PART 1: Five Days Until He Dies
BBC NEWS WEBSITE
Murder Trial Date Set for Military Vehicle Armed Robbers
Following one of the speediest investigations in the history of the Metropolitan Police Force, the armed gang led by known-gangster Patrick Richards is set to face trial in two weeks on charges of armed robbery and murder.
It was only a month ago that shocking CCTV footage was released showing masked men using two flatbed trucks to block in an armour-plated military vehicle, before overwhelming its driver and security detail. During the robbery the driver, Sergeant Wayne Chin was shot and mortally wounded. All the robbers were apprehended at the scene of the crime except for Patrick Richards who evaded capture for 48 hours. The Ministry of Defence has not released exact details of the vehicle’s cargo or ……
The ringing phone jolted Ciaran from his bed — one ring, two rings, stop. Its echo ran through him like electricity. He crept out onto the landing, body pressed against the wall. The phone sat on a little table in the hall below.
It might be a coincidence. It might not be him.
He jumped as the phone rang again: one ring, two rings, stop. His mother, Sinead, cursed as she halted her second dash for the phone and stomped back to the kitchen.
I’m going to ignore him.
But he knew he couldn’t. He tiptoed downstairs and lifted the handset. His mum was in the kitchen, at the end of the corridor, washing bowls and mugs from breakfast. Flurries of snow danced beyond the window. The sky was slate grey except for a few clouds as dark as bruises.
He turned his back on her and keyed through the phone’s call log. Two missed calls with the same number. He didn’t recognise it, but he could guess where it was coming from and who was dialling. This was Patrick telling him he needed to talk urgently, privately. It was a code: two rings, cut off; two rings, cut off; pick up on the third ring and make sure there was bloody well nobody else around to overhear.
I’m not going to answer it.
He almost fumbled the phone when it rang.
“Got it,”he said, pressing the receiver to his ear.
“This is a call from Her Majesty’s Prison, Brixton, will you accept the call?” said a recorded voice.
The answer snagged in his chest like indigestion. The message repeated the question.
The line clicked. Somebody was breathing into the receiver. Behind this, voices were raised and metal slammed against metal.
“Who is it?” His mum stood in the kitchen doorway, soap suds dripping from her fingers. She wiped them on a tea towel.
“G? Who’s G?”
“That’s his name.”
“Any other letters?”
“Who’re you, the cops?”
“I’m your mother, for my sins. And today your mother’s not in the mood for any of your lip. Who’s G?” Her Irish accent was always more distinct when she was angry.
Ciaran sighed. He could hear Patrick’s breath as he waited on the other end of the line.
“George, the street dancer. Sideways hats, baggy pants, self-taught suicide flips. I showed you one of his clips on YouTube.”
“Don’t lie to me Ciaran.”
She stared at him. They stared at him; his mum from the kitchen doorway, his dad from the picture on the wall. His dark face, proud and handsome, smiling from beneath the peak of a marine’s cap. A medal, awarded for gallantry, gleaming on his chest.
Sinead was looking at the picture too. “Your dad hated lying.”
“I hated him dying.”
Sinead blinked, searching for words.
“Hurry up, soldier, clock’s ticking,” said Patrick, his voice was taut . “Get her out of there.”
Ciaran looked at his dad’s photo then back at his mum. Took a deep breath.
“It’s George, okay. Go on, talk to him.” Ciaran held out the phone. “If you don’t trust me.”
She took a step forward, reaching for the phone, starring into his eyes. Tinny sounds escaped the receiver. They held each others gaze. Finally, she shook her head and dropped her hand.
“You’re going to be the death of me,” she said, hurrying back into the kitchen, thighs bumping the sink, slamming a bowl into the soapy water. Suds leapt into the air and splattered onto the floor. She cursed but didn’t move to clean them up. Her shoulders started to rise and fall, as if she was silently laughing, but Ciaran knew she wasn’t. He opened his mouth to say something, but Patrick was in his ear.
“What do you want?” said Ciaran, pressing the handset to his ear and lowering his voice.
“Did you see I got a trial date?”
“I don’t care.”
“Nice to speak to you too, little brother.” Patrick laughed.
Ciaran didn’t respond. The silence was filled by prison sounds: voices raised in argument and high spirits; somebody cackling, then coughing and spitting; metal doors clanging shut, the sound echoing; keys rattling in locks; pool balls click-clacking, laughter, and heavy weights thudding onto workout mats.
“Why did you change your mobile number?” said Patrick.
“Why d’you think?”
“Don’t know, that’s why I’m asking. I bought you that phone so I could contact you if I ever needed to.”
“I didn’t ever want to speak to you again.”
Patrick sighed, as you might at the antics of a troublesome child. “You still not got over that yet?”
