Chapter 3: High Noon At The Emporium
My sleep was deeper than a nuclear submarine hiding in enemy waters. Dreaming within a dream, Madalina slowly appeared to me through a foggy mist that slowly dissolved into the ether. We were in a cemetery under a full moon, surrounded by gravestones.
The moonlight shone on her milky skin and made it glow, giving her an eerie, supernatural appearance. She was dressed in her usual Gothic attire, only this time a set of wings were attached to her. Black in colour they were, to match the rest of her vampy outfit. Spider’s webs were painted around her eyes, accompanied by dark blue lipstick. Set against her pale white face, she looked every inch a ghost.
Her arms started moving around slowly as her body gyrated in a hypnotic dance, drawing me further into her world. Circling round and round, her naked mid-rift twitched like some Eastern belly dancer, making me yearn for her all over again. After a few minutes, her dance came to an end and then she did something very strange. Extending one finger, she traced what seemed to be a lightning rod. It hung there in the air, as if made of a blue flame. Then she traced another next to it and they glowed together, side-by-side. As I stared back at her dumb-founded, she smiled at me.
“Mitch, wake up!” she whispered, her voice floating away on the hollow wind, into infinity…
Wake up I did, with a start! I looked at the beside clock and almost jumped out of bed. 19:18 it read. I could’ve kicked myself, my power-nap having turned into a whole afternoon and beyond. Jeez, the guys would be waiting at the Emporium by 8 o’clock, I had to get myself in gear.
Having already showered earlier, a quick spray with some deodorant was enough to freshen me up as I quickly dressed. T-shirt, jeans, boots were thrown on fast. Gelling back my hair as the final touch and I was good to go. Grabbing my leather bomber jacket, I made my way out the door.
I checked my mobile for any messages as I walked down the garden path, but there were none. ‘Good,’ I thought, the guys would be already on their way, but I wasn’t running too late.
Walking briskly, I made the half-mile journey into town quickly and was stood outside the Emporium by ten-past eight. I surveyed the scene through the pub window. Shifty & Dave were at the bar, but no sign of Johnny, or the skinheads.
‘All good,’ I mused, as I passed through the doors and made my way to the bar.
“Two more beers for the lads please Sandra, and a light ale for me!” I asked our well-endowed barmaid. She flashed her usual smile and poured the drinks. The guys were pleased to see me.
“Any sign of that skinhead lot?” I asked them.
“No show yet,” replied Dave, as we all scanned the room.
Two old guys sat beneath the wall-mounted TV and a few couples nursing hangovers from last night were scattered around the bar.
“Hmmmm, we’ll hang around a while and wait,” I mused. The other nodded in agreement and then we chatted about the usual stuff. Work, football, partying and girls.
Johnny appeared next, completing our line-up. Hardly the four musketeers, but a team all the same. As more beers were consumed, he filled us in on what he’d been up to; working on a custom motorbike, as it happens, the same one he’d been working on for two years. An old vintage Norton 650cc he’d been restoring. It was a ‘work-in-progress’ he laughed, while assuring us that he’d actually finish it one day and drive the bike right here to the Emporium to prove it! We all laughed at that, ribbing him that he’d never finish it.
The atmosphere changed quickly within seconds though, as the pub door opened and the skinhead gang filed in, one after the other. One of them who was sporting a black-eye stared menacingly at Johnny, before following the others to take their usual seats next to the juke-box.
All gangs come in various sizes and the skins were no exception to that rule. The biggest and heaviest of them wore an open bomber jacket, with the letters ‘NSDA ’ visible on his t-shirt. Obviously it was part of a longer word or brand-name, such as ‘Lonsdale’ or ‘Consdaple,’ but the rest of the lettering was hidden beneath the sides of his jacket. Still, I wondered where I’d seen those middle letters before. What perplexed me a lot more, was the fact that he was carrying an umbrella. This was still summertime, it had been a particularly hot spell of weather of late and it wasn’t raining. I put it down to their warped sense of fashion.
The rest were mainly of medium build and one slim guy, who sported the black-eye. They wore a variation of Crombie jackets, bombers, jeans or combat trousers. The one thing that didn’t vary was their universal black doc martin boots, all with white laces. I’d met some skinheads in my time, even been friendly with one or two I had to work with before and most of them were alright. They liked music, beer and granted, the occasional punch-up. But these ones were different; I just couldn’t put my finger on why.
