This story contains adult content and is only suitable for persons over the age of 18.
During the sizzling hot summer of 76 in Liverpool, teenager Tommy Dwyer is rapidly approaching adulthood and dealing with the usual coming of age issues: temptation, gang violence, murder and helping to prevent the flooding of the streets with illegal drugs…
The Young Yank of Childwall
The Young Yank of Childwall
July, 1976 was turning into a scorcher. Hosepipe bans were causing neighbours to fall out and grass on each other. The spacecraft Viking was about to land on Mars. The U.S. of A. was officially two hundred years old, two days ago.
Tommy was lying on his bed reading Alastair Maclean’s Guns of Navarone. The sequel, Force 10 to Navarone, sat in the bookshelf on the windowsill, next to a hardback library copy of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, which he’d read several times. Seeing the film of The Godfather was high on Tommy’s agenda. He’d immerse himself in reading, robbing and selling while Linda was away. He’d spent the previous two days with his nose in the book, shutting out images of Linda and the encounter with the Scarecrow Man.
He’d had to reassure himself it wasn’t his fault. Even so, he kept the volume low on his record player, ready to bolt over the back gardens if the police knocked. The silent witness, from their high vantage, must have seen Tommy had been acting in self-defence. Besides, he’d had a growing inkling of who it may have been. Chris Lawler’s family lived in a flat on the sixth floor, and Tommy knew they were not the type to report to the police. What would they gain?
Tommy had thought of seeing a priest for confession, but he hadn’t done that since leaving junior school, and had little inclination since. Davey Crocket had knocked twice, but Tommy had his sister tell Davey he wasn’t in. Davey had left his phone number with Patricia, scrawled on the back of a medical prescription note.
Tommy pondered the Beatles song Can’t Buy Me Love. There was stuff under his bed that he needed to sell. Bruce Lee was coming to town that day, Saturday 6 July; Enter the Dragon was opening in the Abbey cinema. In Tommy’s eyes, the only thing money could not buy was poverty. The Scarecrow Man was in poverty; he silenced the thought.
Whenever he could, he read sequences of an author’s work. Amongst the current collection were six Sven Hassel novels, several reference books (overdue from the Childwall library) and Edward De Bono’s Lateral Thinking, Creativity, Step by Step.
Tommy was soaked in sweat. Opening the window as wide as possible made no difference, there was no breeze. Tommy noted that the room needed a fan. Butch lay stretched, panting on the floor. Tommy picked up Davey’s prescription note and decided to rejoin the world. Searching the loose change stashed in his pillowcase, he dug out 2p coins, going out to the phone box around the corner. He invited Davey round.
In his bedroom, Tommy stared at Butch. The Alsatian’s tongue drooled out like a piece of ham in search of slices of bread. Intermittently, his lipstick would pop out. Too hot to read, Tommy stood and warned, “You can put that away you dirty bastard, and never mind knowing I’ve got a packet of Johnnies. If I see it again, I’ll stick it right up your…” he stopped, as his young sister Patricia walked in, holding a tennis racquet.
“You’re still alive?”
He’d forgotten to put the wedges in the door. “What do you want?”
From downstairs, he heard an old record playing, Sea of Love by Phil Phillips
“Mum’s been crying again.” They listened. From somewhere in the house, they heard their father singing along, sadly. Patricia’s bottom lip wobbled. Tommy looked out the window and saw his mother, sitting, smoking in the garden, head in hands.
“Come here,” he said, giving his sister a gentle cuddle. “She’ll be alright soon, she’ll get over it.”
“What’s happened, Tommy, that’s made you lock yourself away?”
“Where did you get these?” Patricia picked up one of the binoculars. “These look expensive! Can I have a go?”
“Go on, you can play with that one for a while, but make sure you don’t scratch the lenses, or drop them, okay? And the racquet, that’s yours to keep.” Patricia happily rushed from the room, adding, “I’m not a kid, Tommy. I am fourteen.”
Tommy examined the other set of binoculars. ‘Steiner of Germany.’ He’d been testing the magnification, aiming them into the bedroom windows at houses overlooking his back garden, hoping for a glimpse of naked, freshly bathed female flesh. He’d had no luck. The only image worthy of interest had been an overweight middle-aged man sparring himself in a mirror. The binoculars were hefty. Got to be worth a good few quid, he thought.
Setting them aside, Tommy stared at the room from the soon to arrive Davey Crocket’s perspective. Davey lived in a bigger house, in an even posher street than Linda’s, and damn! Why did he have to think of her again? He had managed to avoid this for ten whole minutes, but somehow her image always crept in.
