By Ian Warren and Tim Roberts
I got this invite to this Fancy Dress party thing. Well, I say I got the invite it was actually Fran who got it through work and I was just her ‘Plus One’. Only she couldn’t go for some reason and left the invites on the side, forbidding me to go anywhere near them. But the tickets said ‘Free Beer’ and my folks grew up with rationing and passed onto me the old ‘Waste Not Want Not’ maxim and so I took Norm instead. Always better to ask forgiveness than permission, I reckon.
It took us less than five seconds to decide what to go as. The theme was famous couples and although we knew we’d be up against loads of Cathy and Heathcliffes or Rett Butlers and Scarlet O’Haras, we decided to go as the Krays. Hair swept back, dinner jackets, dickie bows - complete with a couple of plastic daggers. We looked the business. I wasn’t sure about the ethics of it at first - wasn’t it one step away from going as Hindley and Brady, like? But in the end I figured that dressing smart in a suit was a better option than other ideas Norm might come up with like Star Trek or going as Shunt and Sir Killalot from Robot Wars.
I told Norm we had to be on our best behaviour as these were Fran’s ‘corporate colleagues’ and so we kept ourselves to ourselves by the entrance near the bogs keeping out of trouble. I reckoned we could sup the free booze and stand and do a harmless bit of Elizabethan corset cleavage or sixties miniskirted legs ogling and be out of there and back home before Fran’s any the wiser. But I hadn’t factored in the power of the suit.
We started to realise people were reacting to us a bit weird like when these student types done up as Teletubbies asked all timid like if they could get back in if they popped out to the loos. We just shrugged and said yeah as far as we knew. It was after this kind of thing happened a few times that it clicked : they all thought we were bouncers on the door of the Do.
“Think about it.” I suggested to Norm, “None of them know us from Adam and we’re stood here in these monkey suits looking all hard…” I looked again at Norm and his beer belly. “Well, relatively. I’m telling you Norm - they think we’re doormen.”
“A little experiment!” Norm announced as he tiptoed backwards towards the door and folded his arms like the missing Mitchell brother.
A sexy looking witch in ripped fishnets came up to him and started flirting with him - asking about the fights he got into in his line of work like she was getting off on his Profession of Violence. Conclusive proof, Norm decided.
“I’ll drink to that!” I said, and got another round in. And that was that, as far as I was concerned. An amusing little anecdote to tell the grandkids. Especially with the added incongruity of the idea of me and Norm passing as hard men. But I hadn’t banked on the Management taking an interest.
How could we know that the venue was two hands down with a couple of security temps not showing up? This bloke with a tan and wrinkles like old money came up to us on the door and told us there was a ruck kicking off in the Gents - some rugby playing Viking was in there with a Tinkerbell and her Peter Pan boyfriend and his Toy Story wrestling club pals were not happy about it. We were to put our drinks down that we shouldn’t have been having while on duty and “get in them shitters and sort it!”
“So what the Hell do we do now, Kray fan!?” I spittled at Norm, having a panic attack stuck between the outer and inner doors of the blokes’ bogs with the racket of a ruck on the other side.
“After three!” Norm said, and with a countdown and a shoulder barge which was more stupid than brave he tumbled his way into the toilets, with me following suit.
The sharply opened door collided with something hard with horns and when we saw the Viking prop forward fall to his knees and slump onto a pile of concussed bodies dressed as Woody and Buzz and the gang we realised we’d just administered the jammiest knock-out in pugilant history. Not only that, but one split second later the scary bloke with a tan from earlier barged in with a chain-smoking sidekick in tow and pumped our hands with his calloused mitts, congratulating us on a job well done.
We were dazed still as the man - whose name was Harry Case - took us to the bar and bought us drinks and toasted us to anyone who’d listen. Norm lapped up the attention from dolly birds and Dodgy Daves alike, but it wasn’t until I pointed out the inherent danger in him accepting Case’s invitation to join his boxing gym that I convinced him to make our excuses and leave.
Obviously, I just wanted to draw a line under the whole affair when we were back safely in our own dull workaday world as opposed to Case’s ‘manor’. I reckoned I was lucky to get out of that evening with my nuts intact even without the case of mistaken macho identity. The fact that nobody from Fan’s office worked out who I was and dobbed me in was a miracle. Norm, however, was full of it. He’d been down to the nightclub - Esme’s - where the crazy night took place and got us a couple of door staff application forms - clearly expecting me to follow his lead. Not only this, but he began to develop a pretty unhealthy interest - no, scrub that - obsession with the Kray twins. He’d always had his pet projects in the past - his geeky anorak fads; from his ‘Eye-Spy’ books when we were kids through his teenage breakdancing and posters of Carol Decker all the way up to his robots. But not even Sir Killalot was as dark and potentially dangerous as delving deep into the world of the country’s most notorious villains.
Before I knew it I was ‘Plus One’ing with him again - only this time on a trip to the East End to research the old stamping grounds of the Krays. It was thankfully not the gangster fest I was fearing though. Most of Bethnal Green and Bow was full of Tesco Express and Polish shops. Places like the Regal snooker club and Esmerelda’s Barn had been long since bulldozed and replaced with mosques and granny flats. The Blind Beggar pub was still there only it was full of off-duty postmen. We did find one old superannuated hard man who spoke about the bad old days after us standing him a pint, but he could have been spinning us a line for the lager and he spoke in such impenetrable Cockney rhyming slang that we needed a phrase book : “Get your khyber off me weasel and we’ll go and get some elephant’s foot from the Bubble”, kind of thing.
