The Last Newspaper in the World
By Mick Stone
Published by BMS Books
An imprint of Business Media Services Ltd
The Last Newspaper in the World
Copyright © 2012 Mick Stone
All rights reserved.
Published in Kindle by:
BMS Books an imprint of
Business Media Services Ltd
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The Last Newspaper in the World
5 HELPFUL GEORGE
Gordon came in through the back of the store and brought a pile of national dailies into the café. He threw one of the fat city daily papers on to the counter.
‘These city papers don’t get any smaller;’ he said, adding ‘it looks like your murder has been bumped off the front page already.’
I stood up and went over to the counter, opening up the paper to find the story featuring on page 4 of The Herald under a ‘mystery surrounds’ headline.
Gordon was stacking supplies for the café and asked me what I thought.
‘Yeah, it’s a real mystery,’ was all I could offer.
‘Still, big news for you guys, I suppose,’ Gordon said.
‘Yeah, hey, do you know if the mayor had any interesting business connections?’
‘Nah, he’s out of my league,’ Gordon said.
Turning to the racing page, I looked at the runners listed for Saturday’s races and suddenly smiled and laughed.
Angelique, who had been clearing the dishes, looked up at me.
‘I see you are happy now.’
‘Yeah, an old bloke gave me a tip this morning for the races on Saturday. Number nine in race three.’
‘Oh, is that good?’
‘Well, I don’t know what it means but race three has only eight runners.’
Gordon laughed and went out to the store room.
Hanging the daily on a rack next to a pile of glossies, I walked over to the doorway. As I went to leave, Angelique reached out and held my hand.
‘Bill, you know you should talk to Bernard.’
‘What about?’ I said, wondering if she meant ‘us’, and wondered whether there was an ‘us’ and suddenly surprised I might have to confront my feelings for her.
‘Oh, he is always saying since he came back here that the town is run by bottom feeders. So it may be better to start at the bottom rather than the top, don’t you think?’
So, it was mundane real life, but a good point. Old Bernie knew a thing or two, which was why Angelique was maybe attracted to him.
I pulled open the car door, sat and looked at the café door for a moment. Angelique was just flipping the closed sign and I gave her a hopeful wave. She smiled and waved back with an open palm. I really should be more curious and ask more questions about the Bernie thing.
On my way back into the town, I called in at our house. Harry and I lived in an ageing bungalow near the business centre. Neither of us was that interested in the look of the place, so it had become a bit rundown. I mowed the lawns occasionally and Harry tinkered around with the paint work, so the weather boards were differing shades of white. Although I didn’t smoke any more, I knew where I could find some dope. Harry hated it when I smoked dope after I left school and more or less kicked me out. Funnily enough, I didn’t like it all that much but it helped to put up the wall between me, myself and the childhood I was leaving behind. The plastic bag had a few heads left. They were pretty dried up and stunk a bit. Some papers will still in the bottom of the bag and so I rolled a couple of smokes. I was about to leave when my phone went. It was Diana.
‘Hey, where are you?’
‘Ok. We need to talk about this story. Are you coming into the office?’
‘Nah, not straight away.’
‘Oh, okay so can we meet? Where are you going?’
‘Well, I’m going to The Strand, the public bar. Not really your kind of place.’
‘It’s fine. I’ll meet you there.’
The Strand was often full of holidaymakers during the summer but in winter it really was just another unfashionable seaside pub. Once upon a time you could see the harbour mouth from the bar, and watch fishing boats tie up along the wharf. Now the view was blocked by newer, taller buildings, including the post-modernist town council building. The Strand was today flanked by surf shops that sold only clothes and the cafes visitors, and some locals, tended to prefer. I’d usually park around the back in one of the pub’s few car parks during the daytime. Wanting to ensure Diana knew where I was, I parked out the front and waited for a while.
