It was the bullets that changed everything. Manchester and Salford had spawned an ugly sister; Gunchester, and I was sat at the blood and guts end of the delivery, dripping in the gory stench.
Madchester was still in full swing but the boundaries had blurred; Indie had merged with acid house and rave ruled the roost whilst gangsters ruled the doors and the pills. Those little white pills were spreading their wings and dive bombing every serotonin cell they could find. The illegal raves and the warehouses had given way to the first origins of the city centre super club but The Hacienda wasn’t the only joint in town.
The gangs were everywhere, rubbing shoulders with wide eyed, loved up, sweaty clubbers, all too busy looking for their own personal slice of euphoria to notice the threat. Few of them were ready, willing or sober enough to take on board the evil legacy behind those little white doves of peace. But then their own come downs could never hit as hard as mine.
I knew my time would come, my resurrection, my second coming, just not yet; patience, son. I had to wait, deep in the darkness to be born again, rewired, reignited, reinvented, reenergised and wait, wait patiently, silently, for this higher state of unconsciousness to release me. Everything, every decision, every minute detail behind my revenge was being lived out in this dark world, mapped out in the confined depths of my mind. This was my dark rehearsal; a new world was ready to spawn me and give me my retribution, feed my new addiction, quench my unquenchable thirst to get even. My biggest fear isn’t in the danger that lies ahead but in the void that might engulf me afterwards, such was the depth of my darkness.
I was the happiest lad in Manc before that night, before my life took on a completely new meaning before the darkness took over. But I can’t blame that night for changing me forever, or the gangs, it was the darkness.
THE LEVEL, PICCADILLY, MANCHESTER, JANUARY 1991:
Wyatt slammed his body against the metal handle of the nightclub’s fire door and pushed out into the darkness of the back alley. He froze for a second to get his bearings; eyes dazzled; bones aching.
He was in way above his head.
The plastic carrier bag in his shaking hand bulged like an unwanted pregnancy. But it contained the end of his life not the start of a new one. He stuffed it deep into his jacket, zipping it up to the very top, protecting it from the world.
Steam rose from the vents on the outside wall of the club as the hot sticky air on the inside met the ice- cold, Manchester freeze.
In five minutes, the club would be closed down; everyone inside would be a suspect. In twenty, it would be swarming with police, sealed off as Manchester’s latest crime scene.
The shadowy figures at the top of the alleyway meant trouble. They hovered near the entrance to the club, blocking his only route out.
The three bouncers clocked him and instantly ceased their banter. Normal clubbers left through the main doors, trouble though the fire doors.
“Where do you think you’re going?” one of them bawled. “Oi, I’m speaking to you.”
Wyatt reached into the pocket of his leather jacket and found some sanctuary in the small metal cylinder full of ammonia. It was his only chance; his one saving grace. He clutched it tightly.
“Look lads, take it easy,” he said as a peace offering.
But he knew his words meant nothing.
“I’ve been out, had a good night and now I’m going home.”
“Not through that door you’re not.”
The bouncer’s radio suddenly crackled into life.
“Block all exits, lads, block all exits.”
“In fact you’re not going anywhere, lad.”
“I’ll take this little fucker,” another growled with a scar that stretched from the corner of his mouth high up into his cheek.
He smiled as he got to within touching distance then swung, forcing Wyatt backwards, dancing on his toes. But the fists came back for a second go, stunning Wyatt’s skull with a dull thud, spreading instant numbness. The hands grabbed him, tightly around his gullet. He froze, paralysed with the fear of getting beaten big time but then instinct kicked in. Wrenching his arm free he placed the cylinder next to the bouncer’s face, spraying him in his left eye as he attempted to launch a head butt; a cloud of ammonia, a fighting chance.
The doorman lashed out blindly, hoping to make contact with something, anything. Another spray and the bouncer’s eyes were blinded; watering, streaming relentlessly. The other two were on him in seconds, foaming at the mouth, obscenities pouring out, threat after threat, falling on deaf ears.
“Fuckin’ this, fuckin’ that.”
A torrent of blows rained down forcing Wyatt to the floor; a split second glance and a second of clarity. He reached for a stray bottle, crashing it with almighty force on the head of one before launching it into the face of another then burst through their huddled scrum. The end of the street flashed by. Clubbers waiting to get in stopped chewing their lips to stand open mouthed.
