Who Killed Skippy?
“Could be worse, could be raining,” said Craig, pretty much as soon as it started pissing down.
A big grin crawled across his flushed face like a caterpillar. He was sniffling away and wiping his runny nose with the sleeve of his leather jacket. Craig had just snorted a sugar bowl full of Colombian marching powder and popped a veritable cornucopia of multi-coloured pills. He was talking ten to the dozen and doing my napper in no end.
I forced a smile, though I was none too pleased. I was getting soaked to the skin in a vandalised cemetery, after spending the last half hour digging a grave while Craig turned himself into a walking pharmaceutical experiment.
“Let’s get on with this,” I said, grabbing the dead kangaroo by its legs. But Craig was away with the fairies again, watching a flock of black birds land on a cluster of graffiti stained gravestones.
“A murder of crows,” said Craig. “That’s the collective noun for crows, you know? A murder.”
Craig was an autodidact, hooked on learning a word a day, as well as many other things.
“Yes, Craig, I did used to be an English teacher, you know,” I said. My patience was getting frayed. The rain had slipped down the back of my shirt, trickled down my spine and crept into my arse crack.
“They say that crows are harbingers of death, eh, Ordy? Have you ever wondered why they never seem to talk about harbingers of good things?”
I was now inches away from picking up the shovel and twatting Craig, but thankfully he suddenly seemed to break out of his trance. He bent down and grabbed the kangaroo.
“Let’s get a move on, Ordy, eh?” he said. “It’s ‘Super Seventies Special’ at The Grand Hotel tonight. We haven’t got all day, you know?”
The Grand Hotel, like a fair amount of its clientele, was all fur coat and no knickers. It had lived up to its name once upon a time and its facade was still pretty impressive but the interior, however, left a lot to be desired. For many years, it had survived as a nightclub which was just about bog standard, with the emphasis on the bog.
Every Thursday, it was ‘Super Seventies Special’ because, unsurprisingly, the music that was played was from the ‘70s and all drinks were 70p. Unfortunately, most of the clientele were knocking on seventy, too, which is why it had the earned its reputation as a ‘grab a granny night.’ Which suited Craig Ferry down to the ground.
Craig was the youngest of the four Ferry boys and he’d been born premature and weak, leading his mother to become a tad overprotective of him. For most of his childhood he hardly left her side and he had, it seemed, developed a bit of an Oedipus complex. Hence, his regular attendance at the ‘Super Seventies Special.’
Which meant that I had to go there too, since, to all intents and purposes, I was Craig’s minder. Not that I was anyway near a tough guy. And not that Craig needed a bodyguard. He was well over six feet with a physique worthy of Mike Tyson.
Craig had been a sickly child, as I said, but when he reached sixteen and his mother died, he transformed himself, in a manner akin to that of Bruce Banner turning into the Incredible Hulk, albeit at a decidedly slower rate.
When he was a kid Craig was almost anorexic but with his mother off the scene he soon became a fast food and beer consuming monster. And that, combined with his scoffing of steroids and frequent trips to the gym, spawned the behemoth that was standing before me gargling cider and blackcurrant and singing along to Sparks’ ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us.’
No, I wasn’t employed by the Ferry family to protect Craig from other people. I was paid to protect him from himself.
I’d first met Craig when I was about twelve. We went to different comprehensive schools, so I didn’t have much contact with him but I’d sometimes notice this gangling, scarecrow of a kid hanging around the local betting shop, which was owned by Glyn and Tina Ferry. He always looked lost, sat on the step reading Commando war comics and sipping from a bottle of Lucozade.
One day, during a long hot summer, bored and kicking a ball against wall, I noticed Craig and asked him if he fancied a game of football. I never would have bothered normally, you could tell by the look of him that he’d be rubbish at football, but all my friends were away at Butlins or Pontins, or some other holiday camp, and needs must.
Craig must have been bored himself, I think he’d read the ink from the stack of comics he had next to him, and he said yes.
“Okay,” I’d said. “We’ll do penalties. You’re in goal.”
Craig shuffled over to one side of the garages. One of the walls had the wobbly lined shape of a goal painted on it. He stretched his arms and legs wide.
I put the heavy leather ball on the penalty spot and stepped back for a run.
“Blow a whistle,” I shouted at Craig.
He pursed his lips looking more than a bit girly and I started to giggle.
“No, like this yer big girls blouse,” I said and put my fingers inside my mouth to show him. But before I could start, I heard a shriek.
I jumped, but not as much as Craig. An overweight women wearing a sleeveless, polka dot dress was running toward Craig, her bingo wings flapping.
“Get here now,” she said, clasping him toward a bosom that would be accurately described as ample, before pulling him back to the betting shop.
It was now creeping towards the part of the night that I really hated. It was close to midnight and Craig was hammered.
“The pint of no return,” he said. He downed a pint in one and staggered across the sticky carpet to the dance floor.
