This story contains very bad language and some coarse humour.
Chapter 1: The Demand
Further to the events of the evening of 11th November. The brewery, following consultation with the landlord of The Miners Lamp, holds you wholly, solely and collectively responsible for the damage caused to property, fixtures and fittings.
As you may be aware, the cost of repairs is not inconsiderable; not least (amongst other things) the replacement of the television set and the re-covering of the pool table.
Please find enclosed our invoice, which we trust you will see fit to honour by return.
Yours without prejudice,
Messer’s Whitely and Long.
For and on behalf of Greenall Whitley Brewery LTD
A brief hush had fallen on the listeners.
“Where did the fuckin’ pool table end up”?
“What d’you mean”?
“Well, pool tables are fuckin’ ‘eavy, - I once tried to nick one from West Ward Labour Club; so how did it get out the pub”?
“What the fuck are y’ talkin’ about Mick? said Brian.
“What I’m sayin’ is where did it get recovered from”?
“Fuck me Mick, it didn’t get recovered it got re-covered”.
Big Mick stared blankly.
“So how much are they after Spartacus”?
I turned the letter over, nothing; then I picked up the envelope and shook a small, thin piece of paper out onto the table where it rested in the late autumn sunshine. The assembled rag-bag of the Bull’s Head darts and dominoes team stared down at it.
“Four hundred quid? They’ve got to be fuckin’ jokin’. They’ve no fuckin’ chance”.
“I don’t know Geoff, it was a Sony Trinitron – the remote looked like something from NASA. It had picture in picture and everything”
“It had a fucking pool cue in it when I last saw it. I swear Alan; you looked like Fatima Whitbread throwing his javelin. That was some shot my friend”.
“Not really Geoff, I was aiming at that cunt who played the double nine for sixteen and the match”. Everyone laughed.
“Four hundred quid though? Fuckin’ ‘ell”.
The enormity of what had happened started to sink in. It was time to start the process and that responsibility fell to me. I looked at the assembled members and they looked back. The vault of the Bull’s Head had never seemed in the slightest bit lonely or threatening but now, for a not quite fifteen- year-old boy it was both these things and then some.
“Ok. First thing. We’re all in this together right”?
I knew I couldn’t go wrong with this; it was just the sort of thing they liked - obvious and to the point. Sure enough it drew nods of approval from those most responsible for the fracas of the 11th and from the less guilty, a tacit acceptance of what was so obviously right.
“So, next thing. How much is in the kitty”?
George, the treasurer who had recently been released from Strangeways following another six month stint for theft, pulled a grubby note book from his Parka and inspected the entries.
“Fuck all” he announced.
Time slowed down and then stopped still; just like when it seems that everyone else is frozen stiff but you can still move around flicking punches like an invisible man. I got out of the way of the swinging fists and watched bewildered as it kicked off yet again. It was never going to last long though and it was the quietest fight I’d ever seen.
The pub was empty and everyone knew that the landlady had to be kept sweet. If she barred us that was it, and wrecking the vault was a sure fire way of pissing her off. We had only been at The Bull’ since the start of the season and only then because a quick change of venue had become necessary after being kicked out of The Montrose – a feat in itself unprecedented.
Putting it simply there was nowhere left to go. We were, as the saying goes, drinking in the last chance saloon – literally. This unstated but universally understood truth calmed everyone down faster than the arrival of a Paddy Wagon. At least no-one had been glassed and that I always thought, was a positive thing.
“Let's all just calm down and work something out; fucking hell...”
As a rule swearing was something I tended to avoid because it offended the others; all of them to a man were old enough to be my father.
“He’s right. Sit down and shut the fuck up” said Alan.
Everyone sat down. I felt pleased and shit-scared at the same time.
Alan turned to me; “So go on then Einstein”.
“Well first off, George, no offence mate but how come there’s no money in the club? We’ve all been paying subs since the start of the season so by my reckoning there should be a hundred and eighty quid in it and that gets us almost half way out of the shit.
All eyes turned to George.
“That’s right Spartacus, that’s what ‘should’ be in the club...”
You could hear the sound of the Yatzy machine from its place on the wall next to the Gents.
“Only...” George shifted on his stool, “Only I’ve had to have a bit of a borrow out of it occasionally. I couldn’t turn out for the team otherwise, y’ know how it is, fuckin’ GIRO’S are next to nowt”.
Robert couldn’t help himself and said what everyone else was thinking;
“What’s the point in havin’ a fuckin’ treasurer if he’s gonna rob the club”?
“I said borrow, not keep - and if you ever call me a thievin’ cunt again I will fuckin’ kill y’, so I suggest that you shut the fuck up Bob”.
Everyone knew that this was no idle threat, but of course nothing had ever been proved. Alan stood up,
“George, sit down. Both of y’, button it, Spartacus is gonna tell us what to do”. His eighteen stone bulk and well-deserved reputation for casual violence had the desired effect.
“Lads, lads; arguing amongst ourselves is not going to help. If George said ‘borrow’ then I believe him” (I couldn’t help considering the irony of having to put our collective faith in the honesty of a chronically unsuccessful career criminal), “So he’ll pay it back; pay the money back into the club, won’t you George?” I looked at George, praying for his agreement and then carried on. “As long as the money’s back in the club by the end of the season - before anyone would actually get paid out anyway – then it’s like it’s never been gone in the first place”.
No-one could argue with this level of obvious truth and reason, George seemed especially keen on it; exoneration and wriggle-room in one undeniable statement. He took the bait;
“Spartacus is right, I’ll put the money back in time for the Manchester trip and everyone will get paid out, right”?
I decided not to mention that this was already a breach of the mooted terms; the Manchester trip was technically after the season had finished, but being pedantic had often got me into trouble and in any case nobody else had seemed to notice.
Of course the fight, the arguing and the disappearance of the club’s money in no way addressed the immediate problem – the brewery’s demand for the four hundred pounds.
“So all we need to do is get the four hundred quid together, sharpish”.
This was the best I could come up with and I knew it was shit. Four hundred pounds was after all a ludicrous sum.
“Can’t we just tell ‘em to fuck off’?
“You should have been a diplomat Mick” said Alan.
“What - and get kicked out of the league halfway through the best season we’ve ‘ad in livin’ memory Mick”? countered Geoff.
Now it did occur to me that as it stood, languishing in eighteenth place in the table out of a possible twenty four could hardly be considered a vintage performance and that most members died in their forties anyway - but like I said, pedantry had got me nowhere. Brian spoke up.
“Spartacus, y’ gonna ‘ave to write a letter. Y’ good at that sort of shit. Write to the fuckers and buy some time so the rest of us can get on with finding the sponies”.
And there it was. A course of action. Not exactly cunning but at least something.
The landlady appeared from the best-side,
“Are any of you gentlemen actually going to buy a drink this mornin’? - it’s nearly twelve o-clock, I open in half an hour”.
George stood up,
“Molly, might I say you look like a million dollars. Drinks all round and one for yourself – I’ll get these”.
Molly started to pull the pints to the sound of cheering. George winked at me from the corner of his eye as he sidled over.
“Spartacus, I’ve heard you’re a handy little fucker. Six fights, six wins and six KO’s i’nt it? St Cuthbert’s ABA must be well-chuffed. That’s the best run since Alan boxed for ‘em and God knows that’s a fuckin’ long time ago. So not only can yer throw a left ‘n right but yer can read ‘n write t’ boot. I think you and me need to ‘av a little chat”.