The Game Of Royals
The very next day, at the stroke of seven, Daniel was out on the road for this dismal job of cocaine transfer.
The dusty streets of Rotherham had accumulated all the more dust in the dull month of July, and the dry air along with the silent evenings did little to clean up the unattractive small town.
The scanty population probably never bothered to contemplate the physical ramifications of such appalling condition of the area, and the occasional few who filled the lanes were retired folks who had come to this town in hopes of a silent life of old age, or a mixture of promising and sidetracked youth who were about to leave the place for eternity.
A much less population would be observed in the chilly months of December and January, when the winter will be as formidable as the heat is in the summer, and people will be only seen idling along the road, exhaling puffs of mist. It is due to such climatic overdue that the place carried the second name of ‘land of extremes’, and not being gifted the boon of tourism, the town had gradually started to appear repulsive to the people who prospered far away.
But in the July heat, one could witness a number of businesses going about in the town, and in the blunt sunshine of noon, many wayfarers were gathered at the railway station which was desperately awaiting renovation. The belated trains were displayed brightly on the digital display zone, and a voice hovering around a microphone was announcing schedules repeatedly.
The cars on the road racked up the dust just as their tyres gyrated on the sandy pathway, and some people had gathered up for drinks and other coolants under small shop cabins to take shelter from the harrowing sun.
The chief scene here at this situation was, however, a local food junction just round the corner of the main street that connected the station and the inner parts of the town. The newly arrived gentlemen were tiredly walking towards this restaurant, some with their hats in their hands and looking listlessly fatigued.
The majority of the people were frequent travelers to neighboring cities, who had just returned after finishing their commercial business, and some belonged to the working class of the town who often went to and fro in a frantic search of work. The monotonous screech of the train on the tracks could still be heard from that distance, and the suffocating smoke could be seen coming out upwards.
Into this scenario entered a young man of not more than twenty, and stood for some time standstill at the entrance, as if gauging the composition of people inside.
His hair was scrubbed carelessly, but still didn’t look unkempt, and his casual light-colored shirt was enough to keep him airy on this dry day. His glance over the place was offhand, but his deep eyes spoke of a deeper caution within. A slight twinkle of the eyes was now visible as he relaxed and strode inside the place, with the air of a man confident of his surroundings and of the company he is in.
One might classify him as a nonchalant young adult, carefree as ever and still not out of education, if he had one. His rugged shoes had been worn off probably in pursuit of some athletic achievements, and his frame of body suggested that he might be one of those kids who concentrated more on the playground than the inside of his books.
This individual had now moved on to the reception table, and was leaning over against the desk which came to the height of his chest. The hour was now slowly shifting towards siesta-time, and as the heat came to its peak the restaurant was getting vacated with pace.
The kid loosened his collar a bit with visible uneasiness, and stared all over the place, with his shooting glance pervading the air, measuring how much more time it would take to empty this location. His face cheered up when he saw two parties move out one after other, and he thrust up his face towards his wristwatch and then again scanned the place.
It took fifteen minutes for the kid to get completely satisfied of the geography of this place. The restaurant was now being occupied by nobody, and the floor was all but a mess of disarranged chairs and stinking tables. Some workers were busy dish-washing out in the back, and except an occasional ring of the bell, it seemed like nothing was afoot. But this was precisely when all began for the kid.
He felt a slight tug at his back, and his face alarmingly turned opposite. He felt a bit nervous instantly, but cooled himself again as the other man began talking.
“All okay, mate? You seem to be sweating.” he asked, with his eyes fixed inquiringly on the boy.
“No, no, it’s … I’m fine.” the boy said hesitatingly, having seeing this man for the first time.
“Nobody else was there to take it. I’d to manage at the last moment. Now, son, quickly hand over the meal,” the man said, secretly motioning his fingers towards him in a grotesque manner.
“Yeah, I have it right here, man. Here it is,” saying this the boy took out a packet of a whitey packet filled with a kind of powdery substance and handed it over to the man with a wink.
“That’s all right. Nice stuff!” exulted the man, who was now finely checking the contents and apparently was satisfied with the delivery.
“Next time around then!, so long,” cried the kid in an attempt to give a last impression.
“Didn’t catch your name though, fella’? Shout it out loud.”
The teenager again hesitated, but shrugged his shoulders at knowing that he wasn’t yet known to men of the inner circle. “It’s Daniel, you can shorten it. Or Pinkerton, my surname.”
