An extract from ‘Bulletproof Suzy’

Bulletproof SuzySo this guy with a dead bright white shirt starts running about on the stage hauling wires and tapping mikes and all that, then these others get up on the lorry. Joanne passes me a smoke but we don’t have a light so I ask this wee guy in front of me, who’s like a hundred and fifty or something, dead wee and thin and pure sweating and he takes out a lighter, all shaking hands and grunts and wheezing and all sorts. He’s got these big red blotches all over his face, but not like birthmark scars, so maybe he’s got cancer or somesuch and Joanne offers him a smoke as well which is maybe a bit dodgy if it is cancer that’s all over him, but he takes one and emits many more grunts and wheezes by way of thanks, then lights us all up and turns away.

Maybe it’s about ten minutes later, but not much more, and it starts getting really squashed, and it’s ending up that I’ve got my face practically in the old guy’s thin white hair, and I can hear him breathing, fast and shallow like he’s got asthma or something, and I’m almost getting the boak what with being able to smell his hair and his papery old skin and thinking that those reddy blotches might be able to sort of jump right off him and onto me and that’ll be me fucked with cancer.

There’s a couple of girls behind me and they’re getting really squashed as well, and it must be pretty bad cos one of them starts panicking and giving it gush and sob and I-want-to-go-home and all that to the other lassie, maybe her big sister, but it’s getting more and more packed all the time behind us and the two girls eventually sort of slip in between me and Joanne, then the old guy, and try to snake their way further to the front, maybe hoping to get out that way. I don’t really mind crowds and that but this is getting dodgy, and I can tell that Joanne’s not enjoying it much either.

Joanne pulls my arm again, and I can hardly turn, but when I do I see her on tippy-toes giving it big wave and shouting how-you-doing to someone I can’t see.

~ That’s Bobby down here. Come on, says Joanne, and I, of course, go follow her like some sad puppy, as is my usual form these days.

So it’s total murder getting through to the guy, but when we eventually do it turns out that he’s got a bit of a perch on one of the plinths holding the big black glossy statue of some long-dead horsebacked city-father type.

Joanne’s had a bit of a sweat for young Robert Harris, but she’s been quite cool on the subject for a while and I haven’t heard his name mentioned for some weeks. He’s a nice enough wee guy, quite thin and wasted like he maybe has some mild needle problem, but his gear is cool and he has a nice smile. He always looks at me and Joanne a bit funny, as if he thinks perhaps we’re an item. Or maybe it’s because I don’t smile too readily and he thinks I don’t like him, but whatever, he’s all big grins and can’t be nicer.

~ Come on up! he shouts, and he bends right down and grabs Joanne’s hand.

By the time she gets squeezed up there with the rest of them, all balancing on this like very thin ledge, there’s no space at all for me, especially with me being slightly broader of beam than the slender Joanne, but sundry youths perched alongside her and Bobby do a very considerate shuffle to create a further gap, and I am duly hauled up. And even on this slightly elevated position the difference in the view is amazing, and we’re even nearer the stage than before, maybe thirty feet or so away from it.

Atop the Council Halls there’s a team of camera-folk, all shoulder-strapped vidders and tripods and such, scanning the George. Bobby points out others on top of the higher office buildings. A helicopter passes over, quite high right enough, doing a big arc way above, and that’s maybe a radio copter doing the normal weather and traffic bumph, but then, a minute later, another copter comes in, lower and slower and this is certainly a rozz-copter, with bright stripes and numbers and letters, and that gets the biggest cheer of the day so far, all squinting upwards and roaring at it to fuck off and giving it the fingers, but it takes its time arching over the George before dipping out of sight, the noise staying a lot longer. And the mike is tapped along to the beat of the copter, which does eventually fade, and the guy with the big bright white shirt cracks a couple of limp jokes and introduces some suit or other.

