A Winter Solstice Story
Despite several theories to the contrary, the priapic spirit that has in the last few years been seen at Stone Henge during the winter solstice was not, in fact, a druid. Accounts of the apparition vary, but common features suggest a tall, emaciated male figure, naked from the waist down and usually described as somewhat ‘excited.’ Some say he is also clearly looking for something or someone among the stones. The Society for Psychical Research has argued, however, that what witnesses had seen was more likely to be some sort of long, ceremonial dagger than the large phallus often reported. They similarly cite references to the ghostly figure going back to the early-Roman occupation, although several eyewitnesses have claimed the phantom was dressed in a more contemporary fashion, notably sporting a Motörhead T-shirt. Given the state of mind of most people hanging around Stone Henge during both the summer and winter solstice, their testimony has largely been discounted by paranormal investigators, despite being widely reported by the tabloids and incorporated into the legend of the band.
But, as is so often the case, the hippies were right. This mournful presence is, like the miner’s strike and the rise of neoliberalism, a product of the Thatcher era, rather than that of Julius Caesar. As there is now, as far as I know, no one still living, out of prison, or in England who was directly involved with the events surrounding the appearance of this strange revenant (and who might therefore be liable for prosecution), I feel able disclose the true story, as it was related to me by my late father.
It all goes back to the way my dad and his best mate, Rick, got their colours and became full members of the Last Heroes motorcycle club. This was a tale neither ever tired of telling, regularly embellished though it was, depending on company, and both source and level of inebriation. With that in mind, I tend to assume the first version I heard, told around a fire one drunken birthday, was probably the most accurate. It is now, anyway.
Back in 1982, these two were young; much younger than I am now, being barely eighteen. But they were keen, this pair of drug-addled hooligans, these children of the post-punk estates. Shat on by Tories, tormented by skinheads and disowned by their families, they had hit the road on big British bikes – the cheap option back then – and set out to make a name for themselves in the local scene. This they had achieved, by virtue of my not-yet-father’s already impressive gift for engineering, his seemingly endless supply of pharmaceuticals, and Rick’s fearsome reputation as a streetfighter. Rick, on an export 750 AJS he did not have a licence to ride, backed down to no man or men. He had recently come to the attention of the local bike club by punching one of them through a chip shop window one night after a robust discussion on the relative merits of Japanese versus British motorcycles. Rick’s patriotism prevailed, which was ironic because even my father couldn’t keep that AJ running right and he later traded it in for a Suzuki Katana during his road warrior period.
The guy who’d gone through the plate glass was not alone, and while everyone was looking at him bleeding on the pavement, my dad, confidently expecting the ‘You fight one you fight us all’ rule to apply, had already dropped a handful of downers so he wouldn’t care about the kicking he was about the get. This did not happen. Instead, the bested barbarian got up and started laughing. ‘Fuck me,’ he said, addressing Rick through the broken window, ‘I think you knocked me into some dog shit.’
‘As if you didn’t smell bad enough already, you dirty bastard,’ shouted one of his mates, and they all started laughing.
Rick continued to eat his chips.
The counter staff had legged it by this point, so the bikers emptied the hotplates, the friars and the till, inexpertly wrapping piles of food in newspaper, before stuffing the warm bundles into T-shirts and leather jackets. My dad rolled a fag in relief, and tried to figure out how long he had to ride back to his bed-sit before the drugs kicked in and rendered him utterly useless. The crews went their separate ways when sirens were heard in the distance, but not before the bloke Rick had hit dropped an invite to the Heroes’ forthcoming Halloween party. ‘You can bring this one as well,’ he added, nodding towards my dad, who was jumping up and down on the kick-start of his old Ariel combo, which was a bitch to start in the cold.
And that was how they ended up prospecting for the club.
Prospects were basically serfs, bound to obey without question any order and to complete any task given to them by full members. I never fancied it myself – too much like the army or the Boy Scouts – but you had to go through this gruelling apprenticeship to get your colours. To men who were otherwise destined for farms, fishing boats or factories, this was status, this was power. You wore those colours, you got respect. So, Rick and my dad, whose name was Chas, by the way, although everyone called him ‘Doc’ on account of his drug connections and his ability to keep even the most clapped-out museum piece running, were happy to prospect, especially as they had the distinction of being the youngest lads to do so in the history of the club. Mostly it was shit work: endless drug runs in the middle of the night when the gang was on one and the speed ran out, getting whores for parties, paying them off afterwards so they wouldn’t press charges, having a word with some local fence or dealer who wasn’t paying their way, and constant bike fixing and cleaning. The Last Heroes rode predominantly British bikes. This kept Chas busy. He was forever battling fresh oil leaks and fettling dynamos and regulators, an archaic electromechanical switch like something out of a pinball machine that kept the batteries charged to run those puny six-volt headlights.