A casual wave of the senior man put an end to these shady affairs at the street-side restaurant, and the young man drew a sigh a relief after these risky matters into which he had unfortunately and reluctantly been drawn into concluded in a harmless, albeit illegal manner. Because by heavens, he knew that blood and pain were more than often the resultant products in cases of this kind.
And so strode Daniel Pinkerton out of that place.
After a clumsy afternoon which ended in a drowsy nap for Daniel, he was too strained to make an effort for arranging dinner. In normal circumstances he would take a walk on the pavement till he reached Walker’s, which was as near and as decent a food joint as he could expect to find within meters of his unwisely colored house.
A dilapidated garden separated the road from his boundary. No neighbor was ever aware of this kid’s movement or even presence, for that matter, and back in this quiet vicinity no soul gave a damn how queer Daniel had been ever since he was left out by his parents.
Presently, a car stealthily crept up around the area which had originally been a lane into the garden of Daniel’s house, but had been gradually corrupted to a footpath of sorts due to the unusual covertness of the owner. The music was beating with a loud thump, but not enough to disturb the sleepy settlements around.
Daniel, although, was alerted, for he was more often than not the subject of the flaring lights which were now being flashed on his window. With a start, he had put his jacket on, and hurried onto the gate and kept looking through the hazy glass till he was confirmed that it was one of those creepy summons.
He walked up to the gate, fearfully and apprehensively looking around his left and right lest someone catches him talking to rogues. The unexpected visitors still had their vehicle turned on, and presently the driver’s glass window could be seen drawn down.
Daniel gasped nervously as soon as he saw that face in the seat, and a fear crept in. He kept on walking, and repeatedly kept chanting the name of Jesus till he was within a couple of feet of the driver.
“I heard the job was done, and pretty well tied up too, lad!” said the man who clearly looked to be in charge of the whole party. His eyes were indiscernible behind the heavy goggles which were pretty futile at this pitch dark place. Gang leaders were this eccentric.
“Well, thanks, Sir Jeff. I tried… I did try my best,” said Daniel, making every attempt to look resolute before the bunch. He dared not lose his nerve here.
“Cut it out, Pinkerton. I ain’t complainin’,” said the man. His puffs of smoke were getting stronger.
“Well, then… Sir Jeff, what’s all this about?”
“This! Well this is about you making a choice. Oh, wait you don’t have a choice on this, I’m sorry,” said the man with a clinical sigh, as if mimicking genuine regret.
“I… I don’t understand, Sir Jeff,” said Daniel, now shaking within every inch of his body.
“Well, lad! You wouldn’t really have a choice if I asked you if you’re ready for another, um, transport.”
“Not any that I can see, Sir Jeff.”
“I thought so. It’s sorted then, boy. You will deliver a packet for Simpson. Don’t panic, he’s one of our close ones. You will meet him for the first time. Don’t freak out.”
The man handed a folded piece of paper and a photo to Daniel, who uncertainly received it with shaky hands. Sir Jeff then threw the cigarette down, and restarted the car. “I better hear good news about this, ya understan’?” Saying these words, Sir Jeff drove off that lonely road and disappeared into any one of those mysterious lanes which shrouded the shady neighborhood of the gang members and witnessed many scenes of violence.
Daniel could only nod at this instruction. The night had gotten so late that even the usual road maintenance workers were invisible, and the bitumen was shining in the moonlight. Two or three lampposts were able to retain their power and shine through the dark driveway, unlike the others which had given up. The whole scenario pictured itself as if there was to be no more light in Daniel’s life starting tomorrow.
The writing on the paper had faded into nothingness, but the address had been firmly imprinted on the mind of Daniel. Today was the day. It was always a mystery to him why the gang members and people of their kind craved and killed for this substance. It looked like white flour, but the money in the transaction was high as the sky.
He had felt the nauseating smell of these narcotics, he had seen the oblivion on the addict’s face when the ‘stuff’ took hold, and how people gasped with complete satisfaction when the substance usurped their very souls. Sir Jeff seemed to have a penchant for this business, and he was one of those ‘innocent ones’ who had got entangled within this nasty thoroughfare.
He remembered the days when his days weren’t this dark, and an education used to be a part of his life. But there is no use for nostalgia now, he realized. The address is 112, Cushing Street, and the precise place is the back of the garage which begins after the last sapling of its garden rests.
The very next day, at the stroke of seven, Daniel was out on the road for this dismal job of cocaine transfer. He couldn’t say no to Sir Jeff, because he had not the power to suffer those consequences which a gun and a couple of bullets might bestow.
