“So this geezer just stood there with his arms behind his back and asks the guy to hit him.” Bill Smith's eyes widened and he shrugged, palms towards my ceiling.
I carried on watching TV. Bill's tales were becoming all too familiar. Doormen’s work involved some rough stuff most evenings, and I'd heard so many tales that it all seemed commonplace. I had stopped worrying that my son, Anthony, would get hurt. After all, these were probably the toughest guys in Pompey.
“The guy smacked him right at the side of the face.” Bill pointed to a spot by his left cheekbone, stretching his neck forward as if we needed a better view. “He never flinched. He put on this big grin and said to the guy that if that was the best he could do, he'd better start running now.”
Anthony chuckled. “So the geezer smacked the crap out of him, right?”
Bill pointed towards my lounge door. “He never got the chance. The guy took one look at him and made a bolt for the exit door.”
Anthony looked puzzled. “Did he make it?”
“Yeah. The geezer wasn't bothered. He just turned round and continued drinking his pint as if nothing had happened.”
Anthony laughed, but I thought that this sounded just a bit of a dodgy tale. “Come on, Bill, who in their right mind is going to stand there and take a punch, full in the face, just for the fun of it?”
“I'm telling you, Keith, this geezer never shifted an inch.”
“He didn't turn his head, then?”
“What do you mean turn his head? The guy just stood there.”
I rested my clenched fist at the side of my chin. “It's just that if you flick your chin in the direction of the blow, just as it's about to hit you, it takes most of the impact out of it.”
Now Bill looked puzzled. “I've never heard of that one before. Where did you hear that?”
“Blast from the past, I guess,” and this time my palms were facing upwards. Where did I get that one from? “I used to do a lot of training in martial arts as a youngster. Maybe I got taught it there.”
“Yea, right,” said Bill, but the furrows on his forehead revealed his doubt.
Anthony had done many years of martial arts training and decided that this was a good time to have a quick dig. “Are you saying, dad, that in martial arts they teach you how to get hit in the face?”
I wasn't even convincing myself with this one. He was right. “I don't know. Like I said, a blast from the past maybe.” Did I see somebody do it before? I couldn't have done it myself, could I?
I drew a short, narrow breath and my head and shoulders went back slightly. Tiger! Tiger had hit me.
“You OK, Keith?” Bill’s eyebrows lowered. He only tolerated me because I was Anthony's dad.
“Yes. I'm fine,” I said, but Tiger was bothering me. Violent images were filling my thoughts faster than I could handle them.
“You look pale, dad. Something up?”
I could feel the tension running down my body; my hands gripped my knees. “No, nothing,” was all I could say, keeping my eyes fixed on the TV.
As Bill made his exit, I realised that I had sparked a memory from the past; a memory which led to circumstances that still scare the shit out of me. How could this all be true? Did I really kill somebody, or was it just something that I was accused of? How did the police fit in? Why didn't I remember this before? There were just too many questions and too many images at once to make any sense of it. Perhaps the best way to deal with it was to take it through a step at a time; perhaps then it would make more sense.
I remembered fighting against Tiger and offering to let him hit me, but why would I do such a damned fool thing? I tried desperately to remember the circumstances that led up to it.
It all started when Mr Rawlins came into the King George in Barnsley. I had just finished the Saturday Karate training session down at the YMCA. It was around half past one in the afternoon and, after four hours of training, we were enjoying a pint or two and discussing the sparring sessions. Mr Rawlins must have overheard us, because he came over and started talking. He was concerned about his nephew, Niki. “I can't do a thing with him. All he wants to do is fight. He gets into no end of trouble.”
“OK,” I said, “bring him down here and I'll see what I can do for him.” I had had loads of hotheads in the Karate class, so one more wouldn’t hurt. Maybe I could convince him to join the class and spend his pent-up energy in exercise rather than belting other kids. I went back to my pint and forgot about the invitation. That was until he turned up in the pub the next week.
I was sitting in the same chair as the week before; he shouted over to me.
“Are you the bloke who says he can sort me out? I'm going to kick your ass,” he said, pointing directly at me. This kid looked to be a good fifteen pounds less than me in weight and perhaps two inches shorter. I trained around twenty hours every week and my Karate buddies were looking at me in total disbelief that somebody would have the nerve to talk to me like that. He had to be taught a lesson.
“I'll tell you what, whatever your name is –” he didn't let me finish my sentence. “It's Niki and I'm going to kick your ass.”
