Welcome to the latest in our series of first chapters showcasing our books.
Today, we have Six East End Boys, by David Flin
The Brighton Bomb Blast in 1984 was successful, leading to a greater willingness to cross moral lines in response. Things fell apart, there was something of a class struggle, and the Establishment won.
Eight years ago, riots in London turned into a more general disturbance, and order was restored by the Army. Laws were passed to ensure it never happened again.
Six survivors of the London Uprising swore that next time, they’d get it right. They aren’t entirely sure what it is they want, but they’ve reached the point of believing that anything would be better than what they have.
They’re far from heroes. They are certainly not knights in shining armour. They’re simply driven by the belief that there has to be something better, and they’ll do whatever it takes to achieve it.
This is their story.
Scott pulled his coat closer about him as the rain increased in intensity. The cold air chilled him, and his back hurt, as it always did when the weather changed. He kept his eyes lowered as he crossed Trafalgar Square. The soles of his shoes were wearing thin, and he could feel the damp and cold seeping through to his feet.
He was late. He couldn’t afford to be late. Not again. Sir William would sack him, and that would cost him his Category B status. He’d worked hard to get upgraded from C status, and he couldn’t afford to lose it. He sidestepped past the wooden structure in the Square, avoiding looking at it, and keeping his head lowered to avoid catching the attention of the family of tourists gazing at the structure and taking photographs of it.
He felt sickened by the tourists’ casual acceptance of the structure, but he couldn’t say anything. He just wanted to get past them so that he could get to work.
His luck didn’t hold out, and one of the tourists waved him over. Scott would have pretended not to have noticed, but as luck would have it a Bluebottle on duty saw him and nodded meaningfully at him, tapping the butt of his gun to reinforce the message.
Scott sighed. He was going to be late, and he had to hope that Sir William was in a good mood, and would overlook it.
“Can I help you, sir?” Scott asked the tourist who had waved him over. The tourist was a middle-aged man from the Far East, obviously the father of a family group.
“Please to explain. Who are these people?” The tourist pointed to the four bodies hanging from the scaffold, swinging in the breeze.
“Dissidents, sir.” Scott took a quick glance at the notice pinned to the gallows. “It says that they had threatened to stop working until they got their back pay.”
“Back pay? What is that, please?”
“When an employer has financial difficulties, they can delay paying wages to Category C citizens. It’s to help companies deal with the economic situation.” Scott didn’t mention that it was customary for employers to keep several weeks back pay pending, to keep their employees desperate and compliant.
“Could you take our picture for us?”
He handed Scott a camera – a very good camera. They posed with the scaffold behind them, and Scott felt sick as he took the picture. That was the lot of Londoners now, dying to give a backdrop to a tourist’s photograph. Welcome to London, he thought bitterly.
The man bowed slightly to Scott in thanks, and then turned to his family. Scott was able to hurry on, walking as quickly as he could down Whitehall, trying to ignore the pain in his back. Churchill looked down on him from his statue; not for the first time, Scott wondered what the old man would have made of the changes to the London he would have known.
He arrived at the back door of the house, and showed his Log Book to the Bluebottle on guard. It was scrutinised, and the Bluebottle glared at him. “An East End boy working here?”
“Yes, sir.” Never answer more than they ask you for. It’s a lesson that you learn as a child living in London. Keep your mouth shut, keep your face expressionless, and try to avoid giving them any reason to pay attention to you. It was true before the Uprising, and it was ten times more true now.
“No, sir. Category B.” If he was category C, he wouldn’t be allowed to work here, now would he? But you keep such thoughts locked carefully away.
“Says here you were Category C.”
“Yes, sir. I was upgraded.”
“You being sarcastic, East End boy?”
“No, sir.” Keep your face a blank. Never show them what you think.
“Go on in, East End boy.”
“Thank you, sir.” Keep your face expressionless, Scott told himself. He entered the imposing building, passed through a metal detector, showed his Log Book again, and finally was allowed in. He got his time card stamped, and he had five minutes to get to the changing room, change into his uniform, and have his time card stamped again. If it took longer than five minutes, you lost pay. Obviously, it was designed so that it wasn’t physically possible to do it. Just another way the elites used to screw you over, but you got used to it.
Seven minutes later, he was cleaning the silver in the main meeting room. Sir William always held meetings in here just before lunch, and he expected everything to be just so. He enjoyed finding fault with everything, but that was just his way. You learned to live with that. Scott looked out of the window, through the steel mesh across it. Quite why it had bullet-proof mesh puzzled Scott. It wasn’t as though dissidents had the slightest chance of getting close, but he supposed it made the people here feel safer.
Sir William came in, chatting with a couple of men, and Scott made to leave.
“Stay put and keep working, boy,” Sir William snapped. “Honestly, these people will do anything to get out of work.”
“Of course. You can’t expect his type to do anything else.” It was a corpulent man, sour-faced and looking at Scott with evident distaste. “No pride, isn’t that right, boy?”
“If you say so, sir.” Never rise, never let them see your thoughts, keep your face a mask.
“Were you cheeking me, boy? These type often cheek you, Sir William, but what else can you expect from eels? Are you an eel, boy?”
“No, sir. Regular. Wounded at Dagenham.” Please don’t ask me which side I was on, Scott thought.
Luckily, the man didn’t think to ask. “Regular, eh? Good for you. Guess you put down a few eels before you bought one. You look like you can handle yourself.” He sounded more cheerful.
“Did my bit, sir.” It wasn’t enough, though. It was never going to be enough. Sometimes, though, you have to fight, just to make a point, even when you’re bound to lose.
“Good man.” With that, the three men ignored Scott, and started talking about the upcoming election. Scott was now just part of the furniture.
“I think we need to send a message to the PM. Significantly reduced majority, I think. Five-seat margin seem about right?”
“Not that close. We want to still be able to cope with the odd difficulty. Ten, I think. Losing out in the Midlands, though. That’s where her constituency is. Where’s Albert’s constituency?”
“Plymouth West, I think.”
“That’s good. Nationals to win a 10-seat majority, doing badly in the Midlands, and well in the South West. Then we spin it that it was a personality based contest, and that Albert connects with the people. That will keep the PM in line.”
“What about London?”
“What about it?”
“London’s voting this time. The PM introduced the rule, remember?”
“Did she? That’s right, a bone for the eels. Reward for good behaviour. Well, London doesn’t matter. Boy, who would you vote for?”
“Me, sir? Vote, sir? Don’t pay much attention to politics. Doesn’t seem to make any difference.” No. Voting doesn’t make a difference. We gave you a hell of a scare eight years ago, but it wasn’t by voting. Next time, you bastards, next time.
“National, Tory, Liberal, or Labour. Pick one, boy.”
Scott shrugged. “Labour.”
“Liberal sounds sort of wasteful and weak. Tory is for the elite. No Londoner would ever vote National. Labour means working, and hard work keeps you on the straight and narrow.”
“There you have it, gentlemen. Ken can pick up the London seat. He’ll like that.”
Julia came in, singing softly. Scott stiffened slightly when he heard the tune, and he turned his face away, concentrating on polishing the silver, so that no-one saw the sheen to his eyes. Next time, you bastards. And how dare you sing our song. We paid for that song in blood, and it’s all we have left.
“Daddy,” Julia asked. “Can Gerard and I borrow the car?”
“What’s wrong with yours?”
“It’s still being fixed. Those eels damaged it. Remember?”
“That’s right. Gerard was drunk, and hit them.”
“We paid their families compensation,” Julia said with exasperation. “They do it deliberately, you know. For the money.”
“Be careful with it. I can’t afford to have mine damaged. I need it back by four.”