Death Rides A Bus
"It was a total cunt's trick.
He’s stood there with his fist dipped in the bowl and I could see bits of orange between his fingers as he lifted it to his mouth.
I gripped his legs.
Screaming my head off and he smiled - showing all the bits between his teeth.
I was only seven.
He swiped me onto the worktop, and that’s when I saw the knife.
Then, the carrot.
Cut into strips, sticking out from under that tea-towel with the map of Cornwall on it.
He looked over at the kitchen sink - I saw a ripple across the water.
Then another one.
Bodie was there - darting round the washing-up bowl.
He was alive".
Detective Logan leaned across the interview room table, trying to work out the fate of the fish,
“As in ‘Bodie and Doyle’?”
“We had a Doyle, but he died on the way back from the fair.”
“Why would he do something like that ”, asked Logan.
“Don’t know - our Keith did stuff like that a lot”.
Logan twitched, trying to process the motiveless act,
"God almighty, he sounds like a right twat".
Detective Pontefract squirmed beside him, as though his teacher had finally asked a question he knew the answer to,
“Hey Logie - Bodie and Doyle, eh?”
The detectives bumped fists in acknowledgment of the similarities to the TV duo, that only they could see.
Logan leaned into the twin cassette player on the table,
“Interview paused at 11:03”.
This was supposed to be a formality.
Especially after being arrested wearing jeans, stained with the blood of someone now in the ICU of Manchester Royal Infirmary, but over the past hour and fifty five minutes, questioning had shifted towards my relationship with my older brother.
They’d been watching his flat and even been to Skytax - the Moston taxi rank he recently started calling ‘the office’, and still didn’t have a clue where he was.
I wanted to tell Logan I agreed - he was a twat.
I’d spent the previous night in CDC; the Central Detention Centre, hidden in the bowels of the Crown Square court complex.
A pre-prison stop-over where the convicted and innocent until proven guilty were held before being shipped to remand or court hearings.
The closest I’d come to jail before now was watching Porridge on TV,
and I’d hoped for a Fletch-type character to help me through.
A sympathetic old lag to break me in gently - but decided against asking my new cell-mate to do so.
In Porridge, it was always frowned upon to discuss why you were inside, but he’d told me straight away - referring to himself as a ‘twocer’, after a scrape with traffic Police on the M66.
“If you don’t say so, they fill the blanks themself”, he said.
“Attempted murder”, I said.
He looked me up and down.
At the two-tone velour jogging bottoms, I’d been given from Bootle street police station, - one leg yellow and one purple.
He looked in my eyes, still wet from tears in the van on the way there,
“Ooh - Big time eh?"
The cell hatch was opened by a duty officer, beckoning me out into the morning chaos.
There’d been a disturbance in Strangeways, meaning newcomers had been bussed in overnight, greeted by a chorus of kicked doors as they lined the cell landings prior to booking in.
“Interview at nine for you, son,”
A regulation toilet break was insisted upon, before we left.
No cubicles or doors - just a low tiled wall for privacy, as a dozen heads grimaced above each like battery hens in a ceramic coop.
I saw a gap and touched down on the warm, wooden seat.
The stench hit the back of my throat, triggering the square sausage we’d had for breakfast to resurface.
“Have you heard about The Ways?” said a voice,
“The roof’s gone”.
I stretched my sweatshirt into a makeshift gas mask, whilst eavesdropping on the overhead exchange.
“Been waiting to happen forever, in there, mate”.
“Have you heard about Delany? Been done in - round New Moston somewhere.”
I clenched my eyes tight.
“Is he dead?” said a voice from overhead.
“Don't know mate - no one knows”.
Shit - I wondered if they knew.
My fingers trembled, tying the waist cord of the jogging pants, and quickly went to find morning-boss, clinging to his side as he led me to check out.
A voice shouted after us,
“Oi - he’s not even flushed!”
and the row of heads turned as one, with a shared look of disgust.
“I just couldn’t go - boss”, I said.
“Judging by the smell, you’re the only one."
“You need to charge my client or let him go”, said the duty solicitor.
It felt like the first time Jez had spoken since we’d come in, leading by example with the ‘No comment’ advice he’d given out before the interview.
“Keith told you to get rid of the jeans, didn't he mate?” said Logan.
“No comment”, I replied.
“No comment? One night away and you’re Ronnie fuckin Kray!”
"He was blubbing like a baby all the way here!" said Pontefract.
“The tape's off”, whispered Jez before addressing the two laughing policemen,
”Are you charging him or not?”
Detective Logan fumbled at the cuff of his shirt.
“The attempted murder may not stick. But we’ve got more than enough for conspiracy. Probably ‘Assisting’ too”.
“So charge him”, said Jez,
“or let him go”.
