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read Low Down Bigtop

Welcome to my novel Low Down Bigtop.

The novel features a band of circus performers who travel Britain solving crimes. Though the manuscript needs tightening and some thorough editing, I welcome inquiries from serious publishers.

Low Down Bigtop copyright 2010 Nate Fitzgerald - all rights reserved. 

Chapter 1

In the beginning, God made the world. We have to assume he got to Birmingham much later, when he was in a bit of a rush. Likely it was around the time he decided to make fleas, tornadoes and the first Chav, either on a bet or because he'd had a few too many mulled beverages and felt the need to spice the human race up a little, making it more like what would eventually become reality TV. 

The girl was half turned toward the wall, as if whispering a secret to the bricks. The three men surrounded her at angles, like a shell-suit tripod, their greasy American baseball-cap clad heads rearing back in laughter. Dave the circus midget could see the acne on their necks even at a distance, festering beneath the cheap chain jewellery worn in imitation of rappers who were all Drs and MCs, Dizzies and Biggies.  Dave was on his way to the chemist for his eczema medication and really didn’t have time for a situation; but then, every moment in life was a situation if you thought about it, and a good man never shrunk away from trouble. He sighed at his impossibly high and comprehensive value system and crossed the street.


The three men turned, took in his appearance –  fists clenched like baby baked potatoes – and nearly wet themselves with hysterics. Dave was a midget. Maybe that term was no longer politically correct, but he didn’t care. He wasn’t offended. In fact, he was proud. When asked his height, he didn’t mess around with centimetres or inches and would confidently tell all he was as high as a barstool. He had even tried to get the extremely accurate measurement listed on his drivers licence, though to no avail thanks to stringent institutional bureaucracy.

“Oi yourself, tiny,” the tall one said. “And fuck off.”

Dave planted himself a couple metres from the men. “Good one. That’s highly original. You should submit work to the BBC Writers Room scheme. They're always on the look out for new talent.”

He’d heard them all before: tiny, pipsqueak, shorty… and then there were the ironic barbs, like jumbo and big guy, or comments about choosing him first for the basketball team. He hated all of the words. He was Dave, Dave the circus midget.

“Oi, tall boy, you ‘eard him,” the ferret-like kid said. "Fuck off."

“I heard him,” Dave replied, mumbling. “I was just so gobsmacked it could speak that I had to take a second to recover my wits. Now leave the young lady be. On your bikes.”

The girl turned to scamper off, but the tall one put his hand out and blocked her way. She stopped and hunched submissively. She was coffee-coloured, not from the heart of Africa. Maybe Moroccan, come up through France and across from Calais. She had plump lips and a small forehead. Dave liked foreheads. He was a forehead man.

“She wants to stay wif us, don’t ya, love?” the tall one said. “And what chew gonna do ‘bout it?”

“Come on, lads. You’ve had your laugh, now you’re scaring her.” Dave turned to the girl. “What d’ye do love?”

“I verk at Pret a Manger,” she squeaked.

Dave clapped his tiny hands together. “See, making tasty egg sandwiches at reasonable prices for weary customers like myself. That's stellar.”

“Taking our jobs,” the ferret-face said.

“Oi!" Dave yelled. "A sound to my right, a sound to my left. That right: a stereotype. I bet her sister cleans toilets, something you've never done. Any of youse lads want those jobs? Nah, I didn’t think so, so don’t go banging on about losing your right to sop up piss all day as an excuse to get nasty. Them ain’t the positions you’ve all been pinning for since you dropped out of school. Now I'm not going to tell you again, move along.”

The tripod had begun to drift, off at angles, like a slow moving net around Dave’s tiny stunted person. He straightened his flat cap, given to him by his Midlands mates Remus and Rom for his last birthday. They had even taught him the two-finger salute to be used while driving in that part of the country. He thought of the chemist.  Just a quick in and out was what he’d told the lads back at the caravan park where the circus had ground to an exhausted halt only twelve hours earlier. No trouble. That had been the plan. Sure, there had been jokes about the sexual innuendo inherent in his choice of words. They had laughed... Now this…

“Alright then,” Dave began, pulling out his weapon and letting the switchblade snap into position. “I’ve got one of these, picked up from a Albino in Amsterdam who did a good business in legal drugs and illegal weapons.”

