Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
“Youz wanna know how it all went down? Came ta the right place, ya did. I’m the only one left. Ended seventy years ago yesterday, it did.
“Stoat was the first. Skinny geezer, white hair, white eyebrows. Piercing eyes, like they saw right through ya.
“One afternoon, he called a meet. We arrived and there he was: sat in a big old carved chair with a black hanky on a pole tied to the left side. When we got nearer, we saw the black hanky had a thin white stripe down the middle of it. When Turnbull asked him what it meant, Stoat said we didn’t have no turf no more. Said we held a territory, he was da monarch of it, an’ da one-stripe black hanky was our banner.
“Johnny Ray asked if it was like colours, an’ Stoat said yeah, but for the people, not the fighters. Colours for the people, so they could feel like they was a proper part of the gang. But they weren’t real colours, because ya still had to bleed to earn those.”
“Thought it were a silly idea, but then I saw little Marfa – Johnny Ray and Tilda’s kid – runnin’ about all excited, wavin’ the black hanky. That day to this, I still don’t unnerstan’ what they all saw in it, but I darn sure knew they felt something I didn’t.
“Stoat said he had a vision: take over the other turfs. Add them to our territory. Said he had plans for what we could do after he ruled all the turf.
“Well, I think it was Rufus Blood, or maybe Fast Eddie, who got themselves a banner next. Come ta think on it, Rufus was first. He had a red hanky. For the blood, you know? Fast Eddie had diagonal yellow stripes on black. Like on a racer.
“Didn’t take long for every rival boss to get themselves a banner an’ start callin’ themselves ‘monarch’. Seemed harmless, until the night Takerhouse burned. It were Blood’s people. Stormed across the tracks and lit the place up with Shaker Rawl an’ his people still inside. We heard the screams from our territory. It got more twisted after that.
“Before the banners, fighters settled neighbourhood problems, kept the peace, did the negotiatin’ – and then the fighting, if the negotiatin’ failed. But havin’ banners made people think their neighbours were different. Turned ‘em on each other. It was madness for months. Hot summer, blood an’ fire, sirens every night, all night. Sometimes the dawn came like blessed relief. Unholy things got done: fighters fell to mobs, families got wiped out in rampages that swept the streets for no reason. It was like a poison spread from those banners.
“In the end, me and Turnbull went to Stoat. Asked him to burn his banner, being that he’d been the first. To set an example: end the madness. He wouldn’t. Called us traitors. When he went for me, Johnny Ray put a bolt through him. News of what we did spread fast. Rufus Blood got slung off a freight lifter by his old ladies. Fast Eddie they found in two pieces. Never did find out who or what done it.
“In the end, it only took a night to put the monarchs down. Took longer to decide what to do after. In the end, we wrapped them in their banners and buried them in a circle. Sixteen graves with matching headstones. No way to work out which boss lay where. Laid the banner madness down with ‘em. Good riddance to that evil.”