Logan began to pace the carpet tiles of the interview room floor,
“What do you know about David Delany?”
"Is he dead?" I ask.
“In a coma - not looking good.
He’s ‘ a Reformed character’ - according to the parole board."
“Securicor van, wasn’t it?” said Pontefract - "round the time your fish was getting eaten”.
“It didn’t get eaten”, I said.
"He works for PDM Security. You heard of them?" said Logan,
“They look after Building sites. Pubs and clubs now too - a ‘consultant’."
He tapped the side of his nose in that ‘top secret’ way, and leaned across the interview room table.
“Does Keith really think his taxi mates can help him out of this one - Some old blokes knocking out snide shell suits and dodgy VHS players?”
“One of his mates used to be a wrestler”, I said,
"He's like a mountain . A mountain with a massive beard. And he's been on ``World of Sport".
Pontefract gripped his partner's arm in a playground version of terror,
“Careful Logie - We’re talking old men in leotards here”.
“There’s no car park straighteners with this lot, my friend.
Your kid’s dropped a right bollock here”, said Logan.
“What is it you want me to do?”
“Find him. Tell him we can help”.
“He won't even turn the telly over if I ask him”.
“Then we’d have to look at charging the only suspect we do have”, said Logan,
“And you wouldn’t be staying at that five-star gaff from last night either”.
I looked to Jez for help, but he could only shrug his shoulders in a ‘fucked if I know’ kind of way.
“Just tell him he’s a goldfish”, said Pontefract, “out swimming, with some big fuck-off sharks”.
The two detectives pushed their chairs back under the table and made for the door.
The Professionals had both now left the room.
The sun forced a shadow across Bridge Street, falling short at the line of shop windows gleaming all the way up to Deansgate,
A news-stand had the words “Roof-Top Revolt”, etched out in black marker pen across the headline poster.
Passing onlookers glanced up and down - as if knowing exactly where I’d just spent the last twelve hours.
I pushed the green bail sheet further into my pocket, away from prying eyes.
Everyone had somewhere to go - a pace and a purpose.
I was getting the bus home.
A pocket of pilgrims, drawn to stories of the hacienda and the Happy Mondays lurked at the entrance to Afflecks Palace as I walked up Oldham Street.
Two of them sported matching Clint Boon-style-bowl-cuts, and all wearing the regulation, faded flares.
I thought long and hard on the rights and wrongs of flared jeans, their recent re-birth yet to win me over.
“Nice keks mate”, said Boon #1 in mill town drawl as I passed, clearly unaware that I’d just done actual jail time.
“Nice haircut,” I replied,
“It’s same as my Auntie Audrey’s".
I got to the bus stop in Stevensons Square where the 182 stood prior to setting off from the terminal, it's two-tone orange suffocated by layers of filth.
The driver stood winding through potential destinations - mystical lands of Uppermill, Denshaw and Dobcross rotated like a one-armed bandit, before finally sticking on Newhey.
I could stay on all the way to Newhey - I'd never been there.
A white Nissan Bluebird drove by slowly, turning right onto Lever Street then circled back before coming to a final stop in front of the waiting bus.
A green sun strip was stuck across the windscreen, emblazoned with the ‘Skytax’ logo in white, angled capitals.
The back passenger window had been replaced by polythene, stuck to the frame with brown parcel tape.
The front window dropped as a voice came from inside,
“Alright, plant pot!”
The Lizard was wearing that same silver Ellesse shell suit he’d worn yesterday.
“Didn’t know you was a taxi driver", I said.
"I'm not," he said, "get in”.
“Do you know where I've been all night?”
He raised his hand to halt the encroaching bus.
“Jez told me - that’s why I’m here. You getting in or what?”
The bus engine roared as the driver maneuvered around the taxi, jerking his fist up and down through the driver's window while guiding the 182 out of the square.
I got in and slammed the door.
“What's happened to the back window?”
“Just an accident", he said, "but no one got hurt”.
We sped up Oldham Road and through Miles Platting, passing a disused bingo hall, recently transformed into an acid house club.
“Good in there mate”,
said The Lizard, nodding at the sign above the steel shutter, stating ‘The Thunderdome’, in bold white lettering,
“Off me nut in there last Friday”.
I felt sick thinking of The Lizard going to the only club I’d ever gone to.
I could just see him in there - that raving old geezer, sweating his arse off - as much of a club prerequisite, as bouncers or a DJ, attracting adulation from wide-eyed strangers throughout the night.
“You’re too old for all that,” I said, guessing he was at least as old as my Dad would’ve been.
He pushed the cassette into the player, in an effort to prove me wrong.
'The Phantom' by Renegade Soundwave pumped through the Nissan’s speakers, instantly taking me back to joyful nights in the best club nobody knew.