The three malicious thugs weren’t showing any fear. Dave the midget had just slowed their aggressive drift momentarily. They were harder than he’d first expected – which made his stopping to help the African lass more important.

Dave tried a new tact. He bore his teeth and let out a screech. Dave was a performer, after all, and loved a bit of the ol' razz-ma-tazz and the juicy tang of adrenalin. Once that chemical started flowing, he could walk through walls.

To his great disappointment, however, the ferret-like thug pulled out a knife of his own, a crude blade fortified with electrical tape to prevent a hand from slipping up the blade and thus exacting a self-inflicted wound that could easily become infected and lead to a long hospital stay and perhaps amputation. Though most crims were generally thick as paste, they knew about these things.

Dave forced a cheeky smile. “On second thought, as my dear old dad used to say, the best way to win a knife fight is to run away.”

And yet he knew his minuscule legs could carry him neither far nor fast. They were like two small lamb roasts, short and stumpy at the ends.

“Did you lads know that England is the stabbing capital of the Developed World?” he blurted, trying yet another tact. Dave was a master of tact. “Of course, seeing as the nation’s credit rating could be downgraded from AAA status, putting us on-par with Chile and Portugal, I’m not sure Developed World is entirely accurate anymore. My grand-dad would be rolling in his grave. Still, the current economic situation is no reason to vote Conservative. Though I'm not sure that Labour is up to scratch either.”

He could tell his strategy was working. They were definitely getting bored. If he could take the edge off their anger, they might let him and the girl go and fuck off home to play on their video consoles or watch SKY Sports.

Suddenly the big guy snapped his fingers. “I knew I seen yuz before, wee man."

"Is that right?" Dave said.

"Aye. I done seen yuz in a porno!” He thrust his hips in a sexual manner, imitating rapid fornication. The other two criminal types burst into vulgar animal laughter, their aggressive energy surging again.

“Yes indeed. You was the one behind, given this ugly slag the full pencil, ‘cept you was so short I couldn’t see your face too well.”

Dave could feel his blood pressure rising. He gripped his knife so tightly that his little fists looked like Lemon-Coconut Snowballs, which ironically he often ate after his favourite supper of egg and chips.

“Actually, I was the one in front,” Dave replied. “With my nob stuffed in your mum’s gob.”

“Why you little …”

The big thug took a step forward, giving the girl an opening to run, but she just cowered more. Silly tart. Dave readied his knife and stepped forward too, ready to take a beating, maybe die. Might as well go out fighting. His eye caught a familiar red Adidas jumper at the corner and he dodged away from the first slash, scurrying behind a pile of rubbish.

"Like a scared little mouse," the big one said.

There was a time when gangs wouldn’t pummel a single man, especially a midget, back in the Ronnie Kray days and beyond. There had never been honour among thieves, but the streets had once had the credo of a fair fight. These lads were a new breed of scum.

“Tell you what,” Dave said. “Get on your bike now and I won’t cut your balls off.”

Oh how they laughed, mockingly, trying to get around the rubbish.

“See, here’s the thing,” Dave continued. “I’ve spent my whole life being harassed and abused by thick cockheads like you lot. But now I’ve my friends. And I've got to warn you they’re all…”

The ferret screamed as a flash of red cotton and two hirsute arms descended on him, followed by a wet mouth full of pearly whites sinking into the flesh of his face.

“A little violent,” Dave finished.

The lad dropped his knife as Mancunian Monkey Boy tore off a slab of flesh and spit it quickly onto the dirty ground. He swigged from a flask of single malt scotch and spit again, ever conscious of TB, HIV and other blood-borne viruses, then went in for another assault.

Meanwhile the big guy whirled as a python and two asps sailed through the air, landing on his cheap gold jewellery and knocking his American-style hat from his square head. One snake slithered into his mesh shirt and down toward his droopy athletic trousers. The python gave him a loving squeeze, cutting off his windpipe. A foot caught him flush in the testicles, doubling him over and making his face turn a deeper shade of crimson.

