Authors: Alex Wheatle
This novel is dedicated to Beverley with all my love
CHAPTER ONE: My Conversation
CHAPTER TWO: Judge Not
CHAPTER THREE: Catch a fire
CHAPTER FOUR: Revelation
CHAPTER FIVE: No buts
CHAPTER SIX: Bad Card
CHAPTER SEVEN: Catalyst
CHAPTER EIGHT: Concrete Jungle
CHAPTER NINE: Freak Out
CHAPTER TEN: Trouble In Store
CHAPTER ELEVEN: Stir It Up
CHAPTER TWELVE: Cornerstone
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: There She Goes
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Ring The Alarm
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Lovers Rock
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Box Clever
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Major Worries
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Midnight Ravers
CHAPTER NINETEEN: Terror’s Lair
CHAPTER TWENTY: One Drop
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: Three Meals A Day
CHAPTER TWENTY–TWO: Prodigal Son
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: The Killing of Mr Brown
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: Mother Of Silence
EPILOGUE: Coming In From The Cold
About the Author
My respect and gratitude goes out to Raymond Stevenson of THK. Love to Joan Deitch, my first fan. I raise a glass to Mark and Mike and the rest of the ‘Out of Reality’ writers’ group. Stirring thanks to Sharon and Claudia whose contributions have proved invaluable. Special mention to Carl Vidol, my former flatmate. Also, I can’t forget my former sound-system spars, the T.K. Posse. Lastly, but not least, special mention to my brethrens and sistrens whom I befriended when I grew up.
Motherless children, if no one loves you in this world, make a start and love yourself.
renton Brown looked around at the cell walls: they were covered in a dank grime that seemed to ooze from between the cracks in the grey breezeblock. A vile smell hung in the chilly air and Brenton guessed at, but could not look upon, its source - an upturned plastic bucket - working on the assumption that if he did so he might never shit again.
Wearily, he went over and peered through the tiny hatch-like window in the cell door to see if he could detect any signs of movement, but there was nothing except for a deserted passage.
Brenton flicked his eyes up at a small misted window set high in the opposite wall. This was where all those bastards in the Home said I’d end up, he recalled with a defiant grin, and he now admitted they were right.
Just below the window he could see where a pissed-off inmate had etched his feelings in biro. He read out the writing on the wall laboriously:
Half an hour later he was still eye-drilling the inscription when the sound of footsteps and the rattling of bunched keys disturbed him. Maybe all jailers rattled their keys on purpose, he thought, to remind inmates of where they were. He decided there was no way he would let the beast know of the tribulation that was clubbing his heart. He would repel any intimidation; the police wouldn’t scare him!
The door’s tiny flap slid open, but Brenton turned his body away to show his contempt of whoever stood outside.
“Brenton Brown?” an unseen voice bellowed out. Then receiving no reply: “Brenton Brown! I’ve got your food and drink!”
Brenton glimpsed a rectangle of uniform through the flap. “I don’t want no beast food. Did you piss in the tea, or what?” he rebuked angrily, and added a frosty: “Stuff your food.”
He knew he was being needlessly raspish - after all, the bloke was only doing his job - but the young Brixtonian didn’t care. No one ever cared about him, so why should he make life easy for a beastman?
The officer, clutching a tray laden with a full English breakfast, plastic cutlery, white napkin and a hot mugful of tea, shook his head and retreated back along the hallway, looking forward to the end of his shift.
Brenton counted his footsteps until they faded away, then stretched out on the concrete bench, the blurred image of the graffiti remaining just visible through his half-closed lashes.
Just as his body was armchairing into a much-needed sleep, a new voice boomed out: “Rise and shine, you fucking young lunatic!”
For a short second Brenton wondered where he was, but recollection came as his eyes focused on a uniformed middle-aged man below average height and stocky appearance standing about four feet from him. He was clean-shaven, with thinning hair, but his features were riddled with marks like small craters. Brenton thought he must have suffered from serious acne in his younger days. He had a ‘don’t mess with me’ face and the three white stripes on his arm revealed that he was a sergeant.
“You’re in a lot of trouble, my lad. We can’t have you young people stabbing each other just because of a bit of name-calling, now can we?”
Brenton noticed another, younger-looking officer looming by the cell door. He looked like a man who would be more comfortable working as a bingo caller for the old greybacks.
Vexed by his prisoner’s lack of response, the sergeant instructed: “Follow me, young man. I’ve some questions I’d like you to answer.”
Brenton let himself be storm-trooped from the cell into the empty passage. He could hear the clicking of a distant typewriter and as the thick, brown doors flashed by he noticed they had various names and crimes chalked on them.