It must’ve been pure luck he’d picked such a classic.
Nothing was sacred anymore.
I wasn't there to reminisce about acid house nights with an old man in a silver suit, so hit the stop/eject button.
“Can we please discuss what's going on?” I said.
The Lizard sighed,
“No one wanted you involved”.
“Bit late for that now”.
“If you hadn’t flushed the toilet at your kid’s flat you’d have got away”, he replied.
“Oh right,” I said,
“Here’s me thinking it was you cos you asked me to get rid of some evidence, or our Keith cos he’s battered some bloke when all the time it was my fault for flushing the toilet after I’d had a piss”.
“Who’d flush a toilet after being pacifically told that the police might be watching somewhere?”
“Spec-ifically”, I said.
His eyes quickly fixed on the rearview mirror and rummaged under the seat with his gear-changing hand as a dark blue Sierra Sapphire edged alongside us, in the outside lane of Oldham Road.
The Lizard locked eyes right, as it lingered,
- revved loudly, then screeched through an amber light.
“Looks like a Cosworth”, I pointed out.
Drops of sweat glistened across his forehead as his eyes fixed on the trail of the Sierra as it disappeared from view before pushing the tape back into the player.
“You heard this one before?” he asked as 'The Phantom' faded into The Thunderdome's regular closing anthem - Dreams of Santa Anna.
"That riff's from 'The Mexican' by Babe Ruth", I said, "and they nicked it from that film - A Few Dollars More".
"Yeh I heard that", he said, "I love Charles Bronson".
"It's Clint Eastwood, mate. In A Few Dollars More".
"I know," said The Lizard, "everyone knows that".
On arrival, the Skytax office was locked and the rank empty of the usual waiting cars.
The Lizard worked his way through the row of bolts on the steel door, charred with a black coating, spread across the entrance floor, and a whiff of petrol filled the waiting room as we entered.
The middle-aged, shell-suited racing fans, glued to the daytime SIS channel were missing, as was the usual shrill of ringing phones.
"Let me guess," I say,
"an accident but nobody got hurt?"
“I think some people might know you been nicked last night".
“People like who?”
"Maybe, Ivan's lot".
Like Cher, Sting, or Lulu, Ivan Walsh only needed one name to be instantly recognised.
One time, he spat on the back of my head on the bus home from school, before hissing the words,
“How’s yer Dad?”, down my neck as I sat on the top deck of the 77 surrounded by his hungry pack.
I got off three stops early, only realising walking home my inside leg was soaked through.
I’d never sat upstairs on a bus since.
“What’s it got to do with him?”
“It’s Delany’s brother”, said The Lizard.
"You got that wrong for starters - the clue’s in the name, mate”.
“I think they got different Dads or something - anyway, he knows.”
The Lizard disappeared behind a door in the radio room, leaving me to work out the implications for the brother of someone who’d battered someone else’s brother.
I paced the empty waiting room, eventually drawn to the gallery of framed photographs surrounding the blank screen of the huge wall-mounted TV.
One had The Broadway Hotel Sunday league team, posing in their thick black and white hoops with the Skytax logo across the front.
Another had a ginger-haired man standing with his arm around a young lad, with a hand each holding the FA Cup - red, white, and black ribbons draped down each arm.
I studied the photo, eventually recognising the young Keith, and our Dad.
The Lizard returned from the radio room and handed me a silver Ellesse shell suit with pink trim wrapped in a clear polythene bag.
“Smart them - all the lads wearing them nowadays".
He pressed the package into my hand before clocking the picture which caught my attention.
“That was in 1977.
I knew him a bit - nice bloke”.
I’d tried to forget.
The headmistress taking me out of class.
Sat for hours in her office as a hundred pairs of eyes peered through the window.
Coming home to the curtains closed and continuous knocks on the door.
“How old were you?” he asked.
“Six I think - still in infants”.
The Lizard guided me to a leather settee in the waiting room.
“We didn’t want it like this - but you need to go away for a bit.” he said,
“You’ll have to stay at your Auntie’s in Wales - the one who looks like Clint Booth".
"You mean Boon, I think mate".
"No, you're thinking of the Hi-ho silver bloke.
I'm on about the Inspiral Carpet".
"Ok, ok I'll go", I said, attempting to rescue us from disappearing into a Clint Boon-shaped black hole.
The Lizard rubs his thinning silver head,
“You remember what happened to your Dad?”
“Yeh - he got knocked down”, I reply.
He placed an elbow on each knee, pulling at his chin as if scratching an imaginary beard.
"Well - you know Dave Delany,” said The Lizard,
“...he was the driver”.
“But it was an accident, though?”
“Coked out of his head he was. Fucked off from the scene. Didn't even call an ambulance”.
“Is that why he was in jail?” I asked.