The biggest hassle was being sent off on an errand in the middle of the night, when it was cold out and you were already warm and high. This happened one memorable evening after a long and miserable run to Stone Henge at the stupid time of year, initiated by the club president’s latest girlfriend, a middle-class hippy called Tanith, who had fallen off the rails at some point after slumming it a touch too long on the way to university. She had wrapped him round her little finger, though, and insisted on a Blue Christmas, intent on performing some sort of ritual on the longest night. And where the Pres went, the gang had to follow, those who couldn’t fit in the club Transit forced to ride on trikes and hastily rigged combos to keep upright on the frozen roads.
The ride had felt like the last convoy out of Stalingrad, but the tents and teepees were up now, and the brass monkeys were beginning to thaw. Compared to the summer festival, it was a modest camp, but druids and crusties were still drawn to the place, and there was even a small stage set up with talk of a few bands the following night. The beans were on the fire, and the cheap wine, cans and spliffs were already going around when the Pres, Sweeney, a small but terrifying man so named for his fondness for straight razors in an argument, casually waved Rick and Chas over.
‘I’ve got a little job for you, boys,’ said he, the light of the fire on his matted beard and the cadaverous circles his goggles had left around his dark eyes giving him an infernal aspect.
‘Whatever you want, boss,’ said Rick, sitting cross-legged at the master’s feet. Chas, meanwhile, managed to create a space for himself next to Rick. Inwardly, he prayed for a simple task, like finding some Rastas on the site and picking up an ounce of ganga, or maybe some acid for the solstice.
‘Whatever I want,’ repeated the Pres, studying the joint his was smoking with his usual level of unnerving intensity, his face behind a great cloud of dope smoke, ‘I’ll bear that in mind.’ He passed the spliff to Rick first, there being no doubt where Chas was in the hierarchy. He kept quiet, awaiting orders.
‘Well,’ said the Pres, his voice as rough and hard as the road just ridden, ‘it slipped me mind before we left, but my little brother’s getting out tomorrow.’ Round the fire, the other bikers started snuffling and chuckling.
‘Oh yeah?’ says Rick, with exaggerated interest.
‘He’s a bit of a useless cunt,’ said the Pres, to general agreement from the company, ‘but family’s family an’ all, and I’d never hear the end of it if he missed a gathering, especially here.’ He gave his woman’s arse a squeeze and continued. ‘Anyways,’ he said, ‘him and Tanith are old friends, like. I think we need to get them together.’
Tanith, who was goth before there was a word for it, looked slightly awkward but nodded.
‘Sort of like a family reunion,’ Chas chipped in, and then wished he hadn’t. There was clearly a complicated history here, but he was new to the gang and didn’t even know the Pres had a brother.
Talking out of turn like that could’ve turned nasty, but the Pres was happily stoned just then and not in the mood to punish anyone. ‘See?’ he says, getting up in Chas’s face while playing to the group, ‘the fucking grease monkey gets it.’
He leaned in close to the pair of them and put his simian arms around their shoulders. ‘I want you boys to go to Norwich nick tomorrow and pick the dozy bastard up. He should be out by ten. Get him dressed proper, take him over to Fifi’s and get him laid, then get him on a bike and back up here. If you get going now, you’ll be back in time for the party and then we can all watch the sunrise together.’
Rick handed his friend the spliff and beamed like a maniac. ‘Groovy,’ he said.
‘It’s snowing,’ said Chas.
‘Be nice for the ritual,’ offered Tanith.
Fuck off, thought Chas.
Steiner, the stony-faced sergeant at arms, was instructed to give the lads fifty quid for expenses. They then had to drag their exhausted arses to their bikes and head back the two hundred-or-so miles they’d just come in the dark, dodging coppers and squinting through freezing drizzle; Rick on the AJ and Chas on the Ariel, both with bloody great crates on the side to hold them up. Cheap leathers under army surplus greatcoats did little to keep out the eviscerating wind, but Chas had a drop of sulphate on him and that kept them going. Fortunately, the bikes had been got in good order for the run up, and the crude engines liked the cold. An impromptu jaunt across England on motorcycles by then already a quarter-of-a-century old, even for a seasoned mechanic, could be quite fraught. They stopped only to smoke, warm their hands on their engines, and bomb more speed. By the time the road signs started saying ‘Norwich,’ both were utterly twisted and the iron heads of their engines were glowing a dull red.
They made it in early enough to stop at an all-night café on the edge of the red-light district, full of whores, tramps and taxi drivers, and washed down bacon sandwiches with huge mugs of sweet tea. Both were so parched they could hardly speak, but the speed was making them chain smoke. They couldn’t afford to crash yet, though, so they went to the bog and bombed some more. Chas reckoned they had just enough to get them back, if they didn’t share it with their passenger.