Ciaran pressed the phone to his ear, squeezing the plastic rectangle until it creaked and its seams bulged. He wanted to swear at his brother, to punch him in the face. He closed his eyes and he was momentarily somewhere else: wind tugging at him, a metal bar gonging against a metal sheet, someone screaming and screaming.
“Look, we haven’t spoken for two years, get to it, why are you calling?” said Ciaran.
“Come with her today.”
Ciaran glanced over his shoulder. His mum was out of sight. He could hear crockery rattling as she stacked it into a cupboard. “Why?”
“It’s visiting day. Come visit me.”
“Are you joking?”
“Do I sound like a comedian?”
“Like a nutter.”
“There’s something I need to talk to you about.”
“I’m listening, tell me now.”
“It has to be in person.”
“You’ll understand when I tell you.”
“I’m not coming. I hate you.”
Patrick sighed again. “We’re brothers.”
Ciaran leant forward almost hissing into the phone. “Brothers don’t do what you did. I’m hanging up.”
“Wait I …”
“Bye Patrick. Don’t call again.”
Ciaran had pulled the phone away from his ear but he still heard Patrick’s words clearly.
“Dad’s not dead.”
Ciaran felt the corridor tilt. He glanced to his left and his dad’s portrait smiling down at him. His dead dad. Blown up by a roadside bomb in Yemen.
“Liar,” he said.
“It’s true. I know what really happened.”
The phone creaked as Ciaran squeezed it even tighter. “You’re a liar!”
“Well, if you don’t come, you’ll never know for sure will you, little brother? And if you say a word to mum, or anybody else, I won’t tell you anything. See you later.”
The dialling tone filled his ear, his skull and suddenly all his thoughts were senseless vibrations. He lowered the phone to its charging cradle. When he turned around, his mum was standing in the doorway, arms crossed, her eyes dark with anger.
“How’s G? Did he decide to change his name to Patrick halfway through the conversation?”
“I didn’t …”
“Save it, you’re not coming.”
She turned away, leaving Ciaran standing in the hallway beneath his dad’s never changing smile.
She made ready to leave soon afterwards. He threatened disobedience and then pleaded for understanding, but she repulsed both tactics with silence.
Finally, pulling on her coat, she turned to him. “Be honest with me, for once, why today? You’ve never wanted to see him before.”
If you don’t come, you’ll never know for sure will you little brother. If you say a word to mum, or anybody else, I won’t tell you anything.
“Just because,” he said.
She slammed the door as she left.
He waited for a minute, paralysed by indecision, then pulled on a hoodie and jacket, grabbed his house keys and ran down the street. At the corner, four kids wearing puffa jackets over school uniforms sat astride BMX bikes their laughter dying as Ciaran approached. They were older than him, fifteen, some sixteen, but he was taller and broader than all of them.
“Give me your bike, Fish.” Ciaran grabbed the handlebars.
“Leave it out.” Snowflakes settled on the kid’s Afro as he unsuccessfully tried to yank the bike free of Ciaran’s grip.
“I need it. Business,” said Ciaran.
“What’s happened to you, bruv? Why don’t you hang around with us no more?”
“Why should I?”
“We were mates? Remember?”
“I don’t need mates anymore. Give me the bike.”
“You’re having a laugh.”
“Remember who my brother is?”
“Everybody knows Paddy Richards, man.”
“I’m doing a job for him.”
“He’s inside,” said a kid who’s acne clustered around his roman nose like filings around a magnet.
“You think everything stops because of that? I can tell his crew you didn’t help?”
Fish swung his leg over the crossbar. He glared at the other kid, raising an eyebrow. “Didn’t say that, did you Nozzle?”
Ciaran jumped on the bike and pedalled. His mum was already climbing aboard a bus. One of the kids shouted after him, but the wind ripped up his words.
Gusts whipped the strengthening storm into Ciaran’s face, numbing his cheeks. Snowflakes stung his eyes. He cut across the park, wheels slipping and sliding on the slim white blanket already covering its paths, and jumped the bike into a tangle of snarling traffic behind the bus. Cars were bumper to bumper, edging forward, engines growling, wipers dumping blades of slush at the edge of windscreens.
He wove his way between the traffic, ignoring frustrated and suspicious glances thrown at him through condensation beaded windscreens. He retreated into his hoodie’s shadows, into the darkness enveloping his thoughts.
Dad’s not dead.
I know what really happened to him.
The static queues of traffic passed in a blur of silver, blue, black and red.
How could he say something like that? Why would he?
Minutes became tens of minutes. He was dangerously lost in his spinning thoughts.
“Watch where you going you little toe rag.” A riot baton jabbed into Ciaran’s stomach bringing him to a sudden, gasping halt.
