The Strap by Michael Keenaghan

The job was a cash ‘n’ carry in Tottenham, big bucks, and originally we were going to bring in Stix and Spida, but they pussied out man, showed their true fucking colours. Not that we were too bothered – I mean, those pricks just weren’t in the same league, and anyway, less cats to share the cream with. We’d do it as a duo and fuck ’em. The job would probably run smoother anyway. Lean and clean. Get in there, get the dough, ride off into the sunset fucking laughing.

Me and Drilz had known each other for time – from being in short trousers running round the playground of St. Paul’s primary, to where we were now, Year 11 of St. Thomas More Secondary, Wood Green, N22 – Tommy More boys, you don’t fuck wid us, you know what I’m saying. And me and Drilz – practical masters of the game. And the cash ‘n’ carry job was going to be the big one, ready to push us into the premiere league – up there with the elite. So we didn’t need no gay fucking batties like Stix and Spida cramping our style anyway. I mean, all mouth all day everyday, then you pull out a real 9mil fucking Glock automatic and it’s a sudden case of the shits, excuses galore. Time to grow up man. Get out there and earn your stripes. But not Stix and Spy, no chance.

Fakers, all the way. It’s like them Woodside High boys, you get me. I fucking wet one of those pricks once. Some paki innit. Or atleast he looked like one. Could have been fuck knows because Woodside’s like some fucking UN convention – but at Tommy More we got it tight cause it’s like nigga nigga nigga, you know what I’m saying. And this guy yeah – I’ve fucking taxed his phone and given him a slap, but a minute later he’s back on the scene giving it loud with his mates, all Turks and a couple of niggas in the mix too – some fucking halfie albino guy jumping up and down giving it the come-get-me routine, and if I’d have got near him I’d have wet him up too.

So there must have been twelve of us and eight of them, so fuck it, I start tearing after the paki guy because now I’m wielding a six-inch fucking combat knife, niggas clearing left and right, parting the waves, and I swing the thing and tear right through his jacket giving him a nice slice across the back, something to remember me by innit. But if I’d have got up close, one to one, I’d have dished out more, believe me. 

Good phone I got off him though. A Nokia N8 if I remember rightly. Guy must have been fucking loaded. Because that was my thing at that stage. Me and Drilz – phones, iPods, BlackBerrys, nuff gadgetry. A new bit of kit hits the scene, we got it. You want it for a price, come to us. Buying, selling – entrepreneurial like; the whole game sussed, top to bottom.

Speculate to accumulate innit. Or sometimes don’t even speculate atall, just go out and grab. Because far as I’m concerned, in this life and that, you’ve just got to take what you need. That’s my philosophy anyway. Sitting back won’t help, and asking politely ain’t no good either. Ask anyone successful and they’ll tell you the same thing. Just know what you want and go out there and get it.

Like that time up Kensington and Chelsea. Rich bitches and stuck-up suit-wearing fucks. And one sight of us and it was caution time man. Watch your purse, your case, your car. Fucking lock up your doors and lock up your daughters. And damn right, we made a killing that day.

Chelsea was Drilz’s idea. Branch out, diversify. We got the Piccadilly Line straight to South Kensington, twenty stops or something. Big white houses, Mercs, Porsches, you name it, all lined up begging for plunder. This was where the gold was; the fashion fucks, media fucks, where all that shit went down. The scum and squalor all hidden out of view, with this lot living it large, cocaine up the nose in their snazzy bars and restaurants, while the likes of us get jail time for dealing an eighth of weed.

I know how these fucks made their money. It goes back generations. Rampaging all over the world and stealing every resource going. The cotton trade. Opium trade. African ivory and the slavemaster’s whip. I got this lot sussed. There might as well still be signs up saying No Blacks No Irish No Dogs, because down Ken and Chelsea way I didn’t see not one fucking nigga that day. And come to think of it, didn’t see no Irish or dogs neither. Different country.

So there we were, strutting after this honey – she’s just been to the cash machine – little black skirt, heels. Just waiting for her slip down a sidestreet or something, when suddenly there’s a squad car cruising alongside us. Both pigs eyeing us like they’re reading our minds or some shit. We just acted all casual like. But truthfully, if they’d got out of the car we would have raced because I had a six-incher in my back pocket and we would have been pulled in an instant. But it was just a kinda prolonged stare and they were gone. But so was the bitch.