The Grand was crowded, hot and clammy. Billy Blockbuster, the DJ and quizmaster, was playing smoochy songs back-to-back . As ‘Betcha By Golly Wow’ played, Craig canoodled with a couple of members of the cast of The Golden Girls. He could hardly stand up, and the pensioners were doing all that they could to support him, but it wouldn’t be long before Goliath would crash down.
And, before you could shout ‘Timber!’ he was over, crushing one of the women beneath him. Two bouncers in Crombies, Darren and Dane Greenwood, ran over but when they saw it was Craig they just stepped back and looked at me.
You could hear the screams of the old woman trapped beneath Craig so Billy Blockbuster quickly changed the song to The Jam’s ‘Going Underground’ and pumped up the volume.
“Well?” said Dane.
“Aye,” I said.
Darren went back to the door and Dane bent down and grabbed Craig’s ankles while I took hold of him by his, frankly minging, armpits.
He was a dead weight as we dragged him up, just enough so someone could pull the woman from underneath him. We struggled and turned him on his back. He was in a deep sleep, snogging with Morpheus and snoring like a Kalashnikov.
And then it was the hard part.
Craig’s father, Glyn Ferry, was a terrifying man by reputation although he was rarely seen in action. His foot soldiers were his boys. Alanby, William and Dafydd. William did most of the muscle work while Dafydd did the greasing of palms and the like. And Alanby, well, he was known as The Enforcer and he was in prison for murder for most of my childhood but, one day when I was about thirteen, he got out.
I’d just finished my supper, spread cheese on toast, and was sitting with my mam watching Callan. My dad was on night shift at the Lighthouse and the house was calm until there was a rapid knock at the door. My mother, ever stoic and unruffled, slowly got to her feet and, keeping an eye on the television, looked out of the window,
‘By the cringe!’ she said. This was as much as she swore. ‘What does he want at this time of night?’
Callan and Lonely were arguing on TV and I wasn’t really paying attention to her but I looked up when she came back from the door with Craig who was white and shaking.
“It’s Wednesday,” I said, angrily. “Comic club is Thursday nights.” It had been a tradition over the last few years that every Thursday, Craig and a couple of other waifs and strays came to my house and we swapped comics.
“It’s our Alanby,” stuttered Craig.
“What?” I said. My mother was giving him a sympathetic look, which was grating on me. There were another twenty minutes of Callan left.
“Why not sit down, luvvie,” said my mother. “I’ll make you a cup of sweet tea and you can tell us all about it.”
She pushed Craig down into dad’s armchair and went into the kitchen. I turned my attention to the TV until the adverts came on.
Mam gave Craig his tea in a Seatown F.C. mug and he took sips, making annoying slurping noises.
The story that stumbled out of Craig, in fits and starts, was that Alanby had been released from jail after ten years inside. And he’d come home with a bride, Trish, a Scottish prostitute he’d met two days after getting out.
Craig’s parents were none too pleased and had kicked them out of their home shortly after they arrived. So, Alanby and Trish moved into a flat above one of the betting shops. Short of cash, and with a big heroin habit, Alanby had put Trish back on the game.
That night, she’d picked up a Dutch sailor down at the docks and sold him her wedding ring in The Shipp Inn. Alanby had turned up at the pub in a drunken rage and sliced Trish to pieces. He’d then turned up at his parents’ home covered in blood and wanting a change of clothes. Craig had opened the door to the blood splattered Alanby and had freaked out.
He spent the next few nights staying at my house, working his way through my mam’s Readers Digests and the Ferry’s got into the habit of packing him off to stay with me whenever they wanted him out of the way.
Well, at least these days they paid.
I’d never put much stock in all that hereditary cobblers. Bad blood and the like. I was more of a nurture over nature man. Though it did seem to me that The Ferry family were all born under a bad star.
Except Beverly, that is. Beverly was the only girl of the Ferry siblings. She was a qualified accountant who did the firm’s books and worked in the local civic centre. And her business acumen was a real boon to the family, especially when their enterprises became more and more legit. And she was the one that had decided to hire me to keep a bleary eye on Craig.
Beverly was in her late thirties. She was well read. She was good looking. She was fun to be with. And I had been arse over tit in love with her for as long as I could remember. And, of course, she was married. To a local Councillor, to boot.
I’d managed to manoeuvre Craig in and out of the taxi and through the front door of his flat but was having trouble getting him up the stairs. I was still aching from all that digging I’d done and was considering giving up the ghost, and leaving Craig where he lay, when his mobile started to ring.
I took it out of his pocket and looked at the display. It was Beverly. I switched off the ‘Bonanza’ theme and spoke.
“Craig’s phone, Peter Ord, speaking.”
“Oh, God, is he trashed again, Peter?”
“Either that or he’s rehearsing for his ‘Stars In Your Eyes’ appearance as Oliver Reed.”
“Alright, I suppose I’ll see him tomorrow,” she said. “It was just that he had a delivery job to do earlier and I wanted to make sure it had gone well. Know anything about it?”
