Authors: John Dalton
About the Author
John Dalton lives in Birmingham. He has two children and works as an adult literacy tutor.
Also by John Dalton
The Concrete Sea
First published in 2002 by
Tindal Street Press Ltd
217 The Custard Factory, Gibb Street, Birmingham B9 4AA
© John Dalton, 2002
The moral right of John Dalton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any
information storage or retrieval system, without either prior permission in writing from the publisher or a licence, permitting restricted copying. In the United Kingdom such licences are issued by
the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London W1P 0LP.
Typesetting: Tindal Street Press Ltd
All the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue reference for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN 0 9535895 6 0
Printed and bound in Great Britain by
Biddles Ltd, Woodbridge Park Estate, Guildford.
To K and L
Thanks to Myra; and to Joel, Emma and Alan at Tindal Street Press for their help and support.
‘I mean, look at this! What is going on?’
‘Seems like we’re stuck.’
‘Stuck, yeh, like every day it gets quicker to walk! Bleedin crazy!’
‘Hold on, that bloke’s letting you in.’
‘Thank the fuck you!’
Scobie Brent nudged his car into the crawling traffic of the main road. It was half a mile bumper to bumper ahead of him. Once in the flow, he sighed and wiped imaginary sweat off his brow. Then
he smiled reassuringly at the woman who sat next to him.
‘Bloody nation’s grinding to a halt,’ Claudette muttered.
‘Yeh, even in our business we have schedules to meet.’
‘Reckon we’ll make it?’
‘Plenty of time . . .’
Scobie hadn’t meant to cuss out loud. ‘Keep your lid on,’ the boss had said. ‘Be smarmy.’ Huh, as if Scobie couldn’t handle a bird like Claudette. This job
was a piece of piss. He worked his thumbs into the ribs of the steering wheel, pressed hard and then grinned as they paled with the pressure.
‘Anyway, Scobie, you got any plans to get out of this dump?’
‘Don’t know, luv, I ain’t the kind to make plans. You know, take each day as it comes.’
‘Wow . . .’
There was little point in keeping an eye on the road. Scobie looked in the rear-view mirror, smoothed back his hair and then cast a frank gaze over Claudette.
OK, quite tasty, he thought. Worthy of a second look . . . unlike the rest of the slags. Then he put on a casual smirk and let his eyebrows float.
‘You got plans then, have you, sweetheart?’
‘You gonna give me an idea?’
‘I don’t reckon you’d know what I was on about.’
The car nudged forward a few feet at a time. What a flesh creeper, she thought, real dangerous scum. But Claudette reckoned she was used to it, wits and instincts finely tuned to treading the
thin line of hassle avoidance. She looked out of the window. The last of daylight had finally gone and city light had taken over. This sudden tilt from day to night seemed to bring more movement in
the traffic and Scobie could accelerate down the main street, his leering presence in the car feeling less oppressive. Claudette liked car-cruising in the city. It seemed to her the only way such a
place made sense. You could be everywhere and anywhere and somehow feel part of the godawful sprawl.
Don’t clog up on me yet, keep moving. Movement is desperately needed, thank you very
She leaned back in her seat and felt the thrust of speed.
Fingers crossed, one big deal and I’ll be over the horizon and gone for good
. Then she smiled at the neon shop signs and
imagined the envious thoughts of friends who would wonder how she got away.
‘We’re using the Varna pad tonight,’ Scobie drawled, feeling more relaxed and in the groove of his work.
‘Bit down-market, isn’t it?’
‘It’s what the bloke wants.’
‘What sort of jerk is it this time?’
‘Fuck knows, insurance or something.’
‘Don’t know how the boss manages to find such well-heeled shits.’
‘Cos he knows where they crap, of course!’
Scobie gave out a braying laugh and ignored the grimace that Claudette made. He began to soothe the car through darkened backstreets, skirting empty acres of flattened factories and keeping his
eyes alert for signs of police.
‘Do I have to do anything funny?’
The nerves. Always just before, Claudette felt the nerves tighten her mouth and make her stomach queasy.
‘Nah . . . just be your professional self.’
‘Anything else lined up for me?’
‘You know the boss . . . Shit, who knows when he’ll pull out a golden egg?’
‘Yeh, well, he certainly likes his hand up the arse of a bird.’
Scobie parked his car at the rear entrance of Varna Court. He looked up at the three-storey building with its grey bricks and saw that everything was quiet. He grabbed a large
sports bag out of the boot and then took Claudette by the arm to the entrance. The flat looked obviously unlived in, but it was furnished respectably and didn’t come over as a knocking shop.
Scobie moved straight into the bedroom and began to unzip his bag. He saw his face in the large mirror above the headboard and he grinned uneasily at himself. Why am I on edge? he then thought. Cos
the damn bird is getting to me, that’s why. His fingers fumbled for a bottle of Scotch.
‘This place is done out all right.’
‘Seen one, seen em all.’
‘Yeh, but you said the punter wanted something down-market. This looks more like home from home.’
‘What the fuck do you know about how rich pricks live?’
