Sunday, June 22, 2008

Watching - Julie Morgan

Rob had allowed a good distance to open up between his car and David Green’s car. He didn’t need to sit on the man’s bumper, he knew where he was going. Same place he’d gone every Tuesday for the past three weeks. And Thursday. They’d all be back here again on Thursday.

By the time Rob had cruised to a halt kerbside opposite the trim, nineteen-thirties semi, Green was out of his car and up the path, finger on the bell. The door was opened promptly, the caller expected, and David Green was welcomed into the house. Rob killed the engine and slouched down in his seat.

‘Put Galaxy on.’

‘No.’

‘Aw, man! Helps pass the time.’

‘Galaxy’s shit.’

‘It’s good. I like dance and r ‘n’ b, me.’

‘It’s rubbish.’

‘It’s dead clever. You should listen, you.’

‘No chance. Rot your brains, that stuff.’

Vic grinned, an ugly troll in expensive trainers and a cheap leather jacket. ‘You’re mental, you.’ He rummaged in his pocket. ‘Chewy?’

Rob shook his head, his heart sinking. Bit of peace and quiet, that’s what he liked on a job like this. Bit of thinking time. He used to listen to music, but that distracted him from the job. He lost himself in it. Tried to work out the guitar parts so he could have a go himself. Reading was a distraction, too. If the book was good, he forgot to keep looking up. If the book was bad, he rewrote bits in his head.

He grimaced as Vic got to work on the stick of gum. ‘Do you have to?’

‘What do you mean?’

Rob mimed Vic chewing, mouth open, slurping and chomping.

‘Bog off, man!’

They watched and waited. Vic chomped. Rob tuned him out. Time passed.

‘What do you reckon a bloke like him sees in a woman like that, then?’

Rob closed his eyes; the silence had been too good to last. ‘I don’t know,’ he said at last, looking over at Vic. ‘Maybe she does deep throat.’

‘Now I feel sick. She’s got a curly perm like me mam.’

‘And your mam’s the holy virgin, right?’

‘Why aye, man. She’s me mam.’

‘Never seen a cock in her life.’

‘Cock?’

‘So you and your Kev aren’t the result of your dad riding your mam bareback after they got hammered down the club on a Saturday night?’

‘What? You better stop that. That’s dirty talk, that is.’

‘The stork left you, right? All clean and nice in a basket under a gooseberry bush.’

Vic shut up. Rob watched the house, ducked down reflexively when he saw a curtain twitch. There was no need to worry. They couldn’t be seen through the car’s tinted windows, even close up and in bright sunlight.

‘No, but his wife. Blondie.’ Vic was off again. ‘She’s gorgeous. So why this bird?’

‘Why not?’

‘ “Why not?” doesn’t work. “Why?”, that’s the question you’ve got to ask yourself. What’s she got that the wife hasn’t got?’

‘Maybe the wife’s frigid.’

‘Who, Blondie? No chance! She’s red hot.’

‘What do you mean, “red hot”?’

‘You know, man. Gagging for it all the time.’

‘How would you know that?’

‘You just have to look at her.’

‘So you reckon you can tell by looking if a woman’s… you know….’

‘Horny, yeah.’ Vic was nodding. ‘Leastways, you can if the woman looks like her. Why’d she do all that dressing up and pouting if she wasn’t horny?’

‘She might be a tease.’

‘Frigid women don’t tease.’

‘Quite the expert, aren’t you?’

Vic shrugged. ‘Stands to reason, that’s all.’

The door opened and David Green spilled out into the night. As he and the woman said their goodbyes, Rob read their lips out of habit. Vic snapped away with the camera.

‘Maybe it’s not sex at all,’ mused Rob. ‘He doesn’t touch her, never says anything untoward. There’s nothing.’

‘A man and a woman? Alone in a house? Course it’s sex!’

‘You’ve got a dirty mind, Victor.’

‘Just stating the obvious.’

‘Whatever.’

Rob fired the engine, followed David Green’s car at a prudent distance.