Wyatt heard the fire door burst open again; more doormen, armed with bats and pieces of wood, an arsenal of wooden weaponry, plucked from beneath the legs of the cloakroom girl at the first sign of a kick-off.
Despite the violence served up already, the delivery of two sentences amidst the din of threats chilled Wyatt’s blood.
“Fuckin kill him,” one of the bouncers raged. “He’s just killed the boss.”
‘Music…. is the answer…. to your problems.’
It could have been the sound track to Carla’s life. Dancing was her life. If she wasn’t getting paid for it she would have been in the club anyway, pulling the same moves, wearing the same clothes, just not getting paid.
Carla danced on the podium in the V.I.P. section as the music bellowed out but the lack of dancing in the V.I.P. made her feel as exposed as a pole dancer in a strip club. She preferred the atmosphere downstairs where everyone danced as energetically as her but trouble was brewing on the door and she’d been sent up stairs for her own safety. It was starting to kick off in The Level more and more. It was the one aspect of the club that Carla hated.
“Bring it on girlfriend,” her friend Mica shrieked after just conning two unsuspecting lads out of a bottle of Dom Pérignon.
No one drank it downstairs but up here, it was fair game.
Dazzled like rabbits in the headlights of the finest chest they’d seen that night, they desperately tried to play it cool.
Mica was slinky, mixed race with a gorgeous light brown complexion that men would do anything for. She blew a kiss Carla’s way and licked her lips, raising a sardonic glass to the two men before strutting her stuff over to a quiet corner. She’d been Carla’s partner in crime for years. Beckoned by her bezzie to sit and sample the fruits of her hunter, gatherer skills, Carla jumped down from the podium and walked over to where Mica was about to sit. A crowd of V.I.P. males sat open mouthed, staring at the empty podium in front of them, then followed the dancer’s wiggle over to her friend.
Carla rocked and she knew it. Blessed with the ability to move her body in a way that complimented the music whilst giving every lad in the club a hard on, she was the real deal; the downside was that everyone wanted a piece; every gangster and wannabe hard man in there.
“So desperate to tell me about his job, like I give a flying monkey’s toss,” Mica said, referring back to the Champagne Charlies.
Carla adjusted her silver hot pants, which had ridden up throughout the dancing, and her knee length white boots which had slid down.
She’d had enough of men.
Life had always been on the edge for her and Mica. They’d never done normal, never touched safe and never met sensible. Not that she’d admit it out loud but their looks had seen to that.
Carla’s long dark hair was accentuated on club nights by a hair piece which brought her pony tail down to the bottom of her back. Her flat, toned stomach and shapely figure were a result of her devotion to her dancing, her all over tan testimony to her appreciation of sun beds whilst her long eye lashes came courtesy of Rimmel.
Coming from where she did, her life was mapped out for her. A succession of bad boys would woo her, treating her like a princess at first then ruling over her like a dictator. Then there’d be a few slaps handed out if she didn’t conform to their every whim or pulled a face whilst doing it. Then she’d be dumped only for the next bad boy to come along with the same routine, thinking he’d invented it.
The older she’d got the naughtier the boyfriends had become. But there was little that could intimidate either of these two, not anymore. Once you’d danced with the devil, the doormen just didn’t cut it.
“I’ve got to go back downstairs,” she said sipping on her glass of bubbly. “They told me to take twenty minutes up here just to wait for it to calm down outside.”
“And has it?”
“I don’t know babe. It’s getting worse every week.”
The two girls finished their champagne and then slinked their way down the spiral staircase, leading to the main dance floor, already heaving with clubbers. As they made their way onto the conveyor belt of human congestion, a group of bouncers bullied their way through, dragging a near unconscious lad through the crowds. His pony-tailed head lolled from one side to the other, barely conscious. It wasn’t an altogether unusual sight. The door ruled with an iron fist or an iron bar if you were really unlucky.
“I hate seeing all that shit,” Mica mouthed. “Why can’t they just do it outside so we don’t have to see?”
Carla shook her head at her friend’s comment.