I don’t know the speakers, but Joanne, who’s on the other side of Bobby, shouts over to tell me who’s who, and Bobby, also being interested in such things, tells me a bit of background. So-and-so isn’t a bad egg, but such-and-such is a brown-nosing two-faced fuck who’s a cheek showing her face and this other one is trapped in the past, and it’s all a bit dry for my liking but the last lassie is good, some housewifie from up our way, and she gets tore right in, suggesting that we might like to make a bit more space for ourselves by going into the Council Halls and making ourselves a cup of tea seeing as how it’s our hall and our tea and if we’re not going to be asked then we can be forgiven a one-off lapse in manners etc etc and that gets the crowd going good style. At first it’s like a joke, and I don’t know if maybe she’s had a wee bead in her or perhaps she’s one of those wifies who gets hammered into the tranquis as soon as she gets out of the sack, but she starts getting really sort of carried away and saying that we really should do it, that it’s our cally and our city and if the bastard councillors won’t turn up to do their job then why don’t we just team in there and do it ourselves, her claim being that at least we would do it right.

So there’s a few bodies down the front who do start actually making their way over towards the front of the Halls, but the rozzlings are thick in force and stay well-put, reinforcements strolling in cool-style from the side drags. The rozz-copter suddenly reappears, much higher than before, and starts making a circle, in view all the while.

So this woman’s really set the cat among the proverbials, and this suit has appeared and grabbed the mike off her and she’s giving it laldy, trying to get it back, it’s like something out of a bar brawl, and you can only hear snatches of what she’s saying and he’s saying, and it’s almost all abuse, and the drumming of the copter above makes it impossible, so then the other bodies are getting into it, and a few punters are trying to get onto the stage from the crowd.

The boos start up close and loud, and this head-bummer rozzer with mega-glistening bunnet and fluorescent stripes suddenly strides right up onstage, two underlings in tow, grabs the mike and passes it to one of his boys. It’s switched off. The heid-rozzer gets the woman and starts reading her the works, but she’s still game for him, maybe she’s gone into like hysteria or something, and even with the racket from the copter and the crowd you can hear her screaming fuck you, fuck off and all that, and every time she does the crowd gives it yoo-ha, so this burly underling rozzer makes a bid for her, gets her in like an arm-clamp and the other one helps and they all just march right off, dragging her in a fairly brutal manner which causes mighty upset, the cheers becoming very dark and angry and merging into a huge and rather scary thundery-type roar.

Someone close behind us, maybe on the next plinth, lobs a bottle. A glass bru bottle. It misses the rozzers, who by this time are dragging the woman off the back of the stage, but is almost immediately joined by a hail of other missiles, mostly empty cans. From where we are I can see the heid-rozzer talking into his jacket. The bottles are starting to fall atop the rozzers stationed afront the Council Halls, and the bunched yellow coats get closer together, bowing their skulls and turning their black round hats towards the crowd by way of paltry defence. But the missiles start to connect, and the roar of the punters is now a nasty thing altogether, filled with screams and the sound of genuine panic. Those below us start shoving forwards, but it’s hard to tell if they want to, or are just being forced to by those behind, and looking at them it’s impossible to say if they want to either. It’s like the crowd is getting sucked towards the Halls, and can’t stop, even if it wants to, and it’s like within a few seconds it’s turned into one of those mad surges you see on old football games, and thank fuck we were where we were and not down there.

But right then Joanne starts trying to get down. Bobby jumps, holds his hands up for her. She jumps, then they both help me, and right away I make for the nearest drag.

~ Where are you going? Joanne shouts to me, wide-eyed and flushed, and I’m amazed that she is actually enjoying this, which by her expression she surely is.

~  Where the fuck do you think? I shout back, home!

But I’m going nowhere fast cos the surge comes again and it’s a definite suicide shot to try and get across it to the side-drag, so I turn back and get myself in firm against the base of the plinth. The bodies pour past, like stones in a river, bouncing off each other, getting squashed for a few seconds against someone or something, then getting pushed around it or them and flowing on. I’ve got a good grip on the stone base of the statue. Joanne and Bobby have gone altogether now, and even though I know they can’t be that far away there’s no chance of seeing them unless I get back up on that plinth.

I stay put for a minute, hoping a gap might appear so I can make a bid for Glassford, but the bodies slow and start to get madly compact. Someone nearby must’ve fallen cos there’s a really blood-curdling scream that you can’t even tell if it’s a man or woman, and it’s so muffled and horrific, then suddenly stops and starts so you can tell that someone’s being trampled. And there’s folk screaming to stop, and trying to give directions, and then there’s another one down and howling and fights are happening and people are pulling at each other, holding their kids up in the air, climbing onto each other’s shoulders. The screams spread, and even the sound of the copter seems to fade even though it’s right overhead, and there’s no shouting any more, no roaring, no cans and bottles landing, no cheering, just screaming from the entrance to the Halls where the crowd has become a big solid unmoving lump.

