David F. Ross

Stories by David F. Ross

The King is Deid

Ah’ve got Jasper tae thank fur ma endurin’ love ae The Ramones; the maist influential yet underrated band ae aw time, in ma opinion. Back in yon brilliant, boilin’ summer ae 1976, when ah’d just turned thirteen, Jasper wis the first manifestation ae anythin’ ‘punk’ any ae us hud ever seen. Jasper’s real name wis Anthony Taylor. He wis kent as Jasper ‘cos – an’ ah’ve still nae idea if this wis actually true or no’ – his da hud been cautioned fur some kinda inappropriate sexual behaviour wi’ a wee teenage lassie. Anthony, guilt by association an’ aw that, hud automatically become Jasper the Grasper.

 Jasper hud briefly lived in the cooncil flat above us. He wis an only child, just like ah wis. He wis a fuckin’ tall kid, mind you … three years aulder than me, an’ wi’ aw this terrible face acne. Like if ye’d tried tae make a pizza but covered it in they Haribo sweeties, an’ then baked it, ken?

Jasper hovered way doon below the radar ae maist ae the kids ah hung about wi’. He wis a right loner an’ he didnae even fuckin’ attempt tae get oan wi’ anybody. Oan the few occasions he wis seen ootside, he just hung ‘round the Tourhill Road shops, watchin’ aw the other weans kickin’ fitbaws up against the three-storey gable-end wa’ that faced the main road headin’ oot tae Kilmaurs. He ay’ways said hullo tae me oan oor communal stairs, but that wis aboot the sum total ae it, tae be honest.

Ah felt sorry fur him … so ah did. Mental, blazin’ rows atween his maw an’ his da … Jesus, ye could hear them goin’ at it above us oan a nightly basis, just aboot. Dinnae get me wrang, the fightin’ never seemed tae be aboot him: she spent too much money at the bingo; he wis a drunken bastart that’d grope anythin’ in a skirt, even if it risked a severe fuckin’ batterin’. That wis aboot the gist ae it. Jasper bein’ in that environment every night, ken? Ah couldnae understaun why the daft big cunt wis so fuckin’ reluctant tae get oot an’ spend time awa’ fae it wi’ folk his ain age.

No’ through looks or that, but wi’ the shyness an’ the permanent sad face that he wore, he reminded me a bit ae Gerry Graham – a wee, lost boy that’d been abducted fae a street ahint oors, when ah lived in the auld hoose – an’ ah think that definitely made me feel different aboot him than ah might’ve otherwise, y’ken?

As ye’d imagine, he took it fuckin’ square oan fae some weans at the school, doon tae his height, that awkwardness, the cratered plooks aw ower his big moon-face, the da’s dodgy past, an’ they Oxfam claethes that he wore aw the time. Basically, the poor bastart had a whole first-division check-list ae weaknesses that wee bampot cunts traditionally home in oan tae avoid anybody dain’ the same tae them, like. Ah’m sure they didnae mean it, really. A gadgie survives any way he can at a tough school, ken what ah mean?

But ah didnae think ma wee crowd ae close pals would treat him any different fae me, so, durin’ the first week efter school broke up, ah went up the stairs an’ knocked oan the door tae see if Jasper wis comin’ oot. The look oan the coupon that opened the door wis a right mixture ae surprise, fear an’ suspicion. But, efter a ten-minute consultation wi’ an unseen adult, oot the dopey big diddy comes.

Josey McGarry an’ me hud been goin’ up tae a ferm oan the edges ae Kilmaurs. Tae begin wi’, we’d just been tryin’ tae build a rope swing ower the Coodham Water, but in the last couple ae weeks, he’d been mair interested in the fuckin’ livestock. It wis turnin’ intae an obsession.

They fuckin’ coos’ll be the death ae ye’, ah telt him, just kiddin’ oan, like. The big bastart Friesians, ower in the lush green fields oan the ither side ae the stream fae us, hud got accustomed tae the two ae us wanderin’ aboot in amongst them. Whit ah didnae clock at the time though, wis Josey’s grand plan tae get up close enough tae yin ae the herd tae vault up ontae its back. Then a mate – i.e., me – wid skelp the fuckin’ thing oan the erse wi’ a cricket bat. Josey wid try tae stay oan fur as long as possible. The stoater hud worked this aw oot so thoroughly ah wis convinced he hud fuckin’ drawn-up blueprints back hame. Up close, though, these prime cuts ae Ayrshire beef were bloody massive, ‘specially ‘cross the erse. Josey judged that two hings wid be needed tae fulfil his grand scheme: the first wis a bucket, in order tae make the leap up easier; the second wis a third member ae the team tae try an’ distract the coo fae the front. This is where Jasper wid supposedly come in handy, finally useful tae somebody for somethin’.

