Cover image for Five pubs, two bars and a nightclub
Title:
Five pubs, two bars and a nightclub
Author:
Williams, John, 1961-
Personal Author:
Edition:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Bloomsbury : Distributed to the trade by St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
209 pages ; 21 cm
Summary:
"Gangsters, pimps, dealers, bookies and the Nation of Islam. Welcome to Cardiff"--Cover, P. [4].
General Note:
"A Bloomsbury paperback original"--Cover.
Language:
English
Contents:
Black Caesar's -- The North Star -- The Four Ways -- The Packet -- The Paddle Steamer -- The Ship and Pilot -- The Glastonbury Arms -- The Casablanca.
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9781582340272
Format :
Book

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Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

Gangsters, pimps, dealers, bookies and the Nation of Islam...Welcome to Cardiff!

Eight fast-paced and gritty short stories from this electric new British writer.


Author Notes

John Williams is a contributing editor at GQ , and also a regular reviewer on various subjects; crime for The Mail on Sunday , fiction for The Independent and a travel writer for The Sunday Times . He was born in Cardiff and has lived in Paris and London where he worked in the music industry in various bands, before turning to writing as a career.


Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Welsh writer Williams's novel-in-short-stories depicts a Cardiff rife with dockmen, hustlers, dealers, whores, shoplifters and Rastamen, all of whom seek romance, cash customers, and intrigue in the drinking and dancing establishments that entitle each episode. Williams's (Faithless) loose form gives readers a Hogarthian ramble around the ethnically various underworld of Butetown, Cardiff's tenderloin district. In "Black Caesar's," Kenny Ibadulla, Butetown's biggest man, makes a misbegotten attempt to found a Nation of Islam mosque one floor below his nightclub and headquarters. (Ibadulla's men figure in later stories.) Mikey Thomson, Williams's most charming creation, is a 5-ft., 4-in. Lothario and champion shoplifter. He wants to become a pimp; instead, the women in his lifeÄnotably his wife, Tina, and his girlfriend, LorraineÄhave developed a habit of roughing him up. In "The Four Ways," Mikey's gift of gab gets him into sexy Tyra's bed while her husband is in jail. In "The Packet," the same verbal skills ally Mikey with Kim, a BBC correspondent who gulls her bosses into running a sensational story about a bogus drug run from the island of St. Helena. In the final episode, "The Casablanca," Tyra's husband, Tony Pinto, emerges from jail and wonders "why he'd spent so much of his life learning to be so damn hard." Adroitly double-crossing both his scummy cousin Billy and the fearsome KennyÄand leaping, at one point, action-movie style from roof to roof across downtown CardiffÄTony finally finds a temporary way out of Butetown. Williams' Cardiffian tales form a cutthroat idyll … la The Beggar's Opera; they may charm even a straightlaced reader. And devotees of the gritty new Scottish novels (Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting; Alan Warner's The Sopranos) ought to eat this Welsh counterpart right up. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One Black Caesar's The day they were due to finish building the mosque, Kenny Ibadulla was sitting in his front room with the curtains closed, watching the rugby. Wales were playing Ireland at home. Didn't know why he bothered watching it, really. You could just open the back door and, if the wind was blowing the right way, you could hear the roar from the Arms Park.     Always put him in a bad mood too. That's why he didn't like people knowing about it, knowing he still watched it. Everyone knew he used to play; it was part of the Kenny Ibadulla legend -- the best outside centre Cardiff Boys ever had, at sixteen the biggest, fastest, meanest back the coach had ever seen.     'Course then he'd gone to prison, even if he was only sixteen, and that had been the end of that. And of course he hadn't given a shit, because when he came out he was the man. And he was still the man, fifteen years on. Which was why he didn't specially want people to see him throwing things at the telly when Wales's latest pathetic excuse for a centre knocked the ball on one more time.     So he was half furious and half relieved when the phone rang just as they were coming out for the second half. He picked it up and listened for a minute, then said, `Fucking hell, not that thieving cunt. I'll be there in five, all right.'     Then he picked up his leather jacket, XXX Large and it was still pretty snug across his shoulders, ran his hand over the stubble on his head, checking the barber had cropped it evenly, walked through to the kitchen where Melanie was chatting to her mate Lorraine, bent to kiss Melanie on the cheek and told her he was going down the club.     