slight edge to her voice.
"OK I'm sorry.” He smiled." I didn't mean anything by it. If I didn't believe there was something in it I wouldn't be here."
"Of course not," she replied, the warmth returning to her voice. "Would you like to meet the Reverend Richardson?"
He thought for a moment. "Maybe."
"I will be visiting the family on Friday afternoon, if you still want to come along be here at one o'clock."
"I may take you up on that." He stubbed out his cigarette and rose to his feet. "I've gotta go now, but it's been good meeting you. Until today I thought I was the only one who had the dreams."
"Is it a comfort to know there are others?"
"Yeah, it is in a way."
They left the room and made their way to the front door.
He paused for a moment before leaving the flat.” What I don't understand," he said thoughtfully, "we both have the dreams, but yours seem to have a lot more detail. There's no way I could have got all that information out of my dreams."
"That's easy to explain. You fight your dreams. You don't like what they are telling you so you try to suppress them, but they still won't go away. They end up by causing you all sorts of stress. I doubt if even coming here has convinced you of their real power. Dreams are only an extension of your intuition and you should have more faith in it."
He smiled. "You're OK mother."
She smiled back at him. "You are OK yourself, now be off with you.”
Alan Callaway slowly made his way up the stairs of the grey tenement building to his bedsit, head down and deep in thought. He had walked the two miles or so from Ena's home to his own, stopping off at the supermarket on the way to buy a few provisions. The meeting with Ena no longer at the forefront of his mind, he was now much more concerned about the Crown Court case that he believed would go against him. He didn't think he could handle another spell in prison, especially for something he hadn't done.
The familiar voice that greeted him as he reached his landing jolted him back to the present.
"Hi, big brother, long time no see."
Alan looked up, his spirits lifted at the sight of the young mixed race man who stood smiling before him, baseball cap covering his shaven head and a gold earring in his left ear. On the floor beside him lay a long khaki holdall.
Alan walked towards his brother with arms outstretched, "Good to see you, Lenny," he said, as they embraced warmly.
Lenny pulled away and chuffed him playfully on the shoulder. "Where have you been, man?" he laughed. "I've been looking all over for you."
"I just wanted to lay low for a while," Alan replied as he opened his door. Lenny picked up his holdall and followed Alan into the room. After sitting down on the unmade bed, he pulled from the pocket of his faded jeans a small bag of Jamaican grass, and started to roll a spliff while Alan put the milk he had brought in the mini fridge and placed the rest of his food in a small cupboard above the sink. "I take it you got my address through my probation officer. I asked him to pass it on to you if you came looking for me," Alan said as he sat down in the room’s only chair.
"That's right, man, I was beginning to think you didn't want to see me or something."
"You could have written to me while I was in prison, you know I would’ve sent you a visiting order."
Lenny took a long pull on the spliff before answering. "You're joking, man," he said, as the thick blue smoke filled the room, "you know I ain't much for writing letters, and I won't go near a prison unless I have to. Anyway", he continued as he passed the spliff to Alan. "You know I’d always look out for you as you would for me, it's been that way since mum died. Who was the one that put you up when you were kicked out of the paras?"
Alan still felt some anger when he thought back to that time. He was eighteen years old and on a tour of Afghanistan with a rookie officer who had a point to prove. The officer's antics had cost the life of a friend, killed by a sniper after they were ordered down a street in a village high-risk area of the Helmand Province without taking the proper safety precautions. Alan shot the sniper dead, and when they got back to base he laid the officer out cold with one punch. That was the end of his army days.
"OK, but who took the rap for that last warehouse job?" Alan took another pull on the spliff.
Lenny grinned as he watched him. "Like I said, man, we look out for each other. "You should have some money coming from that job. Vince held on to your share."
"I doubt it, man, he would’ve spent it by now."
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
"How much did you get?"
"Two hundred and fifty quid."
"You're kidding, that job was worth twice that much." Alan shrugged in resignation. "Oh well, no use worrying about it now."
"Are you gonna smoke that all to yourself or pass it over here?" Lenny smiled, looking at the spliff.
Alan passed it back to Lenny, then walked over to his mini CD player and pressed the on button. The gravel soaked voice of Otis Redding singing ‘Change Is Gonna Come’ came drifting out of the speakers. He loved Otis, his mother used to play him all the time. It reminded Alan of the security of his early childhood, before the succession of children's homes and foster placements that were still fixed in his memory.
He sat down and closed his eyes, the effects of the grass now taking hold, allowing the sound to seep into him.
Lenny watched him. “Well you haven’t changed much, you still love the old songs."
Alan opened his eyes and looked over at the holdall. "What's in the bag?"
"Take a look," Lenny replied, as he stubbed the spliff out in the room's only ashtray.
Alan forced himself to move off the bed and unzipped the bag lazily. Suddenly, with eyes blazing he stood up and flashed an angry look at Lenny. "Why the fuck did you bring these guns here?" He shouted.
"Keep it down, man, someone might hear you."
"Don't you think I'm in enough fucking shit?" Alan continued, his voice now lower, but the anger still evident. "I'm not only still on licence after my last spell in prison, I had to appear in court this morning on an assault charge. If the police find this steel here, they’ll lock me up and throw away the key."
"Oh, man, I didn't know you were back in court again. What happened?" Lenny asked sympathetically.
"Don't try and change the subject," Alan snapped, as he crouched down and peered into the bag again. He slowly pulled out an Ak47 Kalashnikov assault rifle. "Where did you get this?" He placed the gun gently on the floor.
"You don't want to know, man," Lenny replied.
