Monthly Archives: June 2013

Please tender exact fare – On the night bus – 16


It is Lees’ last stand and he knows with a wave of his hand, a shrug of his shoulder, he can make it all go away, make it better, but something inside him has cracked open and he cannot back down.

Stand off.

He turns off the engine, hears the hiss of the airbrakes and stares at the would be passenger.

Mid 20s, jeans hanging off his narrow hips, Primark pants on display for everyone to see, Lee wants to say “Just pull you bloody trousers up”, but instead, he smiles, a forced company policy smile and says again
“that’ll be £2.50 mate”.

There is a pause, the man doesn’t speak, doesn’t move his hand towards his pocket, doesn’t step back off the bus, doesn’t actually do anything.

The other passengers have begun to register that something is happening, eyes are lifted from phones, conversations stop, necks turn to get a better look at the front of the bus.

Lee stretches his hand out
“Pay the fare mate, we’re going nowhere till you pay up”

The man looks directly at Lee and then slowly, deliberately spits on the floor and then walks down the bus and sits on the first empty seats, there is a beat, a pause and then he leans back, lifts his feet in impossibly over -sized ugly trainers and reaches into jeans, pulls out a battered packet of budget cigarettes and lights one.

And it is at this point, that Lee recognizes exactly how angry he is and it’s not just this no-mark yobbo, it’s months and years of the vomiters and the drunks and the mad and the simply rude. It’s all the passengers who don’t even see him, don’t even notice that there’s a man, a real person driving the bloody night bus.

He opens the little door that separates the driver from the punters , enters into the body of the bus, is aware of the passengers looking at him and then, with a voice tight with years of suppressed anger, he shouts down the aisle
“This bus is going no-where, until he” and he jabs the air with his finger ” until he pays the bloody fare”.

All over the bus, passengers are turning to each-other, a Mexican wave of questions and answers.

A woman, her face grey with fatigue, a regular, works at one of the big hotels down west, looks up at Lee
“Come on man, I need to get home, need to get my kids up for school”

And it would be so easy to turn around, climb back onto the drivers’ seat, turn on the engine and finish the shift and Lee is not a brave man, knows that he will get into all kinds of shit for this, this last stand, but he doesn’t, he just continues to stand, staring down the bus, watching the man finish his smoke and then carefully stub the cigarette end onto the fabric of the seat in front of him.

All over the bus, there are mutterings, side ways glances at the smoker. No-body seems to want to take him on. Everybody has the big city don’t get involved look, Lee is a much easier target.

There is a chorus of “Come on driver, just drive the bloody bus”, Lee lets it wash over him, never stops staring at the fare dodger, holding him in his gaze.

There is a pause, a couple of passengers, girls in teeny clothes, make up slipping after a heavy club night, stand up, start down the bus, talking about finding a cab. Their voices, self assured, loud, borderline posh, cut through the background low grade moaning. They push pass Lee
“Saddo” says the taller one and then they are through the open door and into the night.
Their shouts of “Taxi, Taxi” float back, blurred by the rain hammering on the pavement.

The rest of the passengers sit, listening to the storm, conscious of the weather and all to aware of the cost of a cab at this time of night.

Standoff.

Another pause, a man, uniformed, security guard, night porter, something minimum wage, looks at Lee, shrugs tiredly
“I’ll pay his sodding fare then” and he is fumbling in his pocket for the right change.

But Lee, surprising even himself, shakes his head
“Nah mate, he’s gotta pay it himself” and even as he says it, he understands the truth in the sentence.

The other passengers are waiting, waiting for some resolution, waiting for Lee to back down, become invisible again.

He takes a deep breath, turns back to the cab, reaches for his jacket, extracts a cigarette and against all company rules, lights it, inhales, exhales and by chance blows two perfect smoke rings and then he steps off the bus.

The rain, heavy summer rain soaks him almost immediately.

It is completely refreshing.

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Everything in the garden is lovely


Well, it’s not experimental fiction, but the garden is a vision even without a pithy line or two.

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Here be dragons – On the Night bus – 15


It is the scale of this city that terrifies her, everything is simply too much, too large, too loud.

Lost on a daily, hourly basis, she buys a little book of street maps and carefully, painstakingly, she draws a line between home and the office she travels to every day. Plans her route and remembering Year 8 geography, she chooses a colour – shocking pink, and goes over the faint pencil line, giving a neon excitement to this daily task and then, using her bank card in place of a ruler, draws a little key box, a gash of pink within it and the code – “route to work”.

