:: Article

Riot City Fallout

By Michael Keenaghan.

Three weeks later when the cops burst through my door, yeah, I admit, I had my regrets. But during the riots I didn’t think about being pulled, and I didn’t care either. You’re living for the moment, not giving a fuck. I still can’t believe it kicked off like that. It was like a chemical reaction, all these ingredients got together then boom, we were running the show. All along Tottenham High Road, cars, buses, buildings on fire, the feds cowering behind their shields. Down the backstreets things were just as lethal. Smaller groupings roaming in the shadows, ambush tactics, guerrilla warfare. I saw this TV crew get beaten to shit, all their gear nicked, every last piece of it. Any stray feds were being run left and right, and this one cop got himself trapped. He’d taken a flying brick to the face and was lying unconscious on the ground. A group of about seven or eight ran in for the kill, and I could actually hear this guy chanting head-on-a-fucking-stick, but that cop must have had a guardian angel because just then these robocops flew in, batons flying, dragging the guy to safety. That was close. He was lucky. In fact, the most surprising thing is that no cop was killed that night.

By morning we ended up in the retail park in Tottenham Hale. By now there was no police in sight and all the stores were being cleared out. I saw people loading 50″ plasmas into their cars like they were out doing a day’s shopping – but fuck if I was carrying one of them down the street. We had a look in Carphone Warehouse and the shelves were already empty. I did get a pair of Nikes from JD Sports though. But the funniest thing was McDonalds. People had broken in and were frying themselves burgers.

The madness went on for three nights. Afterwards, I was buzzing for weeks. Quite a few people were being lifted but I just hoped I’d be lucky. Then one morning I woke to the sound of a commotion downstairs and my mum screaming, and I knew they had come for me. Within seconds I was in cuffs.

I did four months. I’d been nicked before, done a few nights in police cells, but I’d never been to prison. What can I say? It’s not nice, but what do you expect? You just try to get through it the best you can.

Before going in I’d been doing college. I hadn’t taken it that seriously, but at least it was something. Coming out I didn’t even have that. I was on the dole and getting up late in the afternoon, and before long my whole life felt directionless.

And that’s when I bumped into Leon.

I’d met Leon in jail and he’d been good to me. He had a serious rep so once I got in with him I had pretty much no worries. Thing was, he had two more years to go, so returning favours on the outside was something I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about for a while. Until he strolled up to me one day in KFC: Long time no see, Rocks. He’d been given early release.

Some nights I’d go out helping him on money raises. But lately things were escalating, getting hot. I really just wanted to distance myself. Maybe even move out of London completely, get a job or some shit?

One evening I was walking to my girl’s place when Leon pulled up in his car next to me. One of his crew, Skorpz, was in the front beside him.

– Just the man, Leon said. Get in the car, blud.

– Nah, not tonight Leon. I got a few things on you know.

– I know you have, he said. And top of the list is me showing you that next job we got planned. The fucking big one. Now get in.

I climbed in and we set off. Skorpz turned round, extending his fist.

– Heard you pulled in some Ps last night fam, he said, gold tooth shining.

I nodded, smiled back, but last night was something I didn’t want to be reminded of. Things had been messy to say the least. And Leon hadn’t even shared any of the dough.

– That’s right, Leon said. You should’ve seen my boy out there. Trying to bash some guy for his phone and the guy turns round and starts fronting up, fists flying. The two of them were rolling about on the street like back in the school playground. I was fucking cracking up.

– White guy?

– Nah, nigga. Then he kissed his teeth – Tsss, I had to interrupt my viewing to step out of the car to kick the guy in the face. Otherwise little Rocky here would’ve got his arse whipped and been crying to his fucking mum, ain’t that right Rocks?

Leon continued.

– Guy was carrying a wad this fucking thick. Serious notes, man. But that’s me, I got a radar for shit like that. I can just see it in the way someone walks. See a nigga strutting along looking para and you just know he’s got something to hide.

– I should have been there blud, Skorpz chuckled as he rolled a spliff. I love watching people get fucked up.

– One kick, you should’ve seen it. I probably snapped that fucker’s neck. Did more in one second than Rocks did in two full minutes bitch slappin’ and rolling about on the pavement. Tsss. I’ll have to check on the grapevine on that one. See if there’s any dead niggas been scraped up N9 sides.

