Grovel Greg, Grovel Part 2

A continuation of Grovel Greg, Grovel - Greg moves to London. It is 1976. Greg is a shy and naive 19 year-old, who has decided to take his chances in the big city. He must pitch his wits against racism, unemployment, and people who want to take advantage of his inexperience. But things don’t go well, and by the Autumn, he has disappeared from the face of the Earth. Or has he? In Part 2 Greg moves to London, and takes-up residence in the strange lodging house, "Turbot". Part 3 is set in the present day, as his sister sets out to discover what really happened. One chapter will be published on Movellas each day, until the story reaches its gripping conclusion.

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15. A Fire

6.15 pm, Friday August 20th

Greg has fought his way to Wanstead, through sweaty throngs of Friday evening commuters on the Central Line. Now, he is standing in what could be his new room, in the inter-war house with bay windows that he first saw three weeks ago. Then, it represented the prospect of a fresh start with Shaccara. Now this room is no more than a bolt-hole, a place to stay while he sorts his head out. He is being shown it by two guys from AD. "What about that girl you had, will she want to live here too?" Asks one of them. "Yeah, what's her name, Sharrara, or something, isn’t it?" asks the other. They sound worried about her being there.

            "Shaccara. No, she's not coming," sighs Greg. The men cheer-up at this news.

            "We live in the other bedroom," they explain.

On the way to Wanstead, Greg had been thinking about that morning's events. How could Derrick get into bed with Shaccara, without Rankin killing him? Why had Shaccara promised so earnestly to live in Wanstead with Greg, and yet be so content to sleep with Derrick? Greg had struggled with these questions. Eventually, he had formulated the idea that Derrick must be much higher up his social hierarchy than he'd imagined. High enough to insist upon sleeping with Rankin's girl right under Rankin’s nose, high enough to render Shaccara’s note to Greg worthless. Maybe Rankin didn’t care? Maybe Shaccara was a bit of fluff that these men passed around between them, like a joint.

Greg finds it odd that his two male landlords live in the same bedroom as each other, but this is the least of his concerns. He takes the other room anyway - he has no choice. He cannot face another night outdoors. He needs a shave and he thinks his clothes are getting smelly. Moreover, he cannot live in Turbot any longer- it is too dangerous. He must move away from Stockwell, Turbot , Derrick and Shaccara for good. He is not sure who he can trust any more. But he must travel back to Turbot one last time to pick-up his few spare clothes, and his telly. He cannot leave the telly there, Madge gave it to him.

            He sits on the bed in his new room, waiting for late evening, so that he can skip-through the ticket barriers on the tube without paying. He has no money. He feels lonely and hungry. It reminds him of how he felt when he first came to London- when he sat in his new room in Turbot, all alone. Only this time things are even worse- one by one his new friends have deserted him. Olly, Derrick, Leomi, and poor Nadia, though of course this was hardly her fault. His head spins. He wonders, if he had never come to London, would Nadia still be alive? Was there a chain of events, that had led to her murder? Was he part of that chain? If he had stayed-put in Bury, the chain would not have been completed, and Nadia might have lived? He feels tired. His eyes start to shut. But whenever his eyes close a grotesque image of a bloody knife appears. Greg lies back on the bed, groans, and falls into a deep sleep. At about 10.00 pm he is awoken by his landlords, who are in his room. They fuss around him, mopping his brow and telling him that he must be ill, and that he should let them take care of him tonight. He eventually persuades them that he is well enough to be allowed out of their care, and heads off to Turbot for the last time.

When Greg arrives at Turbot, there are no policemen waiting outside. Inside, all seems quiet. He decides it is safe to go upstairs. There are four little bedrooms upstairs in Turbot, the rooms that were once inhabited by Olly, Zepp, Bollocky and Greg respectively. Of these, only Olly’s has any form of security- a padlock and chain arrangement that someone has installed some time after Olly moved-out of Turbot. As he walks past to get to his own room, Greg sees that Olly’s room is locked as usual. Except it isn’t. The padlock has been very carefully placed back on its chain to make it look as though it is locked, but the padlock is not clicked-shut. Greg doesn’t notice this.

Greg enters his room, and sees that the outfit of Nadia’s clothes is still lying on his bed, exactly as it had yesterday. Greg finds this surprising; he thought that the police would have taken it away for evidence. He suddenly has the idea that his prognosis would be a lot better if this outfit did not exist. Some one had placed it on his bed, presumably to incriminate him. If he could make it is disappear, so would this danger of incrimination.

Meanwhile, in Olly’s room, a man in a balaclava sits in the dark. He is sitting on the floor. He is not sitting on the ancient bed, because it creaks and he does not want to make any sound. He has a knife in his hand, not a kitchen knife this time, but a sturdy dagger. He wants this killing to be efficient. It was too slow and messy last time. But he must be patient and wait quietly for the optimum moment to strike. He has been waiting in the room in that balaclava a long time. When he had donned it he had felt like The Jackal, but now he just feels hot.