‘Going home,’ observed Vic.

‘Looks like it.’

‘We’ll see him in and call it a night, eh?’

‘What if he goes out again?’

‘Blondie won’t let him. He gets home this time of night, he’s staying there.’

‘Yeah, you’re probably right.’

‘Course I’m right!’ Vic leered, his mind on Green’s wife. ‘Lucky get. Come on, let’s go for a curry. I’m starving, me.’

*******

Late on Saturday night Rob strolled into Tiffany’s, checking left, checking right, checking straight ahead. The club was full of aging apes with paunches and stringy orange women wearing teenagers’ clothes. A large man materialised at Rob’s side and ushered him through a discreet door, along a corridor and into Norman Cresswell’s office, the place he skulked with his men when he wasn’t holding court in the club itself.

Over the years Cresswell had swapped cheap beer for fine champagne, fast food for haute cuisine, and developed an appetite for good clothes, gold jewellery and expensive aftershave. No amount of window dressing, however, could conceal his inner chav.

Rob sat down and slid a fat file over the desk. Inside were shots of everyone David Green had met with over the four weeks Rob and Vic had been tailing him. Dates, times, addresses, the works.

Cresswell flicked through and his lips tightened when he looked at the pictures of Green with the woman from the nineteen-thirties semi. He ran his finger down the log, counting the number of visits.

‘I knew it!’ he spat. ‘I knew there’d be something if I bothered to look. That bag of Geordie shite’s shagging around.’ He stared at the photograph in his hand. ‘Cheating on my little princess with that….’ Words failed him. ‘With that!’

‘Not necessarily,’ said Rob reasonably. ‘We didn’t see anything other than him going in and leaving. She might be teaching him to play the piano for all we know.’

Cresswell snorted. ‘A man and a woman? Alone in a house? He’s giving her one, has to be.’

‘They don’t look like a couple.’

Cresswell ran his hand over his thinning hair, the large sovereign on his little finger catching the light. ‘Do you know, I never liked him. He’s not even a proper Geordie, he goes to the Stadium of Light with our Stephen.’ He shook his head. ‘No pride.’

The rivalry between Geordies, from Newcastle and Mackems, from Sunderland, was legendary, especially when it came to football. David Green and Stephen Cresswell used the family box at Sunderland's Stadium of Light, it wasn’t like they were slumming it with the hoi polloi. But it would take more than a private box and a bit of hospitality to get Norman Cresswell to set foot in the Newcastle ground. Sid James’s Park: it was no place for a Mackem.

‘He was never good enough for my Tiffany, my princess. Too damned much like his father, the thieving scumbag.’ Cresswell reached into the desk drawer and fished out an envelope. ‘There you are, son, you’ve earned it. Good work.’

*******

Sunday lunch at the Cresswell house saw the whole family in attendance, largely because attendance was compulsory. Norman Cresswell accepted no excuses; he believed the traditional gathering to be a sign of the family’s respectability.

When Norman was growing up, his mother had scrimped, saved and gone without to pull together the price of a small chicken or a piece of belly pork for the Sunday dinner. She had roasted potatoes with the meat, opened a tin of peas and scalded gravy granules to make a meal while his father drank in the club. Dinnertime was two o’clock and woe betide anyone who touched the food before Cresswell senior returned. Sometimes he came back on time and there was hell on if the dinner wasn't on the table. More often he was late and the food was ruined. When that happened, the old man would pitch the plate of food at the wall then fall asleep in his armchair, his snores so loud they made the windows rattle. Cresswell senior had put his wife in an early grave; Norman had seen to it that the old man soon followed.

Cresswell sat talking and drinking with his son and son-in-law while his wife and daughter got the lunch ready. ‘Our Tiffany’s birthday next week,’ he announced, fixing David Green with a gimlet eye. A Geordie at his table. Worse, a Green. The apple never fell far from the tree.
David Green’s eyes softened as he watched his wife set the table for lunch. He loved watching her move, she was so graceful, so elegant. Unlike him with his two left feet. She caught him looking and they shared a smile.