“Yeah. You said so already, Niki. I'll tell you what. I'll give you the first punch for free.” I had a rock-hard stomach and often allowed class students to hit it as an exercise. It gave me a feeling of power and domination to make people feel that they couldn't hurt me in this way.
“You mean to say that I can hit you in the face and you won't try to stop me?” said Niki
“I meant the stomach, kid. You can hit me in the stomach.”
“You didn't say that, you lying bastard,” said Niki.
He was right. Perhaps the couple of pints I had already drunk had caused a slip of the tongue. The guys from the class were having a quiet chuckle to themselves. They expected me to just belt the kid and have done with it, but there was a point of honour to be made here and honour was very important to Karate practitioners. I reasoned that the kid was quite a bit smaller than me; he couldn't pack that much of a punch. The alcohol that I had consumed would probably act as an anaesthetic and if I just flicked my chin at the right moment, I could ride with the blow. Highly flawed logic when I come to think of it now, but it seemed valid at the time and I couldn't be seen to back down. I'd been hit in the face before, but never without some kind of roll away from the punch.
“Alright! Face it is,” I said, standing square on to him, with my feet at shoulder width and my hands out flat by my side. I looked straight forwards as he hit me.
He packed a reasonable punch. I stayed on my feet, though, and wiped away the negligible amount of blood around my bottom lip. “You want another go at the stomach?” I knew that I was safe on this one. Sure enough, he had another go, but when he hit my stomach, he almost broke his hand on the muscle.
We fought. I beat him comprehensively, but he showed admirable spirit. He left the pub.
Next week, Mr Rawlins returned to the pub. “He's still the same. He seems more determined than ever to hit people.”
“Look. Tell you what. If you bring him around tomorrow, I'll see if talking to him will help. No more fighting, though.”
Sure enough, around he came and we agreed to go to another pub for a game of pool. While we played, I made the mistake of saying that I used to know a girl called Niki and this infuriated him.
“If you say that I've got a girl’s name I'm going to belt you. I don't care how good you are,” he said, snarling at me.
“Alright, Tiger. Calm down. I didn't mean it like that.” I thought back to my old boy scout days when I used to know a young ginger-haired terrier with the nickname Tiger. “How about if I call you Tiger? That sounds like a much more butch name than Niki.”
He looked a bit peeved and pouted, “Call me what you want. I don't care.” I continued to call him Tiger for the rest of the evening and invited him to come fishing with me a few days later at Worsbrough Dam. Perhaps having something peaceful to do to pass his time would help.
It was the first time that Tiger had been fishing. I lent him a spare set of my own tackle. He picked up the knot-tying and casting techniques quickly and he even managed to catch a small perch. We talked about what he did in his spare time and he told me that he had no friends. In some ways I felt sympathy for him and said, “I'll be your friend, Tiger. If ever you need anybody, just call out and I'll be there.” Little was I to know how important those words were.
A few days later, I was sitting in the King George again when Mr Rawlins came in, his face almost crimson with anger; he was looking around for me. “You! You killed my Niki, didn’t you?” he shouts.
What the hell was this? “What are you on about?”
“My Niki. You killed him.” He continued ranting and, despite all efforts by me and those around me, it was impossible to get him to stop shouting or to get any sense out of the man. His shouting was disturbing everybody in the pub, so the landlord asked us to take the conversation outside. This didn’t help much, because he just continued his rant outside and we were attracting quite a crowd. They’re a nosy lot in Barnsley. By now, he had raised his accusations to those of murder and said that he would get the police to arrest me. The police headquarters were just a few hundred yards away, so off we headed. At least that would get him off my back, or so I thought.
I told the cops that Mr Rawlins was shouting at me and making accusations that I knew nothing about. They told me that Niki was dead, but would say nothing about the circumstances of his death. They questioned me for around an hour, but all I could say was that I knew nothing about it. Apparently, the mock fight that I had with Niki made me the prime suspect, in Mr Rawlins’ view; but to me it was nothing more than a demonstration. I made a brief statement to that effect and left, thankfully not pursued by Rawlins.
That didn’t stop him, though. Every time I was in the pub, he was there with his accusations. It became difficult to have a conversation with anybody else. It was perhaps after his fourth onslaught that I started losing my temper with him. He was swearing at me and poking me repeatedly with his finger. I started swearing back at him. “Fuck off or I’ll belt the shit out of you.”