This is the only journey she dares to take and is reduced to food shopping in Marks and Spencers, the only grocery shop, whose signage she recognises.
The cat is delighted and embraces gourmet cat food, she stares in disbelief at 2 perfect jacket potatoes, already sliced and filled with grated cheese and instead fill up on sell by date bread and victoria sponges.

One Thursday, 2 weeks after her move to the big city and greatly daring, she tries a left and left and left combo, adds another square of walking onto her journey and discovers a cut price supermarket and a little street market.

A home she carefully colors in this new discovery, a line of cheerful leaf green and in the key “food shopping”

The pink and green lines follow each other on the street map, separate out and then come together for the final 15 minutes home.

Whenever she feels overwhelmed by issues of scale, she runs her forefinger along the routes, her routes and feel comforted.

She thinks about the maps she has drawn, her village, a straight line, the road that ends at the sea, a green box for the pub, yellow for the Spar shop, grey little lines for the 20 houses that make up the 2 roads that are not the in/out road.

The crofts, a blank triangle to represent the hills and then neatly ruled squares, no addresses, just a name, crofter, school friend.

Her school, 43 pupils, 3 classrooms, a playground that runs down to the beach. She drew each of the children, represented them as a circle and took care to place them realistically, accurately within the plan of the school itself.

A week later, she makes another discovery, right, and right and right take her to a swimming pool,a pet shop and a tiny park, this line is colored blue – “swimming and cat treats”

She considers swimming in the pool, it is large, noisy and always full.
The sea at home is cold, but as children they became used to it and as she grew older she learnt to love the physical shock, body wincing as the water hits the stomach and that breath taking moment of total immersion.

She is not sure if the pool will recreate this.

She begins to relax a little, her map book starts to look busy, three routes, all day to day needs dealt with, there is no need to learn more, not yet.

She begins to talk to her new colleagues and tries not to show her puzzlement when they talk about “going into town”, surely a place with supermarkets, Cafe Nero, swimming pools and a pet shop is town.

She agrees to go downtown and their journey takes her far beyond the pink, green, blue threads that keep her safe, bind her to this neighborhood, without their familiar patterns, well trodden routes she feels lost, spins in unknowable geography.

But, it is downtown where she meets the night buses and where she confounds her colleagues with her ability to drink them all under the table. A skill honed in a place where it is dark at 3 pm in winter and the cinema visits once a month in the back of a coach.

Out of the corner of her eye, she watches how these girls navigate the streets, fill the pavements with noise and presence, she, gathers a little of what they have and moves out a little, not hugging the buildings anymore.

But, the night bus station is somehow magical, all these buses, with place names she has never heard, doesn’t recognize and all heading out, into the night, into the darkness.

When she finally gets home that night, she draws another line into her map book, a black line and labels it in careful printing, her best handwriting “The way home”

She lies awake for a long time, her finger tracing the route the bus had taken.

It is almost as comforting as the noise of sea on shingle on the shore behind the 20 grey houses on the two roads that are not the in/out road.

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Rubiesandduels gets out and about….


So here is rubiesandduels reading What would Elvis do? From the night bus series @ Piiing in Leicester.

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The Blurs’ last job – Part 3


Reprise, for those coming to this late…..

Serge “the blur” D’erbeville and Harry “madman” Yorke, have put together one last job, the theft of almost half a million pounds in wages and other money from the back office of their old peoples’ care home.
They plan to escape to Acapulco and live out their few remaining days with the sun on their backs and beautiful girls on their laps.
They have brought in a younger wanna be hood – Danny boy, to provide a get away car and to help organize a diversion to pull all the care staff out of the offices so that they can simply lift the money and get away.
Serge, the best get away driver the Krays ever had, has been mentally preparing for this, his last drive and Danny boy has suggested that dropping MDMA – Ecstasy into the afternoon tea urn will be the most effective diversion.

Now read on………

Danny slams his forehead hard onto the hard plastic of the glove compartment. The pain is immediate, he feels the skin split, a trickle of blood, warm against his flesh, travels down his face and drops off his chin.

“F***, F***** F*******, MotherF*******”

This is going so terribly, gut churningly wrong, a wave of anger and horror and something else rises in him and before he can stop himself, he has balled his fist and punched the windscreen.

“F*****, S***T, W***K” – he is running out of words, there are actually no words, no language bad enough to describe what has happened, is actually still happening.