“Er … yeah, I think …”
“Shit, he bolloxed it up, didn’t he?”
“Peter, I can tell when you’re telling pork pies. I’ll be there in bit.”
Bev was looking very business-like in a sharp black suit and high heels, her blonde hair tied back. And she looked more than somewhat pissed off.
“So, who was the idiot with the Luger?” she said. She had to raise her voice slightly as Craig’s snores were now echoing through the living room. We’d managed to get him on the sofa and left him there. We moved into the cramped kitchen and I took a can of Fosters from the fridge.
Bev shook her head.
“So, the Shogun Assassin?”
“Dunno who he was. Craig said that the bloke pissed off on a motorbike before he could get his hands on him. Was dressed head to foot in black, like a ninja, apparently.”
“Yeah, well our Craig has always been blessed with an over ripe imagination.”
“A ninja with a Luger sounds like something from one of those comics you two used to read. Was he on anything?”
“Yeah, a motorbike,” I said
“Not the ninja, you plonker, Craig!”
“Jesus. I thought you were supposed to keep an eye on him?”
“Hey, he was already as high as Sly by the time I met him.”
The story was this: One of the Ferry family’s occasional entrepreneurial activities was importing unusual animals through the docks and selling them to collectors of exotic pets. One such collector was Bobby Bowles, the former football superstar, who had a private zoo just outside Seatown.
Craig’s job was to deliver a kangaroo to Bobby in exchange for a wad of dosh. However, on his way to Bowles’ place, Craig’s van was stopped by a ninja with a gun who shot the kangaroo and scarped on a Harley Davidson. Craig phoned me to help him get rid of Skippy’s body, of course, hence my fun day at the graveyard.
“This is a very bloody important time for the family business,” said Bev. “Dad’s very ill, Alanby is never going to get out of Wakefield nick since he spiked that warden’s tea with ecstasy and Dafydd is, well, Dafydd …”
Dafydd had, for many years, been so far in the closet he was in Narnia but when he eventually came out he shocked the family by moving down south to open up a scuba diving club with an Australian. This was blamed for causing Glyn Ferry’s first heart attack.
“So, Craig is being groomed to take over as head of the family business?” I said.
Bev raised her eyebrows.
“Supposedly,” she said.
“Oh, dear,” I said.
“Oh, dear, indeed,” said Bev.
We were sitting in ‘Velvettes Gentleman’s Club’ staring behind the bar at a stained glass recreation of the famed poster of the female tennis player scratching her arse that many a teenage boy had on their wall in the Seventies.
“Lesbians?” I said. I finished my pint of Stella. I was well and truly off the wagon now.
“Yep,” said Craig.
“I’ve never heard that one before.”
“Aye. Good With Colours is a euphemism for gay men and Tennis Fans is for lesbians.”
“Well, as always, Craig, you are an education.”
“Well, you should read more, shouldn’t you? Might learn something.”
I finished my drink and went over to the bar. The dancers were starting to arrive at Velvettes. It was a couple of hours before opening time but Jack Martin, the owner, usually gave them a little booze up on a Saturday night to get them in the mood. Jack was more of your benevolent kind of gangster.
“But I think you’re avoiding the issue, Craig,” I said, as I sat back down. “What are you going to do now?”
“Well, I’ll see if Jack needs anyone for a bit of occasional strong-arm work. Him and dad are on good terms. For the moment, anyway.”
“But Bev’s the family gaffer now?”
“Yep, pretty much. Head of the family. The Godsister. Dad’s said he can’t trust me after ‘The Kangaroo Incident’, as he calls it.”
“You ever find out who shot Skippy? Or why?”
“Not a clue. And Bev doesn’t seem too bothered about finding them, either. Thinks they were from out of town. Albania or somewhere. She thinks we might have been encroaching on their territory.”
“Oh, can’t go around encroaching. Well out of order, that.”
As the girls hovered around the bar there was a cacophony of foreign accents. It was nice. A welcome change.
Seatown was a small town on the north east coast of England and its location meant that you couldn’t really end up there by accident. All the main roads bypassed the place. People rarely left the town and not too many outsiders decided to settle here, either.
Contact with foreigners was once, in fact, such a rarity that, legend had it, during the Napoleonic wars the people of Seatown had hanged a monkey because they thought it was a French spy. Not an unreasonable mistake, in many people’s minds. So, I suppose you could say that there was a track record of exotic animals coming to an unfortunate end in Seatown.
It was also very hard to keep a secret here.
Which was why I knew all about Bev’s new Harley Davidson, even if the rest of her family didn’t. And why I wasn’t particularly shocked when she’d mentioned Craig’s attacker using a Luger, even though I hadn’t mentioned it to her before.
I did consider sharing this information with Craig, of course. Well, for all of five minutes, I did.
It was pretty clear that the Ferry family were in safe hands with Bev ruling the roost. And it was certainly a lot safer for me to have her on my side than against me. After all, despite what Craig may have thought, it wasn’t what you knew that mattered in life, it was who you knew.