by Brindley Hallam Dennis
Little Billy Grough lived with his Grandda, Old Bill Grough, his Da, William Grough and his ma, Nanny Grough, in a tower block beside the main road. They lived right next to the roundabout, where the dual carriageway into town crossed the dual carriageway round it. The Owld Goat pub was on the opposite side. To get to it the three Billy Groughs had to turn left, and walk to the traffic lights, where they crossed the first dual carriageway, and then round to the next set of traffic lights, where they crossed the second one. Or, they could turn right and walk to the traffic lights, where they crossed the first dual carriageway, and then round to the next set of traffic lights, where they crossed the second one. Either way it was a good half mile trip, which was too much for Little Billy Grough, because he was a lazy good-for-nothing; too much for Old Bill Grough, because he had a weak heart and a horn-handled walking stick, and too much for William Grough, because his beer belly weighed as much as two suitcases packed for a fortnight in Torremolinas. In fact, the three Billy Groughs thought it was so far that they called it ‘a trip round the world’ whenever they suggested going to the Owld Goat. Do you fancy a trip round the world, Da Grough would say to Grandda Grough? Aye, why not, the old man would answer, reaching for his horn-handled walking stick, and shouting down the corridor, ‘we’re off for a trip round the world, Billy. Are you coming?’
None of them was in the least fit enough for vaulting the safety barriers and scooting across the blacktop in between the traffic. There had been talk of putting in a bridge across the top of the roundabout, but that would have meant such a lot of zig-zagging ramps and steps that by the time you’d climbed to the top of it, and clambered down the other side, you might as well have walked round on the flat. There was a third way: a subway that dived down narrow concrete steps from each of the four quarters of the roundabout into dark and narrow tunnels that met in the middle, at a gloomy confluence where three of the four oblong plastic panels of light had been extinguished by violence, and not replaced, and the fourth had been defaced in black felt tip with the word Khazi, in capital letters, which a dull yellow glow highlighted. The smell that emanated from that direction suggested that some people thought it was a public information sign. Nobody in their right mind would choose that third way, unless at the uttermost end of need, to steal a phrase.
Now the Owld Goat pub was a lively place. Karaoke on Monday, lap-dancing on Tuesday, quiz night on Wednesday, poetry readings on Thursday, heavy drinking on Friday and Saturday, and Big Screen Sport on Sunday. The night that the Three Billy Groughs had to take the subway route home was Games Night. Little Billy Grough was playing some computer animation, with fast cars and a roaring soundtrack. Old Bill, Grandda Grough, was playing five-card stud with a sharp from doon sooth, and William, Da Grough, was playing the slot machines and searching for cherries, while the joke box played Show Me The Way To a Morello. Little Billy was so engrossed in his game that he forgot the time, and he’d left his mobile phone at home, which meant that all of a sudden he realised he’d only got about five minutes left before the curfew ran out on his Court Order, and if he wasn’t home by the time that happened he would be in big trouble, not least with Nanny Grough.
Well, he dashed out of the Owld Goat and onto the street and stood there wondering whether to turn left or right. It was hopeless. There was no way he could get home in time. The concrete steps of the subway waited before him, like an open grave. Little Billy Grough took a deep breath, and plunged down into the darkness. Clack-clack, clack-clack, his segs clattered on the concrete as he descended. In the middle he paused. A shadow loomed out of the dim yellow glow where the last light still burned.
‘Who do you think you are, trotting through ma tunnel?’ boomed the voice of a black shadow in the darkness.
‘I’m Little Billy Grough, on me way home,’ Billy answered.
‘Aye? Well gie us yer mobile phone then, and be off with you.’
‘I haven’t got me mobile,’ Little Billy wailed, and then he lifted his foot, and pulled up the leg of his jeans a little, to reveal an unnatural looking bump beneath his pink ankle sock. It was something wrapped in foil that he’d bought in the gents, and I don’t think it was a Durex. ‘I’m wearing an electronic tag though,’ he said, ‘and if I’m not home in thirty seconds I’ll be in breach of my Probation Order, and there’ll be cops swarming all over this place.’ The black shadow shrank back. Little Billy pressed home his advantage. ‘You want to see Grandda Grough. He’ll be down in a while, and he drew his pension today!’
‘Aye? Away oot o’ ma tunnel wi’ yer tag, then,’ the shadow said, and Little Billy went. Old Bill, Grandda Grough would never come this way anyway, he thought.
A few minutes later Grandda Grough came out of the pub, too, and when the cold air hit him he knew he’d just have to go and take a leak, pretty darned quick. There was no way he’d get all round the roundabout without having an accident, and he daredn’t go back inside, for the sharp from doon sooth was just at that moment hearing from the landlord that no, you didn’t spell Rolex r-o-l-e-c-k-s, which is what it said on the wristwatch Old Bill Grough had passed over to cover his losses.
There was nothing for it. Old Bill, Grandda Grough took the steep cold steps down into the subway. Slap-slap, click, slap-slap, click. He had his slippers on, you see, and his horn-handled walking stick. Well, when he got to the centre he stopped, too, and what with the smell wondered if he might take a wetty, up against the wall, as he’d not be the first, by a long chalk. Just then the dark shadow flowed out of the right hand tunnel into the light.
‘Who do you think you are, trotting through ma tunnel?’ boomed the voice.
‘I’m Old Bill Grough,’ Grandda said, grabbing something he always wore round his neck, and just as the dark shadow was going to tell him to hand over his pension, he butted in with, ‘and this is my alarm. I’ve got a weak heart, and if I press this button we’ll have emergency services, police, fire, ambulance, all over the place before you can say cardiac arrest!’ And the shadow shrank back against the wall.
‘You want to speak to my son,’ Grandda told him, ‘William Grough. He’ll be along soon,’ although of course, he thought he wouldn’t, ‘and he’s just cashed his Giro today.’
Well, the dark shadow liked the sound of that Giro.
‘Aye? Away oot o’ ma tunnel wi’ yer alarm,’ he said, and Grandda went.
When he finally rolled out at closing time, William Grough thought he’d had the best night of his life. He’d cleaned out every machine in the place, and even after buying everyone a drink, and some maybe more than one, he still had an enormous bag of pound coins and two pounds coins and fifty pences and tens and twenties and all manner of small change. Why, it must have weighed more than half a stone. He was damned if he was going to carry that all the way round the roundabout through two sets of traffic lights. So, taking a deep breath, he set off down the hard concrete steps into the blackness of the subway. Clack, clump, chink. Clack, clump, chink. He had to take it steady, you know, one step at a time.
And when he got to the middle, the shadow greeted him.
‘Who do you think you are, trotting through ma tunnel? I’ll have your Giro money, or your life,’ the shadow said, having got a bit irritated with what had gone on before.
‘Will you now?’ said William Grough, all fired up too. And he swung that bag of coin high up above his head and brought it crashing down, kerchung-kle! right dead centre on the skull of the would-be mugger. Well, that dark shadow was shivered from thorax to coccyx. He had a half a dozen vertebrae compressed, and as many discs shot out like Pontefract cakes from between them. His voice box was so squashed, that whenever he spoke afterwards, he sounded like a little billy-goat. He turned on his shadowy heel and walked off with stiff legs, like a man who has emptied the contents of his bowels into his underpants, and vanished into the darkness of the tunnel.
William, Da Grough took his winnings home, and poured them out on the kitchen table, and shared them with all the family, even with Nanny Grough, and none of the Three Billy Groughs bothered to take a trip around the world, to get to the Owld Goat, ever again!