Out on the street he wondered, not for the first time, if building a mosque was really worth the hassle. Seeing as there was a perfectly good one in Butetown already. But then black Muslims and regular Muslims were hardly the same thing, and what Kenny was building was Cardiff's first outpost of Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam.     The other worry was whether it was really all right to build your mosque on the ground floor of a nightclub. Still, the club, Black Caesar's, was the only building Kenny owned, and he'd never been able to do much with the downstairs. He'd run it as a wine bar for a bit but Kenny's clientele weren't exactly wine drinkers, and the business types who were down the docks in the daytime never used it either, so he'd given that up. Then he'd tried turning it into a shop selling sportswear and stuff. He'd had the whole Soul II Soul range in but then Soul II Soul had gone down the toilet and so had the shop. Docks boys didn't believe the gear was kosher unless they were buying it down Queen Street from some white man's store.     It had been brooding on this particular question that had led Kenny to his recent spiritual conversion. He'd been up in London, Harlesden way, doing a little bit of business, and the guys he was dealing with had taken him round the Final Call bookshop there. Nearly bunt out laughing at first, sight of all these guys standing around in their black suits with the red bow ties, but when they got to talking a bit, it started to make sense. Specially all the stuff about setting up black businesses in black areas.     The way Kenny saw it, he was a community leader, yet he didn't get any credit for it. He had a business already, of course; in fact he had several, but they weren't exactly respectable. That was the way it worked -- people didn't mind a black man selling draw and coke. They could just about handle a black man running a club. But a black man opens a clothes shop, and the punters fuck off up town and buy their gear there. Ignorant fuckers.     So Kenny had come back a bit inspired, like. He'd done his best to explain it all to the boys, and they'd gone along with it. Which wasn't surprising given that most of them were shit scared of him, but still, most of them knew about Minister Farrakhan already, so it wasn't too difficult, once they'd customised the approach for the local conditions.     He'd thought about changing his name, calling himself El-Haji Malik or something, but then Melanie had pointed out that he already had a Muslim name. Which was true enough, of course, and his grandad had actually been a Muslim, though his dad hadn't bothered with it, specially not after he met Kenny's mum, who was a fierce bloody Baptist and the one person Kenny was not looking forward to telling about his religious conversion.     Kenny's club, Black Caesar's, was on West Bute Street, right in the old commercial heart of the docks. On a Saturday afternoon, though, the street was almost completely dead. The only faint sign of life Kenny could see came from three of his guys -- Col, Neville and Mark -- sat in line along the pavement outside the club, holding cans of Carlsberg. Fuckers had been raiding the upstairs bar again.     `So where is he then?' asked Kenny.     Col jerked his thumb towards the building. `Inside, boss. Checking the wiring, he said.'     `Fucking hell, Col, you don't want to leave that thieving cunt on his own,' said Kenny, and he headed into the club in search of Barry Myers, planning officer of the Docks Development Authority.     He found him downstairs in the back room, now the business part of the mosque, looking at the pulpit.     `Jesus, butt,' said Myers as Kenny approached, `looks just like the one they used to have down the Swedish church.'     `Hmm,' said Kenny.     `Didn't know they had pulpits in mosques, Ken.'     `Yeah, it's called the mimbar,' said Kenny, and was pleased to see a look of surprise flash across Myers's smug face.     `Oh,' said Myers after a moment, `the mimbar, I was wondering where you kept the booze,' and he started laughing.     Kenny didn't join in, just stood there wishing he could get away with decking the bastard. But he couldn't, he knew the form and he knew a hint when he heard one. `Fancy a drink then, Barry?'     `Don't mind if I do, Ken, don't mind at all. Just check everything's shipshape down here first.'     So the two of them went through the motions of looking around the downstairs and Kenny had to admit his boys had done a decent job. The temple itself was all painted white and was furnished with some pews and the pulpit -- mimbar -- all of which, as Barry had pointed out, bore a pretty fair resemblance to the fittings in the old Swedish church. Best thing was, the back wall was even facing Mecca. It was just right, Kenny thought. Serious.     