In the end, we did some guy who had just come out of his car. Down one of the backstreets with the big tall houses an shit. It was just getting dark. Best time. The prick strutting along on his phone, laughing away like butter wouldn’t melt. I fucking ran up behind him and punched him in the back of the head. Whoever he was chatting to must have just heard Bam! and then the guy hitting the floor and pleading for his life going, take it, take it… Don’t mind if I do. Rolex, rings, wallet, the lot. Real bucks man. The guy did the right thing. I mean, two hooded niggas – we could have been a pair of psychos who wouldn’t give a shit, who’d wet him up big time, leave him leaking his life into the gutter.

But the guy knew the procedure. And I didn’t even have to pull my blade. Could’ve, but I didn’t. Kept it clean. I mean, I kicked the guy and that, but bloodshed, no need. Just do your shit and go. And we did. Tube straight back to Woodz thinking, how easy was that? Fucking child’s play.

But these pricks deserve that kinda shit. Deserve a lot more, believe me. It’s like Dessie from up my road. He was banging some girl from up that way. Earl’s Court or some shit. Rich parents and that. Her dad working for a pharmaceutical company – practically a shotta in a suit – and her mum running some kinda boutique shit. Probably wondering what their daughter was doing hanging out with a North London nigga. But they soon found out. The bitch goes and loses her key – Dessie down the locksmith getting it cut. Then come holiday time – the Canaries or Caribbean or whatever – he heads round her yard and clears the place out. They had split by then, said bye byes, so he was well out of the frame – or so they must have thought anyway. Dessie telling us the whole story. Sitting there munching his Dixy Fried in his new threads, gold ropes dripping off him. All of us asking just how the fuck did he get in with a bitch like that? And he’d just smile and say, my big black dick innit. 

But Dessie’s glory was short-lived. He was repping himself, flaunting too much gold, and word gets around. He ended up getting done by some Hackney crew. They left him with a punctured lung and both his hands all fucked up from where he was trying to swipe away the blade. And while he was in hospital they done his yard as well. Must have got the address from his wallet. His mum got beat up pretty bad. So, like, in a way, maybe he got some kind of comeuppance.

You ask me though, he just should have been more careful. His fifteen minutes could have lasted a lot longer, but he let it all go to his head – bigging himself up round other ends an that; he got careless. But all said and done, at least the guy had got out there and used his initiative. I admire that. Going for gold, nothing less. And what happens tomorrow – if you’ve got some shit coming your way – you deal with that when it comes.

Which brings us back to my own situation – when things started really rolling with me and Drilz. Take it back a few months and he phones me, tells me to come round his yard, he has something to show me.

So I’m in his room, and Drilz is taking his time, rolling a blunt, savouring the anticipation. And I’m sitting there, Drilz’s younger sister in the next room singing away, always saying she’s going to be on X Factor, and she probably will. But I’m getting impatient now. -Fuck this, I end up saying, and start rooting around, turning things over.

-Okay, okay! Drilz says. And he goes over to his wardrobe. He takes out a shoebox and places it on the bed.

I’m expecting to see a new pair of Nikes but, -Check this, he says, and pulls out a real fucking piece.

-Rah… I was genuinely shocked.

He stood there pulling poses.

-Is that the real deal?

-Damn right it is. 

He passed it over and I held it in my hands. It was heavier than I expected, but it felt fucking good.

He took it back, aiming it sideways across the room, squinting one eye. -A Glock nine-millimetre automatic. Handguns don’t come better.

Suddenly the door opened, and Drilz was scrambling to hide the thing. 

-Hi Ryde, his sister smiled.

-Hi Sherelle. 

Drilz’s sister was hot man. I fancied the arse off her. Not that I’d ever let on to Drilz; they might have had their rows, but anyone looked at her twice and he got well vexed. Though I suppose I was the same way with my sister too. But Sherelle was a honey. Two years below us at school; thirteen, fourteen. Didn’t look it though.

-Spare us some weed Darren, she asked him.

-Get out of my room man!

-Come on, just a little bit. I’ll pay you back, promise.