Yon day Jasper came oot wis yet another in a string ae phenomenally hot days. That summer wis fuckin’ magic, man. It wis a simpler time, ken? We sprayed aerosols oan absolutely everythin’ back then. Christ, ma maw hud a shag pile rug, an’ even it got the Silvikrin treatment if she kent somebody wis comin’ ‘roon. Naebody gie’d a shite aboot global bloody warmin’, or skin cancer in they days. Everybody just got skelped red raw, hooverin’ up aw the sunshine. Anyway, intae this scorchin’ heat, Jasper shows … wearin’ a hooded duffle coat!

The three ae us ambled up tae Kilmaurs; a comfortable twenty-minute walk takin’ close tae an hour. Josey an’ me talkin’ aboot the blackoots; aboot the bodies that wid be mountin’ up in the mortuaries ‘cos ae the national strike an’ how incredible it wid be if they turned intae zombies. How the rats populatin’ the rubbish tips, piled high wi’ weeks ae everybody’s shite wid start growin’ tae aboot three-foot long. An’ whit a borin’ cunt Bjorn Borg wis.

Jasper wis oan the periphery ae the conversation … no’ speakin’. It wis like he hud been discovered an’ thawed oot fae a glacier an’ we were a couple ae explorers tryin’ tae integrate him intae this new modern environment that he didnae understaun. Even allowin’ fur the obligatory fannyin’ aboot wi’ the bucket an’ the bat, the dilly-dallying wis startin’ tae aggravate Josey; his impendin’ destiny clearly beginnin’ tae weigh heavily. He kicked us baith up the erse an’ ran away oan ahead wi’ the chips.

Jasper kept his coat oan aw the way there an’ kept it oan fur the initial rehearsal runs tae. The actual scalin’ ae the fuckin’ beast wis, as ye’d mibbe guess, much harder than it hud been in the movie playin’ in the daft cunt’s heid fur the previous month. Fair play tae him though, he wisnae gauny be denied. Josey McGarry hud a right focused determination, which, if he’d applied it tae other areas ae his life, wid’ve been admirable; somethin’ fur his maw and his da tae have bragged aboot. Sadly, fur them aw though, the daft prick died oan his 40th … gored by a fuckin’ bull while gettin’ chased through the streets ae Pamp-alona! Ah wis kinda right then … still, that’s another story, like.

Back tae this yin. It wis probably Josey’s superhuman desire, rather than the efficiency ae his two assistants, that saw him briefly ridin’ this enormous black-an’-white coo. The bucket hud been useful, nae question. Jasper hudnae. Josey stayed oan the thing fur aboot thirty seconds. Ah skelped its big erse wi’ the bat an’ it bolted. Josey wis Harvey Smith, Lester Piggott an’ the Lone bloody Ranger rolled intae wan. Funniest thing ah’ve ever seen, man. Tellin’ ye. Even Jasper wis pishin’ himsel’, an’ when Josey eventually came aff, right intae a swamp ae mud, Jasper wis laughin’ that hard he threw up a wee bit. Even though he wis caked in aw this thick mud, Josey stood up an’ punched the air like some lucky bastart that’d just put the ‘x’ in exactly the right place tae scoop the spot-the-ball prize money.

Josey wis the last ae the three ae us tae spot the fermer wi’ the long black stick. He wis comin’ up ower the hill fae the farmhouse, runnin’ at a fair auld rate ae knots, tae. The stick wis a fuckin’ air rifle. The fermer fired it, an’ Jasper yelped an’ fell. He’d finally taken aff that daft big coat just a wee bit earlier. Withoot its paddin’, he’d taken a sare yin in the airm. The three ae us sterted tae run back tae the cover ae the trees, but, hats aff tae the auld hay-baler; fae aboot forty feet, he struck again. Again, Jasper; this time, his erse wis the target. He let oot another howl. He widnae just drap that fuckin’ scabby coat. The weight ae it wis slowin’ him doon. Josey an’ me ran faster. Doonhill. Ken that way where yer upper body’s movin’ quicker than ye think yer legs can keep up wi’? Another shot. Another hit. Unbelievably, Jasper screamed again. Ye couldnae fuckin’ make it up, man. He wis like an Olympic marksman, this auld fermer cunt. That third shot hit the haun’ that wis coverin’ the previous injury tae the erse. Three pellets, three hits. Jasper crumpled while we beat it back tae the main road.

