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A Murder of Crows

by Simon Morrell

By Simon MorrellPublished 2 years ago 14 min read
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A Murder of Crows

Tommo, Thomas really, but Tommo is his preferred choice of name, leaves his place of work after a hard day of toil. It is a ghastly factory in an even more ghastly area, but it pays the way in the world. First, he is on the small machines and then, at the hands of a malicious foreman who thinks he should do better, the big machines. The ones that really test you, ones you are only supposed to work for a couple of hours but no, his boss sees to it he is on that bastard for the last five hours of his shift, despite his hands bleeding from his previous three hours. At this point he couldn’t care less as he knows the sunshine will be in his life soon, just as soon as he completes the five-mile walk from factory to freedom. Sometimes this life will do, it is not so bad.

Elsewhere, the smoke escapes from the hardened youth’s nostril, the funny cigarettes that they all love, not boys now but not yet men. Just vicious youths dressed all in black, black as crows, they already know how to extort. Not only do they know how to, but they are bloody good at it too. So good they are almost frightening. Their behaviour and reputation not only follows them, it precedes them, pushing people out of the way as they ride through. Smokin’ Joe, as he likes to be called, exhales more smoke and circles his index finger in a loop. It is a gesture he has seen in the movies and it makes him feel powerful.

“Mount up,” he instructs his murder of crows, and mount up they do. It is hunting hour.

The persistent rain can’t hide the broken concrete, shops that are only half stocked, and the pub where the prices have to be happy hour all day long just to get the punters in. These are all the backdrop to Tommy’s miserable walk home, but that misery soon disappears as the elf like creature, Sophie, runs from the playground, ignoring her big sister’s cry to watch the road. Sophie has seen her dad coming up the road and that is enough for her as she leaps into his arms, both of them breaking into laughter.

Katrina, the elder sister, and pretty much prime carer given that their mum is a career drunk, follows from the park, also smiling.

“Alright Tommo,” she says with a cheeky smile.

Her dad gives her a loving clip around the ear. “Dad to you, how many times do I tell you?”

“Too bloody many,” says Katrina as she links his arm and they head home.

They almost make it too. They are almost safe from the bad-weather, the hostile atmosphere, and the gloom of life on the estate. Almost.

Smokin’ sees them. He knows it is payday, and what they have, he should have, too. It is his right, right? That’s his law anyway. So the crows, head to toe in black, make their approach, cycling, circling.

“You are a spoon, man?” asks Smokin’.

Tommo blinks in confusion as he sees them surround him and his girls.

“A what?” he asks, instinctively using his body to shield his babies, pushing Sophie behind him.

Smokin’ tuts as he sees Tommo do this. “C’mon man, kids? We don’t do kids, they are safe, but I’ll ask you again.” He draws to full height, standing on the pedals of his mighty bike. “A spoon. A dickhead mate. Are you a dickhead?”

Tommo gulps, trying to hide his fear, but he isn’t very good at it.

“I don’t want any trouble,” he starts to say, but Smokin’ interrupts him.

“Never met a man that did. Not from the likes of us, anyhow. What you got son, how much?” His menace is toxic, and it is this he relies on. It is another man’s fear that keeps him brave.

“He doesn’t have anything,” interrupts Katrina, boldly. She moves to the front line, but this just makes them all laugh. It is almost like they crow.

“Course he does sweetheart, it’s payday at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, isn’t it?” pipes up Davey, a lieutenant in the murder.

Smokin’ laughs without turning to see his friend. “Yup, he is right, you know. How much?”

Tommo hesitates and the tension mounts. The crows shuffle their feet, anxious for either fight or flight, but mostly because they want to be fed.

“Look man, you have pretty little-things to feed, I get it,” continues Smokin’. “We aren’t here to take all of it. Just most of it.”

This brings more hoots from the crows, making Tommo see he has to give up something. He reaches into his pocket, but Katrina goes to stop him.

“No, dad don’t give up to them like that.” She turns to Smokin’. “You ever worked Joe? Since we all left school. Have you ever toiled like my father?”

“Nah Kat,” he replies. “Why would I when your pops can do it all for me? Money, now,” he says in a low growl and his hand reaches into his jacket, searching for whatever lies in there.

The beat of Tommy’s heart goes into overdrive and his own hands shake as he pulls out an envelope containing his week’s reward from the factory.

Smokin’ looks at the fat packet and changes his mind, greed playing an even bigger part in this young thug’s life.

“All of it,” he says.

Tommo looks up sharply. “What?”

“All of it,” repeats Smokin’ and this time, he pulls the blade out. It is just for show is what he thinks, but the others don’t know that, not even Sophie. Brave Sophie, whose foolishness can sometimes get the better of her. She makes a quick, childish decision, and it is one that will cost many people a lot of things for many years to come around these parts.

As she lunges, Smokin’ reacts, but it is not the way he planned it. None of this is.

The blade doesn’t plunge, but it does slash and the gash over Sophie’s head makes her wail in pain. The envelope full of money drops. It is irrelevant now and looks to have played out its part in this story.

