Authors: Gerard Brennan
For Allan Guthrie and Kyle MacRae
Published by Blasted Heath, 2012
copyright 2012 © Gerard Brennan
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission of the author.
Gerard Brennan has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
All the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cover design by JT Lindroos
Visit Gerard Brennan at:
ISBN (ePub): 978-1-908688-13-2
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The streets of Beechmount stank of wet dog. The effect of drying rain in early summer. Light faded from the West Belfast housing area. Joe Philips yawned and slumped against the redbrick alley wall. Half past ten at night. He wanted to be in bed, cosy and watching a DVD until he drifted off to sleep. But he was the leader. The rest of the gang expected him to be there.
At least it was holiday time. No school to mitch in the morning. He popped his head around the corner and glanced down the avenue.
"I see one," he said.
They all looked up to him. Literally. In the last few weeks he'd taken what his ma called a growth spurt. He'd use his share of tonight's money to buy longer trousers. Too much white sock showed between his Nike Air trainers and his Adidas tracksuit bottoms.
"Anyone else about?" Wee Danny Gibson asked. He snubbed a half-smoked fag on the alley wall and tucked the butt behind his ear.
"No, just the aul doll. Easy enough number."
Wee Danny nodded and the rest of the gang twitched, murmured and pulled hoods up over lowered baseball caps. Ten of them in all, not one above fourteen years old.
"Right, let's go," Joe said.
They spilled out of the alley and surrounded the blue-rinse bitch like a cursing tornado. She screamed, but they moved too fast for the curtain-twitchers to react. Broken nose bleeding, she dropped her handbag and tried to fend off kicks and punches. Wee Danny scooped it up and whistled. They split in ten different directions. The old granny shrieked at them. They were gone before any fucker so much as opened his door.
"Why are we wasting time talking about this? I'll happily volunteer to go out there now and batter each one of the wee fuckers with a hurling stick!"
"Stephen McVeigh. Sit back down and shut up unless you have something constructive to offer."
Stephen glared at Father Cairns but slammed himself down on the seat with enough force to mark the laminate flooring with black rubber streaks. The squat, bald priest looked away. Nobody had the balls to back Stephen up. Everybody knew the only way to stop these hoods was to talk to them in the one language they understood. Violence.
"Ginger cunt," some spineless fucker behind him muttered. Stephen's hand automatically went to his red hair. A couple of people sniggered.
The Beechmount Residents Association met every month at the leisure centre, and every month they skirted the real issues. The committee sat behind a long table at the top of the multi-purpose room and the concerned residents faced them in rows of stackable plastic chairs. Nobody wanted to deal with the bastards the Andersonstown News had dubbed the Wee Rockets. Since the IRA agreed to cease all paramilitary activity, punishment beatings were no longer common practice. And because Sinn Fein would not officially advocate the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and there was still a bad-feeling hangover from the RUC days, their investigations weren't supported by the residents. The vicious, robbing bastards could take what they wanted from innocent people with no fear of consequence. The Wild West.
"It's time for us to stage a protest." Father Cairns addressed the gathered residents. A general murmur of agreement filled the room.
Stephen snorted loud enough to be heard. He was ignored.
"Yes," Jimmy Mac, the association's chairperson, said. "We know that some of these wee scumbags must live around here. We need to put pressure on them or their families to come forward."
Stephen shook his head. "If we knew who they were we could just run them out of here. Why waste time with chanting in the street? The parents don't give a fuck about these kids and the kids don‘t give a fuck about who they hurt."
"Please watch your language, Stephen," Jimmy said.
A red-faced Father Cairns cleared his throat and nodded.
"Sorry, I curse when I'm upset. Last night's attack was a disgrace. Missus McKinney is in her seventies. "
"We're all upset. Just try to keep in mind the company you're in, Stephen," Jimmy said. "This isn't a football pitch."
"Look, I'm just saying that the softly-softly approach won't accomplish anything. In the days when the Provos ran this area these wee hoods would be rolling about the streets in wheelchairs."
"These are different days. We have to look ahead."
"You're just politicking, Jimmy. A protest is a waste of time."
