I nearly didn’t post a short story this week, thinking it was a time for remembrance, and it somehow felt disrespectful. My Facebook followers will have seen my post Remembrance which you can read by clicking on the link.
Then it occurred to me this story, which continued my theme of stories based on song titles, was in its own way a tribute.
OK, I might not have been the most angelic guy in the world but as my old Mum used to say, my heart was in the right place. As a kid I was small and skinny, so the school bully found me an easy target. One day he pushed too far, I lost my temper and retaliated despite him being twice my size. When my fists weren’t enough I attacked him using anything I could get my hands on.
He ended up in hospital, I got thrown out of school, and my Mum became ill; not the best of times for a fifteen-year-old. My dead-beat father took off when Mum needed him most, but only after drinking every penny of the small inheritance she had received from her parents. We needed money so I took a job as a delivery boy when she became too sick to work. It paid a pittance but was the only way to put food on the table.
When we couldn’t afford the rent our decent apartment had to go, and we moved into a crummy flat in the seedier side of town. I wasn’t worried for myself but Mum deserved something better. Even though I worked long hours I couldn’t earn enough to support her properly. One night I delivered some pizzas to a club, and the guy asked if I wanted to earn some extra for a private job. It turned out to be easy money; pick up a package after dark, take it to another address, make sure I only gave it to ‘Joe,’ and come back the next day to pick up my cash.
The deliveries became more regular and the size and shape of the parcels changed. I guessed some of them might be drugs but I was in too deep and the money was good. My boss had a hard reputation and when word got round that I was his runner, I never had a problem with the other local villains. Things were going well, I was able to buy myself some sharp suits and found a better flat for Mum and I to live in.
Then she died.
I was devastated and for a while went off the rails, drinking, and even experimenting with some soft drugs myself. Surprisingly it was my boss who pulled me out of it. Over the years he had started to look on me as family and treated me more like a son than an employee. Perhaps he saw in me something of himself when he was young. Whatever the reason, he read me the riot act and got me back on the straight and narrow. Considering the business he was in, it never registered with me how uncharacteristic his actions were. I owed him big-time.
He was getting older, and some of the up and coming hoods decided to make a play for the top spot. For a while it was mayhem until order was restored. It was during this period that I actually killed my first man but it was self-defence; a case of get in first if you want to live to tell the tale. After that were several others and although I never became immune to taking life, I learnt to blot out the screams from murderers and rapists getting their just desserts.
It was a peculiar feeling and my self-respect was at an all-time low. On one hand I was helping rid the earth of scum, but at the same time I knew I wasn’t living up to Mum’s high standards. Eventually her spirit made me take a long, hard look at myself and I knew I needed to lead a better life. I moved to a new town, found a job as a labourer and in my spare time volunteered at an old people’s home.
I’d always had a good voice and my impromptu Elvis impersonations went down a storm. My usual outfit now was jeans and my old leather jacket, rather than Italian designer suits, but chatting and laughing with the old folk made me feel like a millionaire, and I slept soundly every night. Not all my audience were residents; several only came for the day and to give their carers a break. Bert Jones was one of my heroes. As I got to know him, he revealed more of his early life fighting for his country and later in the SAS, although he always respected the code of silence.
The first time I drove him home after he tripped and sprained his ankle, I met his niece and her husband. She was pleasant enough, but rather plain and mousy. He was a pompous, self-important prat but it wasn’t my business. At least it wasn’t, until Jonesy confided in me how his signature had been forged and his savings were being depleted. Over the months I saw first-hand how they treated the old man; I let my previous persona come to light and threatened the thieving git. Like the coward he was, he and his wife moved out and left Bert to cope on his own, without a second thought as to how he would manage.
I tried to hassle social services but the cuts meant they could do little to help his situation. It was Bert himself who asked if I would move in as his carer. At first I refused, as it would make me no better than the other guy, but eventually he persuaded me. He became the father-figure I’d never had, and persuaded me to go for a career as a singer. It wasn’t easy but he supported me through all the down times, and with his encouragement I became a household name.
Many of you will have recognised me, and perhaps read in the papers something of my past history. Perhaps you wondered why a decent bloke like Bert wasted time on a wastrel like me? I’m not here to perform, and you might find my story an unusual eulogy, but it was Bert’s last request that I sing at his funeral. As we say our final farewells, please join me in one of his favourite songs.
’Time to say Goodbye.’
R.I.P. my friend.
© Voinks October 2018