After three turns, the trio reached the interview room where Brenton was faced by a bare wooden table and two chairs set opposite each other,
“Sit down,” the sergeant ordered.
Feeling he must keep up his ‘bad bwai’ pose, the captive parked himself on one of the chairs, his legs oaring out in front, and insolently tapped his feet in an attempt to irritate the senior officer. His adolescent face curled into a half smirk.
The younger PC closed the door and remained standing by it with his hands behind his back like one of those bellhops outside a flashy hotel, while the sergeant wolf-prowled about, forwards then back. Brenton knew this was the cue for the ‘Why’ questions, and he wasn’t disappointed, because after a few laps of the room the sergeant demanded: “Well, are you going to tell me what happened tonight, or what? I mean, how did this little incident get going? Did the other one start it? Did he provoke you? Maybe it was over some girl?”
Brenton silently replayed the answers to these questions in the cinema of his memory. This guy had insulted him in a pool club, a fight broke out and the opposition opted for the asset of a snooker cue. With the prospect of a cracked skull in view, Brenton had decided to defend himself with one of those squarish beer mugs; he’d smashed it hard into the bastard’s leg. Simple, really, but he decided to answer the sergeant’s question in rude-bwai style.
“’Cos I didn’t like the way the guy looked at me,” he said truculently.
The police sergeant was taken aback at this smack-in-the-face reply. “Is that it?” he asked. “Some guy gave you a funny look, so you decided to carve him?” Suddenly he bawled: “Who the fuck do you think you are. Brown? Do you think I was born yesterday? Something must’ve happened!”
After lowering his voice a little he added: “Now come on, sonny. I don’t think you’d have assaulted someone for no reason. Was he trying to nick your money, or what?”
Brenton was annoyed by the shouting. He’ll have to do better than that to scare me, he thought, and to prove the point he decided to compete in the shouting match. “No, that is
it!” he bellowed. “I don’t like the idea of some guy beating my brains out with a fucking snooker cue! What do you want me to do? Sit there and say, ‘Thanks a lot, mate, hit me with your snooker stick and I won’t do fuck all about it’? Well, fuck you, man, I ain’t lying down for nobody.”
The verbal fork in the eardrum stunned the sergeant. He wondered why Brenton wasn’t fretful, apprehensive or remorseful like most youths whom he interviewed.
“Well, this isn’t a bunch of roses for me either,” he said grumpily. “So for Christ’s sake can we get on with it so we can all go home?”
Brenton looked up to the ceiling, feigning sympathy as the officer continued: “Now, Brown, perhaps you’ll calm down and tell me your address. I’ve only got your name and I need more than that. You do understand, don’t you?”
Feeling he had won some sort of victory, Brenton was ready to co-operate. He was gasping for a snout so he asked: “Got a cancer stick?”
With an air of impatience, the sergeant produced a packet of cigarettes, but before he offered one he said somewhat brusquely: “Address first, then you get one of these.”
Brenton’s face was impassive. “I ain’t got no parents, man,” he revealed quietly. “I’m a half-breed bastard of sixteen and I live in a
council hostel for kids coming out of care. I suppose you can call the duty social worker at Lambeth-they’re used to picking me out of the shit.”
The sergeant glanced at his colleague with a frustrated expression on his face. Sixteen? Thank Christ they hadn’t taken a statement yet. The court’d have him for breakfast for interviewing a minor without a chaperone. Still, it was no fault of his -the kid shouldn’t have been nicked on licensed premises.
As he pondered what to do‚ he took stock of Brenton’s appearance. He noted the semi-Afro uncombed hair, the light-brown and blemished face below that was so full of satanic resentment, and the huge hands that seemed to be hewn from brown coal. Then his gaze shifted to the knitted pullover that barely covered Brenton’s muscular torso and the strong, snooker-table legs that filled his bloodstained jeans down to a pair of trainers that were mud-splattered and ready for the old-trainers’ graveyard.
“We’ll have to call the Social in, then we’ll get this ironed out,” the sergeant said, giving up the embargo on the cancer sticks. Brenton lit one and watched the smoke as it corkscrewed towards the ceiling like a ghostly cobra. As he did so a feeling of fatigue suddenly dropped over him. He realised that he just wanted to get the questioning and statement over - this wasn’t fun any more.