Next to him, ram rod straight, hands at exactly ten to two on the steering wheel, knuckles, mis-shapen, swollen knuckles, white, the only sign of any tension, sits Serge, his face still covered in splashes of blood and in the back seat, oxygen mask clamped to his mouth, fighting for every breath is Harry.

Danny starts swearing again,a chain of M’s and F’s and C’s, a counterpoint to Harrys’ gasps and wheezes and all the time Serge sits in silence, impassive, staring out at the deserted car park at the wrong end of a half built industrial estate.

Danny finally manages to string an almost coherent sentence together
“what the F*** did you have to do that for, what were you thinking of……the poor bloody girl” and his words tail off and as he stops speaking Serge turns, looks at him full face, no expression, no emotion, nothing.

“She got in the F** way, in our F*** way” and from the back seat, between agonizing breaths, Harry is mumbling agreement. There is suddenly nothing funny or retro or quaint about these old men and Danny realizes that he is completely out of his depth.

It all seemed to be going so well, Danny had a plan, looked at the old geezers, yeah he knew that they had been connected, were faces from way back, but for christsakes, look at them now, hardly able to walk, in an old peoples’ home. Danny most certainly had a plan which didn’t involve a three way split of the cash, but did involve another car, another driver and a sharp exit for himself and a nice long holiday on the Costa del Sol.
What were the old blokes going to do, smash his face with a walking frame.

So, he goes to see Marcus, club bunny boy and scores 100 pills, tells him he wants them for some old ravers and Marcus goes off on a back in the day, free parties, 1990s club bunny rift and Danny stands there waiting for his to finish, to run out of steam and then he pockets the little bag of white tablets, mumbles something about payment at the end of the week and before Marcus can realize that he is being royally shafted, Danny is in his motor and away.

The motor for the job is more complicated, Serge and Harry have some vision of the cars they used to drive, some time before Danny was even born and Danny has to use all his powers of persuasion to sell the idea, his idea of the camouflage car.

“It’s gotta look like an old bloke car ,nothing that will draw attention, trust me”

Which is why they spend the Saturday before the last Friday of the month in a car park on another industrial estate and why there is a loaded pause when decanting, with some difficulty, the two old men from his own motor to show them the get away car and they see his choice for the first time

“What the F**** is this piece of s***t?” Sergess’ tone is flat,betrays nothing.

Danny goes into explanation over-drive, hands and mouth moving too fast, too much

“It’s a Ford, old blokes drive a Ford, nobody will notice you, no-body will be looking for two old men in an old man car, trust me”

Serge does not trust Danny, he can see the naked greed in his eyes, can measure the calculations that Danny is making, knows that Danny is busy under-estimating them. Serge knows something that Danny doesn’t and when he thinks about it, when he is alone he cannot help but grin to himself. He may be an old wolf, but he is still a wolf.

But the car, the car is a surprise, fast, powerful, easy to handle. Serge cannot remember the last time he drove a car, but his body remembers. Hands, feet repeat movements that haven’t made in decades and he feels more alive in those moments than he has been for years.

Later, sitting in the day room, he turns to Harry
“What do you reckon?”
They are both busy ignoring the fact that Harrys’ life is shrinking, the labored breathing, the concentration of in and out and in is pushing most other stuff out, not enough space now for very many words.

Harry nods, fiddles with the oxygen feed, there’s a pause

“S’allright mate” and Serge leans back, rolls another skinny prison style cigarette.

It’s raining on Friday, has been raining since 2, 3 am, Serge knows this because he has been awake all night, rehearsing the plan in his head and running through the other plan, plan B alongside the official version of what will happen today.

At breakfast, Harry looks tense, can’t make eye contact with him and finally, pushing away an untouched plate, stands up and walks towards his bedroom ,each step careful, deliberate, the oxygen cart at his heel, bustling along beside him.

Serge lights a cigarette, but cannot smoke it, mouth too dry and stubs it out into his too watery scrambled eggs.

At 11 am, Danny arrives, all chat and banter, even managing a half hearted chat up of the Slovakian bird who does the cleaning, Serge shakes his head, her name has dislodged itself. He shrugs his shoulders, really what does it matter now.

The three of them sit on the bench that has become their bench, all of them silent, staring into space, Danny occasionally checks the time on his phone. Serge can’t help a grin, they look no different to any of the family groups dotted around the half realized planted area.

Danny leans across and palms the little plastic bag to Serge and then it is safely inside his pocket while his glance into middle distance never falters.