“Toby could pop you like a pimple, fella,” Mohammed the Snake Charmer said. He stroked the soft skin of the snake like a loving father. Today Mo was wearing a shirt which read: Born to be a Coolie. He liked his novelty shirts with humorous, often ironic slogans.

The third man tried to run off but a solid right hook knocked him flat on his arse, a bearded figure rising over him, threatening to really lay in the boots. He swore violently, shielding his face.

“Now that’s no way to talk to a lady,” the Bearded Lady said.

When the boy looked up in shock, she dashed him hard with a plank of wood and then gobbed in his inbred face.

Monkey was howling and jumping about, his instincts rising to dangerous levels. Dave had seen the warning signs before and knew his good and noble friend was already three sheets to the wind despite the early hour and was therefore capable of anything. He put up his small hands and called off the hounds, allowing the three prime examples of human refuse to scamper off, back to their council flats and stolen merchandise. Karma would ultimately exact revenge. Dave was a Buddhist after all.

He turned to his friends, all smiling in satisfaction.

“Took you long enough,” he said. “I was shitting myself.”

See, that’s the thing. With good friends, you can be completely honest, and completely yourself, even if you are a total freak. Monkey put his lithe arm around Dave's shaking frame.

"Pub," he said. "You owe me a dram for what I had to spit out."

Chapter 2

The Oxford Arms had all the elements of an ideal local: decrepit, grumpy men with spinal issues doing crosswords over warm pints in the corners, wallpaper patterns worthy of Rorschach and the faintly rancid smell of spilled ale that would never disappear, no matter how many times (if any) the ancient carpets were professionally steam cleaned.

Mancunian Monkey Boy had an elbow propped onto the bar, his body slung toward a group of punters staring in his direction. Monkey locked his eyes on the largest male, whose square head looked like a beef Wellington encrusted with a straight 90s-style Caesar fringe. The Alpha male gave him the hard stare back, his small eyes wavering when Monkey’s expression didn’t falter. The two-second test had told Monkey all he needed to know. There’d be no trouble today. He continued to stare, however, taking in the others at the table, enjoying the slow squirm. With the big man now looking sheepish, the rest would go back to their mindless banter about reality television and the pointless and inflated adventures of nights on the piss, when nothing particularly special had happened, probably the same old, same old. After all, everything in life was an exercise in futility.

“Get your head in the game,” Dave the circus midget said.

“Shut it, you,” Monkey muttered, looking back at his stunted friend. “The only words coming from that gob should be thank you. What were you thinking getting mixed up with that lot?”

“The lass…”

“The lass. She wasn’t exactly your type.”

“Because she was exotic?” Dave shot back.

“No, because she didn’t run when you gave her the chance. She wasn't cunning. You fall in love with the mind, Dave. That’s your problem.”

“I definitely would’a slipped that girl one,” Mohammed the Snake Charmer said. “Never had a real African, like that don’t speak English. I once test drove a black inflatable doll at a party, but I don’t think it counts. It was made in China.”

“Let’s cut the racism,” the Bearded Lady said.

“I ain’t racist,” Mohammed replied. “I said I’d shag the arse off the African bird. That’s a compliment. And besides, that’s racist saying I’m racist, cause you’re only saying it cause I’m a dirty foreigner.”

“You’re from Bradford.”

“Yeah, but I were born in Wales.”

Monkey twisted his body away from the exchange and faced Dave, who looked sheepishly into his glass. They had been friends long enough that he knew what was coming. Monkey didn’t want to sound like a stern uncle, but Dave couldn’t keep dipping his toe into the water with sharks and psychos. One day Monkey wouldn’t be there in time and it would be Tanya all over again. “If you had a proper mobile, you could have made that someone else’s business,” Monkey said.

“I know, I know.”

Dave stared deep into his half of Boddingtons. He wasn’t keen on mobile phones. He was alright with the Internet – comfortably enough with the email and messaging – but there was something prickly about bantering into mid-air, wondering if the person on the other end was rolling his eyes or even really listening. Dave didn’t like the silence of a phone line, the thin nothing always raising his blood pressure and nervousness. He liked to read the body language of those around him. That gave you the real information on how the person was feeling. No, mobiles weren’t for him. He could go into a lion’s cage riding a llama and playing a lute as the crowd roared around him, but ordering a pizza on the blower was a torture he’d avoid at all costs.

