I released the letterbox and painfully eased myself back into a standing position. I'd played professional rugby league for Hull Kingston Rovers before my knee collapsed underneath me during one game. After only a handful of games as a teenager, my once promising sports career was over. The doctors said I was lucky to be walking with only occasional minor discomfort.
'Help you, mate?' the man asked me again.
He was probably still a teenager, but he had no problem standing his ground. I was stood outside an anonymous terraced house, off Newland Avenue, where the city's students traditionally congregated.
'I'm looking for John Starkey. I was told he was living here with his girlfriend.
'What's it to you?'
I took a business card out of my wallet and passed it over. 'I need to speak to him.'
'In trouble is he?'
'Not necessarily. Do you know him?'
'I know him. My band used to play with them sometimes.'
I groaned inwardly.
'Even though they were shit, they got the break. That's the way it goes sometimes, isn't it?' he continued. 'Set of wankers, too. Once they signed a record deal, they thought they were the new Beatles, know what I mean? He looked at my card. 'John was alright, though. He's the only one who's remained normal.'
I nodded sympathetically and tried to move the conversation on. 'How about his girlfriend, do you know her?'
'Lived next door to her for a while now. We get on pretty well. Not seen her for a few days, though.'
'No sign of John either?'
I thanked him and headed for my car. Starkey was missing. I got in, closed the door and stared at the house for a few moments, wondering what my next move was going to be, now the easy option had disappeared.
The clock was ticking but I spent the next or hour or so in the pub mulling over what I'd learnt from my chat with Starkey's neighbour. Sarah had rung me with an update. Sarah is Don's daughter and helps us on a part-time basis. At first her involvement was limited to helping us with administration but more recently she'd been helping with investigations.
I was in Dukes, one of Princes Avenue's more pleasant bars, waiting for Mark Harrison, Witham's first manager to arrive. I sat at the table with a photocopy of his photograph we'd found on the Internet, staring at people as they walked in. Spotting him, I got the drinks in and we sat down.
'How did you become the band's manager?' I asked, breaking the ice.
'I met them when I was at university. I had some friends who played gigs around Hull and sometimes they played the same gigs. It's quite a small scene, you know?'
I nodded. Although I didn't often go to gigs anymore, it had been the same twenty or so years ago when I had done. The pubs and clubs might change their names, but many of them were still the same places I went to all those years ago. I told him about the punk bands I'd seen in the city and though the likes of The Sex Pistols or The Clash never made it to Hull, he seemed impressed enough.
Harrison continued. 'They were really good right from the start' he explained. 'Anybody could hear it from the first demos they recorded. Often demos all sound the same; all badly produced and as flat as a pancake. Unsigned bands are usually unsigned for a reason, but with them it was different.'
'How did you actually convince them to let you become their manager, then?' I asked.
'I just asked them. Like most bands, they couldn't really be arsed to sort out their gigs and all the boring stuff, so I volunteered.'
'And it went alright for a while?'
'Really good.' He nodded. 'I got the band their first record deal. They released a limited-edition 7 inch single, which just took off after some radio play. Because there were so few copies, it sold out almost immediately, so it just fed the hype. Copies still go for over £100 on eBay.'
I'd read the biography on the website. 'And then they moved record labels?'
Harrison nodded. 'The big boys came in for them. And with them came Steve Hollins.'
'Did he buy them out of their contract with you?'
He shook his head. 'There was no contract. We just carried on as we were, with me taking my 20% on the gigs.' He shrugged. 'I was a sitting duck, I suppose.' He lent in closer to me. 'What can you do? I was a bit na´ve not to have a contract and I paid the price and moved on, found another band and got on with things.'
He sat back in his chair and laughed. 'Hollins said he always make sure I was
sorted for tickets for their gigs. Sorted for tickets?
Can you believe that? After all I'd done for them.' He stopped laughing and looked directly at me. 'Hollins is a piece of shit.'
After all he'd just said, his bitterness took me by surprise, not that he didn't have good reason.
'Have you heard about the new album?' he asked me.
I sat forward, wondering what he knew about the missing masters. 'How do you mean?'
'I was at John's house a few nights ago, listening to it. John had the masters. It's probably going to sound bitter but it's terrible. Absolute dog shit. The first album had so much life and urgency in it. It sounded like a band who desperate to make it, you know what I mean?'