Savage sunlight acupunctured dry and wild eyes hidden behind Rick’s aviator shades and Chas’s wraparounds. It was a bold look for the middle of winter, but by necessity they pulled it off. As agreed, they were at the gates of the imposing Victorian prison ten minutes before the allotted time, stamping their feet to keep warm, cooling bikes ticking, an ominous oil leak under the Ariel. At about half-past, their charge emerged, pulling an Afghan coat around his shoulders. He refused to shake the hand of the guard who’d just let him out, and wandered over to the lads, his arms out expansively.
When he realised neither was his brother he turned snotty. ‘Who the fuck are you?’ says he.
Although a full club member, he was not a figure who immediately commanded respect, especially as neither of the friends had ever met him. He’d gone in before their time for bringing a couple of pounds of skag in from Holland, and the word was his own inability to leave it alone had led to his easy capture by customs. Your basic wanker, but very well connected.
Rick threw the man his colours and said, ‘I’m Rick and this is the Doc, and we’re here to get you sorted out and take you to the Henge.’
‘Your brother’s waiting,’ added Chas.
The guy eyed up the dirty bikes, streaked with mud and road salt. ‘Which one’s mine?’ he said imperiously.
‘Neither,’ said Rick, ‘now do you want a fucking lift or what?’
‘Cool, cool,’ said the Pres’s brother, flopping into Chas’s sidecar, which was the bigger of the two and had a wooden toolbox with a vinyl-covered lid that doubled as a primitive seat. A tarp that kept the rain out of the electrics served him as a blanket. ‘I’ll take this, then,’ he said.
‘Good lad,’ said Rick.
Chas was apt to be friendlier. ‘Alright?’ he said, climbing onto his outfit. ‘You want a fag or anything?’
His passenger beamed, and shook his hand. ‘Fuck, yeah,’ he said, and thus was a bond of sorts formed over a rollie, it being deemed imprudent to skin one up in front of the nick in broad daylight. Less strained introductions were made, and Long Tom, the lanky, emaciated brother of the most powerful gang leader this side of London expressed his enthusiasm for the plan, as long as he could stop off at the Street to score first, assuming it was still there, and that someone could spot him a tenner, which he swore he was good for.
Argyll Street was a notorious squat, tagged ‘Desolation Row’ across its corporation road sign. Tom scored some H while Chas picked up some more speed and had a quick spliff and a coffee with a small-time dealer called Billy, whose windowsills were lined with empty bottles of Gee’s Linctus. He took frequent blasts on a blue puffer between drags, and coughed like a doomed poet. Heavy dub reverberated through the walls and feral children with dogs in tow crowded around the bikes until Rick chased them off by threatening to kill Santa.
‘That was harsh,’ said Tom.
Once more fortified, they headed next for Fiona’s, the roughest brothel in the city and a home from home for the Last Heroes, a relationship that absolved its proprietor from the obligation of the club’s private insurance scheme. Smart enough to put a much-needed shag ahead of his high, Tom hadn’t had anything except weed and seemed reasonably coherent.
Fifi’s was always open. It was one of those weird buildings on an intersection by an industrial estate that was completely alone, nothing around if bar a ring road moat and a scrap of parking space. It was tall and relatively windowless, the concrete darkened by years of pollution. A battered metal sign suggested that it was a warehouse, but it looked more like a prison watchtower. There was nothing to indicate the place was anything but derelict, except for the heavy wooden door and a couple of cars outside, the early trade.
Inside smelt of fag smoke, disinfectant, and kerosene heaters. The reception area, a bunch of worn and unmatched armchairs under a harsh strip light facing a telly, had been half-heartedly decked-out for Christmas. There was a small, artificial tree on the counter where the boss sat, and a few cards tacked-up in her office behind it, a pokey space about as big as a broom cupboard. Someone had draped tinsel around the erotic art prints on the wall, and added a cardboard angel to the door that led upstairs, with the words ‘Stairway to Heaven’ scratched into the paintwork.A portable radio-cassette player was belting out the Elvis Christmas album. A couple of girls in lingerie and polyester wraps – a curvy brunette and a scrawny redhead – sat reading magazines and smoking, indifferent to the men. Today, a rather bored-looking but glamourous mixed-race woman was hanging on the phone making a booking. No need for security. It was well-known who protected this place.
Rick went over and put the phone down. ‘Get Fifi,’ he said.
She regarded him for a moment like shit on her boot, then turned to a complex intercom on the wall, pressed a grimy button and called, ‘Mum.’
A Dalek voice crackled back. ‘Piss off, I’m working!’
Rick walked to the door and called upstairs. ‘Finish him off, Fif, we need you!’