Alan gave him a sharp look, before turning his attention back to the bag, he pulled out two magazines, both containing thirty rounds of ammunition. After laying them beside the gun, he carefully unwrapped a cloth and looked down at a Browning automatic pistol. He held the black metal loosely in his hand. The bag also held sixty rounds of 9mm ammunition for the pistol.
"This is really good quality steel," Alan observed, the anger in his voice now subsided. "Come on Lenny, where did you get this stuff?"
Lenny sat for a moment deep in thought. He looked up at Alan and half smiled before lowering his eyes. "Alright, man, I'll tell you. I had a nice little number going, running a few deals for Benji Roberts."
"Benji Roberts," Alan repeated, "he may be a big dealer but he’d rip off his own mother for the price of a pack of cigarettes."
“I know,” Lenny sighed. "Anyway, I was getting rid of three or four kilos of grass a week. All I had to do was pick up the stuff from him, shift it, then go back and give him the money and keep my cut. Everything was going great, until I got busted with half a kilo three weeks ago."
"How did you get busted?"
"I didn't know it at the time but Benji set me up. These guys wanted some stuff, I arranged a meeting to make the deal and they turned out to be the pigs."
"Yeah I know. As soon as I told Benji about the bust he went wild. He said I had to pay him back the money that he’d lost on the deal, and if I couldn't, I had to do some work for him until the debt was paid."
"Knowing that guy he’d have you running around forever."
"You're right, I was trapped. He was getting a lot of hassle from other dealers, so he got himself these shooters," he said, casually waving in the direction of the guns. "I know now why he was so paranoid," he continued. "He was grassing everybody up to the pigs and then moving in on their territory. He informed on me to make it look to other dealers that he was under the same pressures that they were. Anyway, it was all a waste of time because they were already very suspicious of him."
"Did they make a move on him?"
Lenny sniggered. "I was getting to that. Benji's contact with the police told him he was gonna be raided. He even told him the time and date. Nothing heavy you understand, just a routine bust to make it look as if Benji was also in the frame. The day before the raid he told me to look after the guns for him until things had cooled down." Lenny paused, looked up at Alan and smiled. "Bad move on Benji's part. That evening two guys bust into his flat, emptied six shoots into him and were away before he had time to blink."
"Did they kill him?"
"Hell no, but he is paralyzed from the neck down. He isn’t gonna be any trouble to anybody again."
"Now you've got the shooters?"
"That's right." Lenny nodded.
"Why did you bring them here?"
"I've had to leave my yard. I was due in court yesterday to be sentenced for possession with intent to supply. I knew I’d be facing at least eighteen months this time so I skipped bail and I had to take the guns with me."
"You're crazy, they are gonna pick you up at some point and if they find the guns on you they'll throw the book at you."
"I've got it all worked out, man."
"What do you mean you've got it all worked out?" Alan was getting angry again. "How many times have I heard that from you, only to see you fall flat on your face."
"I've got a buyer."
"A friend of a friend, no one heavy. The guy is a collector, I'm selling them really cheap, a thousand quid for the lot."
"Why don't you just sell them on the street? You'll make a lot more money."
"You're kidding, man, someone's bound to recognise them as being Benji's."
"When are you making the deal?"
"The guy is abroad at the moment, he won't be back until next week sometime. I want to get rid of them around the 5th or the 6th."
"So what are you gonna do till then?"
"I'm moving from yard to yard at the moment, and I think most people would freak if they knew I had this amount of steel with me, so I was hoping to make a deal with you."
"What sort of deal?" Alan asked curiously.
Lenny looked at Alan intently. "If you look after them for a week, I'll give you half of what I get for them."
Alan got to his feet, walked over to the bag and started to replace the contents. “You want me to risk five years in prison on top of what I'm gonna get for the assault charge, for five-hundred quid."
"You won't be risking anything." Lenny was almost pleading.
Alan crouched down by the bag, he thought for a moment before turning to Lenny. "I'll do it, but only because you're crazy enough to carry this around with you until you get arrested."
Lenny sighed with relief. "Thanks, man. Does that mean you don't want the money?" he joked.
"Of course I want the money," Alan smiled, "but this is the last time I do anything like this, and if the guns aren’t out of here by Friday week I'll throw them straight in the Thames, do you understand?"
Lenny nodded. "Sure, man."
"Where are you staying tonight?”
"I was hoping to sleep on your floor."
"Bad idea." Alan carefully placed the guns under the bed. "The police are bound to call here looking for you at some point, and if they find you here, they'll turn the place upside down."
Lenny nodded in agreement. "It makes sense to me, man, if they find the guns we've both had it. I know a guy over in Tooting who will put me up. I'll be in contact Friday week, if you need to see me before then, go to the Red Lion in Brixton High Street and see Royston, he'll get a message to me."
"Got it, anything else?"
"Yeah there is," Lenny said taking the grass out of his pocket. "Why is it always me that ends up rolling the fucking spliff, man?" He smiled as he tossed the weed to Alan.
They sat smoking and talking over old times in the children's home and on the streets until midnight when Lenny left to get the last bus to Tooting. Alan saw Lenny to the front door.
"Stay safe," Alan smiled as they shook hands.
"You too, brother," Lenny replied as he made his way to the bus stop.
On reaching his room Alan stretched out on the bed, placed his hands behind his head and looked up at the ceiling. He had been out of prison five weeks, and already he was on further charges of assault, and had two high quality guns under his bed. He felt sleepy. The marijuana was still working on his system. He closed his eyes. The last thing he remembered before drifting into unconsciousness was hoping he would have a dream free night.
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