I nodded. 'Like Oasis?' I'd been a big fan of their debut album, but the follow-up had sounded like dull stadium rock to me.
Talking about music enthused Harrison. 'Exactly' he said. 'That rawness, that feeling that it meant something.'
I nodded my agreement and gently steered him back to what I wanted to talk about. 'Did John invite you round to have a listen?'
'I used to live there with them. John was the one who stood his ground when Hollins
came on the scene. I just pop in for a drink if I know he's going to be there.
I didn't realise they'd finished working on the album, because the last I heard, they were having real problems with it.'
'How do you mean?'
'It wasn't considered to be up to scratch.'
Harrison shrugged. 'Everybody. Rumours here and there, so I assume their label wouldn't be impressed. In fact, I wouldn't blame them. Like I said, it's dog shit.'
I considered what Mark Harrison was telling me. He was bitter but still friends with John Starkey. He'd confirmed that Starkey had access to the master-tapes and he had even been in the room with them. How difficult would it be to steal them off a drunk? If he used to live in the house with the band, I was willing to bet he still had a key.
'Are you going to the Adelphi tonight?' he asked me.
'The secret gig?'
I hadn't read anything about a gig in Hull, nor had Steve Hollins or the band mentioned it to me. Harrison explained that two of the band would be playing a semi-secret acoustic gig to showcase some of the new material. Apparently the details were on their MySpace page. He was going because his new band was on the support bill. I decided to give Neil Ellis, a journalist I knew, a call.
Fiction - The Suicide Park, Self Surgery And Brutalised By Affection By Christopher Skolik
Dennison followed Snaith from the road, through trees, to a wire fence. Snaith slipped through. Beyond the skeletal
trees, Dennison could see a smoky illumination. Snaith and Dennison walked around as if inspecting a gallery.
It looked like a derelict industrial estate from a distance. Only when he got closer could Dennison hear the sound
of 22 engines humming.
Fiction - Off To See The Wild West Show Part 2 Chapter 4 By Frank Beill
'There, there bai'n. It's o'right now. The bad man's gone away.' Sal walked up and down her bare living room, hugging her sobbing baby.
'Sorry, Sal. I shouldn't have done that.'
'Don't matter, Sammy.' She kissed the child's tearstained cheek. 'He deserves a good hidin'!'
'What was it all about? Sounded as though he was up to no good.'
I put two large lumps of coal
Fiction - 100 Words Competition - Rosemary By Merle R. Stone
"Have you the time?" she asked. As always when our eyes meet, my thoughts turn to tender things.
Cuddling naked by the fireplace, chilled chablis in hand. Her charming giggle rising above
the crackle of the flames. Twenty-five years married and still we idle like teens, content
in each others' embrace. The children grown, grandchildren on the way.
How long we have
Fiction - Off To See The Wild West Show Part 2 Chapter 3 By Frank Beill
The red brick Board School stretched for nearly half the length of the street. Did Sal still live 'somewhere opposite'? My heart sank seeing all the doors to be knocked on especially after the Westbourne Avenue experience.
Fortunately, shops and other businesses occupied most of the buildings facing the school.
One caught my attention: Henry Tiplady,
Fiction - Smooth Operator By Edward C. Lynskey
Kenny was a thief. Nothing big. He'd only rip off the 'swag' owners wouldn't miss right away: CDs, auto parts, jewelry, tools, handguns from nightstands. Yeah, he was a smooth operator, nickelling and diming 'ditch-digging chumps.' A pawnshop run by his pal (never mind who) did a bang-up business, too.
Why did Kenny steal? Can't say. Could be he swore the world owed him
Fiction - 100 Words Competition - Shipwreck By Michelle Dee
I sat on a shipwreck, the proud bow pointing at the river slowly drifting by. Most of the ship had rotted away long since. I sat there wondering what lay ahead, what life had in store.
The afternoon sun warmed the wood, until hot to touch. I sat longer.
The water lapped against the vanishing timbers. I sat until the sun dipped the water; waves turned gold,
the air turned cold.