There is an old tin waste paper bin in Greg’s room- an ideal incinerator, thinks Greg. He stuffs Nadia’s clothes in the bin, but realises he has no matches to start the fire. He thinks there are some in the kitchen. He makes his way out onto the landing. The man in the balaclava hears him and springs to his feet, in readiness to pounce on Greg as he passes-by. But Greg doesn’t pass-by. He has remembered that there are some matches in his room- he had used them to light a candle there some time ago (he had been trying to introduce some romance into his sex sessions with Leomi). Greg goes back into his room, finds these matches and sets light to the contents of the bin. He checks that the clothes are well-alight, and prepares to leave his room. Then he decides to take one last look around his room, to make sure he has not left anything behind. Of course- the telly- he must take he telly! But what’s this? The blaze in the bin has become fierce and has spread to the old carpet on the bedroom floor! He must put the fire out! Greg stamps at it, but the fire attaches itself to his shoe. Greg starts to panic and kicks at the bed with his burning foot. This stops the fire on his foot, but the fire has transferred to his bed. So, now the bin, the carpet and his bed are alight.

The man in the balaclava is getting impatient: why is Greg taking so long in his room? If only the police had arrested Greg as he had suggested, then he would not have to go to the trouble of killing him. But the police had been incompetent- they had failed to arrest him or take any notice of the ‘evidence’ that had been helpfully laid-out on Greg’s bed. So now it was up to him to punish Greg. But he must be patient, and wait for Greg to come back down the landing. Then he will strike.

Greg realises that the fire is now out of control. The flames are reaching up to his chest, and are blocking his exit. He wonders what to do, and as he wonders, the fire gets even worse. Now, bad, black fumes are coming and making it difficult for him to breathe. He opens the sash window. He is glad he chipped-away that paint back in April! He looks down from the window: its not too far to the ground, and there are little ledges and shapes that stick out here and there that give him a chance of climbing-down.

The man in the balaclava’s patience has run-out. Furthermore, he has noticed a burning smell- too strong to be the aroma of a distant garden bonfire that you might expect on a late summer evening. It is time for him to take control of the situation. He flings open the bedroom door and is ready to burst into Greg’s room…….but finds that the entire landing is ablaze!

By now a crowd of spectators has gathered outside Turbot. Most of them have never seen a ‘real’ fire before and are impressed by how much heat and noise it generates. They make ‘ooooh’ and ‘aaaah’ noises every time another part of the house bursts into flame. It is like a grotesque firework display.

Suddenly, a boy with sticky-up hair appears from a bedroom window. He starts to climb-out, then dangles from the ledge by his finger-tips. His legs are thrashing around, desperately trying to find the ledge he had spotted a moment ago. Some passers-by stop to stare. His grip is beginning to give way. Just at that moment when his finger-tips slide from the window sill, his feet find something solid under them. Then he grabs the drainpipe, but it is old and rusty, and his body weight starts to rip it from the wall. Eventually, he and the rusty drainpipe fall to the ground in an untidy heap.

By the time the fire engines arrive, the whole of Turbot is alight. The fireman try to establish if the house is empty.

            “Anyone in there?” they scream at the crowd. There is tension on the firemen’s faces- they can see this is a really bad fire and they need to know whether they are going to have to risk their lives by entering the building.

            “Don’t think anyone lives there mate” replies one of the crowd.

            “Naah, that boy with the funny hair lives there, but someone said he jumped out,” says another.

            “Jumped out? From upstairs?” The fireman sounds surprised and looks up at the window sill. “Where’s he gone then?” he shouts. Someone says he thought he saw him run-off.

            The firemen decide that there is no-one left in the house, so they do not enter.

Greg is dazed and confused. He is surprised that he still alive. He feels strangely weightless and pain free, not what he had expected at all, after such an incident. He has the vague sensation of heading off towards Wanstead, but it has all gone very cloudy.

On 25th August 1976, Madge receives this typed letter from Greg:

"Dear Madge,

I (Greg) have to tell you that I have moved out of Turbot. I had no choice really – as it (ie Turbot) is now a charred ruin (!!) due to an unexpected escalation of a fire in my bedroom. Nobody was badly hurt (fortunately) though I did incur cuts and bruises as I jumped from the (upstairs) window. The telly, sadly, was (badly hurt) (in the fire).

Madge, I am having to be very secret about my new address. I do not even trust the Royal Mail. Suffice to say that it (my new address) is in Wanstead, and that I will tell you it (my new address) as soon as I can. The reason for this secrecy is that I was, er, kind of responsible for the fire (in Turbot). The police, I gather, are trying to ascretain who started it (the fire). Furthermore, I am avoiding various other unpleasantries that have occurred in the Stockwell/Brixton end of London.

By contrast (to Stockwell/Brixton), Wanstead is on the north-east fringes of London- a different world altogether (to Stockwell/Brixton). In Wanstead there are trees and grass verges and front gardens and pavements without litter and bubblegum and spit. But I sometimes have to travel back (to the centre of London) to work- yes I am now writing more and more for AD! There are a lot of gigs to go to, and I often have to attend the office (of AD) in Long Acre (near Piccadilly) (in the centre of London). There is a lot “happening” (in music) nowadays, what with punk. But AD reckons that reggae will be the next big thing. That is why they (AD) are sending me to the Carnival (Notting Hill) on 30th (of August). Perhaps you will be able to meet me there?

Love Greg"

As soon as Madge receives this letter, her mind starts racing. At first, she thinks she must go to find him, forthwith. He must be in so much danger! A fire – how did it start? The police; cuts and bruises; ‘Various other unpleasantries.’ And the manner of his writing: how odd it was for him to add explanations in brackets after each clause- not Greg’s style. After a while she calms down, a little. She remembers that finding Greg in London will be more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack. She can narrow her search to just Wanstead, but just Wanstead on its own is big enough. So she must wait for Greg to write to her again. It will be a test of her nerve. Soon it will be September and she will back at school for her ‘O’ level year. Then, it will become most difficult for her to break-away and come to London.

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