It lies still on the crumbling concrete, blood dripping onto it as Sophie’s crumbled body follows, crashing onto the ground in shock.

Silence can last a second, it can last an hour, or it can last forever, but no one will ever be able to tell you how long this silence lasted, not here on this day in the estate as they all look on horrified as poor Sophie’s head bounces off the floor with a crack. She is out before there is anything anybody can think straight.

Smokin’ falls pale, his own hand shakes and he freezes. As he watches the beautiful young girl’s blood start to gush from her head even quicker, he simply cannot move. His lieutenant sees the picture unfold before everyone’s eyes and acts quickly.

“Smokin’,” he shouts. “Smokin’!” and this snaps the thug from his trance. He turns and gives his orders. It is time they flee and so the crows fly. They fly, then they scatter to different clouds. These birds will not stick together when something this size occurs. No sir, these birds of a feather will not stick together. They know they are harder to catch on their own and it won’t be until a warm nest can be found will they see each other again.

Tommo and Katrina don’t even register them flee, they are too horrified, too numb, too frightened by the crumbled body of their beloved little ‘un, lying still on the floor. Not even moaning now, Sophie is just a quiet lump of nothing.

A passer-by jumps in and the ambulance is summoned. Once it arrives the helpful stranger disappears into the crowd. He has seen nothing, not that he wants to tell anyone, for he too knows the crows and how sharp they can peck.

Teresa can be heard from down the cold, clinical corridor. Her wail, her screech and her amateur dramatics are heard by all, but Katrina and Tommo know the show. They know that she is probably crying more for her absence of booze, away from her ‘medicine’ than for her daughter, still unmoving on the hospital bed as the doctor’s fuss, desperate for a response.

“My baby,” she cries as she enters the room, and this makes Katrina’s eyes roll to the back of her head.

“Good of you to come,” she says to a mother she has long ago stopped loving. “Bit early for closing time, isn’t it?”

“Katrina baby,” her mum screeches. “How could you? I came as soon as I heard. I couldn’t just sit at home and wait.”

Tommo leans forward, his head in his hands, and lets out a sob.

“You should have stayed home. You aren’t helping,” he says as he stands to pour some water. He graciously hands it to his wife, or the shell of a wife she has now become. “Here,” he says. “This will sober you up.”

Teresa collapses at the bedside and strokes Sophie’s head, despite the doctor insisting she leave her be.

“She is my daughter. My baby! I know what is best for her.”

And so begins a long night in a cold hospital room, people fussing, monitors buzzing and coffee being consumed by the gallon.

Well crows, they nest in chimneys. They drop their sticks down them, so they can build homes. Eventually this is what the black clad, bike riding thugs of Smokin’s murder of crows do as they regather in a grotty bedsit on the other side of town. It becomes their chimney. This chimney is the abode of Ady, a crow of a different murder, but a crow all the same. As a cousin to Smokin’ he feels obliged to shelter them all, but the obligation is made easier when he is handed an envelope of money.

He looks down at the blood on it and it becomes apparent that at least someone saw fit to collect it from under Sophie’s head. Someone was clever enough to pick up the blood money whilst those around were still in so much shock they didn’t even notice it.

“Nice one Tony,” says Ady, Smokin’s cousin. “This will keep us all warm for a bit.” Tony smiles to himself, self-congratulating his obvious smarts in picking up the loot.

Ady turns to grin at the group, opens his arms and proclaims; “Welcome, my home is now your home.”

“Ever hear of a clean-up?” asks Davey, but he is quietened by Smokin’.

“Be grateful, man,” he hisses. “We have no choice.”

And so the crows nest. They throw their own sticks down the chimney in the way of stashing their bikes in the yard and covering them with old carpets. It isn’t the first time they have ‘holed down’, but it is certainly the most serious and they know the aftermath will come and come it does. Some would say it is already on its way.

Sophie wakes with a groan, but at least she wakes. Dad is first to reach her, big sis second and of course mum, last.

The news is as good as it could be. Pain and loss of memory a definite, permanent brain damage a possibility. It is all the two loving ones can do to hide their tears, but mum does a grand job.

“Sophie, it’s me. It’s mum. Can you hear me?”

Sophie moans and she seems to search out her sister.

“No darling,” says Teresa. “I’m here, don’t you worry about anyone else.”

Sophie tries to wiggle away from her mum’s brace and so Tommo manages to compose himself yet again and finally, for the first time in years, shows her some backbone.

“Go home, you drunken fool. Go home. You are upsetting her,” he demands. “You do realise this isn’t going to be a compensation case, don’t you?”

Teresa looks hurt, but the look doesn’t last for long as she realises that at that home there is still a top to crack off a bottle.

“I will Tommo love. I’ll go home now and get everything ready for when she comes home too.”

She says that with a conviction of someone who has no idea how long her last born will live in this small hospital room for. It will be awhile.

Days are long, and weeks pass slowly for all concerned. The crows huddle together as do Sophie’s dad and sister, the former waiting for the inevitable knock on the door, the latter an improvement in their kin that seems never to come. It is the decent family’s fate that presents itself.

