by Brixton Key
Andy Divine was tinsy. Tinsy ain’t the word for it. I could’ve popped him in my Coca-cola bottle for a swim, and missed hittin’ him with me striped straw. We first met during the Christmas holidays, 1964. The L’Auberge Café, where all the Richmond Mods hung out. I was meeting one of his brothers. It was snowing. He shouted over the slush. Drowned out the jukebox. Louder than the Who. “Oy! Brixton, I know you.” I looked around. Three days home from boarding school. I hadn’t slept yet. I was pep-pilled. Fantastically blocked. For months I’d been locked away in buggery doo dah land. I was deliciously delirious. I was hearing voices. I was free. Touching reality.
Anyway, anyhow, I saw him peaking over his book strewn table, a Black Russian Sobraine cigarette dangling out his lip. Carnaby street gear. Perfect hair. I’d never seen a bloke so angelic, so pretty. He was notating the margins of a philosophy book in solid gold Parker pen ink. He was fourteen, the youngest of thirteen bothers. My Mum had told me all about the Divines. She needn’t’ve. They were a veritable crime wave. They were always in the newspapers. They were our new neighbours on the eleventh floor of the tower block on the council estate where we lived.
“Take a load off,” he said.
I was about to, anyway. His was the only empty table in the joint. When a Mod loomed in to join us, a flick knife shot into Andy’s hand, it looked like a rapier in his little mitt. The Face thought twice and moved on.
“Tiny’s always late,” he related. “Ever read Heidegger, he’s a right twat.”
“I prefer Jean-Paul Sartre,” I said, lighting a Gauloises, snug in my black oilskin mac. I was in a Parisian mood.
“I don’t much like the Frogs,” he said. “I prefer the Krauts. Nietzsche and Kant are sublime. You can’t beat the Golden Rule.”
“Then how comes you pushed that Face onwards.”
“Fuck him, Tiny needs room.”
Tiny – or Patrick, the only sensible name to call him, was six foot three and a quarter, two hundred and ninety seven pounds of pure muscle, with a brain weighing less than Andy’s nuts. He was always in and out of a jail. He weren’t domesticated. He was a right nutter. His specialty was knocking off chemist shop pharmacies for factory sealed tubs of uppers and downers. He liked pretty pills. He loved Christmas trees. He was very slow.
I was meeting Tiny to fetch three thousand Black Bombers off his hands for Shakespeare. Shakespeare was Jamaican. Known in seedy Soho as “Mr. Pill.” The Police protected him there. They had to. But moving across the rest of London with a huge amount of amphetamine was right dodgy for Shakes. He always looked up to no good. He was cheeky. He had one of them naughty faces. Not cool for him, as the rozzers love to put the “suss” on Yawdy’s. For schlepping the merchandise to his Soho pad on Dean Street above a strip club, he always tipped me two hundred and ninety-nine pills, upon delivery. Once I asked him, smoking one of his fat spliffs, for an even 300. Ten percent, right smack on the money. He said I was an Imperialist pig. I said he was cheap.
So there I was waiting on Tiny, chatting with Andy, slinking down in my chair, sipping sweet espresso, pretending I wasn’t unusually tall for a teenager.
“What do you know about gears, Brix,” Andy asked.
“I like cool gear,” I said. “I’m always well dressed.”
“Nah, gears! You know, like engines, not suits, you berk.”
“I ain’t mechanical.”
“So who is?”
“My mate, Taj Mahal, he mends motorcars.”
“Can he dismantle a lawn-mower?” Andy asked.
“Two stroke engines, of course.”
“He’s Indian? I wouldn’t trust that. Hinduism makes them a bit goody-goody, don’t it. I’m nicking lawnmower engines to speed up stolen bikes. But the fuckin’ manufacturers changed the gears on me. I don’t get it. The ponces. It ain’t fair. I’ve eight punters waitin’ for me powered bikes. I need money to invest. I like economics. It’s a breeze makin’ dosh.”