Our hostess appeared momentarily, dark hair up, face gleaming, a black silk dressing gown wrapped round her compact frame, flashing black nylons and gold heels. ‘I’m all of a muck sweat,’ she said, fanning herself with her hand. She flung herself at Tom with a yelp of apparently genuine pleasure, pulling his head down to give him a proper kiss. ‘You should’ve told me it was the boys, Cas,’ she said, directing her attention to her daughter.
Cas glared, being less inclined to fawn to representatives of the clan that was, in her view, leaching off the establishment, especially ones who weren’t even full club members. She was relatively new to the family business, and didn’t know who Tom was. Fifi hustled her into the office and explained in an urgent whisper. Tom dropped into a chair, joining Chas, who was staring vacantly at daytime TV and lighting one fag off another. The girls kept reading, not making eye-contact, while a nervous middle-aged punter in a raincoat and a flat cap came downstairs and left without saying a word.
Fifi hastily re-emerged, applying fresh lippy, having slipped into her civilian clothes, tight jeans and a black tank top. ‘Now what can I do for you love,’ she boomed, looking at Tom, ‘as if I didn’t know.’
‘You know what I like, Fif,’ he said, as if they’d been parted barely a day, rather than the two-plus years he’d done inside.
‘Do either of these lovely ladies take your fancy?’ she inquired, indicating the girls already downstairs. They obligingly disrobed and flashed fake smiles at Tom.
‘Very nice,’ he said, sitting up suddenly, ‘but do you have anyone, you know, a bit bigger like?’
‘Well,’ said Fifi, suddenly all business, ‘there’s Sadie, she’s upstairs just now but I doubt she’ll be long. She has what you might call a fuller figure, and Mary’ll be in on the hour and there’s a lot of her to love.’ She turned to her receptionist. ‘Cas,’ she ordered, ‘get the books.’
A vinyl-covered photo album that served as a portfolio was delivered, and Fifi flicked through it, marking a couple of pages with her fingers before sharing it with Tom. Sadie was a busty blond who wouldn’t be seeing forty again but hid it well, while Mary was a big lass with dyed black hair and broad, tattooed arms. ‘Oh, I like her,’ said Tom.
‘Have a drink, then,’ said Fifi, ‘on the house, naturally. She’ll be in in a bit.’ She looked nervously at her watch. ‘Cas,’ she said, ‘get some beers out the fridge.’
Drinks appeared on the counter. Rick and Tom sucked them down, but Chas nursed his. ‘Tell you what,’ said Tom suddenly, ‘how about I have ’em both?’
‘Give Sadie a buzz,’ Fifi told Cas, ‘tell her she’s needed.’
Sadie came down in red satin and draped herself across Tom, helping herself to a drink. Shortly thereafter, Mary arrived and the three disappeared upstairs.
‘Well boys,’ said Fifi, ‘can I do anything for you?’
Now, my future father found the fleshy and slightly overripe madam disquietingly alluring, but he was too spineless to ask. He shook his head shyly. ‘I’m fucked already, Fif,’ he said. ‘If I went upstairs I’d not want to move again, and we’ve got a long ride ahead of us.’ He was also acutely aware that all that sulphate had somewhat shrunken his manhood.
Though a long ride from her was what Chas really wanted, Fifi took pity, being grateful for the rest. She liked my dad. He was always one of the well-behaved ones. ‘I’ll put the kettle on,’ she said.
Rick snorted, selected the ginger woman and took himself upstairs. Whizz, reflected Chas, did not seem to effect cavemen. Fifi returned from her office with two steaming mugs of tea and an open packet of custard creams. She sat next to Chas, lit a Superking and picked a TV Times up off the empty chair next to her. ‘Let’s see what’s on,’ she said.
About halfway through a repeat of last year’s Bullseye Christmas special, all hell broke loose upstairs. A woman was screaming and there was the Gestapo thump of boots on the floor. Rick’s voice was quickly added to the hysteria, calling colourfully for his oppo. Mary came thundering downstairs and exploded through the door wearing a tiny black shift. She hurled herself into Fifi’s arms, sobbing.
‘I’ll go and see what’s up,’ said Chas wearily.
He climbed the narrow stairs calling for Tom and Rick. There was a door open on the third floor with enough noise to be suspicious. Cautiously, he looked inside.
Like all the rooms, this one was as generic as an airport hotel. Tom was lying on his back, naked on slippery black silk sheets with Sadie on top of him pushing. Rick, also naked except for his jackboots, was bent over him, apparently joining in. There were works on a small table next to a sink.
‘Sorry!’ said Chas, backing out into the hall again.
‘Get back in here, you dozy cunt,’ yelled Rick. ‘He’s not breathing.’