The rozz copter suddenly veers up and back and away, but another comes in low to take its place, and it’s unmarked, maybe a news crew or suchlike, and at the same time you can see the roofs of a couple of the meat wagons pushing into the square, coming off the drag to the left of the Halls, and also I can see the assembled banners of all the folk who’ve not been let in, and they’re still coming forward. Maybe these other punters have taken the general rumble and screaming to be a sign of action and they want in on it, and it’s like the same thing is happening at the other three drags into George, so that everyone is trying to get in, but looks like no-one is interested in getting out, though by the screams it’s clear that this is not so. I know I want out and offsky but many others are not even in as fortunate as situation as me, and I’m staying well put.

I get myself up on the lowest of the plinth’s ledges, and even this is just a couple of feet off the deck but now I can see. No sign of Joanne and Bobby. The vans open and the riot rozz start jumping out, all black shininess and thick plastic shields, and the Halls’ massive black double-doors open right at the same time and a solid team of similarly clad riot rozz come belting out, giving it deep grumbly roar, banging their thick sticks on the shields and behaving in a tribal and beastly fashion which brings more shouts of fear in angry reply. The crowd tries to surge inside the Halls, but they only get a few feet before the sticks are extended and the shields are coming down on heads like dustbin lids and folk start going down and it’s soon like an invisible wall at the stairs into the Halls, and those who cannot get away tumble into the pile and are being severely seen-to if they get beyond it. I think I catch a glimpse of Joanne quite near the Halls entrance, but the brief flash of blonde is swallowed and I soon lose the place what with the seasick-inducing movements of the crowd.

By now the noise is totally unreal, like it just keeps getting louder and can’t be turned down at all, and then, I josh not, this team of horsebacked rozz appears from the goods entrance to the train station, which is like a normally quiet and rather decrepit looking ramp which slopes into the building housing the north-bound rail traffic, and the horses are stiff-eared and rearing and giving it loud and frightening horse noises as their riders urge them into the crowd, and just at his time a siren goes off somewhere and I’m sure my ears will burst, like someone is stabbing knitting needles right inside them, so I turn, pure panicking now, mercury aslop, and start clawing my way up the plinth, trying to get back to where we were earlier.

Someone tries to pull me down as I start hauling up to the highest ledge, but there’s no way I’m staying down there, and it’s this older guy who’s grabbed me and he’s screaming as well, but I just let one arm go, turn half-way and elbow him a cracker right in the face and he sort of howls and drops onto the bodies below. Someone else grabs at my leg as I’m almost up, but I kick and kick and connect with something softish, get free, and right away I look to see if there’s any way of getting further up, there being nothing further to mount bar the statue itself. I manage to get a hold of the horse’s tail, and I’m surprised that it’s actually quite hot to touch, what with the black metal absorbing the bright sun, but it’s a good shape to get a hold of, and with a mighty haul, then another, I get on the back of the thing, shimmy along then grab the city-father’s coat-tails, then another serious haul and I’m up and astride the shoulders of this long-dead bastard and I sit with arms wrapped about his head, legs fastened about his chest, and I can see it all, hear it all, and closing my eyes doesn’t help, and it’s like hell is happening right there below me.

Maybe it’s about an hour before I get back down. I wait until I’m sure I can make a clear run to the Glassford. By now the ambulances have managed to get through and the corpses are being loaded into the meat wagons. Bodies everywhere, mostly in a long heap covering the half-dozen steps up to the Halls entrance, but dozens of others scattered throughout the square like so much rubbish among all the cans and bags and empty sweet-pokes and fast food boxes, and dozens of green-clad paramedic types go round the bodies as fast as they can, checking who’s alive and signalling when they find someone who is. The dead are loaded into the vans pronto, and there’s a few camera-snappers moving about. And the helicopter’s still buzzing over every few minutes. 

The van nearest me, with doors open, must have at least ten, twelve bodies piled inside, and at the bottom of the pile is the old guy, and I can’t see his face but I can make out the large strawberry blotches, not as red as they were before, on his white-grey scalp.

© Ian Brotherhood 2006