A line of policemen blocked the road. They were holding batons, bulked up by layers of black riot armour, breath clouding like bulls in a field on a cold morning. Beyond them, an anti-war demonstration snaked by with protestor waving slogan daubed banners and placards:
STOP THE WAR!
REFUGEES ARE PEOPLE TOO!
BULLETS + BOMBS = MORE HATE!
Somebody was banging a drum. A group of girls blew hard into droning horns. A grey-haired woman chanted through a loudhailer:
“STOP THE DIRTY WAR! THE WAR WE ALL ABHOR! THE SAND IS RED WITH YEMEN’S DEAD! WE CAN’T TAKE ANYMORE!”
“I need to get through,” said Ciaran.
“Go around,” said the policeman, not meeting his gaze.
“Go. Around,” he repeated, glancing over his shoulder as yells filled the air.
A pushing contest between demonstrators and the line of police, see-sawing to and fro suddenly mutated into a scuffle. Officers surged towards the incident, body armour moving like insect chitin as they swung batons. Demonstrators screamed, shouted in defiance and blood splattered the dirty, snowy ground. The crowd surged backwards, people falling over as they tried to move beyond the reach of the batons.
Ciaran used the distraction to slip past the fractured police cordon into the main body of the demonstration which was hurrying away from the disturbance. All around him, people were twisting the heads to keep an eye on events behind them.
“Fascists!” a man shouted, breath rolling through the air. Ciaran expected the heckler to be a crusty with dreadlocks and rings in his nose, but it was middle aged man in an anorak carrying a toddler on his shoulders. Others joined in, hurling insults towards the police and the woman shouted through her loudhailer.
“STOP THE DIRTY WAR! THE WAR WE ALL ABHOR! THE SAND IS RED WITH YEMEN’S DEAD! WE CAN’T TAKE ANYMORE!”
A group of six or seven younger demonstrators, all with checked scarves wrapped around the lower half of their faces we weaving their way back through the crowd towards the disturbance. A lighter sparked into life. Flames took hold of a cloth soaked in fuel. Six Molotov cocktails arched through the air, setting off a mixed wave of screams and cheers, before crashing into a group of riot police and spreading fiery puddles of petrol.
Police officers stumbled backwards, wildly beating at flames. One had been caught squarely on the back and was spinning on the spot, screaming as the flickering tongues rose to engulf him. A college sprinted to his aide, spraying a white cloud from an extinguisher.
“Take your positions!” A line of officers knelt down and loaded their rubber-bullet guns.
“Aim for the ring leaders!” The officers raised their guns, sighting down the length of the barrel.
The guns popped and rubber cylinders cut through the crowd. Demonstrators spun and dropped to the wet ground, wheezing or unconscious. A man clasped a hand to a bloody mouth, looking at shards in teeth on his palm.
“Reload and fire!”
The crowd erupted into seething mass of violent, uncoordinated and multi-directional panic as the police fired again and officers waded in from every angle swinging batons. All around Ciaran’s, demonstrators tripped, stumbled and fell. Comrades who had been standing shoulder to shoulder with them minutes before, now trampled over them in a blind panic to escape the brutality of the police.
A rubber bullet whizzed over his head and a surge of bodies smash into his bike. He stumbled forward and fell hard on the handle bars and pedals. A knee whacked him on the temple and he lost a few seconds to swirling confusion. If it hadn’t been for his bike tripping up some of those around him, he might have been badly trampled. Instead, the majority of the stampeding crowd stumbled around him.
As soon as it had thinned enough, he bashed his way through to a side street, foot on a pedal, using the bike like a scooter, then swung his leg over and pedalled like fury away from the bloody maelstrom behind him.
Fifty minutes of lung-busting pedalling later, his face dead with cold and his trainers soaking wet, he skidded to a halt outside the prison. He had to wait another freezing ten minutes before his mum arrived. She cursed and brushed past him.
“You can’t stop me.” He dumped the bike and followed her.
“Oh yes I can.”
Sinead spun to face him. “He’s going on trial for murder. Murder! You do understand what sort of a man your brother is, don’t you, Ciaran?”
“I don’t want to see him, I have to.”
Ciaran shrugged. “I just do?”
“That’s not good enough.”
“If he’s so bad, why do you still visit him?”
Sinead sighed, started to walk away, then turned back to face him.
“Because he’s my son and I love him despite everything he’s done. I can’t help it. It’s the cross I have to carry as his mother. But I love you too and I don’t want you to turn out like him. It’d break what’s left of my heart. And wherever your dad’s looking down on us from, it’d break his heart too.”
“He doesn’t get a vote” said Ciaran. “He’s not here.”
“No, I’m not talking about that. Okay. If you love me, you’ll let me see him, or you might lose me too”
“Now that’s …”
“I have to see him.”
Her eyes filled with tears and she turned away. “Have it your way.