Monkey got up and went to the fruit machine, determined not to bang on, knowing Dave was sorry. His small friend also knew the date and the state of Monkey’s mind. Four years. It wasn’t long, but felt like an eternity. He rummaged around in his tight denim trousers for coinage. Dave and he had been through the wars, fast friends from the Hacienda days when everyone in Manchester was mental and finding their way. He remembered the first time he had seen Dave being abused on stage by the fat bastard Shawn Ryder, ridiculing the small man with the big heart as he danced around next to Baz. Ryder may have been a genius, but he didn’t know how to treat a person. A split lip from Monkey had cut through the pill joy quick enough and forced an apology.

Monkey dragged his feet purposely across the floor, like an obese cat unable to lick its hole and in need of a new cleaning strategy. He loved the feel of the thick old carpet beneath his Doc Martin boots, the gentle give and glide of a fabric that had overheard thousands of conversations filled with fear, fantasy, fact and failure, as well as a right many laughs. That was the joy of the pub. If you were in a good pub anywhere in the country, you were home.


Monkey bit his lip as he slipped the first pound into the slot. Only one place had ever truly been home, and it hadn’t been a city. Four years. He looked into the Fuller Pride mirror above his head and quick-scanned the room as he always did, searching for a glimpse of someone who looked vaguely like her. The flash of long, sleek blonde hair was enough for her not to feel so far away. Forty-eight months on and his heart still peeled back like a paper cut in lemon juice. They said time healed, but Monkey’s aorta were as tender and raw as the day of her funeral. Maybe they always would be. Maybe that was OK. The pain meant he hadn’t forgotten.

No dirty blondes in the place, only a slew of brunettes and a couple gingers among the pensioners. Just as well. He wasn’t in the state to hold his guts in. His hands were shaking and not because of the drink. He saw Dave watching from the stool, his tiny feet hanging down like a ventriloquist’s dummy. Monkey gave a nod to say he was OK, but knew Dave was looking straight into his soul, afraid that he’d go off. Monkey took a slug of his whisky anyways in case he needed to blame the glint of moisture in his eyes on the burn.

The lights threatened to induce a seizure as three pound dropped into the winners trough.

“My lucky day,” he murmured.

Going off. The old shame washed over Monkey as he slid another coin into the machine, its wiring designed using the unbreakable laws of probability to make a loser out of every punter who dared. Just like life.

The old priest had been out of line, putting his grubby paw on Monkey’s shoulder at the casket and saying she had never looked more beautiful. Monkey had turned on the man like a blast of propane and seized him by his grey and soft throat, hissing that Tanya had looked more beautiful every day of her life, because she had been alive. And then he had trashed the room, right there in front of the body. Later he imagined Tanya looking down and he had felt the stone of grief and remorse and utter shame grow in his abdomen.

And then he had gone into hibernation, a near-endless sleep, alone in his small flat, cut off from the world. Without Dave, perhaps he'd never have emerged back into society.

Another pound dropped. Monkey willed it to lose. He wanted to rip the whole goddamned contraption from the wall and bust it into chips and wedges of sharp plastic, just like on that day. After a lifetime of being a freak, he had found the one woman who had seen his flaws and abnormalities as interesting peccadilloes, regions to be explored and celebrated, and he had let her down. Always let her down. Had let her down even at her own wake.

He had kept it together for the entire Irish wake in his black suit, his copious locks slicked back with an extra-strong pomade designed for afros, the only product that could do the trick on his wild follicles. He had listened to the apologies and condolences of strangers and hadn’t felt a thing until that priest had touched him, roused him out of his stupor, shocked him back to the reality that he would never be able to turn to her with a smile and confide his deepest desires and darkest fears.

Monkey whirled as a hand grasped his elbow. Dave stumbled backwards, his eyes looking up as if expecting a blow.

“We’ve got to get the tightrope strung," Dave said. "Otherwise that slack bastard with the harelip will muck up the tension again and we’ll spend hours getting it sorted. Good help is hard to find.”

