DRUM AND WASTE - MALCOLM HOLT
Slinger stood by the edge of the murky waters of the River Tyne holding a pair of blood-soaked Zildjian drumsticks. As he stood there in total isolation, the evening light was starting to fade. It had been hard for him to stomach the events of the last few hours and he shuddered at the memories of a life gone by, one that he hoped he had escaped from forever. He had been wrong.
The previous evening, Slinger had enjoyed yet another good music session at the Cluny, one of the premier live music venues in Newcastle upon Tyne. It was always hot and sweaty in there but he loved it that way. His real name was Frankie Wilson, but as soon as he picked up his first set of drumsticks he became Slinger. This was no doubt due to him learning to play the drums in the manic style of the late Keith Moon, fast and furious.
As a frustrated teenager, he took all his frustrations out on his drum kit. Of course he looked nothing like Keith Moon. He was now over six feet tall, with a shaved head and a goatee. For Slinger, playing the drums in various local bands had ultimately been his salvation from a life of crime and drugs on a rough council estate in Newcastle’s East End.
After the gig, Slinger had returned to his flat in the Sandyford area of Newcastle, not too far from the Cluny, and he immediately opened a chilled bottle of beer. He had noticed his telephone flashing, telling him that he had at least one message. He picked it up and listened to the message. There was just the one. It was from an old friend, Pete.
‘Hi, Frankie, Pete here.’ As soon as he heard this, Slinger sensed that something was wrong. Pete never called him Frankie. The message continued. ‘I’ve emailed you a link to something I think you might want to see. Sorry, pal.’ The message ended.
Slinger was curious. Pete, or Pervy Pete as he was more commonly known, only ever sent links to outrageous porn films. He half expected the usual badly dubbed East European rubbish. He switched on his laptop and waited for it to load. After a few minutes, Slinger was opening his inbox and he soon found Pete’s email. He opened the link.
The film was up to Pete’s usual standards. Poor sound quality and grainy pictures. It was called ‘Tyne Teen Sluts 4.’ Slinger watched as a young teenage girl stripped completely with her back to the camera. An overweight man in his late fifties appeared, naked and clearly in some state of arousal. The man turned the girl towards him and Slinger instantly hit the pause button. As he watched a few more frames, Slinger threw his beer bottle at the wall.
Brought up on a drug-infested East End council estate in Newcastle, where feral children roamed and fists were a way of life, Slinger was only five years old when the riots were destroying many estates in England. After draggging himself through his teenage years, Slinger couldn’t wait to escape from his alcoholic father and his prostitute mother. He had always worried about his younger sister Suzy, though, but he always hoped that she would cope with the rigours of East End life better than him.
Slinger had recognised the man in the film. It was Thomas Whiteman, known as Uncle Tommy to all the local children. He was actually related for real to the Axeman, Ronnie Spencer, the most feared criminal in the area. Ronnie’s nickname was never about his choice of favourite weapon, it was rumoured to be about him having a humongous penis. With Ronnie, nobody ever challenged his right to the nickname.
Slinger stared at the frozen image on his laptop. He ran to the bathroom and threw up in the toilet. A few moments later, he returned to his living room, switched off his laptop and sat back in his armchair. He could feel the pulse in his neck throbbing. It was destined to be a long night without sleep.
The following morning, Slinger had found himself back in the East End standing outside the Ramraid, regarded by many as the worst pub in Newcastle. Its real name was the Rampart, but nobody called it that. You only ever entered the Ramraid if you could be certain that there was at least one friendly person you knew inside. Even the local police kept well away from the Ramraid.
Slinger knew the Axeman would be holding court inside, bragging about his latest drug business and his various second-hand goods ventures. He inhaled deeply, opened the door and walked inside. Only one table was occupied inside the Ramraid. Slinger saw that the Axeman was sitting there with two younger men. He had more tattoos than he recalled, but still looked evil. The Axeman looked up and glared at Slinger.
‘Well, well, the prodigal son returns. Had enough of posh living, eh, Slinger?’
Slinger tried hard not to show any fear. ‘I need your help,’ he said. ‘I need to see Uncle Tommy.’
The Axeman burst out laughing. ‘What’s the matter? Have you fallen on hard times and you need a film job?’
Slinger almost smiled as he shook his head. ‘Not quite, and if I had, I wouldn’t run to Uncle Tommy.’
‘Then what do you want him for?’ The Axeman was suddenly curious.
‘I need to see him about one of his films. There was someone I know in it.’
‘Oh aye, and who might that be?’
Slinger took a deep breath. ‘My sister.’
The Axeman was now really paying attention. ‘Oh I see. That is interesting. Your kid sister is under age, right?’ Slinger nodded. ‘So, why exactly do you want to see Uncle Tommy?’
‘I want him to leave my sister alone.’
‘So, I guess you’ve come to me because you don’t know where Uncle Tommy lives nowadays and you can’t really ask your sister, under the circumstances. But why do you think I would give you his address?’
