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Sample - The Addiction Line

The Addiction  Line


Chapter One

My name is Anthony John McCourt. Tony.

The prison guard looked around my cell and nodded, obviously confirming some previous assumption.

“You are British?” he said.    

            I pointed to the paperwork in his hand. “That’s what it says on the report.” I made a point of giving him a slow once over, feet to head. “You new here?”

            He grinned, like a clown; a frightening clown, as in a horror movie. Massive red lips and covered in greasy sweat. “Ya. You can tell?”

            I shrugged. “And you’re from where?” I’d adopted the blunt questioning manner on my first day in that hell-hole. It got through the problem of having to explain surplus words to non-English-speaking inmates.

            He started to speak in Dutch. “ Ist… .”, then corrected himself. “Not far from here, near the German border, a little town called Neu Pekela. But you will not know of it.” His spoken English was pretty good.

            I shook my head, and grinned ruefully. “I’ve heard of it; it’s a small world. One of the cops in at my arrest was from Neu Pekela; or so he said. But, a lot of people, including old friends, said a lot of things; mostly lies.”

            The guard leaned back against the faded paintwork of the yellow stone wall opposite me, and pointed to the outside world beyond the barred window of my cell. “Now we must go, Mister...”, he checked the report again, “... Danny Murphy.”

            I was tired, tense, and ached from head to foot. I raised my arms above my head, and stretched towards the guard, missing the metal frame of the bunk above me. The bunk had been empty since I’d set foot in the cell; the other lock-ups were bulging with three cons each. The muscles in my back relaxed, and eased, as the sleeves of the grey prison smock slipped toward my shoulders.

I blinked, rubbed my eyes, stood, and moved to the window. I fastened my bright, red, moleskin trousers as I walked. If nothing else, the Dutch prison system was colourful. I picked up my bundle of belongings from a battered metal table set below the window, then pointed to the pouch tucked under the guard’s arm. “I can see the transfer papers? Yes?”

            His expression, and his friendly tone, changed. “No. This err… situation, is not over yet.”

       Prior to that situation in my life, I had commanded respect as Chairman of an international shipping company. Ending up where I was on that day, I feel, was determined in my youth. I had gone full circle. Violence begets violence. The pain and hurt I’d witnessed as a baby, then as a youth, had returned with a vengeance. I’d always known the suppressed anger of my formative years had never been fully  released; yet, I never imagined I could have done what I did, without remorse.

I cannot remember my childhood years. My earliest memories of sequential events are from aged 15 onwards, back in 1980. Memories of the earlier years are simply flashbacks; the same memory bites over and over again – screaming threats, bruising punches, and running away from hurt.

I see my Dad, with his back to the front door of our council house. He has a knife in his hand, a knife with a curved blade. My viewpoint is from my Mum’s arms, and I see Dad preventing us from leaving the family home. He is raging and threatening. He jerks the knife to and fro, side to side, the blade glinting in the light from a swinging naked light bulb as he slashes at the air; black shadows jerk, stretch, and shorten on the bare plaster walls that square the room. I am aged maybe one, or two, years old.

Then more flashbacks. Mum is hurrying down a dark road, hugging me against her chest with one arm, her hand steadying my head, wiping blood from her lips with the back of her other hand. I look over Mum’s shoulder and see Dad chasing us.

We exited the cell, leaving the door open behind us. The guard interrupted my thoughts as we walked along the landing. “But you have American accent, yes?”

            I was on a short fuse; generally just pissed off at the world in general, but more with being shuffled from prison to prison every two or three weeks. I turned and snapped at him. “What is this? Why the fuck are you asking me stupid questions that you already know the answer to?”

He shrugged and gave me that down-turned-mouth expression of regret and apology that only Europeans can give. I growled and carried on walking.

Only one vivid memory includes someone other than my parents and me. I am aged about eight-years old, and I’m peering into our sparsely furnished front room from around the door. Dad is holding up my baby brother, Robbie, at arm’s length. He is grasping him by pinning Robbie’s arms against his side. I see my Mum reaching out to Dad as he throws Robbie, backwards, across the room. I see my brother bounce off the backrest of the settee. Tears sting my eyes as I run into the room, crying, trying to help Robbie. Dad roars, “What the hell are you crying for?” The idiot that he was, he just couldn’t see it. Compassion? The word was not in his vocabulary, nor the meaning in his emotions.              

That was my Mum’s life, or so it seemed to me in my childhood: one long argument, or physically violent episode, after another. When Dad wasn’t at work, he was either at a pub, or club, or race meeting. I do remember that from aged thirteen, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, just to get away from him and his violence; but, again, no distinct memories.

Gran’s home was a four bed- roomed semi-detached house, on the Larkhill council estate, just east of Stamford Hill, North London. My parent’s home was on another estate, Flatsteads, two miles to the south, in the Borough of Hackney. Both estates were a result of frenzied local council building in the sixties.

