Sweet Gene Vincent
Notting Hill, 1958. At Least It Leads To Carnival
It had started (as these things do) with name-calling, abuse. Artie West had been joking around with the young audience, all baby-teds still two decades short of being old-teds. They were all working class lads who on five pound a week played for their fifty-quid clobber by weekly instalment. In ten years they’d be the old bastards chewed out by the Mods who would do exactly the same. Outside Latimer Road Tube Artie had taken offence to a young Jamaican and his Swedish wife. They loved it, did the teds. There were twenty of them most with their sideboards growing longer and their hair getting heavier. It was fair odds, in that there were no odds, and as the rules went though twenty it was important that the Jamaican had to be goaded, had to get angry, had to go for them first. Not that he would they saw because young men all knew the rules. Majbritt Morrison did not and though she had been arguing with her husband Raymond, she did not need their help.
She chewed Artie out so badly that he had blustered, even backed off.
The next day and waiting for her the teds reclaimed their pride with bottles, bricks and a length of iron. That night hundreds more attacked the West Indian occupants of Bramley Road. Some had come over on the Empire Windrush. The ship renamed from the Monte Rosa had been a troopship for Germany’s invasion of Norway before taking captives to concentration camps, and worse. With nowhere at first to put them the Government of the time had housed them in the Clapham South deep-level shelter. Troopship and bomb shelter, and now here the war.
Charlie Bittersweet who had a couple of Jamaican lads amongst his stepsons, was grinning at the scenes. In truth he couldn’t care less. This wasn’t any part of him. On the advice of Mme Roux he had started to go straight, or seemingly, with shops after the war. It was easy, more records were lost than people and England (limping, bankrupt from the war) didn’t look too closely at a man with money to invest and who paid his ticket regular. Most of the stepsons had gone on to other things, some crime but less than he had suspected. But they had all being adopted by Charlie Bittersweet in their own way, and if they had kids now, had put on weight and new values, then Charlie who had a son too now was still their Pop. And pop had asked them round for the all the old times they would never entirely repay.
The stepsons were not as flamboyant as the teds. They had hung their coats and rolled their sleeves. And if the teds had flick knives and bike chains then the stepsons had lengths of lead pipe, bayonets, shotguns and even a few old mills bombs. And the teds were mostly just kids, full of piss and bravado. The old bull beat the young bull every time. The first to give them mouth had been pushed down, dragged off and beaten bloody in moments. The teds tried to sneer but looked away after that. They acted as if the stepsons did not exist. They went back to their riot as about the stepsons the sea parted and closed as they followed Charlie Bittersweet. Charlie shook a kid to tell him where Artie West. The baby-ted had pointed, hissed and ran away already making up something different for later on.
Word reached Artie before Charlie found Artie but thinking himself invincible in his own little army rallied his troops and stood ready to exchange the ritual threats and insults. But Charlie wasn’t on a stage and warned by Mme Roux that Artie was another like that sailor-boy in King’s Cross just bent the King of Teds under one arm, had his stepsons bring up the chains and the sack and left the teds to it, parcel neatly bound and carried away. He should have brought ribbon.
Chalon Sur-Saone, 1899. A Bon Chat, Bon Rat
Six days to the celebration of Christ’s birth and the people were preparing already for the great feast that would follow the midnight service. Oysters, wine, hams, pastries and loops of sausages put aside all year were being revived, baked and steamed. In the temple of the Chevalier de Dames Blanche the Finnish Guard had hung piparkakkuja ginger bread about the glorious building.
The Finns were all direct descendants of those forced to flee their native land when Russia had taken their country, and who had enlisted to fight with Bonaparte in Sweden. Boys competed for the honour back home, the games fierce but it was blood that counted for the Chevalier de Dames Blanche treasured loyalty, paid marvellously well and asked little of their Guard. Armed with modern rifles and half-sabres still their uniform was the cut-coat and tight overalls of a century before, all in white. They practised with their arms daily. The twelve men of the Finnish Guard here competed in tests of strength and resolve. Their total number was twenty-three with eleven always elsewhere for one year fighting in whatever wars could be found. The men then were seasoned, steady and more importantly with the burning heart of loyalty in them that would die rather than face shame. And it simply wouldn’t be enough.