“Stop it,” he said out loud. Butch sat and cocked his head at Tommy. “Not you, good boy. I’ll bet Davey’s mam and dad wouldn’t allow him a dog like you.”
He mused on Davey’s mam and dad. Both probably worked decent jobs. Probably had accounts with the gas and electricity companies rather than a hungry frigging slot meter. Even if they did have meters, Tommy knew Davey’s dad would be clueless on how to dip into the lock using the metal clip from a wooden clothes peg, pocketing the coins inside. Tommy was certain they had never put their meters on the fix.
Another mental note—put the leccy back on the fix now that they were back home. Tommy could never imagine Davey’s mam and dad roaring at each other. From nowhere, he felt jealous as he recalled Linda’s comments about Davey. ‘Davey Jones is all right…’ Maybe Davey had given her one? She did mention they looked alike. He felt determined to find this out. Checked his watch, “Useless piece of shit,” the watch had stopped again. He decided to get the vacuum cleaner to spruce up the room. He sprinkled a few droplets of Brut lotion here and there, and Butch took the hint and left.
“Stinks of dog farts in here, you rat faced crawling bastard.”
Tommy switched on the immersion heater, and the electric shut off. “Fuck, should have put it on the fix first.”
Downstairs, in the hall, he opened the leccy cupboard. Remembering his uncle Darren’s instructions from two years ago, he turned the mains off and lit a candle. Then, using a small screwdriver from a kitchen drawer, he slipped the contact point from the spinning dial of the meter. The mains supply came back on. Checking the dial was no longer spinning… Bingo, leccy on the fix.
Back in bed, he half read, flicking past narrative description, homing in on the action in the Guns of Navarone.
On the windowsill, were the many tins and bottles of Brut aftershave, Brut hairspray, Brut splash on lotion and Brut deodorant. Posters adorned the walls. Bruce Lee dominated in classic fighting pose, his chest raked with three deep scratches. Next to this, was a poster showing a teenage Kwai Chang Caine—the Shaolin monk—along with his blind Master from the TV series Kung Fu.
Forty minutes, thirty pages on, his spidey senses told him the immersion heater had cooked the water. Taking his wedges to the bathroom, he turned on the hot water, smoking two ciggies as he waited for the bath to fill.
Bored of multitasking—watching and listening as the bath filled while skim reading—Tommy took off his clothes and slid the wedges under the door. Do not disturb. He took stock as he posed in the mirror.
“Okay Grasshopper, your bird who won’t let you shag her, has gone for a fortnight—or thirteen days. And when she gets back, she’ll be putting on a nurses outfit… Hmm… No, stop it! Your Grandmother has died and you are lying and cheating wherever you can. But you have to… Chris Lawler and his crew, you can take any one on their own. Mad-Mick—avoid him. He can kill you. My mam is fucked up; she always got us on a train to Grandma’s when my al-fella fucked up… I am never going to die, I haven’t even fucking lived yet and I am going to fuck you all! Don’t try and start with me—because I am a Master of the Universe, and why the fuck am I getting angry, I wasted some stinking fucking scarecrow tramp and I feel no guilt so why the fuck am I getting sad?”
The bath was full. The steam in the air vaporised the image in the mirror. “Who the fuck am I?” said Tommy. The water was scalding. He inched in, lobster like. Painfully, luxuriously, he placed a small flannel over his face. Take it day by day.
Davey arrived on time at noon. Patricia shouted upstairs, “Tommy, you’re wanted.”
“Who is it?”
“Same posh boy who’s knocked for the past two days; looks a bit like you. Better dressed. Think he went to Christ the King school.”
“Send him up.”
“Is that you Patricia? I’m Davey, I didn’t recognise you when I knocked the other day. I remember you when you were only this big. How old are you now?”
“Fourteen. Can you give this to him, from the postman.” She passed Davey a long cardboard tube.
Butch followed Davey upstairs and had his snout up his arse as he entered. Davey passed the tube to Tommy and shooed the dog.
“Oh, great, wonder who this is?” said Tommy tearing at the cellotape around the lid. He explained, pointing at the various posters on the walls. “Me mams brother, uncle Brian. He’s a printer down in Walsall; well, he works for one. Just been staying with them. Me mam’s mam lived with him. Keeps sending me all the original posters and stuff his company makes. He’s sound.”
Rolling out the latest poster on the bed, they saw an enlarged photograph print copy of Roy Wood and Wizard in concert.
“Excellent,” said Tommy, eyeing the walls for space to hang it. He gestured to Davey to drag out the two large sports bags from under the bed. Davey was fascinated. Alongside dozens of cardboard tubes, he saw a wide and dusty tennis court net and an ornate long wooden box. He pulled the box towards him, looked at Tommy for permission. Tommy nodded. Davey opened the box. Inside was an antique samurai sword.
