I’ll never forget seeing Spike in the flesh for the last time, as my taxi was being loaded up. Everyone called him ‘Spike’, on account of the way he wore his bleached blond hair. Or maybe it was because his customers spiked the stuff he sold them straight into their veins.
“Hey! Take a look at this.” He waved a wad of notes at me from across the road. Mafeking Terrace was my street – or at least it used to be. The fifty years I’d lived here counted for nothing. He’d only been here a matter of months, but it was like he was running the place. He never missed a chance to remind me.
“You ain’t ever seen so much cash. Buy you some new slippers mate! Want some?” His gold jewellery flashed in the sunshine.
Spike’s Bull Terrier snarled at me and strained at the leash. I could imagine Spike slipping off the collar, and watching with pleasure as it ripped me to pieces.
Bill, the taxi driver, caught my eye and tried to give me a reassuring look. He opened the door and gestured for me to get into the car. “Come on Tom, ignore him.”
I had chosen to give up the fight. It was a war I couldn’t win. Someone would take Spike’s place, and I hoped someone would take mine. Things are more confusing now. These days, you don’t know who your enemy is.
Spike stood grinning at me, a gold-toothed smirk that lacked any trace of humanity. His face quickly turned to a frown. “Don’t worry about your house Pops. I’ve got some people who’ll keep an eye on it. Can’t be too careful these days, there’s some dodgy people about!”
I should have got straight into the car, but my anger had been building up for a long time. I could feel the vein in my forehead starting to throb, a herald to yet another migraine. But I’d seen worse than him in Burma. This wasn’t a heroic defence from me, more of a parting shot.
“Listen! My name isn’t ‘Pops’, it’s Tom! Thomas Briggs, Royal Marine Commando. I’ve fought for this country. I lost a lot of friends in jungles you’ve never even heard of. I might be broken now, but in my day, I could have knocked your on your back without a second thought. You and your kind make me sick!”
Spike looked around to see who else was watching. I expected him to stride across the street to me and I regretted my outburst. Apart from the three of us, there didn’t appear to be anyone in sight. Maybe a few behind the lace curtains, but I’ve learned not to count on their type.
Spike didn’t move from outside his gate, but pointed a gold-ringed forefinger at me. “You’re a sad old boy. You’ve been telling lies, writing stuff you can’t prove. There’s things here you don’t know. My lawyer will have your wrinkly butt thrown in jail. So think on that! In the Army, eh? What was it like at Waterloo?” He spun away with a chuckle.
His good humour didn’t last. Spike’s hand reached for the latch on his gate. He shouted in pain as the concealed nail bit into his finger. Just far enough in to draw blood. I wanted to be there when he did it, just to make sure. To anyone else watching it would have just seemed like an accident, not a jungle booby trap. Now it was time for me to go.
As he drove me to the airport, Bill looked at me with genuine concern. He’d been driving me around for so long, we’d become friends. I would miss him and I think the feeling was mutual.
“Are you sure this is what you want, Tom? Moving ‘Down Under’ is a big step.”
“It’s the right time, Bill. Alice, my eldest, has been asking me to go and live with them for years. To be honest, things haven’t been the same since Maureen died. And it’ll be nice to see the grandkids again. Just picture me, Bill. Perth, Western Australia – I’ll be sat on their back porch, a hundred yards from the Indian Ocean. Not too bad a way to end my days.”
“So, you’re not coming back then? It won’t be the same around here.” Bill looked really upset, bless him.
“Tom, you can be proud. You did your best to stop the druggies getting a foothold. If someone had backed you, who knows? It’s funny – I didn’t know you fought in the Far East. When you said you were ex-Marines, I assumed your War was in Europe.”
“It’s not something I talk about much. We were taught to live rough and fight dirty. Funny thing is, that’s how I got interested in exotic plants. We learned which foliage has sap that can keep you alive, and which ones, if they get into your bloodstream, will kill you. You don’t want to get them mixed up!”
“So what about the plants in your greenhouse?”
“You can eat the tomatoes, but be very careful with the rest. Bio toxins aren’t good for the health! Rob from next door is having them. Said he’ll take care of my ‘babies’. They aren’t easy to import, you know, I don’t want them to be left to die.”
* * *
That was three weeks ago. I’m on that porch overlooking the Indian Ocean. After receiving an e-mail from Bill today, I was starting to feel homesick. That was until I clicked on the link from our, or rather his, local paper. Dated a couple of weeks ago, it told of how the body of an undercover policeman was found in Mafeking Terrace. He had been attempting to infiltrate a major drugs ring. The cause of death appeared to be some sort of extreme toxic reaction. Then I saw his photograph. He looked different in the picture – perhaps it was the uniform. But the spiky blond hair gave him away.
Maybe it’s a chill wind off the ocean, but I think I’ll go inside now. I’m starting to feel very cold.
The photo and fiction were prompted by Word Snap Weekly, 15th March 2015, hosted by Amanda Lakey at UniqueArtChic.com.
Click the logo for more details.