The front room still had some of the display cases left over from the clothes shop, but now they held copies of the Final Call and a few books on black history, plus a couple of videos of Farrakhan in action, and one of the Million Man March.     There were separate entrances outside for the mosque and the club but Kenny opened a side door and led Myers upstairs. The lights were already on around the bar, and there was the unmistakable smell of draw hanging in the air. The boys had clearly popped up to relax earlier on. Myers sniffed the air too, but didn't say anything. Kenny walked round the bar and dug out a bottle of Glenfiddich, poured a large one and handed it to Myers, then cracked open a Coke for himself.     `Missing the match then, Barry?'     `Oh yes,' said the planning officer. `Tell you the truth, Ken, I can't stand the fucking game. When the ball's not stuck in the fucking scrum, they're kicking it into touch. Give me the ice hockey any day. You been down there, see the Devils, Ken?'     Kenny nodded. He'd been a couple of times. Nice to see Cardiff doing well at something. And a lot of young boys now were into it. But far as Kenny was concerned, you were stuck with the sport you grew up with. And suddenly he felt aggrieved that this parasite Myers was dragging him away from watching it. Time to get on with the business.     `So, Barry mate, what can I do for you?' he said, putting his drink down next to Myers and folding his arms, letting a little menace creep into the air.     But Myers didn't seem to register the threat. `Well, Kenny,' he said, `I've been studying the records, and this kind of change of use is highly irregular. You have to think about the whole make-up of a neighbourhood, and a church -- sorry, a mosque -- and a nightclub in the same building ... Well, there's a lot of ethical issues ...'     `How much, Barry?'     Myers looked around, then shrugged, like he figured that there were a lot of things Kenny Ibadulla was capable of, but wearing a wire wasn't one of them.     `Oh, a grand up front and a ton a week should do it.'     Kenny just looked at him. The logistics of killing him flashed through his mind. The deed itself would be no problem, whip the baseball bat out from behind the bar, strike one and it would be over. Dump the body in the foundations of one of the building sites his boys were looking after. Perfect. Proper gangster business. Then he sighed inwardly and accepted that wasn't the way things worked down here.     `Fuck the grand, Barry. I've got three hundred here in my pocket. Take it or leave it. You comes back and asks for more, I breaks your fucking legs and I'll laugh while I'm doing it.' By the end of this little speech he had his face about three inches from Barry's and that seemed to do the trick.     The weasel didn't piss himself or pass out but the smile certainly disappeared. He stepped back, hacked out a laugh and said, `Yeah, well, Ken, like I say, it'll be a tricky one to get through the committee, but three hundred'll be all right. Long as there's no complaints.'     Kenny handed over the money and Myers downed his drink and was out of the club in seconds. Kenny headed past the dance floor and opened the door to his orifice, turned on the TV just in time to see Wales concede a late try to Ireland and lose a match they should have won comfortably. He switched the TV off again and headed back out to the street, the urge to deck someone growing ever stronger.     He was cheered up, though, when he saw Col halfway up a ladder carefully stencilling in the outlines of the letters prior to painting the words `Nation of Islam' over the door.     `Nice,' said Kenny, `gonna be nice. So we'll be ready for tomorrow, then?'     `Yeah, Ken,' said Col, not turning around from his painting, `easy. You go on home, give the missis one. See you down the Pilot later, yeah, you can sort out my bonus.'     Kenny laughed, said, `Pay your hospital bill more like, you don't get it done,' and headed back towards Loudoun Square wondering what else he had to get sorted for tomorrow.     Tomorrow, Sunday, was set to be the mosque's grand opening. Way Kenny saw it, things would kick off about three. Have a couple of stalls and stuff out on the street, bit of music. Open the mosque up for anyone wanted to have a look, stick a video player in there running the Farrakhan tapes. Open the club up and get the disco going around six. Make it a little community dance thing.     Kenny was so wrapped up in thinking through his plans as he cut round the side of the real mosque -- as he couldn't help thinking of it -- that he didn't notice the noise of movement in the bushes next to him. Then there was a sudden whoop and Kenny spun round. If he hadn't checked himself just in time he would have taken the head off seven-year-old little Mikey, who had launched himself off a tree in the direction of Kenny's broad back.     `Gotcha,' said Kenny, catching the little boy and making to throw him back into the undergrowth where a couple of his mates were watching.     `C'mon then,' he said to them. `Aren't you lot going to help your mate?' And so seconds later Kenny was buried under a heap of junior-school banditos. He played with the little gang for another five minutes or so before chasing them back in the direction of Mikey senior's flat, and then he carried on home with a positive spring in his step. Feeling well in the mood to do as Col suggested, the second he got indoors with Melanie.     That idea flew out of his head pretty quickly when the first thing Melanie said was that he'd had a phone call. Bloke with an American accent, said he was from the Nation of Islam, and he'd be coming down tomorrow, to the opening.     `Shit,' said Kenny, and sat down heavily on the sofa. This he hadn't been expecting. Of course he'd told the people up in London what he was planning. He'd bought all the videos and books and stuff from them. And they'd spoken to head office or whatever in Chicago and got the go-ahead for a new branch. But he'd thought that would have been that. He'd told the London boys about his opening, of course, and if a couple of them had wanted to come down, well that would have been no problem. But an American? Fuck.     Kenny started to work through a mental checklist. The mosque was fine, the boys had really done a good job with it. He'd got all the literature and stuff sorted out front. Got a fine-looking sister called Stephanie to work out front too. He'd got security. In fact that had all worked out very well indeed. All the guys who worked on the door for him and stuff already had the black bouncer suits. All he'd needed to do was get a consignment of red bow ties and he'd got the uniform sorted.     Then it hit him. The one thing he didn't have was a minister. He'd been so much in charge of it all that no one had mentioned who was going to be the preacher. Maybe everyone was expecting him to do it. Well, perhaps he could do it, at that.     `Mel,' he said, `you reckon I'd make a good minister? For the mosque, like.'     Melanie looked at him for a moment, then burst out laughing.     `What's so fucking funny?' said Kenny.     `Kenny,' she said, `when did you last say two sentences without the word fuck in them, eh?'     Kenny shook his head, then laughed too. It was true. He'd always had a filthy mouth, and it was worse when he was nervous. And, frankly, the thought of standing up in front of all his people pretending to be some kind of minister scared the shit out of him.     What he needed was someone with a bit of front and a lot of bullshit. It didn't take long for a name to spring to mind. Mikey Thompson. He hadn't spoken to Mikey since he'd heard the little bastard had started doing a bit of freelance dealing for Billy Pinto. But what the hell, Kenny Ibadulla was a big enough man to forgive and forget; he'd give Mikey a chance to redeem himself.     He picked the phone up and called Mikey's number. Tina answered.     `Who wants him?' she asked.     `Me. Kenny.'     `Oh, sorry, Ken, he's been out all day. I'll tell him you called, like.'     `No, he fucking hasn't,' growled Kenny, `I knows he's there. It's fucking Blind Date on now, innit? Telling me Mikey's missing his Blind Date ?'     Tina didn't say anything, just put the phone down and, a few seconds later, Mikey's voice came on the line. `Sorry, Ken, just got in, like. Whassup?'     Kenny laid things out for Mikey. Option one, he signed on as temporary minister in Kenny's mosque. Option two, Kenny broke several of Mikey's bones, just like he should have done months ago when he found out he was freelancing for fucking Billy Pinto. Didn't take Mikey too long to choose option one. So Kenny told him to come down the Pilot around nine, they'd have a chat before the club opened.     Relieved, Kenny put the phone down and went into the kitchen where Melanie was starting to sort out the tea. He put his arms round her and was just letting them start to wander up towards her breasts when the back door blew open and in piled his three little girls and a couple of their mates.     Nine o'clock, Kenny walked up to the club, checked everything was ready for the night, and headed over to the Ship and Pilot. The boys were all there in the pool-room already. Mikey and Col were on the table, laughing and passing a spliff back and forth.     `Mikey,' said Kenny, `you still got your suit?'     `Yeah, sure,' said Mikey. `You want me on the door tonight, boss?' Mikey loved working the door, perfect chance to check out the talent coming in, and make his mark early. Couple of jokes as he's helping them to the cloakroom, then later in the evening, when most of the blokes are too pissed to function, Mikey leaves the door, comes into the club, and eases on in. Sweet. Once in a while it even worked out.     `Nah,' said Kenny, `least I don't think so -- check it with Col. No, Mikey, you'll need the suit for the minister number. I'll sort you out with the bow tie and the fez, like.'     `Fucking 'ell, Ken, I thought you were joking.'     `Wish I was, Mikey, wish I was.'     `But why me, Ken? You've got a bunch of boys all into this stuff good and proper. Why can't one of them do it?'     Kenny shook his head. `They're all fucking kids, Mikey. Need a bit of experience for this job.' Kenny paused for a moment then decided to give Mikey the full story. `See, thing is, what I need is a bullshitter. There's some Yank coming down tomorrow, from head office, like, in Chicago, wants to see we're doing things right. I need someone can give him a bit of a show.'     `Tomorrow, Ken? You're joking.'     `Tell you what, Mikey. Best thing, we go over the mosque and I show you the stuff.'     And so it was that Mikey ended up spending his evening not hitting on the sweetest young things in Cardiff, but closeted in front of the VCR watching Minister Farrakhan in action, and frantically reading back issues of the Final Call . Next day, Sunday, the festivities weren't due to start till three, but the inner circle got together at the club around one. Kenny was a bear with a sore head. Hadn't got to bed till five. Kids had woken him early, and now some fucking Yank was going to come and rain on his parade.     Still, everything seemed to be coming together pretty well. The band had just showed up, on their truck. They were just going to set up in the street outside and play. Brought their own generator and everything. Like Kenny, the boys all had their black suits and red bow ties on; looked damn serious when there was a bunch of you together. Stephanie he'd seen in the front of the mosque, looking absolutely gorgeous. The cleaners had been into the club already and it was looking pretty tidy. Col was busy blowing up balloons and tying them to everything in sight. In fact it all seemed pretty damn kosher, for want of a more appropriate word.     Then the major problem came back to him. `Where's Mikey?' he asked.     `Christ, boss, haven't you seen him?' said Mark. `He's inside the bloody temple pretending to be Malcolm X, like.'     And indeed he was. Kenny found Mikey standing at the mimbar waving his hands around and spouting bullshit, wearing a pair of sunglasses so dark that he didn't even notice Kenny coming in. Though, Kenny being the size he was, it didn't take too long for his shadow to register on Mikey's radar. ` Salaam aleikum , boss,' he said, whipping his glasses off.     `Aleikum salaam,' said Kenny without even thinking about it. It was still a greeting you heard all the time around Butetown. `So, you ready to go, Mikey?'     `I don't know, Ken. I thought I'd just, like, welcome everyone and then read out this introduction, like,' he said, waving one of the pamphlets Kenny had brought down.     `Yeah, fine,' said Kenny, `just go for it,' and he headed upstairs to sort out the music for the disco later on.     By three o'clock there was already a reasonable crowd built up, practically all locals, plus a few social-worker types and a photographer who said she'd try and sell some pictures to the Echo .     The band got going a few minutes after, running through a few Bob Marley tunes to warm everybody up. There was a steady stream of people having a look at the mosque, even a few of the elders from the regular mosque, acting like they were just passing by accidentally. The home-made patties and samosas and fruit punch were all starting to tick over nicely and the vibe was just nice, Kenny reckoned, when the limousine drew up.     The limousine was indubitably the business. Some kind of American stretch with tinted windows. It pulled up on the edge of the crowd and double-parked neatly in the middle of the street. The passenger-side front door opened first, shortly to be followed by the two back doors and finally the driver's door. Out of each door emerged a shaven-headed character in an immaculate black suit and a red bow tie. Then, a moment later, a fifth person came out, a slighter figure with the suit and bow tie and also a fez. Evidently the boss-man.     The band kept on playing regardless, chugging through Stevie Wonder's `Isn't She Lovely', but all other activity seemed to stop as everyone stared at the new arrivals.     Kenny nodded his head quickly to a couple of his guys and they followed in his wake as he moved through the crowd towards the out-of-towners.     `Salaam aleikum,' he said as he approached.     `Aleikum salaam,' said the guy in the fez, with a pronounced New York accent.     `So you're from, like, head office,' said Kenny.     `Kamal al-Mohammed. From Chicago, yes,' said the American, cold as anything.     `Well,' said Kenny, unaccustomedly nervous in the face of this skinny Yank, `this is the mosque here and, as you can see, we're having a bit of an opening do, like.'     