There were six of them in all and only four of us. No matter, the numbers didn’t scare us too much. That would only be a problem if all of them could fight. One of them approached the far end of the bar and returned to his mates a few minutes later, with a tray full of drinks. They glowered and scowled, mainly in our direction, but no so that anyone else would notice.
“Bunch of fannies!” Shifty commented.
We all smirked at the way he said it, with absolute contempt in his voice. And so the night passed on…
We got on with our banter between us, while we kept a wary eye on them. The skinheads kept glowering at us every now and then, but never approached us. They were talking about us in hushed tones, that was for sure, but never shouting across the bar or even raising their voices so that anyone else could here. Trips to and from the toilets were nervy, but none of the groups went at the same time, the skins seemed to be avoiding any trouble in there too.
Just as things seemed to be calm and contained, a song came blaring out of the juke-box. ‘My Generation,’ by the Who. The skins came to life immediately, singing along and swaying about in their seats. It had obviously been there choice.
We carried on talking and shooting the breeze at the bar. Lucky we could also still follow the subtitles on the pub tv, which provided a good excuse to keep a check on the skins. Their next choice of song was far less tasteful; all we could make out were some indecipherable lyrics, smattered with the word ‘Oi’ every now and then. The skins seemed to love those parts and they all sang it together, whenever it happened.
Shifty raised an eyebrow.
“What kind of song would really piss them off?” he asked.
“Hmmm, dunno…” replied Johnny, “but I bet they’d hate anything by Bon Jovi!”
“Bon Jovi it is then!” said Shifty.
“What are you thinking?” asked Dave.
“Well, I’m fed up waiting on those wankers to start something. Thought we might as well give them some inspiration. Let’s get this bullshit over quick!”
The four of us were locked in mental agreement.
Just as the ‘Oi’ song was finishing, Shifty wandered off towards the jukebox.
‘For fuck sake,’ I wondered, ‘here we go again!’
Much to our surprise, the skinheads said nothing to him; they just glared at him in quick glances, as he loaded the juke-box with money and punched in a tune.
As he wandered back to the rest of us, the intro to ‘Living on a Prayer,’ came wafting through the airwaves. Shifty grinned, while we supped our beers, waiting for all hell to break loose.
As the skinheads stood up, the moment became frozen in time. The whole pub knew something was about to break out, you could have cut through the atmosphere with a knife. We braced ourselves, but much to our surprise, instead of rushing towards us, they all walked towards the door at the same time.
“Bon Jovi is the Anti-Christ!” snarled one of them.
A few more menacing stares at Johnny on the way by, and they were gone.
“What are they up to?” mused Dave.
“Who gives a fuck, let’s get another beer in!” answered Shifty, as we collectively breathed a sigh of relief and finally relaxed.
It was a normal Sunday night now, just like any other. We’d either get drunk enough to hit Dexy’s again, or get sensible and go home at closing time. Work waited for us most of us the following morning, apart from Dave, who was a full-time electrical-engineering student.
The guys asked about Madalina of course, wanting to know if I’d banged her silly, as was the usual course of action for any of us who got lucky with the chicks. I gave nothing away, only commenting that it had been ‘an interesting night.’ That seemed to satisfy them for the time being. If only they knew…
And so the night passed, uneventfully. The time bell rang all too soon, as Sandra shouted ‘Last Orders!’ in her best commanding voice.
“Well guys, Dexy’s or the road home?” asked Johnny, as we ordered the final pints of the evening.
“Not for me, exam day tomorrow,” said Dave.
“Me neither, I got an early start,” said Shifty.
Me and Johnny looked at each other.
“Na, my boss is the warpath on Mondays, let’s call it a night,” I said.
As we drank up, we decided on the best way home. Shifty and Dave lived in the same part of town, so they were heading to the taxi rank. That left me and Johnny to walk uptown, where we’d eventually branch off and go our separate ways. We spilled out into the street in reasonable nick, not too bad for wear.
The night air was refreshing, as Johnny and I walked up the main street, the traffic much slower than the night before. At Fenwick’s garage, we said our ‘Goodnights,’ with Johnny heading down the alley for a shortcut home, while I kept on the main street, before I’d have to branch off again later.
I hadn’t got far, when I thought I heard a few yells coming from the alleyway where Johnny had gone. It was hard to be sure between passing cars, but when I heard the words ‘Fuck Off,’ somewhere in the distance. I sensed something wasn’t right.