The next part of the plan is straightforward, Danny will drive off, Serge will, while Harry distracts the tea girls, drop the little bag of pills into the tea urn and once chaos ensues, Harry and Serge will make their way towards the back office and Danny and the get away car will be there, ready and waiting.

Serge needs to make just one phone call, needs to nip Danny’s little extra plan in the bud and needs to gather up one extra item, something that has not been discussed with Danny boy.

And everything works, there is a moment when Harrys’ diversionary tactics, a terrible coughing, wheezing and throat grabbing sound so real that Serge wonders if they have left it too late, wonders if Harry will make it through today, but then Harry looks at him, winks and for just a second or two and Serge sees him as he used to be , 1969, Kings Rd, bird on each arm and he feels a shot of something, youth perhaps, coursing through his veins and while the pinny clad girls rush to Harrys’ aid, he strolls towards the tea urn [ the tea always too weak, too milky, sweetened to a generic quality] and slips the pills inside.

He is back in his seat before anyone actually lucid has even noticed.

He checks the time on the wall mounted clock as Harry is carefully lead to a chair and the girls resume their dishing out of tepid tea and cut price biscuits. Serge is delighted to see that nearly all the staff on duty, decide the break the rules and help themselves to tea and biscuits.

Twenty minutes pass, Harry is silent, but Serge can feel the tension radiating from him, his own foot is twitching and he is trying to keep still, keep focused.

And then, things begin to slip, a couple of very old women slide out of their chairs, land in crumpled heaps on the floor and start to laugh. The staff, who have begun to talk rapidly together, take a few moments to register what has happened and seem puzzled, not sure of their roles.

Serge nods at Harry and slowly, casually, they walk out of the room as Mr Bird begins to sing, a surprisingly tuneful version of the Kinks “Waterloo Sunset”, Serge finds himself humming it as they head towards the back office.

Someone in the day room has obviously hit the panic button and off duty staff and managers are running towards them, but magically, no-body stops them, no-body challenges them.

They reach the back office and next to it, the emergency exit, the non alarmed exit, the exit the staff use when the want a cheeky fag break.

Following the plan, Serge pull down the handle on the door and as he opens it, Danny boy, face white above the steering wheel, screeches to halt on the graveled pathway.

He is out of the car and into the building in seconds. The old men seem surprisingly calm and all three of them turn and walk towards the office door, which is, as they knew it would be , unlocked.

Danny, his palm slick with sweat struggles with the door handle and it is Harry, his breathing suddenly unlaboured who opens the door and steps inside in front of the others.

The first thing that Danny sees is a table piled up with brown envelopes, wages slips, bank cash bags. The second thing he sees is the Slovakian girl, Svetlana or something, sitting at the table, punching numbers into a calculator.

There is a pause and they all stare at eachother, she is trying to make sense of what they are doing here,is beginning to stand up, her hand reaching for her phone and Danny can feel it all slipping away and out of the corner of his eye he sees Serge bend down and reach for something and then bang, he has smashed into her face with the oxygen canister and immediately blood shoots from her nose, splatters onto Serges’ face and the girl drops to the floor, screaming in agony.

Everything slows down then, Serge moves towards her, picks up the oxygen canister again and he’s bringing it down on her face and her head again and again. His face is blank, unreadable and he’s not even breathing hard and Harry is just standing there,waiting, waiting for him to finish.

And then she is silent and Serge carefully wipes the canister on her skirt and Danny will himself to not empty his guts of everything he has ever eaten in his life. The two old men have said nothing to eachother, they move towards the table, grab money bags and look at him as though nothing has happened.

But Serge has another surprise for Danny. There is no other car at the far end of the industrial estate, no other get away driver. There is just Serge and Harry and Danny and a fourth cast member, Serges’ revolver.

It’s currently sitting quietly in Serges’ lap and Danny is waiting for Serge to kill him. He has considered pleading, weeping, bargaining, but one look at Serge has made clear to him that there really is no point, so all three of them are sitting in silence, except of course for Harrys’ gasping breaths and then it dawns on Danny, they are actually sitting in silence.

It takes him a moment or two to actually process this and then, very, very slowly and very, very carefully, he turn just his head, nothing else and looks onto the back seat. Harry is completely still, completely silent, just the hiss of oxygen escaping from the mask still clamped to his face.

Danny turns his head back towards Serge, very slowly and very carefully. He breaths out
“Serge” he says “Serge,mate”, but his voice drops off as he begins to hear the only other sound in the car. Serge is singing very quietly to himself.