Spain had no need for dago-men. Such devils as came from stills (or more recently it had been discovered, the process of chronophotography) did not walk Catalan or Seville. In Spain there had long since been angels amongst them. Which were exactly, precisely, the same thing. From the cathedral of St. Vincents the choir could be heard singing the Picardy. In Spain Christmas had already begun. Here and it would be days before the children would put their shoes by the fire.
There were many of them, the greatest of those present Meritxell, Agathoclia and Victorian. They dressed well if simply. They were saints and not a one of them had been martyred by rifle fire, and so would not be again this day. They were Los Ninos De Dios, the Children of God. Mertixell of Andorra walked with roses in her path. Agathoclia of Aragon left footprints of blood, her body marked and scourged. Victorian in Abbot’s robes was old, too old and walked with obvious pain. They were here because of Les Miroirs de Ereflure de Dames Blanche.
It was the time of Christ’s birth and it was not for man to gaze upon Heaven.
Berlin, 1919. Ich Bin Weg Vom Fenster
There was nothing left of Scaflock. Lukia was if not mortally wounded then close enough to count. The Little Tramp had swerved aside from all their practised then desperate attacks. Seized upon by Albrecht he and the much larger man had spun about until Albrecht had gone through the wall. On the floor and already blurred a revolver with a very long barrel was ignored by The Little Tramp. Outside and far away Lumpwood was as still as ever he had been, snow softly covering him alone and lost.
The Ritter Imric Von Bode having ordered Jeremiah to flee with the case brought to him by Scaflock had thrust his long cavalry blade into the ground. He now removed his tunic one-handed. His gaze did not leave The Little Tramp. In shirt-sleeves he retrieved the sword. He did not experiment with it, no slashes to-and-fro. Ready, he waited as The Little Tramp made a salute with his tired brolly. Imric answered the salute and said, “Sie uberschreiten nicht.” You shall not pass.
East India Docks, London. 1958
“You can’t kill me,” said Artie West. Even he had not seen the end of Blackboard Jungle, or if he had died at all. They had chained him by the docks. It was late, the fog cold enough to cut mustard. Somewhere out in the Thames a barge went by. The docks here were still bomb-damaged. Deserted,
“Maybe we can just put you in the foundations of somewhere new?” said Charlie Bittersweet.
Concealed before now Mme Roux walked the length of the docks. A dead dog bobbed in the water, oily. They might have been between the worlds. It was long after even the dockers pubs had turned out. Distantly the glow of an oil drum made fireflies. She arrived as if walking the Mall, jolly, poised, positively delicious. Damp furs went to her ankles. Charlie Bittersweet handed her a revolver. She said, “Mr West, I am here to invite you to tea with Aunt Minerva.”
Mme Roux levelled the pistol at Artie. She said, “Aunt Minerva has a great deal of resources Mr West. This pistol does not contain poor lead but a solution of thiosulfate solution, hydroquinone. I do not pretend to understand the process, I could hardly be expected to pay attention. But I do know the soft casing burns away for the suspended liquid, a jelly that melts similarly. It will overexpose you, Mr West. I am informed it is awfully painful, and it will kill you, and you only have one life. No sequel for you Artie.”
“To the point. Now do you want to show me what all that flummery does or... do you want to deliver a letter for me?” She held up the package, taped, just as it had been when Alf Bittersweet would show it to her in 1986. Two days ago for her. Many years for everyone else.
He blubbed and he begged then cut down, sent on his way and warned to keep his nose clean Mme Roux took out her notebook and crossed off what she had done, and so had had to do again. To Charlie Bittersweet she said as if it was in her gift, “Your boy will do you proud, Charlie.”
Charlie beamed. He took off his hat and bobbed a thank you. He took back his pistol and said, “These magic bullets...”
“Made it up.”
Part Five tomorrow: The Music Box