International Writers Magazine: UK Life
Most nights Albert
was distracted from his television or radio listening because of
the outbursts of fighting in the grounds below. The revving of bikes
as gangs arrived followed by raised voices, sounds of metal or glass
breaking into skin, then agonizing screams and angry shouting, and
now, more frequently, the sound of a gun being fired. But then this
was Peckham, this is what happened on estates around here. He had
lived on this one, man and boy for sixty-six years. Hed seen
them all come and go, the teddy boys, the mods and rockers, the
punk era, there was always something.
But never guns,
guns were new, and they bothered him. It brought back the nightmares
hed experienced after the war ended. Except, then Elsie was there
to comfort him. Now he was widower after fifty three years of marriage,
so he would to turn the television up and try and pretend it wasnt
happening. It seemed if you were a youth, in Peckham nowadays, that
you needed a gun or a knife to survive. And Albert hoped they would.
There was no one to talk to about it. Everyone he knew on this block
had either died or moved away, so he kept himself to himself, only venturing
out on his weekly visit to the post office for his pension and to collect
the meagre bits of groceries hed need for the week, to feed himself.
The fighting seemed to always happen under his first floor balcony,
or by the lift, not that the lift worked, it had been out of order for
a long time now. No engineer would come to this block on account of
its reputation for crime and violence. Recently, one had been mugged
and beaten badly enough to need stitches, all for the theft of his screwdriver,
which was then found later, driven into the eye of a fourteen year old
This particular night the fighting sounded even more menacing, Albert
was more nervous. He was watching East Enders, one of his weekly highlights.
But the usual raised voices, revved bikes, sounds of glass smashing
or crowbars breaking into a skull and the screaming that followed, tonight
Albert turned the television down and nervously listened. The voices
werent familiar, and there were more of them. There was a new
gang on the estate, and that had to mean big trouble.
Then he heard a shot, followed by the usual silence. He knew the difference
between a gun shot and a car back-firing, it was similar to the sound
of a whip cracking the air. You could almost smell the empty fire in
the silence that followed. Then another shot rang out, followed by a
scream of pain. Another shot followed that, and then another, another
and another, until Albert had lost count. He was shaking, and holding
his photo of Elsie. Then it stopped.
There was silence.
The silence continued. Had they killed each other he wondered?
Someone else on the estate must have heard.
He crept to the front door. He had a chain fixed, so he felt safe enough
to open it, an idge.
That was when he saw the youth. He was crawling along the passage on
the first floor, his light brown- skinned hand covering his side, where
dark blood was fast dripping through his shaking fingers. He caught
Albert staring at him and stretched his blood-soaked hand toward him,
his face twisted in pain as he tried to speak, to beg even, for Albert
to save his life.
That look on his frightened face touched Albert deeply; it reminded
him of himself as a young, frightened soldier.
Visibly shaking, he released the chain to help the boy.
Thats when he saw the other youth, older, darker skinned, peering
round the staircase and now walking purposely toward the injured boy,
a large gleaming knife in his hand.
The younger tried to stand to defend himself. Albert watched, horror
struck, as the older yanked the younger by his wild black hair and the
knife sliced its way across the young neck, opening the carteroid artery.
Immediately a rush of blood shot out like a released champagne cork,
landing on Alberts only pair of trousers and his checked wool
The young body slumped dead on the ground. Blood flowed along the passage
and over the edge of the balcony.
Albert went to shut his door, but too late the murderer had seen him.
Their eyes held each other, one in terror, the other venom.
Albert slammed the door shut.
The police were quick on the scene, and the blood at Alberts front
door led to him being questioned. He was trying to wash the blood off
his slippers when they knocked. He found it terrifying being taken down
to the station, questioned then shown pictures and asked to identify
Of course he said he didnt recognise the culprit, even though
the memory of the youth, the knife and those eyes were now stamped on
his brain forever.
He was grateful when they drove him home, even in a police car, he felt
too shaken to take the bus.
It was the next morning. He was scraping charcoal off his toast, he
had burned the last two slices of his loaf, and he wouldnt be
going out for any more until the end of the week, even if he did have
He thought it was the police again when the doorbell rang. He opened
it without the chain.
Those same murdering eyes stared at him.
He tried to shut the door. The foot in it prevented him. Albert felt
his saliva dry in his mouth. Th..th.. they asked me, sh..showed
me your picture, he said trying to control his stuttering. I
s..said I never saw your face. I n
never grassed you up. Leave
me alone. Please.
A hand came up from the youths side. It held a .22 revolver, the
pack pointing at Alberts face.
His heartbeat doubled and his voice rose and then broke as he begged.
Please, I never told. His hand tried to protect his face
but was knocked aside as the cold steel of the gun pushed into his wrinkled
He started to cry. I..I..s..said I didnt know nothing, didnt
recognise you...Please trust me.
That was your mistake, Old Man. The cock of the safety catch
made Albert gasp. He could no longer speak. His body shook pathetically.
Trust no one, the youth stated, murmuring the talisman that
had kept him alive so far. "Trust no one."
Albert heard the shot, but not the silence that followed.
© Linda Regan November 2007
Author of Passion Killers
The Aby Davis interview
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