Jumat, 04 November 2011

Dark Alley

No many alleys were in America. Most cities have eradicated these curious phenomena. Those in Lower Manhattan owed their existence to Indian trails and cowpaths. Liberty Place used to be Little Green Street, Coenties Lane ran to the East River, and the infamous Mudd Club was at the T-intersection of Courtlandt Alley and White Street. Muggers hung out in the shadows of the short-cut leading to Canal Street. Ripping off drunks reeling out of the club was a good business in the late 70s and 80s.Last month I was in Nottinghill Gate. I was walking up Westbourne Grove Park to meet friends at The Cow. London is a city adrift with deja-vus and I was taken aback upon reaching Shrewsbury Mews. I had stayed at Sam Royalle’s duplex at the very end of the mews during the 90s.London abounded in these dead-end passages. Estate agents called them ‘cul de sac’, which means ‘back of the bag’ in obsolete French. I walked down to his door. It was still the same color.Blue.I pulled the collar of my leather jacket up to my neck. The weather was cold for October.There were no lights lit and I took a photo to send Sam. He has lived in Thailand since 1997. Back on Westbourne Park Grove I scanned the neighborhood. The Domino’s Pizza was still doing a good business and the council housing across the way appeared as dreary at the last time I had been on this street. 1997 was fourteen years ago. A posse of Brixton rastas had accused the Lutton native of ripping them off for 100K on a wire transfer scam gone bad. Sam wisely did a runner to France, where I was finishing a road trip with my father. My next stop was the Far West of Ireland.“I did nothing.” Sam was scared of the Jamaica crew. ”They showed up at my bar with shotguns. One of them shut the car door on my head. They want me to sell my house on the Mews and give them the money. I didn’t do anything.”“I believe you.” At least 50%.But the rastas thought he was lying They were very bad people and fancied themselves gunmen. The gang even went so far as to shoot a few dozen reefer dealers to prove their mettle. “Have you tried talking to them?”“There is no talking with these people.”“You have any money?”“Once I sell the house, yes.”“Then I suggest you get on a plane to Thailand.” I spent most of the 90s in the Orient. Thailand was the easy place for a foreigner to live in South East Asia. The food was good and the women were easy, plus Bangkok had another thing going for it. “Plus I haven’t seen any Brixton rastas out there.”“Then that’s where I’m going. What about you?”“I’m heading south to Perpignan.” I had to visit the family of a lost friend. He had been dead almost five years.“I’ll come with you.” He needed a week to get his money.We drove around France for seven days. Sam called the Jamaican posse every day. They made scary threats. There was no going back and I dropped him off at Charles De Gaulle aeroport.“Good luck and stay at the Hotel Malaysia.” Room 203 was my home away from home. It overlooked the swimming pool. Nothing really bad ever happened in that hotel unless you wanted it.“Thanks for the advice.”We shook hands and he threw me his keys.“Anything that fits is yours, but keep an eye out for any suspicious Jamaicans.”The warning was well taken even though Nottinghill Gate is known for suspicious Jamaicans and whiteys too. Sam had a leather jacket from Agnes B. It was my size. Danger versus fashion. I risked the run and stopped in London on my way to Ireland.Across from the cul-de-sac was a grocer. I stood at the door for thirty minutes. He asked if I was going to pay rent. I bought a bag of ginger snaps. My purchase shut him up. After thirty minutes I decided that it was safe. I crossed Westbourne Grove and entered Sam’s apartment without turning on the lights. Everything was there. The yardies hadn’t broken into the place. I pulled the leather jacket from the closet ready to leave. The motion detection lights illuminated in the alley. Someone had followed me. I ducked under a table.Knocks sounded on the door. I did not answer them. My blood pounded out a bongo beat like the heart in Edgar Allen Poe’s TELL-TALE HEART. I heard voices. The accent was from Kingston. The shadows were not black enough to camouflage my white skin. I had seen THE HARDER THEY COME. Trenchtown gangsters liked to cut people and not like a duelist. They were cool with stabbings. My hands were beset by tremors.The high windows was crowded with the silhouette of heads. A heavy thud rocked the front door. It did not give way. Several minutes later the light in the alley went out.I waited a half-hour before exiting from the house. No one was in the mews. No one confronted me on Westbourne Grove. I had the jacket in my hand. The leather was soft as a baby seal.I walked out of the alley and down to the Cow. A few friends were having dinner.“Nice jacket,” one of them said feeling the leather.“I picked it up in a dark alley.” I didn’t tell them where.“Scary.”“A little.” I downed my wine in one gulp.My hands stopped shaking after the second.Same as they did fourteen later last month, because some dark alleys aren’t so bad as long as you don’t walk into them when they are dark. Fear is 90% lighting. The other 10% is anticipation of fear.Terror is only a waiting game.Both now and then.

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