It wis three months efter he’d been shot in the erse by Aul’ McDonald afore ah saw Jasper again. Ah’d been convinced he wid shop us, first tae the fermer an’ then tae the polis. Tae his credit, he’d done neither. Like ah said earlier, it wis different times back then. Noo-adays, any cunt shootin’ a wean wi’ an air rifle’s gaun doon fur it … an’ tae the fuckin’ Nonce Wing if he’s unlucky enough tae come up against a guid lawyer. Back then though, the auld bastart probably got a medal aff the Provost, an’ a street named efter him.

The rows hud stopped in the flat above us, an’ ah’d started tae think that him, his maw an’ his da hud moved. Turns oot that he’d been grounded fur that entire summer. His determination tae keep schtum aboot Josey an’ me eventually led tae such a monumental rammy that his da just upped an’ left.

When Jasper finally resurfaced oan a Saturday in September, ah barely recognised him. He wis goin’ back up the stairs fae the shop below wi’ a plastic bag fu’ ae messages. He wis dressed totally in black. An auld leather jaicket, peppered wi’ white painted slogans an’ symbols: ‘No Future’, an’ a capital ‘A’ in a circle. Countless wee button badges aw up the zipped lapels. Black Doc Marten Boots wi’ red laces up tae the mid shin, an’ tight ripped jeans. His t-shirt hud ‘Fuck Pink Floyd’ scribbled across it. A padlock dangled ower a roon-necked collar. It wis chained an’ wrapped twice ‘roon his scrawny neck. He wis certainly thinner, an’ looked much taller, if that wis even possible. But his hair wis stickin’ up in sharp spikes that must’ve been a guid three inches long. He used a mix ae orange juice an’ sugar oan it, he later telt me. Ah thought the cunt looked totally brilliant. Ah considered ma ain appearance: sky-blue Oxford Bags wi’ twenty-wan buttons oan loads ae pockets, includin’ two useless yins haufway doon ma legs that ma airms couldn’t even reach, a broon knitted tank-top wi’ three big yella stars ‘cross the chest, an’ black platform shoes wi’ red stars oan the heels. Comparin’ masel’ tae him, ah felt a bit fuckin’ embarrassed, safe tae say.

Ah’d only been vaguely aware ae the punk revolution gaun oan doon in London, an’ ae bands wi’ these great names like The Sex Pistols, The Stranglers an’ The Buzzcocks. But, like maist, ah’d heard virtually nuthin’ ae the actual music. Jasper invited me up tae his maw’s, where ah expected the atmosphere tae be frosty tae say the least. But his maw wis right cheery. Jasper’s room wis a black cavern; posters an’ slogans everywhere ye looked. LP covers wi bands lookin’ exactly like new Jasper, scattered at the foot ae his unmade bed. The wan that immediately caught ma eye hud ‘The Ramones’ written in white at the top. Ah picked it up an’ studied it like ah wis a detective lookin’ fur clues at a bloody crime scene.

‘Wait ‘til ye hear this. It’s absolutely fuckin’ magic,’ shouts new Jasper, wi’ an enthusiasm ah didnae realise he possessed.

An’ he wisnae wrang. It wis totally different fae anythin’ else ah’d ever heard.

‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ . . . ‘Beat On The Brat’ . . . ‘Judy Is A Punk’ . . . ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’ . . . They first four songs were a flash ae riotous energy – by before Freddie fuckin’ Mercury wid even huv started aw that ‘bismallah’ an’ ‘fandango’ bollocks. Christ, The Ramones’ full career wis just aboot done afore Emerson, Lake & Palmer hud reached anythin’ even resemblin’ a chorus. Fae that day oan, oot went the pretentious prog an’ rock, an’ in came the punk. The Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, but ‘specially The Ramones were aw things that Jasper played fur me in his room.

Ah sterted gaun upstairs every night, an’ ma ain period ae musical enlightenment began in earnest. He wis goin’ tae school dressed as a punk. He still received aw manner ae abuse fae the weans, the jannies an’ even the teachers, but even worse than afore. In the early months ae 1977 his appearance got him suspended. His maw supported him though. She argued that his school work wis guid an’ that his dress wis just a logical extension ae a developin’ personality. She considered that, since her son hud noo emerged fae this chrysalis wi’ a unique point ae view, he should be free tae express it anyway he saw fit. He wisnae harmin’ anybody an’ besides, she wis really proud ae him. Punk, it seemed, hud set them baith free. Nane ae the beaks at the school wur buyin’ it though.