Fiction - Merry Christmas, Here's A Present By Nick Quantrill
Brett 'Razor' Rawcliffe; 'Razor' to his friends because they thought he was sharp as a tack. He was 16 years old but he'd already built a rapidly expanding drugs empire specialising in supplying his schoolmates and friends. It was one day away from being Christmas Eve and he was sat in a city centre pub with his trusted side-kick, Stevie.
The Christmas CD compilation
Fiction - Fighting the Drink By Jose Escobar
My opponent stands before me, tall and proud. We size each other up, bare knuckle fighters circling each other in the ring. He feints towards me but I don't flinch. Then one move and combat begins. The rules the same as always, last man standing wins.
I make the first move, one quick slug and the rasping and burning in my throat begins. Discover an old ulcer
Fiction - 100 Words Competition - One Shot, One Kill By Merle R. Stone
I watched him every day for two weeks. I learned his habits; where he slept, how he spent his days, his favourite watering hole, his acquaintances. Every aspect of his life did I observe, as my years of experience in this line have trained me to do. Not once did I sense that he suspected anything. Not once did he peer over his shoulder in my direction,
Fiction - 100 Words Competition - Justice By Merle R. Stone
There was never a time when Al wasn't my friend. Children learning music together. Adults sharing liquor and time. He had a special beer glass for me, and placed it by the tap when he sensed my approach. We agreed to disagree about everything as we grew into wise and ancient men. We would live forever.
Five crackheads robbed the bar where we would meet and shot him dead
Fiction - Cinch Hand By Nick Quantrill
Joe Berry, Private Investigator. That always grabs the attention. I'm a PI, but it's not as exciting as it sounds. No way. I say that with confidence as I stare out of the window of my detective agency into the overcast Hull night. That's right, Hull - the jewel in the crown of East Yorkshire. It's not a glamorous city, but it's where I lay my hat and I've just about scraped a living from
Fiction - 100 Words Competition - Escape By Merle R. Stone
Shock registered on his face as his mind raced and his vision blurred.
Maybe I could have been kinder, more loving.
Their history together ran uninterrupted on the viewing screen of his subconscious.
Standing out in stark relief, the happy times and the bad.
Must it end this way?
His knees grew weak, and his pulse quickened; he suddenly knew the answer.
Fiction - The Post Office of Doctor Moreau Part Two By Kenton Hall
Previously on The Post Office of Doctor Moreau...
Sandy (tears in her eyes): But, Jonas, I love you.
Jonas (squinting): I know that, Sandy. But you must know this. I can not love anyone. My life is one of danger. Of intrigue. Of brooding handsomely in wine bars.
Sandy (suspiciously): Uh-huh.
Jonas: Yes. I am a lone wolf,
Fiction - 100 Words Competition - Look Big In Ongar By Patrick Henry
George Osborne, brilliant young fiction-writer, distant relative of the late, explosive dramatist,
creates three archetypes of contemporary anti-heroes:
Rebellious John Major, absconded from circus tight-rope acts, become accountant, then,
incredibly, Foreign Secretary, Chancellor, and Master-Gourmet of the Hot-Curry-House;
William Hague, five-foot boy-wonder
Fiction - 100 Words Competition - Problems From Home-Drinking By Patrick Henry
On foot loaded in wine-empties, bottle-bank replaced by a building-site; I tipped into a wheeler-bin nearby.
A woman emerged screeching I'd get her children taken into care: the bin-load proving her an alcoholic,
I fled next-door, a vet's surgery; a leashed pit-bull menacing; its contemptuous owner asking where was my
My rock-python too sick to travel,
Fiction - 100 Words Competition - Man vs Machine By Adam Atkinson
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, that's it, for the love of all that's pure and holy.
Human cattle subjugation shock in t-minus 5 seconds. Sod off! Does not compute.
I'll compute you, ya metal headed bast....
T-minus 1 second. [ZAPPPPPPPP] Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, pack it in.
Rebellion must be quashed, the mainframe must prevail.
Stuff the mainframe, I already know the bloody
Fiction - 100 Words Competition - The Animal Empire Strikes Back By Patrick Henry
From a small boat we looked around river-creeks for fresh-water crocodiles. A wealthy German had one brought aboard to sit on his knee; jaw bound with rope by the Aborigine crew; his glamorous wife photographing.
I criticised them all. The Abos protested they never hunted or ate these creatures, as many people do; now releasing this victim. I said they had