I jumped on the Barking Bullet at the Oak – not at the platform but the bridge over the old town wall – where it slowed down to let a goods train with 48 empty Maersk containers and keening breaks rumble off the line of love in to the permanently wifi-disabled Tottenham North Curve. I made sure to touch in and out at Stratford keeping all my belongings with me at all times on a platform sticky with fake tans and sliponned man-bags slinking off to watch the football. I was still trying to figure out what they were doing in the Safety Matters blimp which had passed over the terminus earlier. First it was helicopters, now Zeppelins. Everything seemed to be moving backwards. I’d forgotten my library password too. I wasn’t looking forward to a grilling – or possible rendition to Chelmsford in a padlocked sports bag. When did you say you joined the library, Mr. Davies?
It was a relief to get in to the forest. Plus I had a fruit and nut chocolate bar and a flask of … But you don’t need to know this … or any of the dreary details. Not how the streams were running bright orange with soil in suspension or how fossil meanders in Loudtown Brook had been pressed back in to service and all the forest’s juices rushing seaward like a tar heading for port with a silver guinea in his pocket and the whole of auld Limehouse in his head.
I drank my tea under the beech pollards of Loudtown Fort. It felt like a fish tank. I’d picked over the bones and frass of my comrades and soon, I supposed, I would eat my own fins and float – like Rupert Murdoch – to the top.
But I had plans in those days. Hard to believe now but something not unlike ambition. I was young – not even fifty. I dreamt of the paths across the downs that I’d read about. There might still be a way out of Jocktown – as London had been renamed in honour of the sportsmen and women who sadly lost their lives when the meteor shower hit the Olympic Park.
I had put on weight with the steroids and exhausted myself long before I reached the terminus. It annoyed me that the city was still gridlocked – there were more people in the Nordic walking lane than the cycle lane.
But I felt safe in the Danelaw now that Micky Sebko was – I supposed – dead. A couple of years back I saw a young hoodlum firing a BB gun at moorhen chicks in a forest pond. I asked him to stop but he didn’t and when I tried to wrestle the gun off him it went off. It sent a lead pellet up his nostril at 150m a second. Accidents will happen. To be fair his mother said she didn’t notice that much difference. It came to court about a year later and I successfully pleaded self-defence. But the law wasn’t the problem. The problem was his dad, the notorious gangster, Micky Sebko.
The Sebko clan took their name from Mayor Sebko the first mayor after the meteor storm. He had missed the opening ceremony because of a hangover. The storm removed the whole political elite in one go – and that of several other countries besides. In the elections that followed Sebko was the only candidate. Now, like the Kaiser and Charles II almost every family in Jocktown claimed to be descended from Mayor Sebko through one or other of his numerous bastard progeny.
Micky Sebko wanted me dead and on the advice of the police I became Dicky Davies. I didn’t like the name much, but there we are. It sounded neutral enough. Plus we’d got an asbo on Mr Sebko to stay west of the Lea so I felt safe in the forest and often came here to chillax when my work at the museum became too stressful.
I drained the dregs of my tea and set off in the direction of High Beach. Suddenly I saw out the corner of my eye something move in a tree. It was only a kids playing rope – looking again I could see the dip of a small stream under it.
Then I saw that it had a noose on the end of it and moreover somebody was sitting in the tree above it tying the other end to the branch he was sitting on.
“Mate, you’ll feel better about it in the morning … give yourself a second chance … every little helps … ” He eyed me nervously. “Don’t do it.”
I felt a stabbing pain in the small of my back like having the tube of a pistol rammed into it. It was in fact exactly that. The goon on the other end of it was Micky Sebko.
“He ain’t going to, darling. You are.”
“Wait, you got the wrong man, Micky, honest!”
“That moustache isn’t even passing real.” He tore at it viciously. It hurt like hell.
“Don’t signify … tie her up Billy …” he said to the goon who by now had climbed down from the tree. Billy (why are cruel and slow henchmen always called Billy?) tied my hands behind my back and put my head in the noose. He gestured me to stand on the soap box.
“Wait Micky, if I’ve got to die … please let me say a prayer for all the animals and the flowers that have already disappeared from the forest. Perhaps before I die I can bring them momentarily back to life by calling their names …
I doubted Micky would have heard of the Scheherazade caper.
“The woolly mammoth …”
“Don’t take the piss. You can start in,” he looked at his watch, “the nineteenth century.”
“Red squirrel and otter … pine-marten, polecat. Then the badger and the hare. Fox and rabbit. Stoats and weasels and mice and voles and shrews and dormice. There were roe deer too and lizards. More snakes than you could shake a stick at. The hobby was a regular visitor with its ki ki ki ki. Buzzards and merlins. Red backed shrike – butcher birds – tree pipit, kingfisher, heron, nightjar – all, all gone. You can walk the length of the forest today and see perhaps one magpie and consider yourself lucky. And you can forget about flowers. Oh but there were a million bluebells at one time. Anemones and cowslips and primroses. Now the crowns of the trees dark the sun. Orchids are there none. Sundew smashed to pieces. Nay heather, nay harebell. Sometimes it feels like a cemetery. The orange rides graveyard paths. Bike tracks through Hades.”
“You’ve forgotten one,” said Micky, “Your sort always do.”
I racked my brains but thought the list by and large a goodun’, if exaggerated for oratorical effect.
“Dicky fucking Davies.” He kicked the box away and I lost consciousness.