‘I haven’t forgotten,’ he told his father-in-law, his eyes still on his wife. ‘In fact, I’ve got a big surprise for her. Something special.’

‘Aye? Me an’ all, son. Just you wait and see. It’s a belter.’

******

Rob was yawning when he went into the shop for his morning paper the following Thursday. Late nights with Vic, staking out some drug-dealing little scrote who was getting ideas above his station, had been cutting into his beauty sleep. He rubbed his hand over his face, felt stubble rasp against his palm, glanced at the local rag and stopped dead.

Staring out at him from the front page was a face he recognised: David Green. Rob scanned the story. Green had been shopping for a birthday present for his wife and had just left the jewellers in the Bridges Shopping Mall when he was attacked and fatally stabbed. Nothing was taken. Not the diamond necklace he’d just bought, not his wallet, stuffed with cash, not the stack of credit cards he carried. Robbery gone wrong was the assumption, thief lost his nerve and bolted empty-handed when he saw how much blood was gouting out of his victim.

Rob couldn’t believe the coppers were buying that as a likely scenario; it had Cresswell’s dabs all over it. Then again, it was a likely scenario that Cresswell had bought the coppers, so no doubt he’d be home and dry.

Sick at heart, Rob flicked through the rest of the paper. Page two appealed for witnesses to a tragic accident. Sunday gone, a woman walking home after a night out with friends had been killed in a hit and run. Rob learned that the woman whose house he and Vic had sat outside of those Tuesday and Thursday evenings had been a dance teacher.

*****

Time passed, and the little scrote was taught a lesson he wouldn’t forget in a hurry. He wouldn’t be dealing drugs, or anything else, for that matter, to anyone anytime soon.

Rob’s life had become quiet. He had time to practise some guitar parts, work things out, dream of how life with the band he was in at school might have been if they hadn’t all chickened out when he suggested they hit the road in a transit van and see where the journey took them. He saw himself playing the City Hall, the Sage, then finally the Arena, sold out and packed to the rafters with fans screaming his name.

Then the paper caught his eye again.

This time it was Cresswell who had made it onto the front page, having been the victim of a bizarre accident. It seemed he had been putting his wife’s car into the garage for her when it rolled back and ran over him. He might have survived, had his chest not been crushed. His daughter in particular was devastated. For this to happen so soon after she had buried her beloved husband was almost too much for her to bear. The paper said that she was under sedation.

Rob went to the funeral. Stood back, took it all in, wondered at the vagaries of fate. The daughter seemed to be holding up well after her initial collapse. Tiffany Green stood still and solemn, head slightly bowed, hands clasped demurely in front of her, the picture of stoic grief. She looked good in black, Rob thought, her hair a golden halo shining in the winter sun, eyes hidden behind dark glasses.

Behind the dark glasses, Tiffany Green’s sharp eyes missed nothing.

She looked at her mother; the woman was crushed, devastated, her husband of thirty-six years taken away in a heartbeat. Now that Norman Cresswell was no longer around to tell her what to do, feel or think, she was lost.

She looked at her brother, younger than her and not yet ready to take over from his father, but at the helm nonetheless, surrounded by his father’s men. His men now, she supposed.

She looked at her father’s coffin and her lips tightened as she remembered the last time she had spoken to him.

It had been a violent meeting. Cresswell had his hands up defending himself against the blows raining down on his head. He hadn’t hit out at Tiffany even though he could have easily stopped her, knocked her off her feet with a single punch if he’d wanted to. She was his little girl, his princess, and he’d never so much as raised his voice against her, never mind his fists.

Exhausted, she finally collapsed into a chair. She was sick of crying, but she couldn’t seem to stop.


Cresswell couldn’t understand it. He had tried to make her feel better about Green’s death by showing her the photographs of him and the curly haired woman and explaining what they meant. Then, when, she had become hysterical, he had done his best to comfort her.

