Excerpt from ‘Bad Blood’ by Kris Lillyman – @krislillyman
Excerpt from ‘Bad Blood’ by Kris Lillyman
Even though the war had been over for three years, it was difficult to notice it in Peckham, South London where we lived. Times were tough, money was scarce and work was hard to find. Food was still on ration and rubble from destroyed homes could still be found on a number of streets. Many families were struggling to make ends meet, as were we, but somehow we got by. Mum had a couple of cleaning jobs and took in washing, she also did a bit of sewing to further her income. Joe and me stacked crates part-time at Smithfield Market and picked up a bit extra running errands for a local bookie called Ernie Elmore.
Ernie also did a nice little side line in house-breaking and, occasionally, we would go with him on a job, operating as look-outs or bag men if it was a big haul. More recently, he had been sending us in alone, choosing the less taxing look-out role for himself, although still keeping the lion’s share of the takings. This did not sit well with Joe and me and we had been meaning to have a word with him about it. After all, if we were doing most of the work surely we were entitled to the bigger cut.
However, on the night after the traumatic events at the hospital, when we had just completed another successful job for Ernie, neither of us felt in the mood for a row with him. So after he paid us our share we just went on our way.
Some time later, Joe and me were sitting around a fire we had built in an old abandoned warehouse. It was the place where we normally went to count our meagre earnings and to moan about how lazy Erni had suddenly become, but tonight was different. Neither of us were saying much at all as we watched the flames; both alone in our thoughts of the night before.
“Did you mean that last night. What you said?” Joe suddenly said.
“You know, about killin’ your old man.”
“Yeah. I meant it.” I said. Then glanced at Joe, “Did you mean it about killin’ yours?”
There was silence again for a short time as Joe lit a cigarette, then he said, “How you gonna do it?”
“I don’t know how yet,” I replied, “but I know I’ve got to. He’ll kill Mum if I don’t.”
“Same ‘ere.” Joe said. “Sarah’s cracking under the strain, I can tell. If I don’t do something soon she’s gonna lose it, y’know, in the head. She’s gonna have some sort of break down. Killing Vic is the only way to stop it. Same with your old man. Death’s too bleedin’ good for ‘em, but it’s the only bloody way.”
“I know. And I’m gonna do it,” I said.
“No, we’ll do it,” Joe said. “You kill your dad and I’ll kill mine.” Then he spat on his hand and offered it to me. “Deal?”
“You completely sure?” I said.
“More sure than I’ve ever been of anything. Some how, some way, those bastards are gonna die.”
“Okay then,” I said, spitting on my palm and clasping Joe’s hand tightly to seal the bargain. “It’s a deal.”
“You swear it?” He said.
“Yeah. I swear.”
In that moment we sealed the fate of George Reilly and Vic Cassidy.
We were fourteen and it was a childish oath, but in the years to come it was going to mean everything.