Sadie had some first aid training and was frantically administering CPR, pumping Tom’s chest while Rick was aware enough of the gravity of the situation to be trying the kiss of life. Tom was as still as a marble effigy on a tombstone, his clean blood ill-prepared for whatever it was he’d recently added.
‘Oh, bollocks,’ said Chas.
Fifi joined the tableau. ‘I’ve sent Mary home,’ she explained. ‘She’s never had one die on her before. Don’t worry, she won’t say nothing.’
Sadie stopping pumping. She climbed off Tom, exposing an impressive erection. She pulled her scarlet nightie down and stood awkwardly by the bed. Wiping his mouth carelessly with his arm, Rick went off to get dressed, his girl forgotten. The sight of him striding purposefully back to his room persuaded any civilians milling about fearful of a raid to return to their beds. Chas rolled a cigarette and offered the tin to Sadie, while considering their options. From what he knew of the Pres, he figured they were as dead as Tom was, and twice as fucked.
Rick re-joined the group, pulling on a black T-shirt. ‘So, what do we do?’ said Chas.
‘Do?’ said Rick, apparently surprised. ‘We take him to the fucking Henge, like we were told to.’
‘Yeah,’ said Fifi, ‘sounds like a plan.’
‘You should totally do that,’ agreed Sadie.
‘You’re insane, the lot of you,’ said Chas.
‘Shut up and help me get him dressed,’ said Rick.
As anyone who has done this will tell you, the hardest part about killing someone is getting rid of the body. OK, the lads had not actually punched Tom’s ticket, but otherwise the same rules applied. He was not a small man either; though skinny, he was tall and long-limbed. And that bloody diamond cutter was not settling down either. ‘Standing for the Queen, ’eh?’ said Fifi, giving it a friendly flick with the back of her hand to assess the problem. ‘Jesus Christ,’ she concluded, ‘I think rigor mortis has already set in.’
‘We could cut it off,’ offered Rick.
‘Fuck off could we!’ countered Chas, panic rising – Rick already had the blade out – ‘he’ll still bleed everywhere, you mad bastard.’
‘Oh, right,’ said Rick, folding his evil lock knife away again.
Eventually, the three of them managed to dress the corpse, folding the offending member up rather than down. Sadie was obviously still shaken and it would’ve been cruel to ask her to get involved.
‘Cheer up,’ Rick had advised, ‘I wouldn’t mind you fucking me to death.’ I think this was supposed to be a compliment, but that was Sadie done. Weeping, she fled the room, swearing off bloody drugs and hippies forever.
‘Did she just call me a fucking hippy?’ said Rick.
The afternoon was getting on and a four or five hour ride beckoned, assuming the bikes actually held out and the cops ignored them. It was the shortest day, so the darkness would favour them. Fifi went downstairs to fill her daughter in, and to hit a button on the intercom that indicated ‘Trouble.’ In all the rooms above, blue fairy lights hung over each bed clicked on, warning the girls to keep themselves and their clients hidden away until signalled. Coast clear, Rick and Chas struggled downstairs with the corpse.
Cas glared at them with a hatred that was barely contained. Chas started to apologise until Rick punched him on the arm. ‘Shut the fuck up,’ he said.
Fifi had a quick look outside, but although there was no one heading to the house, traffic thundered past on all sides. There was nothing for it but to count on the obtuseness of their fellow citizens. They carried Tom out like a friend the worse for the drink and stuck him in the sidecar, lashed upright with a couple of discrete bungee cords. They didn’t bother with the tarpaulin. Chas stuck his shades on him to make him look a touch less cadaverous. He ran back inside and hastily divided up the last of the speed after offering Fifi a line, wrapping it in two separate Rizlas. He swallowed one and took the other out to Rick. Now, at least, they were clean if they were stopped and their friend had just overdosed. Trust me, it sounded like a good plan at the time.
The damp bike seats were beginning to freeze, but thankfully both machines fired-up. Fifi came out to see them off, tapping Chas for the girls’ fees plus a generous tip for the inconvenience.
He thanked her for the tea.
She smiled, despite herself. ‘Now piss off, the pair of you,’ she said.
It was coming up to rush hour by then and the combos slowed them down. With a sidecar, you have to sit in traffic. Finally, they got off the interminable ring road and headed out of town, having agreed that they were probably less conspicuous for just hammering up the motorway. This was a couple of years before the Miner’s Strike and the Battle of the Beanfield, so assuming they didn’t obviously break any laws they had a fair chance of being left alone unless some traffic cops decided to randomly breathalyse them. In their favour, big bikes tended not to get pulled over. If you’d lived long enough to pass your test and graduate to a respectable hog, the police tended not to bother you as long as you weren’t fucking about. It was the lads on FS1-Es with L-plates that attracted all the unnecessary attention. Rick and Chas were past that stage now, as long as no one asked for Rick’s licence.