I grabbed him by the front of his shirt with my left hand and held him, with the single hand, clean off the floor, and growled, “I’ve told you, it wasn’t me.” I looked him in the eyes. I glared at him fiercely, my right hand clenched to hit him. Then I heard a voice in my head. It was Niki. I could hear him clearly.
He said, “Wait! The people who killed me. They were …”
My face froze. I didn’t know what was happening. My left arm relaxed and Rawlins’ feet went to the ground. He could see that my attitude had suddenly changed.
I just blurted it out. “His killers were …” I recited six names, one after the other, as Niki’s voice echoed in my head. As the last name came from my lips, I released my grip on Rawlins’s shirt and turned my head to the side.
“Who did you say they were?”
I turned my head to him. “I have no idea what I just said.” My head was swimming. What the hell had just happened?
“No. Who did you say his killers were?”
“I can’t remember the names that I just said.” It was true. I didn’t recognise any of the names when I said them and I was too astonished to try remembering.
“I’m going to the cops, right now!” He stormed out of the pub.
Well, at least he’d gone. I thought for a short while about what had happened. I could not fathom it out, but I figured that there was little to nothing that I could do about it. I shook my head for a few seconds and settled down for another pint or two. I wasn’t settled for long, though. Just over an hour later, Rawlins burst back into the pub.
“The cops want to see you down the station.” He pointed towards me.
“OK. I’ll finish my pint and we’ll go.”
Half an hour later, we were back at the station. An officer asked me to sit on a seat in a corridor. The corridor was quite long, with multiple doors on either side of me, and I was facing a kind of rounded corner desk where a police sergeant was busy booking offenders. I waited for nearly two hours while a string of prostitutes, thieves and drunks were processed and charged. Several people were marched past the desk into and out of the doors on either side.
I was getting impatient. They had marched one young lad three times backwards and forwards. I made a smart comment. “Don’t they have an exercise yard here?”
His hands were in cuffs. His stature, clothes and bum-fluff said he was around fourteen, but the expression on his face made him look maybe twenty. He didn’t look up.
The desk sergeant looked up at me with furrowed eyebrows. “Do you know that bloke, then?”
“Nah. Don’t think so. What’s he in for?”
He picked up the phone without answering. “You’re wanted in room 4.” He pointed down the corridor.
The door sign read ‘Interrogation Room 4’. I knocked. A plain clothes detective began what was to be a lengthy inquisition.
“Did you know any of the people in the corridor?” he asked.
“What people? I don’t understand.”
“The youths who were paraded in front of you. You made a remark to one of them. Do you know or recognise any of them?”
“Err, no, I don’t think so. What are they in for?”
“Murder. Four of them have confessed to the murder of Niki Rawlins. Are you sure that you have never seen any of them before?”
“I didn’t pay much attention. Can I see them again?”
“Maybe later. The thing is, we recorded your reactions on videotape, and theirs, as they passed you in the corridor. Neither you nor they gave any positive indications of recognition. So it adds up that either you don’t know them, or you are all very good actors who have concocted this whole shebang.”
“I don’t get what you’re on about. Concocted what?”
“Well, Mr Rawlins gave us six names that supposedly were given to him by you.”
Yes. I gave him some names in the pub. I remember that.”
“Well, we managed to link four of the names to local youths and brought them in for questioning. And do you know what?” He leaned towards me with a finger pointing above my head.
I shrugged and muttered something meaningless.
“They sang like skylarks. All four of ′em. Confessed to the lot; and implicated each other. And do you know what else?”
My eyes were wide and my jaw dropped. Again, I muttered meaninglessly.
“None of them knew your name or recognised you in the corridor.” His eyes were piercing and unrelenting. “So how is it that you know their names? The word ‘you’ was roared and his finger appeared huge, pointed right in front of my nose.
“I don’t, I mean I, I, I didn’t.” The man was scaring the shit out of me. “Niki told me,” I blurted.
“Niki’s dead. Dead men don’t talk. You were there, weren’t you?”
“No. I wasn’t. I swear.” Panic started to set in. I desperately tried to make up a plausible explanation for how I knew the names. OK, try the truth. “I heard Niki’s voice in my head as I was speaking to Mr Rawlins.”
“You what? You heard voices in your head? So what did those voices say to you?”
“It wasn’t voices, just one voice and it was Niki’s.” I was starting to doubt even my own words and here I am trying to convince this detective. I had to think fast, try to rationalise it all. “Maybe Niki spoke their names when we were out fishing.” Perhaps that was it, but I didn’t recall any talk about that.