-I said get out my fucking room bitch! – He headed over and slammed the door on her. She gave it a kick and stormed away.

-Bit harsh, Drilz, I laughed. You got a whole ounce there.

-Fuck her man, shocking me like that! – He retrieved the gun from under his duvet – She sees this thing she’ll tell the whole hood. Every Tom, Dick and fucking… Dwayne innit. 

But a minute later he was reaching for the weed. He pulled some off. Then he said he’d be back in a minute. 

That day we must have spent two hours just smoking and staring at the thing. 

-So where did you get it then? I asked.

He took a long drag, held it there… -Now that’s top secret, blud. Strictly between me and you… Then he told me he’d teefed it off the Krazy Krew.

Now teefing anything, let alone a piece of hardware, from olders like the KK was a serious act of madness. But neither of us were too worried. Drilz had simply chanced upon the intel and liberated the thing from behind a shed in a public park. It could have been anybody.

-Anyway, fuck the Krazy Krew, Drilz said. It’s ours now. Me and you – our tool. Think about it, we can earn untold shit with this. But play it smart. Word comes out there’s a new Glock on the block and the Ks are gonna come hunting for our hides. Tell no-one.

And over the following weeks we started making plans. And the cash ‘n’ carry was going to be the big one.

*

But Ryde’s trouble is he just can’t keep these things to himself. Going around blabbing about the Glock was a no-no from the start. My fault you see – I should have kept the whole thing to myself. We debated about maybe making it a foursome, but it was just talk, and we decided against it. But little did I know Ryde had already mouthed it all to Stix and Spida, wanting them in on the team.

Now, theoretically, those guys could have been a good idea. But the whole attitude of Ryde just put them off. This was professional-style armed robbery we were talking, not some fucking playground shit. Stix and Spy had already pulled off a couple of their own things here and there, but didn’t like to shout about it. And those are the kind of guys you can do business with. But again, Ryde just rushed in giving it all the mouth, making it sound botched from the start. They wanted nothing to do with it. So when he started cussing them behind their back – putting word out they were a couple of batties etc – what happened in the end ain’t too surprising.

I blame myself in a way – for everything. Because from as far back as I can remember, Ryde has always looked up to me. Not that he’d admit it, but it’s true. He never had no brothers, no father, and I was always the one trying to steer him left or right, or applying the mindwork to get him out of situations throughout the years. Like when we were kids and his mum brought a man in to live with them, and the guy was nightly whipping the shit out of him with a belt. Tying him down and going fucking crazy. It weren’t Ryde that told the teachers, it was me. The guy was gone within weeks.

But maybe, overall, I should have done better. Been a better influence. But that’s just me reflecting, thinking too much about it all. But when things go tits up – which they did, big time – and you end up in the can, where we are now, it’s hard not to analyse these things, look at the whole picture, work out where it all went wrong. But whatever. There you fucking go.

I mean, I brought the guy up Chelsea once – on a Rolex run. I’d pulled off a few solo trips up there, so this once I thought, why not. But the second we hit the streets he’s like a kid in a sweetshop: Rah, look at these big cribs, bruv, big cars… It’s like he ain’t been further than Turnpike Lane. You act down, you keep it low – but there was the guy all vocally checking out girls and peering into Lamborghini windows. Bringing attention down on us all day.

I just wanted to go, but Ryde couldn’t get enough of the place. In the end we saw some guy coming out of a Benz, and I was just weighing things up, considering it, when Ryde’s already charging for him and punching him in the head. We jacked the guy, but it was a close call, too many people about, and how we got out of there without being pulled I’ll never know. Heading back to the tube you could see the police cars and an ambulance rushing to the scene because Ryde had been kicking the guy, trying to stamp his head into the concrete – probably would have killed him if I hadn’t run back to pull him off: Go, go, go!… I was shitting it all the way home, half expecting a posse of police to come storming the carriage any second. Ryde was just laughing. You know what you need? I said to him. You need to grow yourself a fucking brain. He thought I was joking.