They kept to a steady sixty, which was about right for Chas’s old Ariel, a 500cc single with a Goldie piston artfully installed to beef up the compression. Rick was on a classic superbike and could’ve cruised at seventy, even with the chair. They stopped only once, for petrol and to top up their oil tanks. As they rode, Chas’s eyes were constantly drawn to Tom, who stared fixedly forward into the wind, grinning horribly in the motorway lights. He had acquired a light covering of ice. When you ride a motorcycle, you have time to think, and my prospective parent was seriously evaluating his life choices. What if they got stopped? What if his souped-up engine finally decided to blow? What were they going to tell the Pres? They could have run, but theirs was a small world and they’d have been found in the end and then lost again. There were plenty of shallow graves in Thetford Forest already; two more wouldn’t make any difference to the club. He wound it on and willed the journey to end, at the same time wanting the ride to last forever, aware that it was the hand of Fate, not his own, that was now steering the heavy bike.
At last, they entered the chalk downland that heralded the wide valleys of Wiltshire, painted with frost and as cold as the moon. They rumbled across Salisbury Plain towards the great stone circle, like frozen arctic mariners lashed to the wheel.
One year, the Hells Angels had tried taking over the free festival during the summer solstice and charging admission. This had not gone well, and now an uneasy détente existed between the bikers and the travellers. To this end, the Last Heroes had set about building themselves a fenced compound for their tents and their bikes out of smashed pallets and scrap wood. This spindly paddock sat at the end of a long natural track that no one had been stupid enough to try camping on, despite the small settlement of tents, buses and communal fires that had grown up around the stones, in microcosm of the much larger summer celebration. The winter solstice was for the real die-hards. It was here that the lads cautiously rode, finally rolling to a halt at the end of a long line of bikes, to find that no one was there.
They dismounted, almost as stiff as their passenger. ‘They must all be at the stage,’ said Chas, gratefully warming his ruined hands by the campfire the club had left burning, his voice odd to himself, his ears ringing from the constant roar of his own engine.
‘Good,’ said Rick simply, a plan clearly forming. He hung his battered open-face lid on the bars of his bike and said, ‘Let’s get him in your tent.’
‘Why my tent?’ Chas had a small teepee about which he was quite possessive. Because he always preferred a sidecar, even in summer, he could strap the poles forward on the thing like a squire carrying jousting sticks on a donkey.
‘Well, I ain’t fucking putting him in mine.’
As he’d already carried the body, Chas was beginning to feel quite put upon. But he knew in his heart of hearts that it was Rick who was the cool one in a crisis and, anyways, mates though they were it never did to get on the wrong side of him. ‘Get his fucking legs,’ he said, defeated.
This was not as easy as it sounded. Six or seven hours dead, Tom’s oxygen depleted muscles had started to lock. ‘Jesus,’ said Chas, ‘he’s as stiff as a board.’ He smelled weird as well. ‘He’s rotting already,’ he added.
‘Don’t be soft,’ said Rick. ‘It’s fucking freezing. I think he’s just shit himself.’
They dragged Tom out of the box and put him on the ground. He looked like a shelf bracket, a grotesque and solid right angle in the light of the abandoned bonfire. ‘For fuck’s sake,’ said Rick. He pivoted poor old Tom on his axis and then, right hand on the deceased’s chest and left forearm across his thighs, heaved down with his full weight. There was a sickening crack and Tom finally lay down. It was noticeable, however, that his earlier priapism showed no signs of going off. ‘Fuck me,’ remarked Rick, as they got him into the tent, ‘is that a broom handle in his pocket or is he just pleased to see me?’
‘You can clean him up,’ said Chas. ‘I’m done.’
Rick swore, pulled Toms jeans down and cut his underwear off. He bundled the nappy-like Y-fronts up and threw them on the fire. They then arranged him on top of a sleeping bag, wiped off his face and rested his head on a rucksack. Chas retrieved his sunglasses, thought about it, and then threw them on the fire as well. The torchlight was less forgiving than the flickering flames. Tom’s face was an icy wax mask, dry eyed, pale and vacant, and still smiling. ‘So, what’s the plan?’ said Chas.
‘Get a fucking drink,’ said Rick.
Like Lancers riding towards the sounds of the guns, they made their way through the rag-tag campsite towards the low stage, pushing through a small gaggle of old hippies, young punks, students, crusties, wiccans and druids. They spotted the club colours on a group occupying the space in front of the tented mixing desk where a spaced-out long-hair did his best to keep up with the singer on the stage, who appeared to be on roller skates. There were burning braziers dotted about, around which the faithful huddled. The rest of the audience was sensibly giving the bikers a pretty wide berth. The club were inside a tight circle bordered by invisible menace in which they variously smoked, drank, tripped, and danced, impervious to hypothermia care of a wide variety of stimulants. At the heart stood the Pres, the general surveying his troops, attended by Tanith. In the distance, the huge stones looked on, ancient and implacable. Chas thought about human sacrifice as he approached his lord and master. Just then he knew exactly how those poor Neolithic bastards must have felt, waiting for the ceremonial blade to fall.
