The Big Issue by Paul D Brazill

Brit Grit, Crime Fiction, Flash Fiction, Humour, Pulp, Punk Noir Magazine, Short Stories

You see, they call them issues these days. Not like issues of comics like Shoot or Whizzer and Chips or Razzle, though. Naw, these are things like anger management issues, relationship issues, substance abuse issues. What that means is that issues are stuff that’s wrong with you. Stuff that fucks you up. And fucked-up people are called people with issues. See?

Like Tony Amerigo. It’s his dirty book shop that I’m stood in. He’s got issues, alright. He used to be a well tasty heavyweight. Could have knocked the Brut out of Henry Cooper, back in the day. But old Tony, like his dad before him, is more than a bit fond of the booze – floats like a butterfly, drinks like a fish. So, he’s got alcohol issues. Self-medication issues. So, now he’s got cash flow issues. Which is why I’m here trying not to breath in the cigarette smoke since Tony hasn’t exactly responded to the smoking ban in a positive way.

And that’s the trouble with people like Tony. They just don’t understand that times are changing. Now me, I’m a man of the 21st century but Tony’s a bit of a relic, like. He’s had the same dirty book shop for donkey’s year. The same rusty shutters. The same sun-bleached horoscope and trainspotting magazines in the window – as if the locals don’t know what he sells. Probably the same old porno mags in there, from the looks of it.

That’s why his business is going down the Swanny, to be honest. These days everyone can get their filth on their computer or even on their mobile phone. And for nowt. So, why go to a dump like this?

He’s got location issues, too. Used to be well posh round here when I was a kid but now it’s like holiday camp for smack heads. Once it gets dark, it’s that Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ video all over again.

My boss, Captain Cutlass, has told Tony to diversify. Maybe get in a couple of one-armed bandits, scaffolder’s lap tops and the like. Or some of the duty free ciggies that the Poles and the Euthanasians sell. But Tony’s stuck in his ways.

Oh, and here’s another thing. These days, it’s all about presentation skills. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say something that counts. That’s why I’m very careful about what I call myself when I turn up at Tony’s gaff.

I’m a factotum, you see. Now, I know what you’re thinking: What’s a friggin’ factotum when it’s at home? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s someone who sorts stuff out for someone else. Bit of this. Bit of that.

The bloke I sort stuff out for is an entrepreneur, although some people call him a gangster. And he’ a right head the ball, with it. His name’s Captain Cutlass. Well, that’s not his real name. His real name’s Jordan but no one calls him THAT these days.

Cutlass is a sea coal baron which means he’s got a bunch of lads who drive jeeps down to the beach at low tide and dig up coal. He’s made a packet, he has. Not that he needs it. Before he got into the sea coal game, Cutlass made a mint smuggling booze and ciggies and that into the docks. He used to stand at the front of one of the boats waving this massive friggin sword about. Hence the nickname. Although I think the sword was actually a rapier.

Anyroad, old Tony’s a bit thick, like, and I doubt he knows the difference between a factotum and a totem pole. So, what I say is that I’m a ‘representative’ of Mr Cutlass. See? I don’t even say I work for Cutlass. What I say is I just ‘represent’ him. It’s not the same, like. More official.

I say that Mr Cutlass isn’t very happy with Tony’s financial contributions and that he would appreciate it if Tony increased his monthly payments, since he’s been getting a bit behind.

After a bit of the to-and – fro, I have to be proactive and take the initiative, don’t I? I break one of   Tony’s thumbs. And then the other. So, he’s screaming and turning red and telling me that he’s got nowt. The cupboard is bare.

After a couple more slaps I come up with the idea of torching his shop to get the insurance and pay off Cutlass and a little consultation fee for me. The only problem is that Tony hasn’t paid the insurance since God was a bairn.

And now it seems like Tony has a problem. Except, that these days, we say that there are no problems, only challenges. So, yes, our Tone has a righty nasty friggin’ challenge ahead of him.

* * *

I’m outside the old Odeon cinema finishing my curry and chips when the BMW pulls up.

‘Get in,’ shouts Captain Cutlass, turning down ‘Tiger Feet’. No fucker else in this day and age listens to Mud, but Cutlass is a even more of a relic than Tony Amerigo. Big black, spidery quiff. Teddy Boy suits. The full whack.

‘Just the man I’ve been looking for,’ says Cutlass.’

‘Aye?’ I say.

‘Oh, aye,’ he says, sniffing a bit and looking me up and down.

‘Tony Amerigo,’ he says spraying the inside of the car with peach deodorant. He’s a right poncy twat sometimes, is Cutlass.

‘Oh, aye,’ I say, playing it cool.

‘How did it go?’ says Cutlass.

‘Well, it was … challenging,’ I say

Cutlass looks me up and down.

‘And what the bollocks does that mean in the Queen’s English?’ he says.

‘Our Tony has … issues, ‘ I say

‘Aye?’ he says.

‘Oh, aye,’ I say.

‘And what type of issues are these?’ says Cutlass.

‘Financial issues,’ I say.

Cutlass shakes his head.

‘I reckon the daft twat’s going to have some mortality issues soon, then,’ he says.

‘Aye,’ I say. ‘I’ll face that challenge tomorrow. Fancy a pint?’