“He was causing murders round here. They got him on a robbery charge and his brief made a deal.
The driving thing just got tagged on - ‘concurrent’ they call it.
Didn’t the Police tell you all this?”
The FA cup photo looked at an angle to the others, so I nudged it into alignment with the frames alongside.
"We've got loads of photos, but that's the first time I ever seen that one."
“You need to go home mate", he said,
"I'll pick you up outside the baths at seven.
Be at the bus stop so I can park up."
The Lizard placed the wrapped shell suit back into my hands, making sure it found its way back home.
"You could wear that," he said, "All the lads got 'em nowadays".
The evening traffic started to fade as I crossed over towards the swimming baths.
Broadway was as wide as a motorway.
Two lanes on each side, split by a large overgrown grass bank that was originally intended for tram lines in the 1920s that never appeared.
It was flanked down each side by giant Poplar trees whose branches met across the long thoroughfare between Manchester and Oldham forming a foliage ceiling for passing vehicles, and on occasion, would take out the odd top deck window of a bus.
I stood outside the swimming baths as the smell of chlorine spread far out into the street.
To my left, the sun crept towards the far-flung hills, and an orange blur flickered in the distance, indicating the bus to town was slowly working it's way closer.
Which bus stop did he mean - Towards or away from town?
I crossed to the opposite bus stop.
It was almost seven as an oncoming vehicle flashes its lights and I stuck out my hand to flag it down.
He must’ve changed the Nissan.
A black - no, navy blue Sierra.
I looked over the road and a white Nissan Bluebird taxi was pulling up outside the swimming baths, to where I'd just been standing.
The passenger door of the Sierra flung open.
Ivan's neck looked so wide he could hardly move his head.
A sword-like blade glistened in his left hand as he got out of the car.
“Big-time geezer now are yer?” he hissed.
Back across the main road, towards the waiting white taxi feeling like someone else’s legs are carrying me across the grass, shouting to the Lizard through the open driver's window.
He took the radio handset, calling in, “Dynamite - Broadway Baths”, louder on each delivery.
The Sierra screeched towards the break in the carriageway, in order to U-turn and continue its pursuit.
The Lizard pulled a rounders bat from under his seat, with the word ‘Rounders’ written across in large cartoon lettering.
“You need to stay in the car, mate”, he said, zipping up his shell suit all the way to the top.
As the Sierra turned through the gap, its approach was joined by two white cars in tandem close behind it.
The Police - thank fuck.
I lay on the back seat waiting for The Lizard to get back in.
I’d be in trouble for skipping bail.
Jumping was always a better term.
When your brain switches to flight mode, it’s best not to rely on a taxi driver to take you.
I got out of the car.
Two Nissan Bluebird taxis had straddled the Sierra, front and rear.
It wasn’t the police.
A bearded man like a pantomime giant was dragging the leg of the Sierra driver towards the rear taxi, his shouts muffled by the tarmac scraping against his face, before dropping him into the boot like a bag of garden waste and slamming it shut.
Ivan stood in the middle of the grass bank as a trinity of silver shell suits crept towards him, like a stage version of Space 1999.
“Yous have had it”, he yelled,
before reaching down the back of his jeans, causing the shell suits to stop dead in their heavy tracks.
Too close to run away.
Too exposed for cover.
Ivan took a step backward and aimed.
The sound was like a branch snapping, as the 182 bus bounded past the stop like an orange tidal wave, clipping him onto the overgrown grass.
The shell suits turned back to their waiting taxis as if impeded by zero gravity.
I got in the car and the driver's door slammed closed before speeding away.
“What do we do now?”
I looked across as the driver adjusted his baseball cap.
“We need to get you out of the way for a while”.
It seemed so long since I’d spoken to Keith, that I didn’t recognise him straight away.
“Fuckin ell - did you know that was gonna happen?”
“Not really. Are you ok?”
“We’ll need to get my rucksack,” I said, “It’s at the other bus stop”.
He fumbled at his cap, showing a deep gash lining his left knuckle, as he spun the car around.
I grab the rucksack and see a twisted body, lying motionless amongst a forest of dandelions before the car screeched back down Broadway.
"Did you see Ivan? I mean….the bus, it didn’t even stop”.
Keith pulled down hard on his cap,
“Everyone knows the 182 doesn't stop there, mate”.
His eyes dart to each side, adrift - like a fish, out of water.
“No one saw anything, mate”, I say and push the cassette back into the player as Dreams of Santa Anna cranks up from the car speakers,
“We just need to get our stories straight. We'll be ok”.
I pull a card from my pocket, with the word ‘Logan’ written in green biro, above a phone number with a three-digit extension in brackets.
I fold it down the middle, before tearing it in half and watching the pieces float away through the open passenger window.