“So who were they again?”
“I can’t remember who they were.”
“But you could remember them when you spoke to Mr Rawlins?”
Oh shit! He’d got me there. I tried to think of the names, but I could not remember even one of them. “Err, maybe the alcohol in the pub allowed a bit of lateral thinking.”
“What you’re saying just doesn’t add up. I don’t believe a word you’re saying.”
This interrogation was not going well at all. He continued on this line of questioning for what seemed like ages, going over the same details again and again, eventually asking me to wait in the corridor. After a while, they paraded one of the youths I had seen earlier past me once more.
As they passed me I asked, “Is this one of them, then?”
The youth looked around angrily. “Who are you? Are you the creep who turned us in?”
The police officer tugged on the youth's arm sharply. “Do you two know each other?”
“Never seen the bastard before,” he said, “but I’ll fucking kill you as well.”
I rarely let threats go. I stood up and put my nose right up to his. “Really. You wanna have a go at me now?
“I’ve got cuffs on, smart-ass.”
The officer looked at me and raised his eyebrows. “I could take them off for a while.”
A smirk came over my face and I nodded gently.
The second that the cuffs were released, he took a swing at me. It was a kind of roundhouse right hook. The sort that any trained fighter would never throw, because it telegraphs the movement. I was ready for it and saw it coming. I blocked it easily with a left-hand upper block and noticed that his arm was still out. He didn’t retract it. Quick as a flash, I put my right hand under his wrist and twisted his forearm forwards. This levered his wrist facing upwards, which I could hold in a lock with my left hand while pressing down on his shoulder. This put him in considerable pain and he was groaning loudly.
I looked up at the officer, expecting him to tell me to release him. This time, he just raised one eyebrow and gave a slight nod and a smile. I reckon that he thought the kid deserved a beating. That wasn’t my way, but I thought I’d take a bit of leeway. I pressed my thumb and forefinger around a nerve in his neck. I knew that this would inflict excruciating pain on him.
I intended to get him to declare that I wasn’t with him. “Who else was with you at the time?”
His answer really surprised me. “It was Billy from school. He stood guard at the gate.”
This was fresh stuff. Brilliant. “I think you just got yourselves another suspect.”
The officer put the cuffs back on and put him back in the cells. Meanwhile, they figured out who this ‘Billy’ was, arrested and charged him. I was in the clear, or so I thought. I stayed around for a while in the cop shop, talking to some of the officers in what seemed like a convivial manner. They were fascinated by the way I had controlled the youth, without actually injuring him and asked me if I would demonstrate the move to them. Why not? The pubs were shut by now and I was starting to enjoy myself.
They led me into quite a large room, which looked a bit like a small gymnasium, bare floors and walls, followed closely by half a dozen uniformed cops. They tried their best to pick up the moves, but in the few minutes of training their movements were uncoordinated.
Giving up, one of them took a gun out of his holster, posing with a proud look on his face. “Anyway. This is far more effective. No bastard argues with this.”
A sucker for challenges, I just could not resist. “You know, you might not be as safe as you think with that belief. Why not try pointing it at me without the bullets, so we’re a bit safer?”
He disarmed the gun and put it back in the holster. He went to put the gun right up to my head and got to the words, “Get on the ground, you …,” when I grabbed the gun from his hand.
Now we had been training in the martial arts class just the previous week, practicing how to remove a knife from an opponent’s hand. I figured that a gun would be even easier and it was. You just needed to move your hand quickly towards the gun, as if you were throwing a punch, grab the barrel firmly and lever it between the fingers and thumb. I hadn’t tried it before, but it worked a treat. Triumphantly, I took a step back and pointed the gun at the officer. By now all the other cops were in a crouched position, ready for action. Some of them had their hands on their holsters and it dawned on me that these people had loaded weapons.
“Yikes. I’m lowering this now.” Slowly, I pointed the gun to the floor.
As soon as my aim was clear of the officer, the loaded guns were drawn. “Put the gun on the floor and step away.”
“Right, bugger off. We’ll call you if we need you.”
Little did I know, this would not be long.
Next afternoon, I was sitting in the King George when a uniformed cop came in. I recognised him as one of the cops that I’d met the day before. I was sat behind the door, so he looked around with his back to me. The room was deadly quiet, everybody glaring at him.
Unable to spot me, he asked quietly, “Anybody seen Keith Marsh?”