Monkey tried to breath, his chest tight. Friends were harder to find. The room was spinning, but was slowing down, colours reforming. Dave was solid, as good a geezer as you’d find on Earth. No pity or talk of the past, just eyes firmly set on the moment at hand. One slow and steady step at a time, like performing on the wire, the only place Monkey could ever forget. Monkey wanted to make a joke, but his mouth was dry.

“Whiskey and cornflakes,” Dave muttered, shaking his head and walking away. “Breakfast of fucking champions. You’ll ruin yourself, Monk.”

Yes, the little man was solid. Despite what the media would have one believe, saviours came in all shapes and sizes.

Chapter 5

They had been sitting outside an electronics shop for over an hour when the armoured lorry finally pulled up. It reminded Nuts of a bull, its grill snorting and its steel body taut as the sinewy hide of a beast. Armoured lorries looked as if they could riot through anything – prison gates, fences, brick walls, trees of a certain age (though not of course ancient types), blockades, barriers, parked cars… that sort of thing.

Nuts’ mind raced sometimes. Ironically, however, he wasn’t called Nuts because of his suspect thought processes and obsessive-compulsive list making, but rather because of his elongated scrotum, which presented itself much like the hanging baskets of Babylon. He had received the nickname in school during a swimming outing. But Nuts wasn’t one of the seven wonders of the world. He was an unemployed welder from Bolton, now trying his hand at organised crime.

The two security employees exited the high doors of the bull-like lorry. They gave cursory glances around the area and then stretched their stiff limbs; clearly they had done the job long enough without trouble to not really engage in a thorough inspection. After all, no one had robbed armour-plated vehicles since the time of Ronnie Biggs. The guards now had weapons and radios and cash points were hives of CCTV cameras.

“So what do we do now?” Nuts asked.

Nick the Knife turned his head slowly. He was chewing on a toothpick, like some sort of criminal cliché. Nick liked to act the part, disguising his feeling of inadequacy with bravado and theatrics, believing the saying Fake it until you make it, which he had once heard uttered on an episode of The Bill. He had learned a lot from that show and had once had a crush on DC Delia French, feeling heartbroken and enraged when she was eventually written off. He had written a pilot episode of a spin-off with her as the lead character, but those pompous toffs at Talkback Thames had rejected it out of hand without so much as taking a meeting.

“We do nothing,” Nick said.

“So we been sitting ‘ere for an hour for nowt?”

“I didn’t say that. I got a bigger plan. To produce art, you got to do the research,” Nick replied, touching the side of his nose knowingly.

Nick had done this stakeout for the past fortnight, every day, finally bringing his young (and frankly thick) protégé along for the final check. Nick didn’t trust anyone, having been betrayed by more crims than he could count on his nine fingers, which is why Nuts suited his purposes. The kid was green, malleable, easily manipulated and hopefully eventually duped. Unfortunately these types of jobs needed leg men.

“I got these lads pegged,” Nick continued. “Got their routine down to the minute, like Michael Caine in The Italian Job, the good version, not that shitty remake with Mark Walberg.”

Nick was also a bit of a cinema buff. He had written two screenplays exclusively for Mr Robert DeNiro, but the fabulous actor’s agency had obviously never given the pages to the great man.

“He were a Calvin Klein model,” Nuts said.

“Who, Michael Caine?” Nick snapped incredulously.

“Was he?”

They looked at each other for a few tense seconds. Nick imagined stabbing Nuts through the face with a piece of cut glass, dragging the edge slowly from forehead to chin. But again, he needed a leg man. Even though he disliked the taste, he lit a cigarette, once again playing the part of the cool and collected gangster.

They watched the two guards approach the cash point, the one with the bushy moustache taking out a set of keys on a chain, the other standing with his legs spread facing the street. Bushy Moustache used one key to unlock the outer shell of the machine, then punched in a series of numbers on the electronic screen. He then reached down again with a second key, which he turned, before punching in more security codes. Everything had a PIN these days. Nick wondered what would happen if he were hit on the head and got amnesia. He wouldn’t be able to do a blessed thing, not even check his email or log on to his blog. A head injury could see you starve these days.