Skorpz took a deep toke, slowly exhaled. He turned round.

– Yo Rocks, you ever killed a guy?

– Him? Leon laughed. He couldn’t kill a puppy.

Skorpz kept staring, eyes cold now.

– No seriously, you ever wasted someone? Cos far as I knew, rolling with this crew I thought that was kinda imperative.

Leon shook his head.

– Rocks ain’t in the crew. He’s just on training. Just on fucking work experience, like someone who makes the fucking tea innit. But seriously though, that’s fine, cos the way I see it it’s stepping stones. One day at a time… You never know, the boy might just make a master crim yet, he laughed, ain’t that right Rocks?

We drove into Chingford. Leon pulled over on a leafy street of semi-detached houses and turned off the engine. He pointed to a house across the road, a Merc and a Beemer parked in the drive.

– That’s the one, he said. Right there.

He had all the intel. It was a Paki family with a stash of gold. Mum, dad, only one son currently living there. It would be simple. Ring the bell, take control and liberate the goods. The job was on for tomorrow night.

– What do you reckon? Leon said, turning round. Think you can handle it?

I didn’t really have a choice.

* * *

Later at my girl’s place the job was all I could think about.

– Are you alright? Keisha asked, as we sat up in bed after getting it on.

I told her I was fine, but I wasn’t. My mind was fretting. I might have thrown a few rocks at the police, ripped people off on the street, but this? Leon was bringing a loaded shotgun. This was something else. All I could see before me was prison. Years and years of it this time. Some people could handle that kind of shit, but I wasn’t one of them.

– Are you sure you’re okay? Keisha said, snapping me from my thoughts.

– Yeah, course I am… come here, I said, and for a while we kissed.

When she got on top for a second round I knew I’d better enjoy it, as this could be the last bit of sex I’d be getting in quite a while.

* * *

Leon was tapping the side of his head.

– Intelligence, man. You’ve got to use your brains for shit like this.

He’d filled us in on the plans and had a stolen car all lined up ready to go. Finally, he picked up the sawn-off shotgun, cocking it loudly.

– Now remember, I don’t want to use this thing, but if I have to I will. And I’m not talking about on the job either, I’m talking afterwards. I’m talking about gossip. Nobody outside of this room knows anything about this job, so any leakage gets to the feds – up till now he’d been addressing the both of us, but now his eyes burned on me alone – You start going out bragging and I start getting trigger happy, you understand what I’m saying, Rocks?

– I won’t tell anyone Leon, I swear it.

He turned the barrel on me, squinting one eye as he took aim.

– You keep those lips sealed or I’ll shoot the fucking head off your shoulders, you hearing me?

– Okay, okay! Leon please, put the gun down!

Skorpz was laughing, but Leon wasn’t joking…

– Just remember what I be sayin innit.

He threw me some gloves and a balaclava.

– Right, all set. Let’s hit the road.

Driving up to Chingford my knees were shaking the whole way. Leon was at the wheel cool as ever, Skorpz next to him chewing gum and nodding his head.

– Shit, feds! Skorpz suddenly said, halfway there. Lights were flashing in the distance, the traffic slowing.

– Calm the fuck down man, it’s just an accident.

Nearing the site, Leon was right. A mangled car, damaged traffic lights and cops guiding the flow.

Tsss, Leon giving him the evil eye. You been smoking?

Reaching Chingford we headed through the quiet streets. Leon pulled in near the house and turned off the engine.

– Okay guys, everyone fit?

We pulled on our masks.

– Right, let’s hit it.

We rang the bell. When the old guy opened up we burst through, Leon holding the shotgun to his face, backing him inside. His son, athletic and in his twenties, came rushing down the hall, followed by his mother, stout and in a coloured sari, all of them shouting in a mix of English and Hindi.

– CALM THE FUCK DOWN! Leon said, loudly cocking the gun and suddenly there was silence. Everyone stood still.

– Okay, now we can get down to business… He ushered the three of them into the front room and ordered the older guy to his knees. His wife and son started pleading and Leon again cocked the gun. – I said down on your fucking knees!

– Now, you, Leon told the son – Show my two boys where the gold is. And any funny moves this guy dies.

– What gold? he said.

– Don’t play games with me man, I’m serious, Leon pressing the gun in harder – I’ll use this thing, I ain’t joking.