Anger was overtaking fatigue. The guard tapped me on my shoulder with his baton. I pictured him reaching up from behind to touch my six feet two inch frame. Obviously height, or the lack of it, was not a feature of the Dutch penal selection system. I stopped, facing forward, as he walked past me to the steel barred gate ahead. He shouted as he put his key in the lock, and another guard, a miserable looking, skinny bastard, appeared beyond the gate from a side room. It was the first time I’d exited the landing at that end; I was becoming wary. If I’d been a dog, my hackles would have been up. As I always did when in strange places, places where I felt uncomfortable, I checked out my position in relation to possible escape avenues.

Suddenly, from somewhere across the netted void that separated my landing from the one opposite, a voice called out. “Watch yourself, Murphy. People disappear from here.” The shouted statement was not a friendly warning – it was a threat. I recognised the voice - Micky, a young lad from Birmingham doing five years for burglary. Five! And they say the Dutch are tolerant. Micky had addressed me with a name given to me by an agent of a middle-east country, on my entry to the Dutch Prison system.

Now I was more than wary, I was agitated. I did a slow full circle, scanning my surroundings.

            It was an eerie atmosphere; not another prisoner in sight, and only the soft murmur of voices from within locked cells indicating human occupation. The prison was rumbling into life. In a few minutes, cell doors would open automatically, and slop-out would begin; another stinking day in confinement, starting with another stinking chore.

 Skinny guard inserted his key into the same lock, and within seconds the door was swung open. I was beckoned through, and a wooden chair set against the concrete wall of the corridor was indicated. The wire mesh protected strip lighting above me, cast gridline shadows around the corridor. I was in a shadowy cage. Clown guard took my paperwork into an office to my right. I sat down, thinking, planning - and remembering.

You needed the legs of a show jumper to live on the cruelly named Flatsteads estate. You went to the local shops – you walked uphill.  You went to the local pub – you walked uphill, maybe had a fight, and then staggered home downhill; in nearly all cases pain-free drunk.  No one had a quiet half-pint on the Flatsteads.

For all the drunken punch-ups, most of the residents on the estate were real nice people who simply felt it necessary to show a hard face to strangers; insecurity was a fact of life. Arguments and fights were forgotten about in days – debt and poverty being the harder hitters on the adversity list. No one had any secrets of consequence, as most, if not all, families faced the exact same day-to-day problems - all stemming from the lack of money.

Those were still the days of means testing, a remnant of the National Assistance Board. The N.A.B. was now called Social Security - a nicer name, but still a cruel bureaucratic form-strewn handout. And, if you were lucky enough to have a job, you still watched every penny in your weekly pay packet. Employers were now paying wages directly into bank accounts, and that new tax, Bank Charges, was just beginning to hit the working man. Maggie T was in power, unemployment was rising, and, ipso facto, crime was rising.

 The major industry in and around Flatsteads was money lending – and the biggest supplier of cash was a buxom elderly lady called Tizzie Waters, seventy years old, and her daughter, Ethel. There was no APR, no compound interest, and no statements or agreements with Tizzie; just quite simply twenty pence in the pound interest; and it all had to be paid back within twenty weeks whether you borrowed five pounds or fifty pounds – and no excuses. As Tizzie often said, as far as she was concerned, ‘Every pound is a prisoner’

They were an odd couple, plodding around the estates picking up their weekly payments. Tizzie, short and plump, with black dyed grey hair, invariably dressed in black headscarf, black woollen coat, and sensible black flat heeled shoes, carried a cloth money bag clasped tight to her chest. For all their money, and the years since, the austerity of World War number two was still with Tizzie and her daughter. The daughter, tall and thin, and always holding tightly onto Tizzie’s arm like a frightened child, had her mother’s fashion sense and taste in colour.

 Yet, for all Tizzie’s lack of personal security, she was never once robbed. I doubt if it was love of Tizzie, or fear of the police that deterred any would be thief; more the fear of recriminations from her customers, desperately waiting for that top- up loan every month.

Clown guard, the nice guy, exited the office, and the miserable fucker opposite me stood, ready to move on. The guards exchanged paperwork and Skinny guard shouted my name. I stood, and he took my belongings, slinging them into his office. I figured my possessions would be searched, then forwarded on to wherever I was headed.

Skinny leaned toward me, rocking on the soles of his shoes. “You have a reputation, Murphy. I too have a reputation; we should not cross, you understand?” Who was he kidding! He was scared shitless - but putting on a good act.

He prodded me with his baton. I didn’t answer. He prodded me again. I took his provocation, and still did not

answer. At his third attempt, I grabbed his right wrist with my right hand, and snatched the baton from him with my left; he froze. He was my size. I looked him in the eye, saw his terror, and stared him down. I dropped the baton at his feet and released him. I stood bolt upright, arms by my side, looking through him. He stepped back, rolled the baton back towards him with his foot, then slowly bent down to pick it up - his eyes never leaving me.

“I have plenty of time to hurt you Murphy; plenty of time. You would do well to remember that.”

    I turned my back to him and walked towards the exit door. “Fuck you!” I said. Hell, if he was going to jump me, better to get it over with quickly. Hurt him now, hurt him later, what did it matter?