I was lost in the concept when Tiny barged into the café. He jumped the queue, ordered a triple espresso, tipped the counter girl a shilling, never paid at the register, sat down, handed me the pills in a grocery bag, squeezed his nose and said: “You’ll be pleased to know I popped a bar of soap in with the merchandise, I hate pongy people, don’t you never wash. Smelly bastards, especially you Giant,” he said sniffing at Andy. “Dad wants a word with yer, get on home and stop readin’ all them fuckin’ books, they’re ruinin’ yer head. Well, best get goin’ meself, the filth followed me.”
“The Police followed you,” I said.
“They’re sniffing you out now, son,” he laughed, downing his espresso, crushing the demitasse in his hand. As the pottery, white as the snow outside, tinkled to the table, he murmured, “I don’t like silly little cups, and I ain’t spendin’ Christmas day in the nick, sod that.”
When I got home later, with Gin and tonics to toast holiday cheer with me Mum, she let out a whoop and kissed Mr. Divine, Andy’s Dad, who’d nicely brought over a bottle of Johnny Walker Red … and Sasha, our missing cat, who looked none the worse for having been scarpered for ten days. He sat licking his whiskers on the kitchen counter.
“Some tea leaf nicked him,” Andy’s Dad told me with a scornful voice.
“Who’d steal a cat,” I said in amazement.
“Worth a lot of dosh, that little bugger, Siamese ain’t cheap.”
“Our Mr. Divine,” Mum said, “found him in the pet shop in Twickenham.”
“How,” I asked.
“My boys, George and Johnny, overheard Willie the Horse braggin’ about a little cat he’d flogged for ten bob, down the pub. They fitted the jigsaw, didn’t they, so they bundled Willie outside, burning the hairs off his hand till he squealed. His fingers was frying. I don’t like rogues picking on the nice people in our building. It don’t show no respect, do it.”
Since the Divine’s had moved into our building, you could leave yer door wide open all night. There weren’t no more burglaries, muggings of pensioners, or drunken yobs pissing pints down the stairs on their way home from the boozer. Not even a milk bottle went missing from the stoop. Our council estate, where the Police never dared enter, became safer than Buckingham Palace. Mr. Divine didn’t tolerate thievery on his patch.
All the rascals in our building became dead polite. Mr. Divine had rid the estate of nasties, although, it had become dreadful for all the nice middle class people who lived nearby. The local rag reported that crime had gone up drastically in the neighbourhood, but really it hadn’t. See, us who lived on the estate just nicked back things from them who’d stolen them off us, taking a toaster or an electric kettle to settle up the bother. A bit of swiggish. We never called the Police. Why? They never came for the likes of us. But, for the bourgeoisie they did, nice people like reporting crimes. Seeing policemen makes them feel safe, it gives us on the estate the willies.
“So you met my Andy,” Mr. Divine said. “He’s a smart boy like you. You should see his library; he’s nicked thousands of books.”
Now, I knew why I could never find anything to read at the library, all their worthwhile texts were sequestered away in Andy’s room next door.
“He’s a pretty little bugger, ain’t he?” Mr. Divine said smiling. “I always wanted a girl. After twelve boys, I didn’t want another poxy prick to box around.”
I lost touch with Andy over the years, what with always being on the road with bands. I’d moved Mum out of the council estate when the Divine boys were locked away for good. Then, the day before Christmas Eve, 1972, I saw Andy running down the steps of the Old Bailey, the High Court in London, one step ahead of the press cameras to clamber into the back seat of a Rolls Royce. “C’mon, get in,” he shouted at me, “time for champagne.”
Then it popped … He was mister Ponzi scheme himself… “Think Big” was his bank’s slogan… “Only the little banks will take care of you…Together we’ll make Britain great again.”
He’d ripped off half the country … the headlines were taller than him … his board of directors was impeccable, Lord and politicians, who’d let him slip through the Law… England weren’t big enough to contain Andy.