They had to cup hands and bellow in each other’s ears. Rick took the lead, and all in all it went quite well. Like many of those assembled, the Pres had already dropped a couple of tabs and was thus in an expansive if surreal state of mind, easily distracted by the music and the lights. It took a while, but using a combination of improvised sign language and acid logic, Rick managed to explain that Tom was back at the camp feeling a bit delicate. Chas, meanwhile, talked some dope out of one of his mates and rolled a generous joint while he waited for the conversation to reach some sort of natural resolution.
‘He always was a fucking lightweight,’ said the Pres, before drifting off again to study his hand, with a confused, slightly alarmed look in his eye.
Tanith looked similarly out of it. She was all over the Pres, but he was clearly on another planet. She shouted something at him about the ritual and then left him to it, pushing him away with something like contempt. He sank slowly back into the frozen mud, looking up at the sky and giggling. ‘Why don’t you go and be nice to my little brother,’ he called, ‘you know you want to.’
‘Maybe I will,’ she yelled, coming over to Chas. ‘Is he alright?’ she demanded.
‘He’s a bit tired,’ he said.
Tanith thought about it for a minute, looked at her watch, then at the Pres. ‘Fuck it,’ she said. She pinched Chas’s spliff and lurched off through the crowd, back towards the camp. The Pres returned his attention to the trails his fingers made across the clear night sky.
Rick looked at Chas and shrugged. ‘Skin another one up then,’ he shouted.
There’s was nothing for it but to get fucked up, so they did, restocking from other club members and a quick visit to a recommended dealer spotted in the crowd. Only the offered LSD was side-stepped, because Rick did not indulge, and Chas was smart enough to know that he’d be looking at a very bad trip indeed if he went anywhere near a Class A psychedelic. He stuck to the amphetamines, which went very well with the cheap booze during the rounds and the odd hit on a pipe. If he survived the solstice he knew the crash would be biblical when it came, but right now it was good to keep things tight and optimistic. There was a reason all those fighter pilots were speeding through the Battle of Britain. You can keep your cocaine. Nothing makes you feel quite as invincible as strong drink and a couple of grams of sulphate.
Eventually, Tanith staggered back, looking a bit the worse for wear. The set had finished by then, and everyone was just waiting for the sunrise, each group with its own soundtrack – guitars, drums, and ghetto blasters playing heavy dub, punk and space rock. Everywhere people were laughing and smoking dope while self-styled druids pissed about among the stones.
Chas was sitting cross-legged in the inner circle, the Pres being pleased with his performance that day. Someone had managed to get a fire together. Even for seasoned bikers, it was a hell of a run to make in under twenty-four hours. He caught Rick’s eye. ‘He we go,’ he mouthed silently.
Eyes the size of flying saucers, the Pres waved his old lady over. ‘How is he?’ he said, as she collapsed down beside him and demanded a drink.
‘He didn’t say much,’ she said, speaking as much to Chas as the Pres.
Chas lit yet another cigarette and coughed nervously. Between the fags and the endless spliffs, his lungs felt like they’d been through a cheese grater. ‘He’s enigmatic,’ he said, ‘a lot of ex-cons are like that.’
‘That’s true,’ said the Pres. ‘They can go either way – they either don’t shut up or you can’t get a word out of the bastards.’ Rick nodded in agreement, before lurching to his feet and announcing he was going for a piss. The Pres ignored him. ‘Anyway,’ he continued, leering at Tanith like the old perv that he was, ‘I wanted you to shag him not start a conversation.’
‘Oh, I rode that torpedo,’ she said, laughing and flinging her arms around him. ‘He’s a big boy, your brother, but not as big as you.’
They kissed wetly. ‘No regrets, then?’ said the Pres, gazing at her with something approaching genuine affection.
She hesitated for a moment. ‘No regrets,’ she said.
At this point, Chas just lost it. What began as a snuffle, an urge to chuckle suppressed by a tremendous effort of will, slipped its rusty chain and became a long animal howl of mirthless laughter. He hunched over, tearing up, helplessly bashing the ground with his fist. Nearby acid-heads began to join in, and soon the sounds of the asylum ruled. The Pres and his woman were sucked in, roaring like drains and dribbling like idiots. They laughed until stomach muscles already wasted by coughing fits and hard-tailed motorcycles could stand no more and several bladders emptied, they laughed like they were children, they laughed like it was the end of the world. Afterwards, not a one could’ve told you why.
