Morse Code

Leicester, 1998

I was sitting on the back bar in the main room of Club City, an unreconstituted seventies discotheque in a shabby district of Leicester, complete with lights in the floor and a carpet stained with thirty years of Carling Black Label, that had found a new lease of life thanks to the rave scene.

The bar I was sat on, at the back of the room, was closed for regular business that night and behind it were pitched a colourful clique of stoners and speed freaks who went under the collective name G.R.O.W.T.H. (Get Reality Over With, Take Hallucinogens), projecting warped visuals onto bed-sheets and blankets.

I grinned as I sat there coming up on a cheeky half, and looked over to Tommo who laughed like a lunatic. It would be a good night. The vibe was definitely there.

I looked round the room, taking it all in with my oversized eyes.

As I was nodding my head to the alien beats, a beer-bellied balding bloke, somewhere in his late thirties, sidled up and said “Hello mate. So, how many pills have you done tonight?”

That pulled me up sharp.

Even without the man’s clunky conversational gambit, it was clear he was in intense discomfort. Waves of low-level fear and confusion seemed to radiate off him. I guessed he was CID.

I fixed him in the eye and, slowly and deliberately, said, “I don’t take pills, actually.”

At that, his mask collapsed and he reached out to me in panicky appeasement, stumbling over the words “Sorry mate,  I’m an undercover policeman,” before making a sudden exit out a nearby door.

“Wow. Freaky,” I said, wondering if I should tell anyone. I scanned the crowd to see if there were any more suspicious characters in close proximity, but all I could make out were a load of young people on gurners, going bonkers and generally having a fine old time.

I turned to Tommo. “Can I have a word?”

“I tell you chap,” he said, “I feel fucking fluffy tonight on these little uns, let me tell you.”

“You’ll never guess what just happened,” I said, telling him what had happened.

“Fuck off,” he said.

“Well, I found it a bit strange,” I said. “An undercover copper telling me that that was what he was. It’s kind of the last thing you’d want to do in his situation.”

We let it go and went about our business- Tommo to tell people to keep their eyes peeled for unwelcome guests and me to go and dance by the bass bin for the next three hours.

When I had finally decided to go and have a bit of a sit down (about three pills later) I wandered out into the foyer where it was a bit cooler.

Sat round a table were four or five of my friends with this possible policeman from earlier, who was sat looking very interested as Monique, off her tits, was loudly telling him about all sorts of naughty stuff. She loved a good gossip really, and my friend from earlier was all ears.

He looked up as I approached and turned white then red, and sputtered a little before just about regaining his composure.

“So who’s this you’re talking to, Monique?” I asked, cutting in.

“Do you mind not interrupting me, hmmh?” Monique said crossly. “I’m in the middle of a story, actually.”

“Do you know this man?” I said.

“Of course I do, Rick. His name’s Bob and he works as a printer.”

“Really? That’s funny,” I said. “He told me he was a policeman.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Monique.

“He did.”

“No, he didn’t.”

“Yes, he did. He said he was a policeman. Didn’t you?” I asked, sitting down with them and looking straight in his eyes.

He said, “That’s stupid. Of course I didn’t say that. I think you misheard me.”

“No, you quite clearly said you were an undercover policeman, right before you vanished out the door.”

“Then it was a joke,” he said, getting up. He made his excuses.

After he was gone, Monique rounded on me. “Well, thank you for being so rude to my friend, Bob. Honestly, you can be vile with people.”

“I was just repeating what he had said. And he didn’t tell me he was a printer.”

“Well, I can tell you he is,” said Monique, getting all huffy.

Under sustained cross-examination, however, she was forced to concede that she had only just met him and so really had no way of knowing.

“But I still don’t believe you,” she said. “I think you must have been tripping out or something. You’ve got a weird sense of humour sometimes.”

*   *   *

That night’s After Hours was in the attic flat of Jon the No Longer Butcher, who had quit that cruel trade after an attack of guilt.

“I can’t believe it, thinking back,” he would say, shaking his head. “When I was a boy, I’d be hacking a cow in the neck with one hand, eating a beef sandwich with the other and all the while being sprayed head to foot with arterial blood.”

Stories like this meant we were wary around Jon the No Longer Butcher, particularly when he got out his knife block, but his flat was somewhere to trash.

So I had been repeatedly telling my story about the policeman to anyone in the living room who would listen until I got yelled at to shut up because I was giving everyone the fear.

An uneasy hysteria was bubbling beneath the surface of the gathering and tensions began to build to the point where wild accusations about who was undercover rebounded round the walls.

“No, no, I didn’t mean here,” I said, trying to calm the situation. “It was back at the club!”

But the more I listened to the others the more I became convinced also that we had been infiltrated on our way out of the club, when about thirty of us had bundled ourselves in assorted minicabs and screeched off down the dual carriageway.

“Okay, okay, so we’ve been tailed,” I agreed. “This is obviously a sophisticated operation we’re dealing with.”

We ran through the most likely suspects. Finally, it came down to the black guy in the kitchen who had been wearing a beret, white gloves and dark glasses all night, despite telling us he was a chemistry student. Since being at Jon the No Longer Butcher’s, all he had done was this weird sort of robotic dance in the kitchen. Suspicious behaviour, we all agreed, not helped by the fact that none of us knew him.

We charged to the kitchen, Brian the Burglar in front, threatening to give him a hiding. My Big Gay Cousin took over, saying that he was an expert in getting people to talk.

“Who are you working for?” BGC bellowed, shaking the chemistry student by the scruff of his T shirt. “Who ARE you- really?”

When he roared, BGC was a terrifying sight: whether in drag or not. And he was still in drag at the After Hours, following a successful night of turning people away at the door of the house club, Hotdog. It made for a shocking scene. The poor student was terrified.

“I’m – I’m – I’m,” he gasped, “I’m Inspector…Morse.”

My cousin let go of him and he fell to the floor, choking.

“Well what do we do about it?” I said.

Brian the Burglar cut in. “I’ll handle this.”

He strode up to the man who was struggling to get to his feet and leaned over.

“Right, you can leave now,” he said. “You’re bringing everyone down.”

*   *   *

Even with Inspector Morse gone though, we all remained uneasy. There were three dealers there, at least one burglar and rogues in various shades of skulduggery. For my own part, I had shoplifted the occasional pack of razor blades (something I no longer do, I must add: due in large part to improved security measures).

“Who’s a fucking policeman eh?” Jim kept repeating, pointing out people and chuckling nastily, until Brian the Burglar snapped.

“I’M the fucking policeman!” he shouted, leaping to his feet. “I’m the policeman. And you people are in a real spot of bother, I can tell you.”

The room fell into astonished silence. Then my cousin piped up. “You? But that’s ridiculous! Everyone knows you’re a burglar!”

“And what better undercover disguise is there than that?” Brian the Burglar replied. “How on earth do you think I’m out on the streets, despite being known as Brian the Burglar to the whole of Leicester?”

These revelations were making us deeply uneasy. It seemed he was telling the truth.

“And I know all your businesses,” he continued. “Intelligence gathering, we call it.”

“Oh shit, look” I began, not knowing what to say, really. “Look, you know us. So you’ve been watching us all for a while. Then you know we’re not bad people. I mean, evil. You know?”

“We don’t want any trouble with the law,” Jim said.

Brian the Burglar let out a nasty and sardonic laugh.

“You soft fucking twats,” he sneered. “You really thought I was a policeman? How fucking insulting is that?”



Here’s G.R.O.W.T.H.’s 1994 release, Stars:

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  1. cheers, John. Glad you enjoyed it.. am still circling around the horror of how I left Stratford, however. Maybe later..

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