When I got home Fran was sitting in the kitchen with just one bulb on like it was an interrogation. Which it was. Where had I been? When I said with Norm she said she should have guessed. I thought it best not to tell her where exactly we had been - especially as the next thing she said was something about how dare I sneak off with her tickets to her work do with that halfwit Norm behind her back!? So no such thing as miracles after all.
Liz had seen us, apparently. She hadn’t grassed us up exactly, she just saw us both surrounded by club types and had assumed Fran had given us her blessing. In fact, bizarrely, the whole revelation came about because Liz was going on about how great Norm looked and had he been working out? What the Hell was going on? The world had turned upside down!
Norm meanwhile was letting the spirit of Ronnie Kray take over his soul bit by bit. He’d got himself a pet python who had helped himself to his hamster Craig. He’d begun dressing smartly and combing his hair back with Brylcreem and being nice to his Mum. Everybody else loved seeing the change in him - most notably Liz who was clearly a bit of a moll underneath it all; and of course Letty Norm’s Mum who was lapping up all the attention he was giving her along with all the tea he was making her. But of course they didn’t know the source of Norm’s newfound confidence and how it was based on an unhealthy obsession with two long dead murderers.
I took him for a drink and tried to talk some sense into him but he just gave me a mouthful about “not letting some woman call the shots” - by which he meant Fran, I assume. He then broke the last straw and the camel’s back at the same time when he started an argument with some poor sod in the pub before starting a one-sided fight with him which resulted in Norm firing a water pistol in the fellow’s face. He then dropped the squirt gun on the floor and told me how “he’d done his, now it was time for me to do mine”..?
All this time we were working the doors of the club Esme’s. I’d gone along with it to begin with as it got me out from under Fran’s feet in the evenings, and the boxercising at Harry’s gym was shedding pounds off me - which can only ever be a good thing. The more I was out schmoozing and trainer-spotting with Norm though, the more it led to friction between me and Fran. So much so that in the end it came to blows and I stormed out after telling her I was sick of her treating me like a kid instead of a man. I have no idea where that came from. We’ve always agreed that the measure of a man is not in the reach of his punch but in the clinch of his hug. I became a man in the ‘nineties for Morissey’s sake! A New Man. And yet the clubland shenanigans I’d been getting involved with with Norm had started to really make it clear to me just how emasculated I’d become.
Harry Case wanted us to do a job. He’d been studying our rising star in the club with great interest and said he needed a couple of ‘intimidating types’ to deliver a parcel. By now Norm was backing off a bit from our newfound lifestyle - which was rich seeing as it was him who started it all in the first place. I reckon he was got at by Fran and Letty - possibly via Liz who Norm was astonishingly dating by this point. So when Harry gave us the parcel and the address we had to deliver it to Norm was shitting himself we’d taken this too far - what if it was drugs or a gun or Gwyneth Paltrow’s head etc?
When Harry went to answer the door Norm was all for making a run for it but I held his wrist firm and told him we had to prove ourselves. That it was time for me “to do mine” as he put it himself.
Harry came back with his burger delivery and set about smothering it in ketchup - as was his wont. As he went to shake the bottle, though, something happened which in a different, less fraught context would have been comical. Someone had left the top loose on the ketchup bottle and as Harry shook it it geysered up into the air and sploshed all over him - head, neck, chest the lot - all covered in tomato sauce.
That was when something snapped inside me. All those images from the research Norm and I had done - reading his True Crime books and Netflix documentaries - came back to me as I clocked the ketchup then reached inside my inside pocket for the blade I was carrying. I leapt on Harry with a kamikaze cry and pinned him to the ground, whereupon I proceeded to stab him over and over again, panting and screaming with every stab. Him crying out and staring at me in wide-eyed confusion. Norm trying to pull me off Harry like some panicking animal trainer.
As my stabbing motions slowed and our animal noises abated we all looked down at the dagger in my hand which was still against Harry’s chest - hilt flush with the lapel of his suit. It was then that Harry started to laugh. A throaty chuckle that came from deep within him. And as he laughed he pointed at the plastic dagger with its retractable blade going in and out against his chest, making a squeaky springing sound not unlike a kid’s trampoline.
I looked at Norm and Norm looked at me. We’d forgotten we still had our toy plastic daggers from the fancy dress party. Norm placed his against his head and pushed the springy blade in, sending Harry off on another giggling fit. Only then he started cough-laughing; then he started wheeze-laughing; then he started coughing and wheezing; until finally he started dying of a heart attack. He’d only gone and laughed himself to death.
It turns out Harry Case had a weak heart - hence the excessive exercising at the boxing club and his drinking carrot juice while all around him was on champagne. His daughter told us all about this at the hospital after it was all over. The parcel had been for her - it was the keys to the club. She was to be taking it over on his upcoming retirement. ‘Sending the Boys Round’ in our suits and brickbats was just a joke - a symbol, if you like. A message to her that his way of doing things was out of date - if two dopes like us could become heavies then clubland clearly needed to leave old style gangstering to die a death. Which it could well do at Esme’s with the death of Harry.
She’s the new broom Esme’s needed, Carrie Case. She’s already gutted the place and put in decor to die for - chandeliers and shit. A woman’s touch. There’s a happy hour with two cocktails for a tenner and you do see more hen than stag nights passing through these days.
There are still hard bouncers on the door - but just as many women as men and they’re checked for criminal records. I know because they wouldn’t let me keep my job because of the manslaughter charge which Carrie got me off of. But mud sticks. Just like clubland reputations. I’ve noticed her dealing with troublesome punters when I’ve been in with Norm or Fran and she doesn’t take any shit from anyone. A chip off Harry’s old block, maybe. Cut from the same cloth. Perhaps she will follow in his footsteps after all.