He had to just accept the fate of his life, think of himself as one of those ill-lucked kids who not realizing the threat of malevolent vices are swayed by that infamous drive of a volatile teenage mind. This was a one-way road, and not many who took the forbidden turn the other way round have lived to edify their next generation.
The lane which preceded the address was a vacant, narrow one which ended in a large building which Daniel took for as a school of the locality. He took the right turn ahead, and reached a place where a good few yards of garden lay. Rows of small plants had been set up, whose origins Daniel knew not.
A garage with faint yellow color covered the main house, and the garage itself didn’t face the main road, and instantly Daniel understood the reason why this location was chosen. Daniel crouched stealthily through the fence, walked up silently towards the garage, and sat against the wall, exploring all the directions from that perspective. The covertness of this location was perfect.
After fifteen minutes of patient waiting, Daniel could see a couple of tough and strongly built guys walk over from the other side of the road scattered with leaves. He couldn’t see their faces yet, as the bushes of a large height sidelining the fence stood between the two parties. He could see their rusty boots, and the gigantic motorcycles parked in the roadside. Then and there he realized that these were unmistakable properties of feared local gang members.
For entering these guys didn’t crouch; they tore the fence rings dispassionately, as if it was a fallen hair on their shoulders. They towered over Daniel in a display of fierce physical disparity, and then one of them cleared his throat to ask.
“Are ya sure this place is good?”
“This is the place. It’s written, you can check,” replied Daniel.
“Nah, that’s all right. Have you secured the perimeter?” the other one asked.
“Uh, there obviously seems to be nobody around here,” said Daniel.
“Have you checked?”
“Yes. I have. Now, please, shall we just do this, real quick?”
“What are you hurrying up for? You got college, or something?” the first person tightened his voice.
“No, nothing like that. Leave all that, folks! Here’s the stuff,” said Daniel.
Just when his packet was shuffled, and the polythene was getting out, a sharp, shrill sound disrupted this illegal transaction abruptly. Two windows were opened instantly, with their hinges creaking furiously, and a wave of dust spread out in the faint sunshine of the early morning.
An old face, with black glasses resting on a nose with wrinkles running from everywhere to everywhere. This sudden intrusion sent the two dealers away from the scene, probably apprehending an undercover drugs bust. But the truth turned to be something else.
“What the devil is goin’ on in there?” shouted the man, and turned his head over the whole backyard that his vision could cover.
But Daniel was now clear that the man had no vision at all, for as he was coming out of the half-broken side door, his hand was tottering with a stick that the blind used for navigation, and his dark glasses were so thick that they covered half of his cheekbones. Daniel stood there, neither making an attempt to hide not to run away, and amazingly not taking any advantage of the absent ocular prowess of the man, who he was now certain was the owner.
The man now stood exactly in between the door and the silver fences, which had been broken outright by the fleeing fugitives. Two minutes of silence prevailed before the surroundings had been restored back to the charming beauty of an early Monday morning.
“When is this stopping?” said the man, with an undertone of authority and charge.
“I don’t… what’s that supposed to mean?” asked Daniel, now confusion all over his face after the sudden realization of the happenings. The man had no touch of arrogance or frustration that usually remained upon the countenance of a house owner whose property has been encroached. He stood facing Daniel directly, although how he figured out his exact position Daniel had no way to know.
“I want you to come inside. I believe we can settle this, can’t we?”
Five minutes later, Daniel was sitting meekly on a chair with a glass of water, vacantly gazing onto the five-feet something board which hung on the pale wall of the sitting room. “CHESS ASSOCIATION OF ROTHERHAM”, it ran, in the form of a bold, black font and was at least a decade old, judging by the extent of its rusting.
The room smelled of stale air, as if no living soul has entered it in the recent past, and four tables were laid across the breadth of the room, with a couple of chess tables on each. The pieces were nicely set, but dust had gathered upon them.
This instant, the old man approached the room with a bottle of what seemed to be wine. He had two chairs as an obstruction, and Daniel thought it better to alert in advance, but as he was about to do so, the old man proved to be a better judge of his surroundings, carefully maneuvering his body between the little space, and sat down on an opposing armchair.
“So, how’d you get in?” asked the man, after cocking the bottle cover.
“The fences, sir. You see they’re broken and—“
“Not in the house, I mean. Into this damned group of thugs?” asked the man.
“I didn’t. They pulled me up one nice day, and threatened to thrust a couple of bullets into my head if I didn’t do what they asked.”
“To do what exactly?”