“I was kind of thinking why do they have to do it at all, not why can’t they sweep it under the carpet. Give it a few more weeks and the gangs will be in here, ruining it for everyone.”
“Yeah well as long as it doesn’t go off tonight eh? I’ll be with the others,” Mica said pointing to the group of girls that they always spent the before and the afters of their night with. “Come and find us on your next break.”
Carla winked, pulled her hot pants up slightly and slowly slinked her way towards the base of the podium, gracefully hoisting herself up and moving in time to the music.
Where Love Lives reverberated around the club. Oh yes, dancing was definitely Carla’s escape, her clarity and definitively her life.
The club was rocking. Happy faces smiled up at Carla or else gurned themselves into oblivion. She didn’t like The Level, she loved it; the people, the music, everything about it, but then she saw him, like a ghost from her nightmares gone by, he flashed before her eyes.
The lights picked out his sharp, angular features once again before the strobe effect hit another part of the crowd. Carla immediately stopped dancing. He was surrounded by his men, the same old faces from last time she’d seen him all those years ago. His face looked gaunt and pale, yet angry. He was always angry; his eyebrows furrowed into an aggressive point. He pushed his way through the clubbers on the dance floor, lifting them off their feet until they got the message and got out of his way.
Scott McFadden should have been in prison, yet here he was bold as brass, forcing his way towards the exit. Then their eyes met. McFadden’s piercing blue eyes locked onto Carla’s and didn’t look like letting go. A smug smile crept onto his face making Carla feel sick. He winked at the motionless dancer, pointed at her and then mouthed the words ‘I’ll be back for you later.’
And then he was gone, swallowed by the sea of clubbers. But his brief presence was enough. Carla keeled over covering her mouth and retched as her stomach threatened to empty its contents over the dance floor below. She scrambled down from the podium, the grace slipping from her poise, and stumbled through the sea of clubbers edging towards the ladies toilet where she retched again. Mica appeared in seconds and held her friend’s hair out of the way with one hand and stroked her back with the other.
“It’s McFadden, Scott McFadden,” Carla said sweating. “I need to go home or back to yours so he can’t find me. Is that ok?”
Mica nodded. She knew what McFadden meant. It was definitely time to leave. But as the two made their way out of the toilet, something happened that neither of them had seen before. The booming music scratched to a halt, every light in the club flashed on and the dance floor flooded with police.
There was no time for explanations or second thoughts. Wyatt tore off into the night, into the shadows of the Mancunian back streets, running for his life.
He pulled the bag from inside his coat to ensure its safety, gripping his hand tightly around the five video cassettes inside. Behind him, footsteps pounded the pavements like an army on the march, thirsting for their war.
The main road brought pedestrians; face after face stopped and starred. His body ached; his legs deadening as he ran. He glanced behind and saw three bouncers charging down the main road. The pack had split, the wolves could be anywhere.
Wyatt charged blindly through the alleyways running away from the club, away from the train station all the time and back towards town, over the unprotected expanse of Piccadilly Gardens, through the bus station, Mosley Street, then the back streets again, staying in the back alleys as much as possible.
He heard shouting and heavy feet hammering behind him coming from all directions.
They could be anywhere, he thought.
To his left more litter-filled back streets led into the maze of China Town’s back alleys. They appealed like never before. He charged into their anonymity, running alongside the restaurants.
The bouncers were close. The angry shouting came from all sides. Wyatt ground to a halt and bent over to hold his stomach and the stitch that was splitting it in half. He couldn’t outrun them; he could only hide.
Six giant bins outside the backdoors of a Chinese restaurant offered refuge. He clambered inside over broken cardboard boxes and remnants of rotting food. The stench filled his nostrils.
Still clutching the bag with the video tapes in, he hauled down the bin lid and lay in a near foetal position amongst the rubbish in the pitch black, holding his nose as it adjusted to the pungent smell. His heart raced. He tried to slow his breathing then rummaged into the cardboard boxes, burying himself deep inside, not caring what his skin made contact with.
He heard the voices get closer and the footsteps stop.
“Which way did he go?” one said.
“There’s only one place that cunt’s going. He’ll be dead by the morning.”
“Put the gun away.”
“Fuck off. That boy’s just signed his own death warrant.”
“Did you know his face?”
“Know his face? I know his fucking name.”