I retraced my steps in double-time and went round the corner of the alley. Not far ahead, the six skinheads were kicking the hell out of Johnny.
“Right you bastards, leave him alone!” I shouted.
They all stopped to look at me, as I made my way towards them. Johnny was glad to see me, at least. The heaviest of them laughed menacingly.
“Why, wot you gonna do?” he challenged.
He started waving the umbrella around, giving me no time to answer. Not that there was any talking to be done, the time for that was over.
I dodged the umbrella as he swung it at me, in a roundhouse sweeping motion. This would be easy, I thought, as I could rush in on him on the next back-swing. As he swung the umbrella across me again, I must have been too close and I discovered what it was really for.
As the tip of it grazed across my chest, it spliced my leather jacket wide open. It dawned on me that the tip of the brolly must have been sharpened like a razor. No room for errors then…
As the brolly reached the end of its horizontal swing, I rushed in and sparkled him with a good clean punch straight to his jaw. He staggered back, stunned that I could hit him so hard. Another straight jab before he could recover and he reeled backwards again. Not quite down yet, I stamped his arm against the wall with my foot and the brolly fell out of his hand. A good kick to the balls, followed by a quick right hook and his knees gave way. He slowly descended towards the floor, just like even the biggest of guys will do, if you hit them in the right places and with enough force. I grabbed the brolly and faced the others down.
They’d all stopped to watch, expecting heavy boy to get the better of me, but I had other plans.
“Get the fuck out of here!” I suggested to them.
They looked around at one another, nervously.
I guessed they were weighing up the odds, just as I was. Five against one, what were they afraid of? That should’ve been two, but Johnny was still writhing on the ground, unable to stand from the kicking they’d gave him.
Pack mentality must have kicked in, as they got braver and started spreading out. It looked like they were going to try to surround me like wolves, but the alley was narrow enough to give me time to cut them off. Whenever one came forward, I slashed the brolly across him, keeping the others behind the nearest skin. I managed to slash at least one jacket and break another’s skull by bringing the umbrella straight down on top of his friend’s head with such force it flew out of my hands, before they rushed me.
Punches, kicks and elbow jabs were flying everywhere and I was moving around like Muhammed Ali, giving as good as I got. Still, I knew I couldn’t hold out forever against five. Pretty soon, I was getting worn down, as more of their punches got through in the melee.
A solid crack to the side of my head with a brick had me seeing stars, as it came in on my blind side and knocked me for six. Soon the punches were raining down on me and as I hit the ground not far from Johnny, their jackboots went in as well.
“That’ll teach you lot to fuck with us!” I heard one of them say in muffled tones, as the only sensible thing to do in this type of situation was to cover as much of your head and face as possible, with your arms.
All of a sudden the kicking stopped. I looked through my hands to see what was happening, as all the skinheads had turned to face someone. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, it was Madalina.
She held a mobile phone in her hand.
“I’ve called Police!” she said.
The skinheads were perplexed; you could almost hear them turning it over in their minds. Was she kidding? Would she really think that could save her?
“They’ve been listening to the whole thing and they’re on their way!” she added.
The skins looked at each other, bemused.
“Shut up, you stupid foreign bitch!” said the one with the black-eye from the previous night.
“Disappear if you know what’s good for ya!” said another.
“Yeah, fuck off back to your own country!” said a third one.
Madalina backed away nervously, while I tried to get to my feet. It was no use; the kicking they’d given me had left me almost paralysed, like a spent battery.
Just at that, a Police siren screamed through the heavy night air, close enough to make the skinheads pay attention and take stock. Never had I been gladder to hear one.
“Let’s get outta here!” one of them announced.
The rest seemed to agree that was a good idea and started making their way up the alley fast. Though not before they’d helped their heaviest friend to his feet and given me and Johnny one last kick, to say ‘goodnight’ with.
“We’ll be back!” they shouted, as they made their retreat.
Madalina rushed over and helped me to stand up, and then we both grabbed Johnny. Soon he was on his feet as well.
“We should leg it as well!” I said.
“Thanks Madalina, but we should all get out of here!” I added.
She seemed to understand. We made our way back around the corner and onto the main street.
“Quickly!” I urged them, as we crossed over the road and into a side street directly opposite Fenwick’s garage.
We stayed out of sight as the cop car approached, blue lights flashing as it turned into the alley. I motioned to the others to keep walking in the opposite direction, as fast as we could…