Al-Mohammed inclined his head slightly. The four other guys -- bodyguards or whatever they were -- didn't say a word. Kenny wasn't sure even whether they were British or American. He waited for the guy to say something and for a few seconds they were just stood there staring at each other. Then the guy shook his head irritably and said, `So. Show me.'     `All right, butt,' said Kenny and turned to lead the way, muttering under his breath, `I'll fucking show you then.'     The people parted to let through what was by now quite an impressive Muslim cortège, what with Kenny and his boys and the American's crew. But before they could enter the mosque al-Mohammed stopped, surveyed the crowd and then stared at Kenny before saying, `This is a mixed event.'     Kenny didn't know what he was on about for a moment. Thought maybe al-Mohammed meant it ought to be a men-only event. Then he realised it was racial mixing he meant.     `Yeah,' he said, `reaching out, you knows what I mean?'     Al-Mohammed didn't look too impressed but he carried on into the front part of the mosque where Stephanie was looking beautiful behind the counter. She should cheer the old sourface up, thought Kenny, but no, not a bit of it. Al-Mohammed took one look at her crop-top and said, `Inappropriate dress for a Muslim woman.'     Stephanie just looked at him like she was watching something really unusual on TV. Kenny stayed silent and opened the door into the mosque proper. And he wasn't sure, but he reckoned his face probably fell a mile when the first person he saw in the room, standing by the mimbar, was Mark, looking impeccable in his suit and bow tie, his hair cropped to the bone, but obviously as white as can be.     `Mr Ibadulla,' said the American after a brief, painful silence, `have you read any of the Nation's literature?'     Kenny nodded.     `Have you read perhaps our program of belief?'     `Uh,' said Kenny, but before he could go on the American cut in.     `Well, I suggest you re-read it.'     Kenny felt like he was a kid at school again. Only difference was, none of Kenny's teachers ever dared speak like that to him, at least not after what happened when he was thirteen with that science teacher.     Back out on the street, al-Mohammed took up a position at the back of the crowd looking at the band. Behind him his comrades lined up in a row, all standing with their arms folded in front of them.     When Kenny came up alongside al-Mohammed, the American turned to him and said, `So. When will the educational part of the proceedings start?'     Christ, thought Kenny, realising it was now up to Mikey to save the day. But he smiled and said, `Yes, indeed, brother Waqar el-Faid will be talking in just a little while, like.'     He found Mikey in the shop giving Stephanie the full charm offensive. `C'mon,' he said, `you're on.'     Kenny climbed up on to the band's truck with Mikey right behind him. They stood on the side of the makeshift stage till the band finished a reggaed-up `Wonderful Tonight', and then Kenny went to the mike.     `Ladies and gentlemen,' he said, `and all the rest of you lot. Salaam aleikum , and welcome to the opening of Cardiff's first Nation of Islam mosque. I'd also like to welcome our special guest, Mr al-Mohammed from Chicago. And now we're going to have a few words about the Nation of Islam from a man you all knows.' Kenny ground to a halt, wondering whether he could get away with introducing Mikey as Waqar el-Faid. He decided against it and just waved his arm in Mikey's direction before jumping off the front of the stage.     Immediately there was a muttering from certain sections of the crowd. No one had quite seen Mikey as a spiritual teacher before. The real trouble, though, it quickly became clear, was that neither had Mikey.     Mikey's speech was basically just a matter of reading out the pamphlet he'd found, but with every sentence it was falling flatter and flatter. Mikey Thompson delivering a lecture on living a clean life and running your own business was just too ridiculous. They might have taken it from an American, but from Mikey? Then he said something about the importance of respecting your women, and a voice shouted, `You should bloody know, Mikey,' and suddenly the whole crowd was creased with laughter. Mikey just dried up. For a moment Kenny thought he might be about to burst into tears. But then Mikey started talking again.     `Listen,' he said, `like all of you, I'm new to this Muslim bit. But you shouldn't laugh at it just `cause it's me talking.' He paused for another couple of seconds and started again. `I've been thinking about my little boy, little Mikey. He's seven, right, just started junior school. And I was thinking about when I was at junior school, just down the road here, same place as most of you. And I was thinking about how I didn't know I was black then.'     