– It’s upstairs, he said, his mum now wailing in tears.

– And you, shut the fuck up bitch and stop that wailing.

The son led Skorpz and me up the stairs.

– Get the fuck up there, Skorpz pushing him – Fucking pussy.

In the bedroom the guy opened a drawer and pulled out a jewellery box. – This is all we got.

Skorpz inspected it, holding up several pieces. Then he laughed and threw the whole lot to the floor. – You think I’m a fucking clown? This ain’t the family gold, this is just cheap Argos shit… He started rummaging through more drawers, then the wardrobes… Finally he grabbed the guy.- I WANT THE FUCKIN’ GOLD, MAN!

– I swear to you, there’s nothing here…

Skorpz punched him to the floor, then started kicking him.

– Okay, okay! the guy said. There is some gold…

– Where is it?

– It’s at my dad’s workplace.

– Your dad’s workplace?

– It’s in his office… stashed in the safe… but only he knows the combination.

Skorpz pulled him up. – You better not be shittin’ me.

The three of us headed downstairs. In the room the mother was crying and pleading, Leon shouting at her. The old guy was still on his knees, but clutching his chest making a wheezing sound.

– He’s got a heart condition, the woman shouted. He needs his medication, he’ll die without it!

– I said no-one’s leaving this room, Leon said, then to Skorpz – The guy’s bluffing man.

Skorpz quickly explained things, then said – Let her get the meds Leon. We need that guy.

Skorpz escorted her to the kitchen. When they came back Leon was still holding the gun on him. – Get out of my way, the woman said.

We stood watching her apply an inhaler to his mouth, then feed him some tablets with a glass of water.

Tsss, Leon kissing his teeth. He handed the shotgun to Skorpz. – You take over. I’m having a look round this place. I ain’t convinced by all this shit…

Just then I realised the son had disappeared, but Skorpz beat me to it. – Leon, where’s the other guy?

– Shit!

We all rushed out into the hallway. – Where the fuck is he?

Skorpz cocked the gun. – This ain’t looking good.

We checked the next room, then the kitchen, Skorpz starting to panic. – He’s left the house, I just know it, he’s getting help…

– Shut up, said Leon. Reaching the final room, the lightswitch wouldn’t work. Leon stood still and I actually saw him gulp. – Okay, he said, let’s just think about this… And I knew what he was going to say next: he was going to say ‘Abort,’ because that’s what he’d told us in the plans. No risks. One thing goes wrong then job over, we exit. There’s always more jobs, no shortage at all…

But he never got the chance to say one more word, because just then from the doorway sprang the son, sword in hand, roaring as he thrust the blade clean through Leon’s side. In a flash he retracted it and struck him again, this time across the neck, flooring him.

Skorpz jumped in shock, the gun trembling in his hands as he tried to fire off a shot, but the weapon was jammed. The guy came straight for him.

Dashing for the front door and down the street, Skorpz’s screams were fading behind me. I didn’t look back. I must have ran a whole mile before I finally stopped by a wall to catch my breath. Jesus Christ! All I can say is I was in a state of shock.

When I got home I went straight to my room. Online I kept checking the news. Sure enough it soon popped up: Two men have been killed during a burglary in Chingford, east London. It is believed they died from stab wounds after holding the residents at gunpoint. A man, 24, has been arrested. More to follow.

The guy wasn’t under arrest for long. In fact, he was released the next day and never faced any charges. You might have even heard about it, because the whole thing made the papers and created quite a debate, which these things always do. Questions like, what is self defence? And, should you be allowed to attack/kill intruders in your own home? Or in this case, should you be allowed to disembowel and near behead one of them, then stab the other so many times that even his own family can hardly identify him on the slab?

As for the third youth involved, he was never found. Not that I wasn’t pulled in and questioned. But the police must have questioned every guy Leon and Skorpz had known from year dot. They got nothing.

Since then, I’ve changed my ways, my whole outlook. I could have been killed that night. But all in all, the sword guy did me a big favour. He got Leon off my back, and likewise a lot of pressure.

Occasionally friends still say to me – Come on Rocks, it was you there that night, wasn’t it? And once or twice I’ve maybe even smiled, but I say nothing. My lips are sealed.

Michael Keenaghan lives in North London. His short stories lay scattered across the web.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, July 30th, 2012.