I mean, Ryde, you know, he ain’t the sharpest tool in the box. Like the fact I was balling his sister right under his nose. Just got chatting to her one time and when she offered the goods, why refuse? Ryde was skunked out cold on the sofa and we were banging away in the next room for so long I thought he’d wake up. Of course, he was still there, sleeping like a baby. So after that, any time I was in the mood day or night, it was a case of dialling a number. We’d do it in the park, round the garages, do it anywhere. And the guy never knew. So you see what I mean about not being on the ball?

I suppose you’re wondering why I wanted Ryde involved in things at all. But it’s this – with the fundamental things, I did actually trust the guy. Like for example, if Ryde was nabbed and I wasn’t, I knew for a fact he wouldn’t snitch (and he didn’t). And more, the guy always had a real useful sense of menace. You see it when he gets angry. And you see people’s reactions. Like when we’d have trouble with Woodside, the neighbouring school. One glare from those eyes and it’d be like – uh-oh, fucking mentalist alert. It’s his little gift. And on a job you need that. Because look at it this way: even if you’re pointing a nine into a shopkeeper’s face – what if he says no? Obviously you’re not going to shoot him – not unless you’ve got twenty years to spare. But if you seriously look like you might, then most of the work is done. And on the cash ‘n’ carry job, that’s where Ryde came in. I had it all worked out. Ryde was going to be the frightener.

*

We just burst in there, bike helmets, the works. -Give us the fucking money!!! I pointed my nine in the nearest guy’s face, told him I’d blow him away, and he was all hands up going: Okay, okay… 

It was a warehouse type of thing, beer and spirits sold wholesale. Greek place. It had closed an hour before, and we knew that at lock-up there’d only be three guys there – and one of them an ancient. I pushed over a plastic chair and told the old guy to sit down. He was clutching his chest looking all pained, and I told him he’d better not start dying or I’d blow his fucking head off.

Drilz was shouldering a metal pipe wrapped in a bag, a mock sawn-off. -You! he yelled to the other guy. Over by the wall now! He made him lie on the floor, one foot on his back, the ‘barrel’ pointing towards his head.

-Right, I told my guy, standing nervously in front of me. Now where’s the fucking money?

-In the safe… in the office …

-Right, let’s go… I pushed him on: Move!

Drilz had done his research man, because watching the amount of notes being stuffed into the bag I was near salivating with delight.

-Yeah, man, you fill that thing…

Safe empty, I pushed him back out to the shop… Then once there I whipped him across the head: On the fucking floor!

-Yo Ryde, take it easy, Drilz said, but I was pure buzzing.

I tossed Drilz the bag. -We’re rich blud… Then I told him I was grabbing a few bottles to celebrate.

I headed down the champagne aisle and reached for two bottles of Cristal. Then suddenly I heard Drilz’s metal pipe clanking to the floor and all-out mayhem.

I ran back; both guys wrestling with Drilz, lashing out hand and fist. Drilz’s helmet was off, and the old guy was scarpering out the front door.

I jumped in whipping the gun, but one of the guys steamed me and I crashed back over a stack-load of bottles. My helmet was ripped away and my gun arm was wrestled over my head. Just then the gun went off…

— BANG!!! —

Suddenly both guys were stepping back, hands-up…

Drilz got up, grabbed the cashbag and dashed for the door. I could hear him outside revving the bike’s engine, but I was just standing there, my nine going slowly from one guy to the next.

-Come on! shouted Drilz, but I felt like pulling the trigger big time, fucking wasting the both of them. But something pulled me away – maybe the sight of Drilz frantic at the door shrieking at me to hurry the fuck up.

We ran out, jumped on the bike and sped off into the night.

*

Whole thing was a farce. When my helmet came off I knew that was it. Get your face on CCTV and you might as well pack your toothbrush, you’re going to jail. As it goes, the arrest took several days. But luckily, in that time I got Ryde to understand we had to hide the cash or it wouldn’t just be us disappearing. -Face it Ryde, we’re going down. But play it smart, when we get out we’ve still got the prize.

-Okay, two weeks, he said. But if it ain’t happened by then, fuck it, let’s party.

I still thought he was being a dick (I’d have given it six weeks at least) but still, I agreed. A fortnight and we’d start living it – girls, hotel rooms, fucking party time.

I buried the cash in my back garden – did it by night when my mum was working late. Then I filled in the hole and covered it with bracken and shit – you’d never know.