A woman laughed.     Mikey put his hand up. `No, I'm not saying I was blind, love, but I didn't know what it meant to be black. Down here, down the docks, it seemed like we were all together, right. Then, when I was eleven, I went to secondary over Fitzalan, and I found out what it meant. Nah mean?'     A rumble of agreement came from the crowd.     `What I found out, right, was that the rest of the people out there think they knows what you are if you come from Butetown. Right. So what I'm saying, and I'm going to shut up now, so don't worry, is that if we're going to make something of our lives, we've got to do it ourselves. And that's why I say that, whatever you think about Kenny here -- and I know a lot of you may have had your troubles with Kenny -- you've got to respect what he's doing.' And with that he too jumped off the stage.     The applause Mikey got wasn't exactly wild, but still, when he came down into the crowd, several people clapped him on the back and said well done. One or two of the sisters gave him `Mikey, I never knew you were so sensitive'-type looks, which he returned with his most sensitive wink. Kenny walked over and clapped him on the back too, then turned round to see what his guests had made of it.     He found them standing in formation once more, this time outside the entrance to the club.     `What's this, brother Ibadulla?' asked al-Mohammed, pointing at the sign saying `Black Caesar's Dancing and Dining'.     `It's a club,' said Kenny.     Al-Mohammed looked at his coterie and then looked back at Kenny. `You're going to place Allah's temple underneath a nightclub, brother Ibadulla?'     `Well, there are separate entrances,' said Kenny, sounding feeble even to himself.     Al-Mohammed shook his head. `Show us inside,' he said.     Kenny looked at his watch. Half five. The club was due to open in thirty minutes. That would probably be the last straw for these guys. He had to get them in and out and fast, before people started banging on the doors. So he sighed, opened the door and led the way upstairs into the club. Lloyd the barman was busy washing glasses but otherwise the place was deserted. Al-Mohammed just looked at the bar, shook his head once more and uttered the one word `alcohol' before saying, `Mr Ibadulla, let's go into your office. We have much to discuss.'     Kenny shrugged, thinking to himself, this is the thanks you get for trying to put something back into the community. He unlocked the office door, ushering the visitors inside.     The last man in shut the door behind him, and in an instant Kenny found himself looking straight down the barrel of a gun.     Al-Mohammed was the man holding the gun, and once Kenny had registered its presence he started talking again, only this time his voice had no trace of a New York accent. Instead it was pure Brummie.     `All right, Kenny mate. Had you going there, eh!'     Kenny shook his head in absolute and total disbelief. He'd let the Handsworth crew jerk him about like a prize bloody twat.     The Handsworth crew were evidently of the same mind. Two of the bodyguards were shaking with suppressed laughter. `Inappropriate dress for a Muslim woman,' said one of them. The other grinned and rolled his eyes and, for a moment, Kenny thought he might have an opening.     The leader, however, kept his gun firmly trained on Kenny and said, `Now, Mr Ibadulla, how about you open your safe and we have a look, see if there's anything we like in there.'     Kenny was a pro. He didn't do anything stupid. Just swore under his breath at his gullibility and tried to remember just how much he was holding in the safe. Around seven and a bit, he figured, and sighed as he opened up.     The former al-Mohammed kept his gun steadily on Kenny as his cohorts loaded the contents into a couple of black canvas bags. One of them then stepped behind Kenny, who wondered for a moment whether he was about to die, before a voice said, ` Salaam aleikum , mate', and unconsciousness hit him like a freight train.     When Kenny came to, ten minutes later, after being given a good shaking by Col and Mikey, he discovered what had happened next. The Brummies had held a gun on Lloyd behind the bar, then knocked him out too. Then they'd walked downstairs and out of the club, back in character, shaking their heads and acting disgusted by what they'd found. The crowd had parted to let them make their way to the limo. A couple of the youth had catcalled them as they drove away, but that was that. The band had launched into Seal's `Crazy' and it had taken a few minutes for anyone to wonder why Kenny hadn't come back down.     `Shit,' said Mikey, when Kenny told him what had happened. `Don't know about you, Ken, but I don't think we're cut out for the religious life.' Copyright © 1999 John Williams. All rights reserved.

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