I couldn’t resist the temptation. “Boo!”
His feet literally left the floor as he jumped and turned to face me.
He did not look happy. “You! You’re wanted down the station.”
I had an almost full pint of beer in front of me. “OK. I’ll finish my pint and we’ll be off.”
“Now!” He went to grab my glass and I acted instinctively to protect it. His hand never reached the glass. I grabbed his wrist with my right hand and pressed with the ball of my thumb against the radial nerve on the underside of his wrist. He bent down, twisted to the side and groaned in pain.
I let go of his wrist as soon as I saw the pain. “Look, I’ll finish it in a minute. I don’t enjoy swilling it.”
He wagged his finger at me and walked backwards out the door. “I’ll be outside.”
The landlord, Albion Turner, shouted at me, “I reckon you’ll be spending the night in the nick for that.”
“Nah! He was one of the cops that I was showing the martial arts moves to yesterday, back at the station. I reckon he knows me.”
He did know me, because at that moment, he burst back in with five other hefty cops. He was last in, though, and the other cops went straight past me into the centre of the room.
The first cop pointed towards me. “He’s there!”
The cops turned around and one of them shouted, “Grab him.”
My limbs seemed to act of their own accord. I stood up and went into instinctive defence mode. I had practiced defence against multiple opponents many times in the training area, or Dojo as we called it, but never in real life. I was able to visualise each of my opponents’ limbs and make counter-moves in lightning quick time. I had never felt such strength as my blocks and grabs deflected each arm that came towards me. I was aware that I shouldn’t punch or kick as this was, in my inebriated belief, merely an attempt to defend my pint. Two of the heavier specimens made a simultaneous run at me. One went for the head whilst the other went for the waist in a rugby-style attempt. This was fun. I ducked below waist level and grabbed each of their leading hands. As they passed, I stood up and with a quick twist of the wrist, they were on their arses, banged against tables and chairs.
As the fallen attackers stood up, I realised that they were all around me in a circle. My hands were up against my chest in a defensive position; in less than a single second I looked each of them in the eye. If they all came in at once, I would have no chance of defence. I’d had my fun and it was time to give up.
As I opened my mouth to surrender, one of them shouted, “Right; outside.”
At first, I thought that he meant for me to go outside, but the cops ran straight past me and through the door.
Albion shouted at me, “Now I know you’ll be spending the night in the nick.”
I looked back at my table and, surprisingly, my pint was still intact.
“Well, if I’m gonna get locked up, I may as well feel good while I’m in there.” I downed the pint in one go and walked out the door.
To my surprise, only the original cop was there waiting.
“OK, the pint’s finished.”
He arched his neck at me. “Are you ready to come in for questioning?”
“Sure, yeah. Where are all the others?”
“Forget them.” He glanced to his side and I could see a cop car and a panda-wagon. “It’s just that we’ve called for a SWAT Squad and they’re on their way.”
These were people I didn’t want to face. “Shit. Look, why don’t you just cuff me and we can walk up to the station?” I put my hands behind my back and on went the cuffs.
They bundled me into a cop car and off we went to the station, sirens blaring.
After a further ten hours of questioning, they finally released me without charge. Niki’s uncle was the instigator behind it. He couldn’t figure out how I could have named Niki’s killers without being part of it. Some of the cops were also convinced that I was involved, but none of those convicted knew me and several people from the White Hart, my father’s pub, had seen me working behind the bar on the night of the murder, so they could not make any charges stick.
Even I could not explain the voice of Niki in my head, calling out the names of his killers. I was almost certain that we hadn’t talked about them before. How could I possibly recite them so accurately and then not be able to remember them afterwards? That was spooky. Unanswered questions bugged me. The possibilities, weird as they may be, seemed to be either Niki’s ghost was speaking to me, or I had an ability to sense events from the past in a manner that I could not quite put into words. It was going to take many more experiences to formulate any logical theory to explain these events.
That was the last I heard about the crime until several months afterwards, when a cop came up to me out of the blue and told me that one of the youths who had confessed to the murder had been acquitted due to being tortured by me, so the confession was thrown out of court. I pointed out that the confession was obtained before I tortured the guy and all I got out of the torture was the name of another accomplice. Quite a lot had happened during those months and I was able to order the cop to present my evidence and retry the youth. The youth was given a heavy jail sentence at his retrial.
The story of how I was able to give the cop orders and how the incident with Bill Smith had brought back my recollections beggars credulity, but I will relate it as I remember it.