I rush into the first stall in the old white tiled toilet and collapse to my knees. Holding on to the bowl with both hands I feel my suit pants sop up wetness from the floor, that I think could be pee. I throw-up beer and rum. I make my way to the old chipped hand-basin and hold on. The Boy Scouts law flashes through my mind. Loyal: A Scout is true to his family and friends. I look down at my watch and it’s only forty-five minutes to closing time. I must tell my mates no pussy will ever come between us again. I stagger back through the pub and stand with me mates at the bar, but the words just won’t come. I try to put my foot on the brass-rail, but someone keeps moving it. I feel alone in the crowd and shake my head, trying to clear my alcoholic brain.
“Christ! Drink up. It’s almost last call.” I say, trying to reconnect with me mates.
“That’s right Mr. Wills and it’s your turn to buy, so get us anov’ver round.” Dave says finishing his beer in one gulp.
Suddenly, the incessant chatter in the now-packed bar drops to a whisper. I then follow everyone’s eyes towards the front door. To my horror, there stands Kurt Reichmann, the German gang leader from school. I sober up instantly.
Behind Reichmann there is a solid wall of the grizzliest cutthroats and villains that I have ever seen. Reichmann is even bigger and uglier than I remember. His neck is over half the width of his massive hunched shoulders. Even though he has the posture of an ape he is still head and shoulders above everyone else in the pub. This six-foot six, over three-hundred-pound monster still has not seen me.
“‘Er… boys!” I whisper, “Don’t look now, but Kurt Reichmann just came through the door.” I look down as I speak, hoping that the floor will open and swallow me up.
“Holy shit!” Dave says, almost without moving his lips. “What the fuck is ‘e doing ‘ere? I ‘fought ‘is local pub’s The Bell.”
“It is,” Danny whispers. “and if ‘e’s ‘ere, there’s ‘gonna be trouble.”
Ed is looking around the bar. “Why the bloody ‘ell didn’t they build a back door to this fucking place? Cause I ‘fink it’s way past me bedtime.”
Danny starts to look around as if he would suddenly find Ed’s missing back door.
“Which one of ‘yah ASSHOLES,” Reichmann bellows into the now silent bar, “put the finger on Billy ‘ere, to the bleeding Coppers?”
Billy Ratner is the one-legged hulk on crutches standing almost as tall as Reichmann, to his left. There are many stories about how he lost his leg, but no one knows for sure. Billy always plays the poor helpless cripple especially when questioned by the police about pub fights. “ ’ave a ‘eart Constable,” Billy would answer. “ ‘ow can a poor one-leg cripple, the likes of me, be involved in a fight?” The truth is, when standing wedged into a corner, Billy is a vicious fighter who swings his heavy wooden crutches and inflicts very nasty injuries. Everyone knows that to turn him in would be a death sentence.
Reichmann’s beady eyes scan the bar, unfortunately, he picks me out of the crowd.
“I don’t believe me bleeding eyes! If it ain’t the ‘eadmaster’s pet, Alan bloody Wills, the ‘ ’ead Boy. ‘Ya’re the type of bleeder what would turn Billy into the Rozzers?
I shout back to him. “School’s a long time ago Kurt. I ain’t been in Walthamstow for donkey’s years. We moved away you know.” I try not to sound nervous despite the giant butterflies beating the hell out of my stomach.
“There’s ‘ya pencil-neck, sissy mates? They always squealed on me gang in school.”
I yell back. “No, Kurt, we’ve all gone our separate ways now. This is the first time we’ve all been together for ages. Like a reunion, ‘ya know?”
“So, what about that little weasel next to ‘ya! Who’s ‘e?”
I turn to the stranger next to me. He is less than average height, but on closer inspection he looks very muscular. Plus he seems self-assured, with a determined look in his eyes. I had never seen him before.
“Dun’no who he is, Kurt. ‘Ain’t with us.”
“Ma name’s Scotty. I’m from Glasgow!”
“A bloody Jock!” Reichmann says in a very demeaning tone. “Maybe we’ll ‘ave ‘ya do a ‘ighland bloody fling or play ‘ya bagpipes.”
You can hear a pin drop as Reichmann takes a couple of steps forward.
I look up at the ceiling and say a silent prayer. God don’t let this little Jock defy Reichmann. You of all people know that Scots have a reputation of being hardheads.
“Get outta me way you big oafs!” A woman’s voice shouts from the front door.
Again, I look up at the ceiling. Excuse me God, you sent a woman? I ask silently
As she pushes her way through his gang, we can see that she is wearing the navy-blue Salvation Army uniform. This poor little gray-haired dove surely doesn’t realize that she is landing in the middle of a potential battlefield.
“I’ve never heard this den of iniquity so quiet. What’s going on?” she asks.
“None of ‘ya fucking business,” Reichmann growls.
“‘Ya watch ‘ya filthy tongue, ‘ya big moose.” she says, facing Reichmann.