‘What’s so fucking funny?’ the Pres finally managed, the tsunami gradually passing.
Snotting and hacking as if recently water-boarded, Chas pulled it together. ‘I was just thinking about that song by Alice Cooper.’
‘You know, all of them…’ There was still an edge of hysteria to his voice, but he was just about able to reign it in.
‘Roll me another joint, you twat,’ said the Pres, ‘and we’ll talk about your promotion.’
They walked up to the stones together, the crowd wisely parting. They shared a smoke, and watched the sun rise while the druids performed their rituals to the lost gods of England. Tanith chanted quietly.
Rick joined them. ‘Where have you fucking been?’ hissed Chas.
‘Just putting the fix in,’ Rick whispered, and left it at that.
He exuded a confidence that his old friend did not share. Eventually, the group slogged it back to the camp, planning a brew and a final spliff before sleeping it off until mid-afternoon, after which they’d pack up and head home for Christmas, when the whole mad orgy would start up again.
The Pres went over to Chas’s tent and gave one of the panels a kick. ‘Get up, you lazy cunt,’ he bellowed and he laughed.
Unsurprisingly, Tom did not emerge.
The Pres let himself in, and this was followed by the sound of slaps and more laughter until his eyes must have adjusted because his tone became suddenly much more serious. ‘Oh, you silly bastard,’ he said, not shouting exactly, but his voice loud enough to carry. He stuck his head out of the tent and called Steiner over, along with Tanith, Rick and Chas.
They all crawled inside, Rick and Chas trying to look surprised. Tom was much as they had left him, only a bit more purple and bereft of his jeans, but now his arm was tied off and there was a small syringe hanging out of a livid vein.
‘Did you give him this?’ the Pres asked Tanith. She shook her head silently, but her eyes told the truth. She had no idea what was going on. He turned his attention to the guys. ‘What about you?’ Rick and Chas shook their heads convincingly. ‘Twat must’ve scored it on site,’ said the Pres quietly. Steiner said nothing, but gave a slight nod of agreement.
Steiner attended to the funeral arrangements. It was a simple service. They club dismantled the compound, and once they had a decent wood pile they threw Tom onto the embers of last night’s fire and then quickly chucked all the fresh wood on top of him. Someone drained some petrol into an empty bean can and then dumped it on the fire, which went up with a great whooshing concussion. ‘It’s what he would’ve wanted,’ said the Pres, ‘going out near the stones.’ Besides which, no one wanted any trouble with the law. There was no family bar the Pres, and Rick had reassured him that the screw that let his brother out had paid them no attention. Poor old Tom would not be missed, and when the fire finally burnt out, the club long gone, there was presumably no trace of him left. The Tory press love stories about deaths at festivals and alternative gatherings, and that year none were reported.
Rick and my dad got their colours shortly after, officially for getting Long Tom laid and back to his spiritual home before the silly sod accidently killed himself. The unofficial reason was between them and the Pres. He’d taken them to one side for a pipe after they’d burned his brother and the club was breaking camp. He seemed to be taking it surprisingly well.
Once more, they walked up to the stone circle smoking. ‘He was my half-brother really, you know that?’ said the Pres. The lads shook their heads like schoolboys in front of the headmaster. ‘He was a fucking liability an’ all. I never liked him, but Mum told me to look after him. It was her dying wish, the bloody woman.’ He flared a disposable lighter over the pipe and sucked deeply. ‘Tanith was with him,’ he continued, ‘first, like.’
Unused to such moments of drug-induced sincerity, Rick and Chas said nothing.
‘I love that girl,’ said the Pres. ‘But she always loved him.’ He sighed, and then spat on the frosty ground. ‘You know what?’ he said, passing Rick the pipe and the lighter. ‘You boys did me a big favour,’
They finished the pipe in silence. There was just the sun and the stones and the smoke.
‘Come on,’ said the Pres, breaking the spell. ‘Let’s go and get a fucking drink.’
That was thirty-five years ago. The club never attended another solstice at Stone Henge, winter or summer, and a couple of years later, Thatcher banned the festivals. Around that time, reports of the strange apparition started to surface.
Things didn’t go well for the club after that. There were accidents, arrests, and a fatal battle with a rival gang that put half of them in jail and several in the ground. The Pres died in prison, a skinhead’s shiv between his ribs. Fifi moved into video and ended up California, married to some millionaire. Her place was demolished years ago, as was the Street. Rick broke his neck on a Harley Sportster, and Dad had a massive heart attack not long after his fiftieth birthday. He had a bit of a thing with Tanith in the 90s, but no, she wasn’t my mother. The drugs finally caught up with her a couple of years back, and she was found in her flat, badly decomposed, after neighbours complained to the council about the smell.
Coincidently, since then, there have been no further sightings of the Stone Henge ghost.