“I never saw that,” he said, pointing at the sword. “But I don’t remember taking a net.” He scratched his head. “Just the two bags with the tennis sticks and balls.”
“I’ve had the net since last summer, you tit. Along with these.” Tommy fished under the net and dragged out two smaller bags. One was full of felt tip pens; the other of musical woodwind recorders.
“What have you got these for?” Davey asked.
“Name a tune, anything you like so long as I know it.”
Davey thought, watching Tommy flex his fingers and blow dust through one of the recorders. “You’ll never walk alone?”
Tommy nodded, tuned up, and closed his fingers around the frets. After a false start, he performed a recognisable rendition of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, known to Tommy as the Liverpool football club anthem. Davey looked impressed. “I could never get my head around those things. It was an option in school, but I didn’t have any talent. Are you going for the music class in sixth form?”
“What makes you think that?”
“Well… a little bird told me you’d applied to get back into school for the sixth form?”
“A little bird, hey? And who would that be, maybe my bird Linda?”
Davey reddened, “I can’t remember, just heard it in passing. That’s all. I’d heard you’ve maybe been inside, locked up for a few weeks or something…” Davey was crimson faced, nervously scratching his head. “But you’ve told me now, been with the family in Walsall.”
Tommy stood, looking at the Master and Bruce Lee posters; he shook his head as if dismissing a line of thought. Had Davey shagged Linda? He blew a note through the recorder and deftly passed into the High Noon ballad—Do not forsake me oh my Darling. There was an awkward silence. Butch broke it by singing his tune, a fine high-pitched doggy yodel. Davey was searching for the right thing to say.
“Tommy, you’d walk that music exam mate, honestly, you and your dog.”
“Shall I tell you why I’ve got these?” Tommy indicated the recorders. Davey nodded, sat on the bed. “When I was at the Collegiate, in the first year,”
“That’s a Comprehensive now?”
“Yeah. Anyway, in first year, music was compulsory. Me mam couldn’t afford to buy me one, a decent one anyway. Only the six bob crappie plastic frigging toy jobbie. I pretended to lose it. I sagged off most of the music classes cos I felt last. Anyway, last day of term, I couldn’t sag off for some reason, so there I am in the class for the music exam. Teacher, big horrible bastard with a beard, was going around desk-to-desk giving everyone a separate piece of music to play. I’m sitting right at the back, listening to all the snotty bastards playing the fucking things like they were in the Gary Glitter Band or something.”
“This was a Grammar school at that time?”
“Yeah right. So anyway, I’m sitting there shitting myself, as he’s getting closer. At last, the twat was there in my face. ‘I’m waiting Dwyer,’ he tells me. I had this brainwave, top-notch get out clause. ‘Sorry Sir, my recorder has been stolen.’ I sit back and think, yep, stick that in your beard and smoke it you big horrible bastard. He looks at me, turns to the class, ‘Can anyone be kind enough to loan a recorder to Mister Dwyer please?’ I tried to look him in the eye and at the same time give out daggers to any fucker that moved, never mind, ‘loan’ me their stinking recorders.”
“And did they?”
“Only the whole fucking class! Thirty odd recorders were shoved in my face. There was no way around it. He gave me a sheet of music. May as well have given me a fucking phrasebook and ask me to translate Russian into Chinese. I blew into that thing like fucking Cat Baloo riding pissed on a donkey.”
“So, because you couldn’t play it in school, you robbed a load of them, from a school, and taught yourself to play?”
“Yep, I suppose so.”
“Uh, how the fuck do I know!”
“And why the felt tip pens?”
“Think about it.”
“Ah… your mother couldn’t afford felt tip pens?”
Tommy nodded, and mimicked the Oriental Master from Kung Fu “You learn quickly tit grasshopper. Soon may be time for you to leave.” Both laughed. “Come ed,” said Tommy, “Let’s go and make some money.”
Outside, it had become hotter. Finding Joey Finn was easy. Short walk to the shops, and he was sitting on a bollard outside the launderette, giving cheek to anyone walking by. The message ‘Chris Lawler’s mam is a gozzy eyed slag drug dealer…’ had been painted over, but was still legible.
As young Joey didn’t have any bruising on his face, Tommy surmised Chris Lawler and his team hadn’t paid a visit. Yet.
Butch growled as they approached Joey. With vast experience, Joey stood from the bollard and leapt onto the five-foot wall. Pacing, he began a monologue:
Tommy Dwyer peed on the fire,
The fire was too hot so he peed on the pot,
The pot was too round so peed on the ground,
The ground was too flat,
So he peed on his hat
He bowed gracefully. “How’s it going Tommy?” asked Joey.