He was marched back to his cell to await a member of the social services who would act as chaperone during the interview then escort him back to his hostel. Alone in his cell once more, he re-parked himself on the refrigerated slab for about the running time of three reggae albums and began to regret his bad-bwai attitude to the pig with the swill. To take his mind from his hunger, he stared at the graffiti on the wall and whispered the words to himself: “We, the oppressed, far outnumber our oppressor. If we unite and rise up as one, then no shitstem could ever control us.”
The sound of heavy footsteps again; keys rattling in his lock.
As the thick cell door slowly swung open he recognised the scraggy-looking, bespectacled man who stood there with an ‘I
don’t need this’ look on his face. “Getting quite a habit, isn’t it?” he said. “This time you’ve been charged with causing an affray, apparently.”
Brenton didn’t bother to argue with the social worker, but wondered what ‘affray’ meant as he was led from his cell.
After giving and signing his statement, he followed the duty officer out into the street and winced as the cold hand of the breeze slapped and boxed the fight wounds on his face.
Mr Sumner, one of Lambeth social services duty officers, secretly thought that Brenton Brown was nothing more than a hooligan, but he dared not say as much as he shepherded him into the car. He didn’t want a scene. Only last week some black juvenile whom he was escorting to Blue Star House called him ‘a four-eyed, devil-bone sucking paedophile’ in Brixton High Street, and it had proven very embarrassing.
The pair got in the vehicle with Brenton furiously rubbing his hands in an attempt to get warm. Mr Sumner turned the ignition key then directed an angry look at the shivering youth. “Will there ever be a day when you might just walk away from trouble? Why can’t you stop to think about your actions? The trouble with you, Brenton, is that you’re always playing the hero. Well, let me tell you something, young man. There are more dead heroes than live ones.”
Aware only of his praying stomach and the lack of food within it, Brenton ignored the social worker and groaned: “I’m starving, man. Can’t you stop at a chip shop or something? I ain’t had nothing to yam for hours.”
The duty officer was irritated because Brenton treated his sermon like a teenaged audience handles an ageing stripper, so he rebuked: “It’s a pity your hunger can’t be matched by remorse or regret. You haven’t even said sorry to me for the trouble you’ve caused.”
Brenton felt as though he had heard this particular speech a million times before, or maybe seventeen times, he’d lost count. He
continued to peer out the window as the social wanker resumed his lecture. “You just don’t seem to have any respect for authority. You’re nearly as bad as those Arabs who stormed that American embassy the other day - where was it, in Tripoli? No respect, that’s their trouble - and yours.”
Brenton fought a quick battle for the control of his tongue in case he put his supper in jeopardy. Moments later, Mr Sumner parked his car outside a fish and chip shop. He gave Brenton a pound note then warned: “Don’t be too long or I’ll leave you here.” His fears were unfounded because before the traffic lights had changed twice, Brenton had returned clutching a bag of hot, wrapped food.
Contented now, Brenton assaulted his pie and chips as if he would be sentenced to death if he didn’t finish the lot within twenty seconds. He clocked the traffic flow by his window, recognising the ugly streets of Camberwell, South London. Then, having devoured his dinner, he rolled the oily paper into a ball and hurled it through the window into the chilly night air, where it landed at the feet of a bemused pedestrian. Mr Sumner was disgusted, but he said nothing because they were already drawing up outside Brenton’s hostel on Camberwell Grove.
The hostel was a small terraced building that was supposed to accommodate four teenagers who had just left various children’s homes run by the council. At present, there were only two boys living there because the project was still in the experimental stage. The council had installed a social worker to keep an eye on things; if the need arose, he would counsel the teenagers and maybe sleep there overnight. The downstairs front room was kept for his office, while the upper rooms were designated as the residents’ living quarters.
As Brenton searched in his pockets for his keys, the door was opened from within by Mr Lewis, the social worker in charge of the hostel. A tall man in his early thirties he, too, wore glasses, which gave him an intelligent air. He had a heavy frame without
being muscular and his long black hair squatted on his shoulders like a greasy black cat. His appearance suggested that he attended many an anti-National Front march, but Brenton still thought of him as just another social wanker.
He brushed past Mr Lewis without greeting him and strutted along the hallway towards the kitchen, where he filled a coffee mug full of orange squash. He heard Mr Lewis thank Mr Sumner for contacting him and escorting their wayward charge home, then the door closed and Mr Lewis’s steps padded along the hallway.
“It’s nearly one in the morning,” he said sternly. “I’ll be busy a while yet finishing the paperwork you’ve caused, so we’ll discuss this little matter in the morning. You got that?”
Brenton nodded, relieved that he wouldn’t have to suffer any Lewis lyrics tonight, and when the social worker had retired to his office he heaved himself to his feet and went up the dimly lit stairs to his room.