Finally Bushy Moustache took out an S-key and unscrewed the steel canister that held the cash. He took an identical canister from the bag at his feet – which obviously was full of crisp, newly minted bills – and made the swap.

Nick started the car.

“What are you doing?” Nuts asked. “I thought we were robbing them lads?”

“In good time.”

“But I brought a mask.”

Nuts held up a black balaclava, an interesting and largely unappreciated item of clothing first used by British troops in the Crimean War to protect their faces from the harsh Siberian winds coming off the Russian Steppes.

“You’ll need that tomorrow,” Nick said, pulling his refurbished sky blue Aston Martin DB4 out into the busy street.

“Why not just jump them lads today?”

“Because that would be metaphorical suicide. You don’t hunt men where they expect it, and certainly not with all the eyes of the street looking your way. You take the fight to their most precious place.”

“The pitch?”

“No, their homes. Bring your own car tomorrow. We’re going to follow these lads home and persuade them to play to our piper.”

Nuts laughed. “You think these lads will give up their secure jobs given the current rate of unemployment in order to help us rob some cash points?”

“No, but I’m sure they can be persuaded. Besides, those jobs pay shite for what they do.”

“Sit on their arses driving around emptying a few large boxes of money?”

“And facing danger. Also, sitting in a lorry for eight hours a day can have a devastating effect on the lower back. My great uncle was a driver and ended up bed-ridden by fifty, his muscles atrophying so much that he looked more like a dried apple than a man. We used to call him the Apple Man and pretend to be ill when our parents would coerce us to visit.”

“Yeah, but these lads get out at every bank.”

“Still… Job probably only pays around 20,000 pounds per annum being unskilled, which is not much to live on these days, not with the escalating price of property.”

Nick had been shut out of the property boom, one of only a handful of people in the country to be refused a mortgage during the Blair years. Time in prison didn’t look good on a loan form. Though granted, had he pressed hard enough, he likely could have found a financial institution in Iceland willing to lend him a few hundred thousand quid with no deposit.

“I can’t bring a car tomorrow,” Nuts said.

“Why not?”

“I don’t have one.”

Nick glared sideways, taking his eyes off the road momentarily. “What do you mean you don’t have a bleeding car?”

“They’re too dear.”

“They’re a necessary cost of business. It’s not an optional expense.”

“And parking around my flat is a nightmare.”

“A nightmare… Get a residential parking permit from the bleeding council.”

“That seems complicated. Besides, I prefer to travel by bus.”

Nick was steaming, his face flushed red as a post box. He felt his foot pressing down hard on the accelerator as they sped by an under-utilised public library. His blood pressure was on the up and the words came out in a blast of spittle.

“You can’t take the bleeding bus if you expect to be a proper hard man. You don’t see Dominic Noonan asking some old pepperpot to nudge her shopping bag over so he can squeeze in. Michael ‘Charlie Bronson’ Peterson wouldn’t be caught dead standing in the rain flagging down the old number 28 to Prestwich. And you didn’t see Mr Guy Ritchie have any of his faux Cockney-speaking characters jostling with delinquent adolescents to ring the little bell to get off at the next stop in either of his two brilliant films.”

“I’m trying to manage my carbon footprint,” Nuts whined.

Nick slammed on the brakes. The car behind had to swerve slightly to avoid a collision. Nick pounded the steering wheel with his open palms.

“Bollocks. There is no such thing as man-made global warming.”

“But Al Gore—“

“Can shove it up his hole. I can give you literature.”

“From where, the UN?”

“No, not the bleeding UN. The BNP. It’s top stuff. They’ve got a lad who knows ‘is stuff back to front and really dug into that so-called research. He even met David Attenborough, he did. The old man threatened to rip ‘is lungs out, but still, they talked. When the truly great engage you in debate, you know you’re on to a winner. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

“I suppose I could borrow my mate’s moped,” Nuts murmured.

Nick put the Aston Martin back into gear and blew air through his nostrils. It was start. And at the end of the day, the kid was expendable. Yes, there was smoke. The fire was coming soon.