Slinger hesitated for a second. ‘Because you owe me and if you had a sister, you would want to see him as well.’
When they were in their early teens, Slinger and the Axeman had been on the roof of a warehouse. The roof had been quite brittle and it gave way under the Axeman’s weight. Slinger had caught hold of his arm before he fell to what would have been an almost certain death.
The Axeman studied Slinger. ‘It must have taken a lot of guts to come back here and walk through that door. I suppose it was bound to happen one day that someone would want to have a word with the dirty old bastard.’ He picked up a beer mat and took a biro out of his pocket. The Axeman wrote down an address and handed the beer mat to Slinger.
Slinger took the beer mat and nodded. ‘Thanks.’
The Axeman put the biro back in his pocket. ‘Yeah, well, don’t make a habit of it.’
Slinger walked towards the door and was about to leave when the Axeman called out his name.
‘Slinger, there’s just one more thing. Uncle Tommy is usually sleeping off his lunchtime drinking session during the afternoon and he may be more receptive to your little chat. I also reckon we’re even now.’
As he opened the door, Slinger turned, nodded his appreciation and agreement, and then walked outside into the fresh air. He decided to return to his flat for a while, thankful that he had survived the encounter with no cuts, bruises or broken limbs.
It was some three hours later that Slinger located the rundown block of flats where Uncle Tommy lived. As he entered the communal door, Slinger was hit by the stench of stale urine. The lift was predictably out of order and the staircase was partially blocked by a battered Tesco shopping trolley.
He walked up to the second floor and knocked on the door to flat 23. No-one answered. He knocked again and still no-one answered. He tried the door and it opened. He walked into the hallway.
Slinger heard Uncle Tommy before he actually saw him. His snoring sounded strangely like a chainsaw. He was sprawled out on a stained old settee. Slinger walked over and kicked the left foot that was dangling over the edge of the settee. Uncle Tommy snorted loudly. Slinger kicked the foot again. This time, he got a response.
‘What the...who the fuck are you?’
‘I’m the ghost of your past.’
Uncle Tommy focused his eyes. ‘Do I know you?’
‘You’ve probably forgotten me by now, but I certainly know you.’
‘So, what the fuck do you want?’
‘I’ve been watching your latest film and I think it’s time for Uncle Tommy to retire.’
Uncle Tommy looked puzzled by what was happening. He studied the stranger more intently and he slowly began to recognise the man. The last time he had seen Slinger would’ve been a few years earlier.
‘You’re Frankie Wilson, aren’t you? I thought you’d moved on ages ago.’
‘I came back, just to see Uncle Tommy one last time.’
Uncle Tommy tried to sit up but soon gave up. ‘So, what do you really want?’
Slinger smiled. ‘Tyne Teen Sluts 4.’
Uncle Tommy shifted his position slightly, sensing that his visitor was not necessarily paying him a social call. ‘What about it? It’s not my best film, by any stretch of the imagination.’
‘Oh, it left nothing to the imagination,’ replied Slinger. ‘In fact, it was very clear what was happening. That young girl that you were shagging, in particular, she was well into it.’
‘Yes, she was. A genuine slut in the making, that one.’
‘She’s my sister,’ Slinger snarled.
The silence that followed seemed to last an eternity. Slinger stood over Uncle Tommy, who didn’t know what to do or say. He eventually tried to pull himself up into an upright position. Slinger was busy removing something from the back pocket of his jeans. When Uncle Harry saw a pair of drumsticks, he began to laugh nervously.
‘What are you going to do, play me a fucking tune?’
‘If you want me to. How about ‘I Can See For Miles’ by The Who?’
As Uncle Harry looked directly up at Slinger, the last thing he actually saw was the pair of drumsticks heading towards his eyes. He tried to scream but no sound would come out.
Slinger was still standing by the edge of the River Tyne. He knew that Uncle Tommy would never be watching any more cheap porn films. He doubted that what he had done would save his sister from ultimate self-destruction, but it was a start. He was satisfied that Uncle Tommy would never identify his attacker and he sensed that the Axeman would leave him alone. After all, they were now even.
As the light faded some more, Slinger looked at his drum sticks. Still covered with Uncle Tommy’s blood and god knows what else from his eyeballs, they had done their job well. Slinger had felt some distorted pleasure from having gouged out Uncle Tommy’s eyes.
Slinger knew that his old way of life was still lurking in the dark recesses of his mind, but he was determined to rise above the horror of it all once again. He almost ceremoniously threw the two drumsticks into the slowly flowing river below. He had plenty of spare sets at home in his flat. He doubted that they would ever be used for anything more sinister than beating out a good tune in future. As he turned to walk away, Slinger began to whistle ‘I Can See For Miles.’
BIO: Malcolm Holt is a 58 year old, early retired mental health worker, living in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. He has previously had two sport-related books published in England and has just drafted a television script for a proposed comedy drama series. He is also starting to write a travel book. 'Drum and Waste' is his first short story effort in the crime fiction genre, a genre he enjoys very much.