Stephen folded his arms. He'd made his point. Someone else needed to run with it. Plenty of the people at the meeting thought like him. Now that he'd put a stop to the pussyfooting it'd be easier for the others.
Nobody took the opportunity. Jimmy slow-shrugged at Stephen as if to bait him into further discussion. Stephen shook his head. The muscles in his forearms bulged as he twisted his beanie. The black wool stretched in his grip, spoiling its shape. He was the only man in the room who really cared about his community. He'd have to do something about the little problems on his own.
"I have to leave the gang," Joe said.
He'd purposely waited until he and Wee Danny were alone. They were on their way back to the gang from a trip to the corner shop. Joe carried a plastic bag of loose cigarettes and penny chews. His height and thin moustache helped him pass for sixteen. He didn't mind buying the cigarettes for the rest of the gang. It was much easier than buying cider.
"What?" Wee Danny took the fag out of his mouth and squinted as a cloud of smoke blew back in his face. "What do you mean leave? Where are you going?"
Joe shook his head. "No, I mean quit stealing with you guys."
"What for? Sure it's good craic."
"Aye, I know. But I'm starting to stick out like a sore thumb. It won't be long until someone around here figures out who I am."
"My ma says I won't be long catching up with you. We're just at that age."
Joe nodded. He didn't want to tell Wee Danny his ma was full of shit. He was only a sparrow fart. You could tell by looking at Wee Danny's fists he would never be big. Joe's granny always used to say that pups and boys grew into their paws. Wee Danny couldn't even get a sovereign ring small enough to fit his fingers. And anyway, his brother Paul was still a shortarse and at twenty-something his growing days were gone. The others joked that Wee Danny's ma still bought his clothes in Baby Gap. Not in front of him though. Small or not, he scrapped like a Staffordshire bull terrier.
"That doesn't help me right now though."
"The others won't like it, Joe."
"Do you think?"
"Yeah. Don't be saying nothing yet. Not until me and you come up with a story."
"Okay, mate. Are you not pissed off?"
"No. With you gone the gang's mine. Best news I've heard all year, you gangly prick."
Joe punched Wee Danny's shoulder. Wee Danny laughed and flicked his fag butt at him. It bounced off Joe's chest in a shower of sparks.
"You're a wee bastard," Joe said.
"Your ma says I'm massive where it counts."
Joe tried to think of something disgusting to say about Wee Danny's sister. He didn't get a chance.
"Here, Joe, what's going on up there?"
At the corner of Beechmount Avenue and Mica Drive a big guy with ginger hair stood amongst the rest of the Rockets. Voices rose.
"Shit. Doesn't look good," Joe said.
They jogged towards the commotion. As they got closer Joe picked out a voice shouting the odds.
"You don't own the street." Liam Greene's voice wavered but he raised his double chin to the big ginger guy. Stupid wee fatty always had to mouth off. He'd just make things worse, as usual.
Joe and Wee Danny joined the ranks. Joe wanted to say something but he couldn't think.
"What's wrong, mister?" Wee Danny asked.
"I'm trying to find out who robbed Missus McKinney last night. I thought I'd ask your mates since they're always hanging about here. They've offered me nothing but lip."
"You're Stephen McVeigh, aren't you?"
The big ginger's face softened into a surprised smile.
"How'd you know that?"
"You play football for Davitts. The same team as our Paul."
"Wee Paul? The forward?"
"Nippy wee bastard, your Paul. We'd be lost without him."
Wee Danny nodded as if he'd trained his older brother in the sublime art of goal scoring. Joe marvelled at his friend's confidence.
"Right, well you and your friends keep an ear out for me. If you hear about any hoods from St James's or the Whiterock coming down here to cause trouble, you let me know. I won't let this place go to the dogs."
"No problem, Stephen. Good luck in next week's match. I hear St John's are on a winning streak."
"Cheers, wee man. Talk to you later."
McVeigh cantered down Beechmount Avenue and turned into Beechmount Parade before the gang relaxed into tough guy mode.
"Fucking dickhead. Who does he think he is?" Joe said.
"Who gives a fuck?" Wee Danny asked. "So long as he doesn't know who we are."
"We thought you were going to suck his dick for him," Liam Greene said. The others laughed.