“There is no permanent damage,” says a doctor of hope. “She can go home soon,” and with this dad and eldest daughter collapse into each other’s arms. Yet still the crows wait, but their turn comes soon as well.

“They have said nothing,” says Ady to Smokin. “Police ain’t got a clue. I’m guessing the family is too afraid to speak. Anyway, go on. Fuck off out of my flat now you are in the clear.” And they do. They pack up the meagre belongings and head back to their own nest, but all heeding the warning their beloved leader gives them; “Stay the hell out of their way. Nobody goes near that family.” The crows nod. They may be stupid, but they not thick.

Sophie comes home, Teresa drinks, Katrina broods, but Tommo. Well Tommo seems to plot. He broods, reads, looks distant and his eldest senses it.

“Don’t, dad,” says Katina. “I know what you are thinking, but Karma is a bitch. Let her do the work. We need you here. Sophie needs you here. You are no good to her locked away or…” She stops saying the obvious and points to her beloved sister, scars evident, happy but a vacant smile.

Teresa catches the exchange and snorts a whiskey fuelled laugh. “ Him.” she says, nodding at Tommo. “ He isn’t any match for those boys. Really Katina, get your head out of the clouds.” She returns to her tumbler and knocks back her drink.

“Go for one yourself, dad,” says Katrina reaching for her purse. “It’s been ages since you had a pint.” She pushes five pounds into her dad’s hand and he is grateful, for it has indeed been a while.

When he leaves, she goes to the kitchen, looking for what she needs, what will finally warm her and she finds it just as her mum comes in.

“What are you thieving now?” slurs Teresa.

“Just some old gloves. I’m going out and it’s freezing.” To complete her quest for warmth she pulls up her hood. “Satisfied?” she asks her mum, full of attitude.

As she shuts the front door, Teresa looks puzzled. She doesn’t remember ever seeing any gloves in that draw.

The pub is welcoming but not as welcoming as he thought it would be. Sure, there are handshakes, a drink or two bought for the dad who has been through so much, endured if you like, but there are also questions. Tough questions from tough old boys.

“Surely you can’t be thinking of letting this go Tommo?” asks Alf, an old hand at violence and retribution. “If you can’t do it yourself, we know those who can. You only have to say.”

Tommo nods, his pride hurt but his fear greater. Aftermath is a bitch for someone like him. He remembers Katrina’s words; he could get it right and spend time behind bars, or he could get it wrong and be in the same hospital room as Sophie was. Tough times to be a man.

The crows are happy now. Back where they belong, riding the estate, riding the people, spending wages others have earned. Tommo sees them on his way home and whilst they ignore him, they know he is there just as much as he knows they are. They don’t mock him; they know they got lucky and his fear of them brought silence, but it is too much for him and he turns back to the alehouse, to Alf.

He is acknowledged as soon as he returns, the crowd sense he is back for a reason.

Alf brings him into a back room, a room full of men with scars. There are whispers, looks and Tommo searches for money in his pocket.

A quiet man stops him, puts his hand on Tommo’s preventing him from bringing out any small amount of cash he may have.

“That’s not needed son.” He says in a strong Irish accent. “All that is needed where your young girl is concerned is your nod.”

Tommo gives it and the Irishman turns to a well-built black youth at the private bar. There may be silence between them, but there aren’t any words need anyway.

The black youth checks the inner pockets of his jacket, pulls his hood over his head, and slips out of the back door.

Smokin’ is feeling it. Feeling the smoke and feeling the love from his crows. He also feels a slight unease, but weed can do that to you, make you paranoid. He senses he is being watched, and that is because he is. He searches the darkness but can’t make out anyone and soon his paranoia is bigger than his high.

“Davey, I’m done for the night,” he says to his lieutenant. “I’m off home.”

Davey starts to object, but he can see it is no good. When Smokin makes his mind up, not even his closet crow can change it.

He nods to his friend. “I’ll see you tomorrow boss, yeah?”

Smokin nods and pushes off on his pride and joy, his mighty bike, looking left, right and centre for whoever the fuck is creeping him out.

He is homeward bound, and he very nearly makes it. Stopping to light his last blunt for the night, he sees the hooded figure step out from the side of the shop. He sees, but he is too stoned to do anything about it except start to plead. He recognises this villain, this avenger, this hooded angel of death, knows the hidden reputation and what this hoodie can do.

The blade is out and put in place before he can make a sound and as he falls from his bike, as it crashes to the ground next to him and he starts to bleed out, he sees the hood being pulled down.

His last breath is a gasp as he realises his mistake.

“You aren’t the only crow who can fly,” says Katrina as she withdraws the blade from his stomach, organs already damaged. She walks calmly away.

Just yards away and minutes too late, the well-built black youth watches on as he realises he wasn’t needed after all. He nods his approval and relates to her words, repeating them to himself; “You aren’t the only crow who can fly.” For she too can crow

Visit Simon at www.simonmorrell.com

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About the Creator

Simon Morrell

I am the author of the award winning book From Bullied to Black Belt telling ofjourney from an agoraphobic, panic attack sufferer to award winning fighter & writer. My mission? To help people beat fear into submission & win at life!

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