Brian was the only one at home when he stumbled through the door, hoping to astound them all together with his good news. The key rack they all used as a sign of who was in or out was bereft of all keys except Brian's. He was manipulating the controls of a home-made musical synthesizer, built from a multitude of parts from various electrical junk he continually bought from car-boot sales or liberated on skip raids all around the area. The box of bits was plugged into a small guitar amp, and was emitting high pitched wails that brought to Ben's mind a tortured cat being strangled by the slow and even tightening of a plastic grip cord around its neck. It wasn't the volume so much as the shrieking shrills that disconcerted him. With the noise, and the effect of the alcohol, he felt he was going to be sick, he hung up his keys and headed straight for his room where he had a basin handy next to his bed just for that possibility.
Brian hadn't noticed his arrival or departure through the living room, so intent was he on his next orchestral opus.
The door shut behind him, the feeling of retching receded. Now he could think, he did a quick inspection of his room. It wasn't in too bad a shape, for a change there were no plates lying around cultivating mould from leftover pizza. He had done the laundry a couple of days ago, so the smell of unwashed clothes and underwear wasn't as rancid as it could be. He kicked some stuff lying around the floor under the bed and opened the window to let some fresh air circulate the room. It was gone ten in the evening now and he wondered where Debbie could be. She hadn't bothered to reply to his text earlier in the day, and hadn't phoned. He desperately wanted to please her with some good news, he had a job now, he was capable of responsibility, he could change. This is what he was thinking, but he knew it was bullshit really. If he could admit it to himself, why should he even bother trying to prove otherwise to others?
He made up a cigarette and sat at the window to smoke. Smoking was another fuckup rule of the residence now - the house had been designated a no-smoking zone, he couldn't remember if this was a new stipulation in the tenant's agreement, or was just something created by the more health conscious house-mates. Enforcement in communal areas could be policed, in here he was safe, but had started smoking next to the window just in case of upsetting the less tolerant occupants; his second-hand smoke could sneak out under the door and surreptitiously inflict a horrible cancer on an unsuspecting house-mate. His jacket was on a shaky enough nail, as it was, without causing any more grief.
The job would be fine for a while, no doubt it was minimum wage, and would likely be boring as hell, but it would keep him off the booze for a bit and allow him to pay off some debts and even save some money. He could take Debbie out somewhere nice for a change instead of cheap tacky student haunts, even take her away on holiday for a bit, either up north, or a city break in Europe over a summer weekend. You never know with these things, the job could be a catalyst to greater things. He could take to it like a duck to water, rise through the ranks, manager, area manager, regional manager, more money and prestige with each step up the ladder. Company car, travelling business class to strategy meetings. He flicked the remnant of the cigarette out the window. Some weirdo wearing a hoodie was looking over. He gave him the finger, which was returned, then watched him avert his eyes and walk quickly on.
Yet all that was mentioned along with the few seconds of footage was that the 'police were looking for an important witness to come forward to help them with their inquiries.' Code for, this is the guilty bastard.
No need to panic, but the panic had set in then, for neither his employers nor Tennyson could help him out of this mess. He had crawled into a corner then and sobbed, the first time he had cried in years, for he had no one to turn to anymore. Someone would see that bulletin and recognize him. He was known to his neighbours, his doctor, the local library staff would know him. What to do?
Uncle Shamus might know what to do. He brightened up a bit. Uncle Shamus could tell him what to do.
Uncle Shamus was a selfish loner who lived in a small ground floor flat in the Govanhill area of Glasgow. He had lived alone since his wife had died in an accident, she was a drunk driver who met another drunk driver, head on, when both careened home from their respective watering holes one evening. As both parties had cancelled out each others improprieties and lives, the police covered over the more sordid details of the accident, and it was marked up as death by misadventure of both fatalities, to ease the burden on the two families of the deceased. It also eased the way for insurance to be paid, so both families walked the easier path and better came to terms with their grief knowing a financial bung would help them along. This was before the days when drink driving was as anathema to society as it was today.
So Uncle Shamus had the mortgage paid off, had a sizable lump sum in the bank (Betty was well insured), but had lost the love of his life, though this he easily learnt to live with, she couldn't cook crap, and he was forever having to give her a slap to get her to behave. Betty's parents tried to interfere with the insurance money when they heard the amount, because of the way they knew their daughter was being abused by her husband. But this was in vain. No one likes people who rock the boat, especially the police and officials, after everything is stamped and sealed, and the insurance company paid out regardless of any reservations by any third parties.
So Uncle Shamus gave up his employment as a council street-sweeper and lapsed into a life of sedate luxury for a while. Days consisted of afternoons in the pub and the betting shop next door, regular use of prostitutes, the younger the better, and if they were druggies he could usually give them a slap or two for an extra couple of quid. At one point he thought he was in heaven, he had rented a room to two young prostitutes, one a skinny twenty-one year old junkie, and the other a sixteen year old runaway. He had regular freebies plus some rent money while they stayed under his roof, but things got out of hand one night when he broke the younger one's jaw and arm when a bit too drunk. He'd to pay the junkie's dealer debts off to stop the police getting involved and only got sex from her after that. Around a month later, when the younger one's wounds had healed he came back from the pub to discover they had both split, taken all their belongings and about £900 cash he had hidden in what he thought was a safe place in the house.