“Look lady, do’ya mind! We’re in the middle of a bloody inquisition. So why don’t ‘ya go on ‘ya merry way and push God at the next boozer down the road?”
“God’s work is far more important than whatever mischief you’re about.” She says, then she shakes her tambourine then holds it out in front of Reichmann. “A donation please?”
“Get the fuck out of here, ‘ya fucking bible junky, before me gang throws ‘ya’re ass out,” Reichmann pushes her to one side with a swat of his left hand. She falls back held up by a couple of gang members.
She takes the few steps to be back in front of him “You might bully little people, mister, but you can’t bully God!” Again, she thrusts her tambourine at him, this time, it hits his bulbous belly.
The crowd lets out an “Oh” then waits for the inevitable.
“Look lady, I’m Kurt Reichmann. I’m sure you’ve ‘eard of me.”
“No, can’t say I have. I’m Gladys Little, glad to meet ‘ya! Now, how about a little something for the Lord’s work?” Again, she shakes the tambourine, then taps it twice on Reichmann’s obese belly.
An “Ooooo” goes through the bar.
“That does it, lady. You just pushed ‘ya luck too bloody far! OK, boys, throw this old bible-bashing-bitch out in the street.”
Four of his thugs pick up this poor little Salvation Army lady by her arms and legs.
With one exception, none of the pub patrons lift a finger to save her. The wiry Scot leaps to within a couple of feet of Reichmann.
“You’ll have ‘ya men unhand the wee lass, Mr. Reichmann!”
“You must be off ‘ya ‘ead,” Reichmann chuckles. “One of ‘ya …” he points to his gang. “This ‘ere little Scot’s fly, what just landed ‘ere, needs swatting!”
“Do nee move! Not a one of ‘ya, or I’ll be forced to put a bad hurt on ‘ya boss.” The Scot’s eyes narrow as he stares up at Reichmann’s massive head.
“You! Ya’re going to ‘urt me?” Reichmann laughs heartily with his hands holding his big stomach. His gang follows suit and breaks into roars of laughter.
Without a word, the Scot jumps into the air, and with a loud thud his forehead smashes Reichmann’s forehead, much the same way a football player powerfully heads the ball. The giant falls like a rock to the floor, knocked out cold. The four thugs instantly drop the Salvation Army lady on to the floor and join the other gang members around Reichmann. Slowly he comes to. Shaking his head, he shouts, “Get that little bastard!”
The Scot’s courage must have touched all the local lads the way it inspired me. Without a word we all leap on Reichmann’s gang and the onslaught begins. All around me I hear the painful sound of fists pounding flesh. I block a punch from a gang member, grab his hair and smash his nose on to my up-thrusting knee. His blood splatters over my trousers and he hits the floor holding his face. Out of the corner of my eye I see Dave jump clear as a wooden table is over-turned by one of Reichmann’s thugs. Dave then demolishes a wooden chair across his head, and he is out for the count. Blood splatters everywhere; bottles fly through the air and smash against walls. I see Danny duck a punch then raise his head and poked his fingers into the gang-members eyes, and the thug screams out in pain. Looking around for Ed, I block another punch. The public bar is filled with fighters, with fists missing and connecting, heads ducking and weaving. I then see Ed hiding under a table, I smile, maybe he is the smart one, I think.
“Scotty, look out!” I yell. “Reichmann has a blade.” With the precision of a goalkeeper, he kicks up, and the knife flies from Reichmann’s hand up into the air, Miraculously, Scotty catches it and lunges at Reichmann, ripping open a gash the full length of his right inner arm. Blood squirts all over fighters next to him.
“Christ! ‘e’s cut me bad,” Reichmann screams. Holding his wounded arm to his chest blood covers his huge belly. He makes for the door, closely followed by his gang.
The four of us lift Scotty, our hero, on our shoulders high above the battered and bruised crowd. The cheers are deafening, as we step carefully over debris in what looks like a war zone, and circle the public bar holding Scotty high, to the cheers of the crowd
All the locals help clean up the mess and we pass the hat around to pay for the damage. In return the Governor buys everyone a beer. Dave, Danny, Ed, Scotty and me close The White Swan with the much-needed last beer at the bar. Scotty, we discover, is a famous football player. He is in London to play in the England v Scotland cup match. He had come to Walthamstow to meet an old army mate at The Swan.
“Laddies, us Scots have mighty hard heads in more ways than one, as your Mr. Reichmann can surely attest!” Are his parting words as he walks toward the front door, to the cheers of us all. Just then Scotty’s army friend comes through the door, and asks “Scotty why are they cheering you?”
“Auk, I just straightened out the David and Goliath story with these Londoners. They did’nee know that David was a Scots soccer player.”
During Sunday lunchtime, at the Swan, we learn that due to police warrants Reichmann was unable to go to the hospital Friday night. Many eyewitnesses swore they saw him sew the long knife wound to his inner arm himself, using an ordinary needle and thread from a sewing kit, which luckily a woman outside the pub had in her handbag.
By Alan Wills
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