‘Don’t touch me!’ she had exclaimed, slapping his hands away. ‘You disgust me.’ An expensive private education had taken all traces of an accent out of her voice. Cresswell thought she sounded ‘posh’ and he loved that. You could tell where Cresswell came from as soon as he opened his mouth.

‘Come on, pet, you’ve seen the pictures. He was cheating on you.’

‘He’d never do that!’

‘Don’t be na├»ve, Tiffany! He was going to see another woman, spending time alone with her in her house…. What do you think he was doing?’

‘Learning to dance!’

‘What?’

‘He was learning to dance.’ She glared at him. ‘David had two left feet, you knew that. You saw him when we led off the dancing at the wedding. He was taking private lessons. He wanted to be able to take me dancing.’

‘You’re not serious!’

‘You think I’m joking?’

Cresswell blinked at her. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said eventually. ‘I didn’t know.’

‘You should have known! You knew nothing about that woman, but you had her killed. What did she ever do to deserve that? She was a bloody dance teacher!’ Tiffany blew her nose, wiped her eyes. ‘She was in the Yellow Pages, for God’s sake. All you had to do was look.’

‘I never thought…’

‘You never do, that’s always been your problem. You assume things. That’s how you and David’s father fell out.’

Cresswell looked up sharply. ‘He stole from me and Bobby Clarke. I’d have killed him for it, but Bobby was dead set against it.’

The three men had gone into business together when they were in their twenties, each coming up with his stake in a snooker club, no questions asked so long as the money was real. Cresswell had known Clarke since childhood. He hadn’t been keen on them going into business with a Geordie, but Bobby talked him round. Said Green was a mate of his cousin, that he was sound, even though he was a Geordie. Then, one Monday when Cresswell went to open up for the lunchtime session, he found the office door forced and the safe standing open. It was empty, the whole weekend’s takings gone. It had to be an inside job, and since it wasn’t Cresswell and he trusted Bobby Clarke with his life, it had to be Green, the thieving Geordie scumbag.

‘Why do you think Bobby said not to kill him?’

Cresswell shrugged. ‘Hadn’t got the stomach for it.’

‘Guilty conscience, more like.’

It was true that Bobby had emigrated to Australia six months after the robbery, but Cresswell put that down to the disappointment of losing the club. They hadn’t been insured for the loss.

‘Thirty-odd years of hate, all based on lies. You think you know it all, but you only see what you want to see.’ She sobbed and sniffed, face ugly with tears and snot. ‘David hadn’t done anything wrong.’ She fingered the diamond necklace she wore, the last thing her husband had chosen for her. ‘We had such plans….’ She pulled her sleeves over her hands, wiped her face on them and then stared at Cresswell. ‘He couldn’t have tried any harder to fit in to this family. He even went to the match with Stephen, for Christ’s sake! How much fun do you think that was for him? But you,’ she stabbed at him with her finger. ‘You never even took the trouble to get to know him. You and your mindless bigotry, your stupid grudge, your petty assumptions….’ She dissolved into tears again.

Cresswell hovered beside her, his hands almost touching her, almost patting her hair, wanting, but not quite daring to. He was a man of action, swift and decisive. He had no idea how to deal with the situation he was in now.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said at last. ‘I’ll make it right, princess. Tell me what to do. Anything. Daddy will make it better.’

‘You can’t make this better, you fool.’ She stared at him, eyes full of hate. ‘I’ll never forgive you for this. Not ever.’

She hadn’t, either. Not even now, when he was being put in the ground. She hadn’t spoken to her father since she had marched out of his study following that last, bitter row. She had seen him, though. Just the once; in the rear view mirror of her mother’s car.

Tiffany Green stepped forward and dropped a flower onto her father’s coffin. As the lily tumbled from her fingers into the open grave, she murmured her farewell. Rob froze as he read her lips and understood.

Bio: Julie Morgan lives by the seaside in the north east of England. She has previously been published on Muzzle Flash and (as Julie Wright) in Out of the Gutter, Flash Pan Alley and here on Powder Burn Flash.