“The girl from Ipanema goes walking……..”

Danny rests his head back on the glove compartment, but gently this time, He can hear sirens in the distance and while he waits for what he knows will come next, he finds himself humming along with Serge.

“That when she passes, each one she passes
Goes “A-a-a-h”


Under the weather


Eagle eyed regular visitors to rubiesandduels may have noticed a drop in new content over the last couple of weeks.
I have been poorly, but am hopefully on the mend now.
Normal ( a relative term here at rubiesandduels ) will resume ASAP.

Please check out the archive for story joy.

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The Blurs’ last job – part 2


Serge wakes at midnight, swings his legs, white, veined, old mans legs, carefully onto the lino and makes the familiar, the horribly familiar journey down the corridor. There is something bubbling inside his brain, something more than the desperate need to wee and afterwards shuffling back along the walkway, resisting the urge the hold onto the grab rail, he remembers, Harry and the last job and he smiles, a toothless wolf.

Rolling a smoke, he begins to think it through, it’s not impossible, they need wheels and muscle, there’s enough money involved to buy in some help, put a team together and as he sits, waiting for sleep to creep up on him, his hands move, make the patterns of gear change, slippered feet on invisible pedals hit the accelerator, slam hard on the brakes. He is visualizing it, seeing the car speed down the gravel drive, through the gates and away.

He stands up, winces at a too eager movement and heads towards Harrys’ room. Harry is asleep and for a moment, as Serge looks down on the other old man, he feels doubt, wonders if this is just the mad fantasies of two old lags in denial that they have reached their final destination.
Harry is slow to wake, looks around confused and takes several minutes to process the fact of Serge standing above him, but finally, he sits up, collects himself while his left hand collects up teeth and glasses.

Serge is elated
“we can do this” he says “I’ve got an idea” and while all around them old people sleep and mutter and cry out and dream, Serge begins to put the job together.

“Are you fucking insane?”
Daniel looks carefully at his grandfather
“Are you actually loosing your fucking mind”,
it’s not so much a question as a statement of possible fact.

There is a pause, Harry and Serge continue to look at the lad, their faces serious and it finally sinks in, Daniel shakes his head, but cannot, does not try to, hide the grin on his face.

And suddenly, Daniel is all business, how much money, how much security, cuts, percentages, exit routes.
The three of them are sitting in the optimistically christened courtyard garden, paving slabs and a few dispirited pots of ever-green, low maintenance shrubs. What it lacks in ambiance, it makes up for in not over heardness.

Daniel is here because his grandfather told him to be or more accurately, texted him to be here and Danny, Danny boy is a good lad, nearly a face himself, got a few tasty rackets going on, fingers in lots of pies and looks up to the old man, shows respect for someone who is, was really connected, in a way that fly boy Danny can only dream of.

Serge runs through the plan again, next Friday, he, Harry and Danny will create a diversion and then, nice as pie, saunter into the back office, grab the dosh and away. All Danny has to do is to provide the motor, something with a bit of ommph, run back up and think of a diversion to pull all the staff into the lounge and bedrooms.

“Easy, peasy” say Serge and looks at Danny again and Danny can’t help it, the words just pop out of his mouth
“E’s, you need some E’s, get them all loved up, that should do it”

Serge twists on the bench, he’s not sure how he feels about drugs, doesn’t really approve, back in the day, The Twins didn’t touch drugs, left that to the coloureds. Girls, now girls were a different matter, but Serge doesn’t see how they can use girls, so he nods, approvingly.

The motor is less complicated
“Go for something solid, not too flashy, BMW, Rover”

Danny smiles, decides not to tell his grandfather about the demise of Rover, but agrees that a BMW would fit the bill, says he knows a chop shop that can locate exactly what they need, talks figures and Serge nods again.

Harry is breathing slowly, gasping with every in breath, Serge knows that he is trying to do this without the little oxygen cart, applauds the bravery and wonders if Harry can make it through another week.
The old men exchange glances and Harry leans towards Serge
“Be alright mate, just wait until we get to that beach in Acapulco” and they almost hold hands, just for second, until Danny boys’ phone rings and pings and the moment is gone.

At night, Serge drives, sitting bolt upright in bed, feet braced against the bed end, one hand on an invisible gear stick, the other feeding the movement of the steering wheel. He practices the movements again and again, feels himself become a driver again, feels himself become at one with the motor.

He is ready.

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