Four days later, the police ripped Ryde out of bed at 5am. Fair dues to the guy, he didn’t snitch, said nothing. Still, I knew my time was numbered now anyway. The next day I was in custody.

*

No way. Never would I snitch on Drilz. Never never never. He’s always been like a brother to me, and I mean that. When they pulled me in, it was no comment all the way. Where’s the gun? No comment. Where’s the money? No fucking comment. Drilz was your accomplice, he planned the whole thing. Fuck you.

You hear about guys getting caught and snitching and blaming each other, but that’s just fucking low, you know what I’m saying. End of the day it’s friends that matter; lifelong friendships an that. You can start squealing and get a few months off your sentence maybe, but where’s the honour in that? There ain’t any. 

I don’t see Drilz at the mo – haven’t seen him in a while – he’s in Feltham, I’m in Aylesbury. But distance don’t mean shit. We’re tight. We had a good thing going with our little plan, made a little nest egg, and ask me, it was just the start of things. Fair enough, we’re inside, but that’s the game, you roll the dice and take what comes. Better next time. Give it a few years and me and Drilz will be back on the road, fucking fearsome, trust me on that. 

*

Me and Ryde are finished – and that’s a fact whether I like it or not. He fucked up bad by slipping word out about the gun. A big, big mistake.  

Only last week I had a visit from Merka, one of the Krazy Krew. He’s early-twenties, serious rep, two or three killings under his belt. I know the guy, but only vaguely. There’s a distant family connection somewhere – and I reckon that’s the only thing that saved me.

Heading towards the visiting room I was nervous as fuck. We tapped fists and it was all casual pleasantries for a while. Then he leaned in, eyes cold. 

-Why’d you teef my strap, blud?

Instantly my fears were confirmed: Stix and Spyda had had enough of Ryde’s cussing and gone straight to the KK – grassed us up to get Ryde in the shit.

-It weren’t me, I swear it…

And then I put Ryde right in it. I gave him up.

-It was Ryde, I lied. He told me he bought it from some South London guy… Jesus, if I’d known it was yours, Merk, I’d have made him hand it back personally, I swear on my mother’s life.

Merka stared at me for a full minute. Each time I met his eyes I gulped. Then I saw him relax slightly.

-You’re safe, blud. I had a feeling you weren’t completely to blame… My mum knows your mum innit. I remember back in the day being round your yard, you with a snotty nose and a nappy full of shit. I remember you crying on your hands and knees, just a baby. You’re safe innit…

-But one thing, he said, coming in close. That South London shit is bull. I believe you knew all along where Ryde got it. If Stix and Spy knew, then you fucking knew, get me?

I panicked… -Okay, okay, I knew… but I was scared, man, what could I do? It was Ryde who took the thing. It was nothing to do with me. I begged him to put it back but he wouldn’t listen…

-You went out and did a job with my fucking tool – He shook his head and kissed his teeth – You’re gonna die, man.

-No, please…

-Uh-uh. I got contacts all over this place. You’re finished.

He was getting up to go when I mentioned five magic words. -We’ve still got the money.

He stopped. -What did you just say?

-The police never got it. It’s still available.

-That was a fucking big job.

I nodded.

He studied my face, up and down. 

-Well, maybe you might have just bought yourself a reprieve.

-And what about Ryde?

-This ain’t got nothing to do with Ryde.

So there you have it. Ryde’s days are numbered. Every day I’m just waiting to hear the news that he’s had his jugular shanked courtesy of the KK. Because believe me, a guy like Merka don’t go back on his word.

I feel bad – worse than bad – but I had no choice. It was me or him. What else could I do?

Michael Keenaghan’s stories have appeared in various places including 3am Magazine, Dissolution Word, Scarecrow and The Beat. He comes from Wood Green, North London. Visit him at www.myspace.com/michaelkeenaghan or www.twitter.com/mkeenaghan.   

2 thoughts on “The Strap by Michael Keenaghan”

  1. Those boys are mean, nasty little fuckers! While the story itself was repugnant, it was absolutely gripping. I didn’t stop reading for one second. It’s hard to imagine that such dark characters and circumstances exist, but I know they do. This was a chilling peek at their lives. Good writing, Mr. Keenaghan!

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