After what dad had told me, I wasn’t too sure about Diana joining me for this visit. It wasn’t so much that The Strand was a dump, which it kind of was, but the guy who I knew I’d meet there wasn’t the sort you could count on for a welcome. Just sitting in the car I felt increasingly nervous about the prospect of meeting with George Joseph. He could greet you like, if not a long lost brother, at least a distant cousin. More often than not, however, he was twitchy and given to surliness, particularly if a deal was going on or he was in between fixes of whatever his poison was at the time. So I decided not to wait for Diana and got out of the car.
The rain had decided to join us again for the afternoon and arrived in a large gang in the space between the car and the pub door. Damn, I thought, another sloppy surf on its way. Poising at the door, I felt in my pocket for the joints then went in to the bar. Sure enough, George was standing at one of the leaner bar tables near the rear.
Happy George or Angry George? It was hard to tell from his naturally surly disposition and the goatee that conspired against the air of respectability he was trying to achieve with his smart jeans and business jacket. He looked up and nodded as I came towards him, and actually smiled. Good, Happy George.
‘Hi George, things going well?’
‘Yeah, be better if I could figure this number out.’
‘You’re not doing the races are you?’
‘Nah, Sudoko. I’ve got one box to go.’
One thing I should mention about George is that he was probably one of the cleverest guys around, although a few cells may have been missing up top these days. He didn’t really belong to a gang, well not so you would notice. It was pretty well known he associated with the big-time gangs, as well as some local smaller, fringe gangs. Balancing out these relationships meant George probably had the kind of skills that would have made him a diplomat in another life, if only he didn’t end up dealing with final disagreements in a manner which had seen him spend a few lengthy spells away in the past.
Time was short, so I reached in to my pocket and quietly got out two joints.
‘Feel like a smoke?’ I asked, holding them closely in front of me so he could see them. George looked fleetingly over my shoulder but without flinching nodded and sipped his beer.
‘What the fuck’s this all about?’ he asked, then jerked his head towards the back door of the bar.
‘Hey Jos, I’m in the back office,’ he called out to the woman behind the bar, who was stocking the fridge.
‘This is a non-smoking establishment,’ George added as he unfurled himself from his bar stool and headed out the back. He was a bigger guy when he stood up, I’d forgotten how imposing he could be, although not much taller than me.
George shoved his way through the back door of the bar. I followed him out on to the back steps overlooking the car park, the back of the takeaway bar next door and across the road to what passed for our local brothel, The Captain’s Cabin.
‘Welcome to wash and wank alley,’ George said.
I lit the first joint after dampening it slightly. It was rough alright but I gave it him. He took a deep drag and refused to cough out but pulled the sort of face that said ‘this really is bad shit’.
‘Where’d you get this? The front lawn?’ But he took another drag anyway and quickly burnt down the smoke, which wasn’t hard as it was pretty dry. He handed me back what was left and rested his back on the rail over the steps.
‘George, what do you know about the mayor?’
‘Chill out Bill, why is there such a hurry? Enjoy the view.’ He put a big bear arm around my neck and pulled me close. Waving his other arm around extravagantly he said ‘One day, honey, all of this will be yours.’
He really did have the ability to menacing and cringingly funny at the same time.
‘Well, I know you businessmen have a tight schedule, so your time’s precious isn’t it?’ I said. It was true but maybe I was pushing it a bit. He grimaced slightly or it may have been a smile, and lifted his arm from around my shoulder.
‘Yeah, well I’d heard you’d got in the shit with my mate, Mr Stead.’
We both had a chuckle at that.
‘You know that’s not hard,’ I said.
‘The mayor? Yeah, it’s a strange one. No longer Brand new but Brand dead. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll I reckon.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Outside our little world, Bill, there are a lot of bucks in these three, so there’s no reason why some of it shouldn’t spill here,’ George said, nodding towards The Captain’s Cabin across the road.
I was about to ask for him to elaborate when he held up his hand. We could hear sirens coming down the Strand and cars pull up outside the pub.