‘Well I was –’
‘Just shut up and take your clothes off!’
‘Why do I have to do that?’
‘Because I’ve got some special kit in this bag. What the bloke ordered, see!’
‘All right, keep your hair on.’
God, Claudette thought, I’ll be glad when this one’s out the way.
But that was the way she’d been feeling with all the tricks since she’d put her plan into action. You don’t realize how much you shut off from the shit until you see a way out.
Then, suddenly, the things you’ve done thoughtlessly for years become awkward, precarious even. Claudette took her clothes off slowly, keeping an eye on Scobie in the mirror. She didn’t
think too much of stripping in front of him; it was work and common enough. There was a niggle of uneasiness all the same. As Scobie knocked back a few shots of booze she tried to work out what was
troubling her. Not the usual nerves, the feeling didn’t fit in with them. She looked again at Scobie. Surely he couldn’t have found out?
‘What time’s the punter coming?’
‘Has he got a name?’
‘You’re to call him James.’
‘And where will you be, Scobie, peeping through a hole in the wall?’
It was the wrong thing to say. Scobie jerked his head round to stare at the now naked Claudette. There was a deep frown on his brow and a dark fierceness in his eyes which made Claudette feel
‘It was only a crack.’
Scobie didn’t reply. He tried to smile but Claudette got the feeling he was hating her for something. She nervously put her hands across herself and cursed silently.
‘S-So are you going to give me that gear then?’
For the first time in a long time Scobie was feeling panic. He’d been trying to work out his next move but it just wouldn’t come to him. Such a thing hadn’t happened before.
Most jobs he’d done for the boss had come off naturally. He’d never really needed to think or plan. The Scotch hadn’t helped, but it was the other thing, the solid hard-on that
really irked him. This sudden manifestation and the urge it provoked seemed far more important than the job he had to do. Scobie felt himself begin to sweat. He frowned even harder and tried to
fumble around in his fuzzy brain for a way to go.
‘Do you have to stare at me like that?’
‘Hello! Are you going to give me the clothes?’
‘You want it, don’t you, you dirty bastard?’
Scobie went with his senses. Still frowning, he got up from off the bed and put his arms around Claudette. A half-sneer, half-smile flickered across his face and his hands roughly pawed over
‘Get off me, you fucking shit!’
‘Jesus, Claudette . . .’
Claudette tried to fight Scobie off, but then they both stumbled backwards onto the bed. Scobie forced himself on top, shoved his arm across Claudette’s throat and then fumbled for his
‘God, I’ve gotta – Jesus, you are bleedin something.’
‘Get off me, you creep! . . . The boss’ll kill you! . . . I c-can’t bloody well b-breathe!’
Scobie shifted his weight then. He forced himself into Claudette and then pushed both his hands down on her shoulders.
‘Bloody hell,’ he moaned, ‘you are bleedin . . .’
‘I’ll fucking get you for this, you bastard!’
Claudette tried to struggle against the weight that held her. She tried to spit at the frowning face but her throat was dry. Powerless . . . It was then her sobs began, silent and
‘Oh . . . Jesus . . . you . . .’
Scobie came. A few feeble, stiff spasms and that was it. Claudette trembled but managed to sneer defiantly at the still frowning face.
‘Bastard! Just piss off, will you.’
‘Yeh, I will, you stupid little slut. But one thing, right –’ Scobie pulled himself forward and put his hands around Claudette’s head.
‘You’re a lousy lay and the fucking boss wants rid of you!’
Scobie sniggered excitedly, then he twisted, right and left, violently, until her neck broke.
Last night, saw a face at my window
Sure as hell scared me to death
Thought it was my lover’s ghost
Ha – it was only me staring back!
Cymbals danced like bees’ wings. The lead guitar wound up a high-pitched scream. Bass and drums thundered as Stevie Kitson bellowed, ‘OHHH YEAHH!’ and ended
‘Oh yeh sure, that’s it tonight, brothers and sisters. See you next week – and remember – we love y’all, you Lime Tree people.’
The applause didn’t transcend the noise of chat and laughter in the Lime Tree bar. But that was cool because Stevie Kitson and the Slammers didn’t do the gig for anything but fun. As
Stevie once said, ‘Shit, they all talked when Charlie Parker blew his horn. It was the whole scene, man, the music and the vibes.’
Jerry Coton couldn’t have agreed more. He’d say, ‘You f-fork out a b-bomb to see some group and you’re supposed to t-treat them like a snotty soloist in an orchestra.
S-Stuff that!’ He raised his pint glass and nudged Mary in the arm.
‘On form t-tonight.’
‘Don’t know how he keeps going . . .’
Stevie Kitson was a feature of the local scene, a small-time celebrity. At one time he’d been lead guitar with the Blue Cruisers who had a couple of hits like the famous ‘She
Ain’t What She Is’. He’d made enough out of that to set him up for life, carried on for a while as a session musician, then decided that his hometown and the blues were the place
Jerry lit up a fag and moved his face close to Mary’s, enjoying the chance to sneak some intimacy.