Davey couldn’t keep it in, laughter snorted down his nose.
“I haven’t heard that since junior school.” Tommy shook his head ruefully. A couple of old ladies had stopped and gegged in on the performance. Joey bowed, “Today’s matinee was for your pleasure only Missus…”
“Joey, you fucking tit. He’s one hard faced little bastard him,” said Tommy. The old ladies nodded, they knew this.
“No I’m not,” said Joey, caressing his acned face. “I always use Cream of Camay soap, keeps my skin so soft and gentle.” The old ladies walked on.
“Get down Joey, we got money business.” Joey jumped off the wall, and followed Tommy and Davey to the bottom of the Greenhills.
“We need to shift a load of tennis racquets.”
“From over there a few nights ago?” Joey pointed towards the High School. “Our Mick and loads of his mates got collared there.” Tommy stretched a finger across his mouth, zipping his lips.
“We’ve got twenty six of them, plus three cartons of balls.”
“All in good nick?”
Davey said, “I thought we had nearer thirty?”
“Yeah, but one each for us, my sister’s got one, and I’m giving my bird one.” Too late, Tommy regretted saying this.
“I’d give your bird one,” said Joey.
“Do you know what Davey, I’m tempted to go home and fetch my secret sword and come back here and chop this little bastard into slices for Butch.” Butch looked up at Tommy.
“Hang on…” Joey was serious again, worrying at a pimple on his chin. He squeezed out a tiny droplet of blood. Butch looked at this. “I can get rid of the whole lot in one go. Take ages getting rid in dribs and drabs, get you the dosh straight away, minus my little cut.”
“Sell them to who?”
“New kid round here, Suggoski, Jewish Yank family, moved into the Valley road. His al fella’s taken over Scully’s Emporium in Wavertree. Told me to keep my eye out for stuff. He works there himself every Wednesday, even when he’s supposed to be at school.”
“Suggoski, sounds more Russian than Yank,” said Tommy.
“He really is a proper American,” said Joey.
“Why did they move to Liverpool?” asked Davey. “Was that the Scully bloke who got murdered in his shop?”
“Who gives a shit, so long as he’s got money,” said Tommy, but thinking, Yep, that was the Scully who had been in the news, the one I saw getting strangled. He shivered involuntarily.
Tommy, Davey and Butch waited on the grass verge on Childwall Valley road outside the Suggoski house. They’d brought heavy sports bags. A brand new top of the range Mercedes was parked in the driveway. They saw Suggoski open the door solemnly. Joey’s age, fifteen or so. Unmistakably Jewish from his olive features, and if nothing else, the small cap on his head. After a few minutes discussion, Joey came back.
“He’s offering ten.”
Tommy said, “Tell him to fuckoff.” Joey nodded and re-entered negotiations. Moments later, he was back down the path.
Tommy repeated, “Tell him to fuckoff.”
Joey set off again. Tommy had a full smoke. Davey was glancing nervously at the cars passing on the busy road. Tommy had a second smoke. Butch was starting to get restless, pulling from his leash. He needed feeding.
“Hang on,” said Tommy. “I can’t be arsed with this all frigging day.” He headed up the path. “Suggoski, nice to meet you mate. Looks like you’ve done business with Joey before. If you’ve got the dosh, I can bring you more stuff. I’m okay—ask around about me. Name’s Tommy Dwyer and this is Davey Crocket. Now I’d take a guess and say you went to the King David High School? I’m sure you could knock them out to your mates there for a decent profit. But they are worth more than fifteen squid.”
With dignity, Suggoski nodded and blinked several times. “Buddy, who said fifteen squids? I told your intermediary here, twenty squids the first time. What he says to you I don’t know, but still I’d prefer it if you sent him to me rather than coming to my door. Nothing personal. We all want a profit, hey? And, again, nothing personal, buddy, but your pet wolf scares me.”
Heading back towards the shops, money in pocket, striding ahead, Tommy and Davey ignored as Joey protested innocence and pleaded for his share. Back outside the launderette, Tommy made an ‘up and over’ gesture to Davey. Grabbing an arm and leg each, they swung Joey high until they got a rhythm going—Joey was screaming. At the highest point, Tommy signalled a stop—and they dropped Joey hard.
As they walked away, Joey shouted, “I’m getting our Mad-Mick onto you two!”
Heading past Jake’s newsagents, they saw a banner on the Liverpool Echo newspaper billboard outside the shop. ‘LOCAL TEARAWAYS PLEAD GUILTY TO SCHOOL RAMPAGE.’ Both stopped to consider.