“Ya see sir, these fella’s don’t have a chuck of courage to do what they want to before the public, in the plain sight of day. They don’t want police hovering around them. So what they do is, they pick up some young bloke like me, don’t care who the chap is, and give him their worth of threats. And what happens is that they end up quite like I did.”
“So, you don’t indulge in these things?”
“No one would ever bloody want to,” said Daniel, his tone now changing to one of anguish. “I just deliver. I am just somebody they want to put the blame on if the police ever suspects anything.”
“Ah, the middle-man, caught up in such dangerous circumstances. What do you dare to do now?”
“Nothin’ at all. I’ve my life on the very edge,” replied Daniel.
“At gunpoint, you mean?”
“Very similar situation to this game of ours,” said the man, and pointed over to the tables.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, in this too, kid; we are at gunpoint. The pieces of the opposing colour never allow you to make the move you want to. You’re always on the verge of losing if ya step over to the wrong square.”
“It’s just a royal game. For the kings of London, I’d say.”
“Well, it’s the only place where the low lives,” the old man said, touching Daniel “can control their kings. I’ve seen it for fifty-years son, and it’s always the trick of a clever man which defeats the arrogance of a king.”
“Where the players have gone now, eh?” questioned Daniel, with a hushed laugh.
“Some have gone to better countries, and won some damned medals. Some behaved like a chess piece controlled by an unwise player, lost their way, and finally got check-mated. Some, like the bishops, manipulated their fellow-beings and escaped avoiding trouble, but neither did they achieve something valuable.”
“And none of ‘em come back?” asked Daniel.
“Does this place look like anybody came back?”
“So, what are these tables and chessboards for anyway?”
“For those who care ‘bout the game. For those who will come.”
The two sat around in the scathing silence till it began to grow dark. The faint, orange glow was dipping below the horizon fast, as Daniel could see from the window.
“Set the meeting tomorrow, here,” said the old man, breaking the silence, and rising from the chair.
“Again? What, for bleeding me to death?” asked Daniel shockingly.
“Just listen to men of sense for a change, eh?” saying this he quietly exited the room, and went deep into the long corridor, before finally retiring to a room with his stick tottering behind him till the door closed.
The overcast morning which came ten years after that perilous scenario at the Chess Association of Rotherham had seen a handful of persons gathering around a solitary grave in the local cemetery. The rain on the previous day was so strong that it gave a somewhat muddy appearance to the otherwise impervious ground.
The men were dressed in an impeccable formal attire, and the women were basking in the glorious white. The priest had just arrived with all his holy equipments and the Bible, and this suspended any clamorous talks and frivolous gossip that was still continuing in this melancholic atmosphere.
The coffin was covered with a shiny, black paint, and a cross of flowers was kept right at the head of the dead man. The priest read out all the formalities expected, amidst some sobs which however appeared to be fake considering their gross tonality. After a few traditional recitals, the priest commanded the person who was to make the eulogy to come forward.
A man in a gray suit took some steps forward, after dissociating himself painfully from his wife, who appeared to be consoling her aggrieved husband. Just when he had cleared his face and tried to pose a sober countenance, the priest interrupted.
“Not you, my son. Not today.”
“What, what do you mean, father?” asked the man in a stupefied expression.
“His last wish was that, well, that you do not speak a single word, should you attend the funeral at all.” said the priest disappointingly.
The man gasped, disbelievingly, and his ashen face representing shock perfectly than any other words.
“But, I am his son…his own–”
“He’d allowed only one person to speak the eulogy,” said the priest and with a gesture of hand motioned another person his way.
The feeble row of attendants gave way to this popular face, and the son looked astonishingly as this man walked in. He had a clean cut face, and such gentle bearing that it was hard to believe it was really him, a man so famous in his nation, or in any other.
“To my most beloved sir” began the man, as the entire party stood silent, “you were the first one to teach me whatever I learnt. The first man to give me advice in my troubled teenage.
You did what the Rotherham police couldn’t. You made me a player of the game of royals when I wasn’t even a human. You saw in me something that the drug lords would have killed. You made me do what I did in those sixty-four squares when my parents were more than hundred miles away from me. You made my mind work when it was about to get addicted. You passing away only makes me wonder, how many could you have rescued?
I promised to do everything I can for this game, and most importantly, to come back where nobody bothered to. I hope, in your eyes, I became exactly what you wanted me to. For, in my eyes, you were the only teacher I ever had.”
And so strode Daniel Pinkerton out of the graveyard.
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