The insurance money was quickly running out, and he thought he may have to think about looking for a job again, when social services got in touch.
His brother, whom he hadn't had any contact with for years, had died in a house fire in Dumfries, along with his wife. Their child, a twelve year old called Simon was now an orphan. Social Services wanted to dump the boy on him. It wasn't until Shamus was told of the financial help that would be available to him for such an undertaking, that he decided to give the Social Services worker his full attention.
Shortly after that meeting, Simon was brought along to another to see if they would bond. The social worker was apprehensive, but Shamus had no police record and the house was fairly well kept and orderly, and although he wasn't employed, he had just recently signed-on looking for work, after a long bout of depression due to the loss of his wife, he explained. So, Simon left his temporary care home in Dumfries and moved to Glasgow to live with Uncle Shamus.
At first everything seemed fine, Uncle Shamus was pleasant, decorated a room for the lad, enrolled him in the local school, fed the boy regular meals, and clothed him, though mostly from the charity shops in the area.
Simon tried his best to get on with his uncle, tried not to complain even when he thought he was justified. Went to school, did his homework, and even helped with the housework and food shopping.
At times he missed his parents, but he wasn't too sad, his regime with his uncle was far more relaxed. They were strict disciplinarians whereas Uncle Shamus was more laid back, and tended to not pry too deeply into what he did or was up to, as long as it didn't interfere with his uncle's day to day activities. The social worker had called once a week at first, and then once a month, thereafter it became three monthly visits, and then they stopped bothering to come by at all, presumably his uncle was a good carer.
Only once that first year did he get the urge to start a fire when his uncle was asleep. He had been caught shop-lifting a pornographic magazine from the corner shop. It was done for a dare, a school boy prank, but he was caught red-handed. The shopkeeper though, instead of calling in the police, marched him down the street, by the scruff of the neck, to his uncle, and at the front door in full view of neighbours, berated his uncle about his thieving and how next time he would without hesitation call the police. He had expected Uncle Shamus to defend him which made the sharp slap he got all the more surprising. Shamus paid the shopkeeper a few quid, grabbed the magazine, which had been waved around so all could see, grabbed him by the ear and threw him over the door. When the door was slammed shut behind him, that's when Uncle Shamus really laid into him.
The beating was bad, but it didn't leave any lasting physical damage, though psychologically, a bond had been irreparably broken. Later that night, while his uncle slept, he stripped off and inspected his bruised body, blue and purple blotches and red welts covered most of his trunk, the welts from a leather belt his uncle had taken more than a delicate amount of exertion in wielding. Pains and aches kept him awake most of that night, and he distracted himself from the suffering by flicking open and closed the Zippo lighter that used to belong to his father, thinking about the ignition of fire, and how it could be such an easy way to deal with problems.
He was held off school for the next week, and not allowed out the door at all. He knew his uncle couldn't risk questions being asked about any bruising on his person. So until they healed to an extent that they were negligible he was a prisoner. One day though he was fed up watching day time TV and went to his room to read for a while, and discovered left on top of his bed was the pornographic magazine that had caused all the trouble in the first place. It had been leafed through a bit he noticed, so his uncle had had a good read, but at least there were no pages stuck together.
Whether the porno mag was an attempt at an apology by his uncle, or some weird game he was playing, Simon was always on guard around him from that point on. The beating was over and healing had taken place, but he was in effect, in a stranger's house, and had to rely on this stranger, so he would have to live by the rules of the stranger till he could make his own way. Tennyson told him as much one night when he had trouble sleeping.
'There hath he lain for ages, and will lie,' he said. Simon took this to mean all was well, he just had to be patient and everything would work out fine. No need to panic. Tennyson had begun a discourse, but he had fallen asleep at that point and couldn't remember much else.
So, he contented himself to stay with his uncle and do his best to be accommodating and as less a burden as possible. One day it would be time to move on, but that was not now.
As he scurried along the street, baseball cap on and the hoodie covering that, he noticed someone staring out from a flat window across the road, he gave them the finger in passing then cursed himself for attracting more attention. There was no doubt in his mind if anyone recognized him they would be straight on the phone to the police. He had to stay calm, no need to panic, get to his Uncle Shamus and hear what he had to say. Shamus would know what to do.
Govanhill was a fair old walk, but he didn't want to risk a bus or a taxi, most of them had CCTV fitted also now, and it only took one person to notice him and they would be able to track him down to within a few streets of where he was going, so he walked, hood up, face down, acknowledging no one on the way.
It had just gone eleven when he arrived. There was a light on in the front room so Shamus was at home. He suddenly had strong reservations about coming here tonight, something in his past began to niggle somewhere in his mind. He dismissed the nag and proceeded up the path to the door.
Next instalment coming soon...
Copyright © Stevie Mach 2012 All rights reserved