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 Early Bird
The Early Bird
At five a.m. the next morning, Tommy walked a delighted Butch through early morning mists, passing the block of high-rise flats near Childwall Valley road and onto the Childwall High School playing fields. Binoculars raised, Tommy appeared to the world the quintessential man and dog out bird watching. For a moment, he spied what looked like a fox dashing to the disused railway line.
“Didn’t sniff that, did you?” he asked Butch. Whatever it had been was short legged and swift.
Some five miles from the river Mersey, seagulls honked at smaller birds. Tommy saw a huge seabird pull a worm free from a fresh dog turd… Tommy made a mental note to get worming tablets.
The mist was rising from the grass and yep—bingo. The early bird gets the binoculars in the bush.
Tommy put the second set of binoculars into his bag. “Nice one Nobby!”
As he zipped the bag, Tommy sensed something approach… Coming in swiftly, panting, he turned as a brindled Staffordshire bull terrier leaped onto Butch’s back, jaws snapping around Butch’s neck. Butch was dragged to one side on the grass, yelping.
“What the fuck!” The brutality and speed rendered Tommy dumbstruck, but only briefly, his dog’s life was at stake—don’t let it lockjaw onto Butch’s neck. He swung the bag at the staff’s head, catching it with the force of the binoculars. Releasing its hold on Butch, it turned, foaming and growling, displaying a shark set of nightmare teeth. Tommy stepped back as the staff moved from Butch, crouching at Tommy. Butch recovered, regained his footing and snapped a bite at the attackers’ back legs as Tommy aimed a kick into its chest.
The staff twisted and snarled deliberatively at Butch and back at Tommy. Butch took a bite again at the staff’s haunches. With a high-pitched yap, the staff backed off, darting away.
Tommy bent to examine Butch’s neck and head: sticky white froth, but no obvious puncture wounds.
“Really, what the fuck?”
Butch was sniffing furiously at blood droplets leading in the direction the staff had run. Unsure what to do, Tommy allowed Butch to follow the trail.
Tommy could not keep pace and found himself on the disused railway line heading to the high bridge, which overlooked the busy Childwall Valley road. Butch had stopped and was growling, staring into overgrown, head-high bushes and brambles. His hackles were raised. One of the bushes was shaking, as a man, a walking scarecrow, stepped out. The injured staff was crawling timidly behind.
“Him hurt my dog,” said the man, in a dialect Tommy had never heard. At first the man appeared black, but the darkness was ingrained grime. Dried grass jutted from his dirty woollen jumper and under his dark hat, confirming a resemblance to the Scarecrow Man from the Wizard of Oz.
Although taller than Tommy, the man was bone thin with hardly any width to his shoulders. Tommy caught a whiff and almost gagged.
“Him hurt my dog,” repeated the scarecrow man, nodding at Butch, before producing a sharp fifteen-inch machete. He waved it at Butch and Tommy in turn.
“Give me bag. Bag and money.”
Tommy resisted the growing urge to run. The machete could have inflicted massive damage to his back, let alone the threat to Butch. He looked about for a weapon—a branch or sharp stick. The samurai sword hidden under his bed would have been useful. He picked up a handful of loose stones from the railway line. He kept his hand low to show he was not about to throw them at the man’s head.
Breathing deeply, slowly, he attempted reason. “Your dog attacked us. We were walking in the field and your dog just ran at us.” Tommy backed away as he spoke.
The scarecrow man was edging around Tommy, again pointing the machete at him and Butch. The staff, no longer whimpering, emboldened by its master, made guttural growls. The machete was swapped from hand to hand—the right of which, Tommy saw, was bright red. Tommy was poised to flee, a rush of adrenalin surging through him. He dropped a few stones.
Fuck reason. “Look Mister Scarecrow or Mack the Knife, whoever the fuck you are, your dog attacked us. We were out for a walk and that pet of yours—that walking jaw—attacked my dog. Butch just fought back…”
The scarecrow man continued circling. Tommy had backed up against the metal bridge. Below, early morning traffic sped along the road. A realisation dawned on Tommy. This was no payback over a dogfight. What had Linda said? ‘Pensioners getting mugged…’
Butch was crouched, about to leap at the man. Tommy slipped the lead onto his collar and pulled him back. He took more deep breaths. Calmly working up his rage… He closed his eyes, reopened them as if seeing the situation for the first time. An otherworldly emotion had kicked in and time froze. Tommy was conscious of a heightened awareness. He saw the torn cloth patches on the man’s ragged knees.
“Mugging, is it? Mugging little old ladies for their handbags—you dirty fucking bastard—come on, try it with me, you stinking shit bag, come on!”
Doubt entered the man’s eyes. He held the blade in his red right hand, holding it point end between his fingers and thumb, raising his right arm high over his shoulder; Tommy ducked to waist level and charged, hitting the man hard in the stomach, grabbing the knife hand and bending his knees, pulling the man easily over his shoulders before jerking back upright and heaving him clean over the bridge.
As if in slow motion, the man’s body lifted over the bridge railings to drop flailing onto the busy road twenty feet below. Tommy closed his eyes to switch off the impact, and heard the sound of a lorry braking before skidding to a halt. Looking down, there was no sign of a body, only the lorry swerved across the road blocking both directions. Looking closer, Tommy saw the machete in the middle of the roadway. A dark puddle of blood ran from under the front wheels, covering the blade.
Sitting on the track, Tommy lit a cigarette. Both of his hands were shaking. He dropped the burning match onto his trousers, scorching a black patch over his knee. There was no sign of the staff. Butch whimpered and licked at Tommy’s face, staring at him with full eye contact. Minutes passed. Police siren approached from two directions. Tommy took another peek over the bridge and saw a distant blue flashing siren approaching from the valley below. On instinct, he turned and gazed at the high-rise flats a hundred yards from the railway line. Something had caught his eye. Taking out the binoculars, he trained them at the bottom of the flats, traced upwards—and there it was again—a brief flash of light halfway up. Someone on the sixth floor balcony was watching through binoculars.
“Time to go,” he said quietly, putting the binoculars away and dismissing the ramifications of any eyewitnesses. “No need for any quick ambulance… What the fuck…” Keeping below the level of the bridge, Tommy and Butch headed off the railway track, moving into the dense brambles, taking a long detour as he made for home.
Wiping his brow, Tommy attempted to corral the events of the previous ten minutes into a dark recess of his mind, hoping they would only surface during nightmares. He’d seen and smelt death before. But Tommy knew that in the act of committing a mortal sin, taking someone’s life—even a scumbag cowardly mugger, even in justifiable self-defence—he had reached a turning point, and a silent witness had seen.