She eventually took him oot fur his last year tae continue his education at hame. Because ae this, the whole case became the subject ae wan ae they ‘civilisation’s aboot tae end’-style newspaper cover stories that the local press just love tae run, alangside listin’ the names ae poor bastarts appearin’ in court for nickin’ a loaf ae breid, or a picture ae some pregnant wummin claimin’ she’s been probed by aliens oan an application form fur mair child benefit.

The ‘papers slant wis that he wis obviously a threat tae decent Ayrshire society an’ that any mither encouragin’ that type ae behaviour wis, at best a fuckin’ weirdo, an’ at worst mentally deranged. The adverse publicity brought oot the real freaks, an’ the flat above us became a focus for aw these mental right-wing nutters. Despite this, Jasper stuck tae his look an’ his maw encouraged him aw the mair.

Fur three frantic days in the late summer ae 1977, the area ‘roon the shops where we lived became the centre ae an investigation intae the disappearance ae a wean. Six year-auld Alice Mole hud vanished. Her distraught maw hud sent her across the street fur a bag ae sugar fae the Co-Op an’ she hudnae returned. In the blink ae an’ eye, local feelin’ went fae concern tae shock an’ then tae angry suspicion. By the third day, some ae the mair aggressive in the community hud turned their spotlight oan the most obvious target.

Jasper wis different. He looked weird an’ he listened tae aw this filthy fuckin’ punk rock music. An’ his da hud form. An’ therefore the manky teenager wi’ the bizarre hair wis a logical suspect. The windows ae the flat got panned in by stanes thrown fae the ground. The polis were less than proactive in quellin’ the local rage an’ these acts ae vigilante vandalism went unpunished. Late efternoon oan the fifth day ae her disappearance, Alice Mole steps aff a bus haudin’ the haun ae the faither ae her maw’s estranged partner. The auld man hud been sufferin’ fae dementia an’ hud ‘recognised’ the wee blonde, curly-haired Alice as his ain daughter … even though she’d died ae leukemia when she wis only ten.

Oan that same August night that wee Alice wis found, Jasper wis comin’ back hame oan his ain fae a Generation X gig at the Ayr Pavilion. A big crowd ae skin-heided neds fae ower in Altonhill were hingin’ ‘roon the piss-stained entry tae the close, waitin’ fur him. Many hud baseball bats. They accused him ae takin’ the wee yin, an’ ae interferin’ wi’ her even though she’d returned safe an’ unharmed earlier in the day. They widnae let Jasper pass, wan ae them spittin’ right intae his face. Another yin kicked him square in the baws, causin’ him tae throw up. Ma bedroom windae wis open an’ ah could hear – an’ then just aboot see – aw the commotion below. Ah drew back the curtain. Through the gloom, ah saw Jasper, gettin’ booted an’ then punched an’ then stumblin’, an’ then runnin’ oot ae view, followed by five ae these howlin’ heidcases. Five ‘normal’ folk chasin’ an apparently ‘abnormal’ yin.

Ah couldnae see it maself, but ah heard the dull thud ae the black van that hit him oan Kilmaurs Road. It kilt him instantly. Wi’ aw the strikes, the streetlights were aw oot. Jasper wis that thin he already looked like a fuckin’ Lowry matchstick man, an’ seen sidey-ways, heid tae foot in the black, he must’ve been virtually invisible. By the time ah went doonstairs wi’ ma da, the mob hud disappeared. The only person near Jasper’s body wis the van driver, shakin’ like a fuckin’ leaf. When ah saw Jasper’s face, ah immediately burst intae tears. Ma da took a sheet fae the back ae the van an’ covered his body wi’ it. The van driver wis sittin’ oan the kerb, his legs stretched oot in the road in front ae his van. He wis greetin’ tae. Ma da telt me tae stay at the scene wi’ the driver ‘til he went up tae phone fur an ambulance, an’ tae tell Jasper’s maw aboot her son. 

That wis a strange night; in fact, fuckin’ shockin’ aw ‘roon. Just three hours earlier the BBC television news wis dominated by reports fae Memphis … stunned fans ae Elvis Presley were aw congregatin’ at the gates ae Graceland.

Jasper’s maw wis found deid in the flat above us by his da, the night afore Jasper’s funeral. Ah wisnae allowed tae go tae the service. Jasper’s da conducted it privately. He telt ma da he didnae want anybody fae the Tourhill area tae be there amongst the mourners. Ah simply opened ma windae as wide as it would go an’ played ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’ repeatedly, an’ at maximum volume fur the whole ae that night. It wis the only tribute ah could think ae.

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