‘Looks like I’ve got another customer to deal with. You better get rid of that, fuck that’s bad stuff,’ he gestured to the remnants of the joint, which I flicked into the car park.
We turned to go back into the bar but before we open the door, George looked through a small side window. Looking around his shoulder through the grubby glass I could see Stead and a couple of uniforms hassling the bar manager, her face stony. George grabbed me by the shoulder.
‘Here give me that other smoke,’ he said, pointing at my pocket.
‘But…’ I went to say.
‘It’ll give me something to talk about with Mr Stead.’
Stead was just heading away from the bar towards the back when we come through door. That song from Beirut popped into my head as Stead gestured to the two uniforms towards me.
‘It’s been a long time, long time since I’ve seen you,’ I started to say as they grabbed me by both arms.
I noticed George just walked straight past him over to the bar where he ordered another beer and a packet of chips, propping himself up to watch proceedings.
Stead leant down, his huge head and neck against mine. ‘Turn out your pockets now, you little shit,’ he said. For some reason he nodded towards George, who just shrugged his shoulders. Stead plunged his hands into my pockets. ‘If I find anything, I’ll do you,’ he said but was clearly frustrated.
‘Look,’ I managed to squeeze out, ‘shouldn’t you be out looking for a killer instead of following me around?’
‘Don’t worry, I’ve got someone in mind for it but you’ve been banned. This is an official police investigation and you’ve been banned.’ The uniforms let go at his nod. My guts were tied in knot hurt but no worse than when I’d get hit by the slab of the surprise wave when surfing. Funnily enough my mind started drifting towards the waves and I saw a big surf pouring through. I squeezed my eyes shut tightly and shook my head.
‘So you’ve got a suspect?’
‘I didn’t say that,’ Stead yelled at me and put his finger in my face and was about to release a tirade when I heard a voice quietly behind his back.
‘Hey Norm, we must stop meeting like this.’ Diana was dressed in jeans and a jeans jacket, so she must have gone home to get suitably attired for a visit to the bar. Good timing, I thought. ‘Hi Diana, Mr Stead and I were just have a little chat about a rather interesting case he’s involved in at the moment.’
Stead’s face was a picture of confusion, not knowing whether to lay a hand on me once again but quickly deciding it wasn’t worth the trouble.
‘Yes, I was just telling Mr Brown not to get in the way of an investigation,’ then with the emphasis of shoving his face close to mine, ‘or face a charge of obstructing police.’
Diana put a hand gently on his arm and said ‘I’m sure it won’t come to that now.’
Stead almost flinched and then relaxed. Gesturing to the uniforms, he strode over to the bar.
‘Good timing Diana,’ I said, while over her shoulder I could see George quietly lift a finger to his lips.
‘I thought I should go home and change into something more suitable, so it looked like I arrived in time,’ she laughed, and I looked closely at her broad, beautiful face and blue eyes. We turned to go and as we walked pass George, we gave each other a nod and he turned back to the bar.
We went through the door. Sun. Rain water on the ground. Reflecting strange colours like shards of broken glass. Diana put her hand on my arm.
‘Are you alright Bill? What on earth was going on in there?’
‘You do have good timing don’t you,’ I said and let out a little breath that ended up in a quiet laugh.
‘Mmm, yes, but what happened? What was Stead up to and who was that other character at the bar?’
‘Well, Steady was just doing his usual thing of spraying it about a bit.’ I turned around and looked back through the door and could see George and Stead huddled together in a corner down the back. The two uniforms were walking towards us with meaningful looks on their faces.
‘There was nobody else.’
‘Oh come on, stop playing games. You know what I mean.’
‘If you say so,’ I said, just as the two cops came through to door towards us. Diana’s phone went with bird sound.
‘Harry, yes. He’s with me. We’re on our way back. That’s right. Yes, we’ve got a story to write.’
The next chapter of this book will be posted next week