Donny John and the 3-Disc Changer
                                                                         By Joe Hakim
 
I decided to drop in on Donny John on my way back from town. The curtains were drawn, as always, when I strolled up to the door. I gave it a little knock and walked in.
 
John’s sat on the sofa, staring at the telly. My sudden appearance startles him, and he stands up from the sofa, frantically swiping at his crotch, trying to brush off all the ash and tab ends that have dropped into his lap.
 
“Silly bugger,” he shouts. “Nearly gimme a fucking heart attack.”
 
“What’s got into you?” I ask.
 
“Barging in like fucking coppers or summat, fuck me drunk,” he replies, clutching at his chest.
 
“Why would coppers be barging in, Donny John?” I ask. “You better not have been downloading dodgy shit again.”
 
I plant myself in the armchair. “Make yersen at home,” John mutters.
 
“I fucking well will,” I say. “D’yer know what else would make me feel right at home?”
 
Donny John stands there, shoulders sagging, face drooping, like some big fucking moose. He reaches up and pulls at the peak of his baseball cap, his bottom lip jutting out, like some big sullen, dejected fifty-something kid.
 
“What’ll it be, then?”
 
“Tea,” I say as I reach for his packet of fags. “And make sure you leave the bag in for a bit, and then mashed against the side of the mug. It’s thin as fuck otherwise.”
 
 
 
I’ve spent the day digging a drive, a fucking nightmare of a job. I’m that knackered that even the lumpy grip of Donny John’s furniture is enough to make my eyes heavy. I guess that’s why it takes me twenty minutes into The Chase before I notice that the stereo is missing.
 
I’d been trying to figure out what felt “off” from the moment I’d sat down. Even though it’s always shrouded in gloom, the landscape of Donny John’s living room is so familiar that any change in its arrangement stands out, even if it isn’t always readily apparent.
 
I slowly sit up. My first thought is that he’s decided to move it, so I have a quick look around, but there’s no sign of it.
 
Donny John is sat staring blankly at the screen, at Bradley Walsh, fag in hand, thin line of smoke expanding into a ribbon as it trails upwards toward the ceiling.
 
“John,” I say, and receive no response.
 
I lean forward, grab John’s knee, shake it, shout, “JOHN,” and for the second time today, Donny John leaps up in fear, knocking the ashtray and its contents into his lap.
 
“What’s fucking wrong wi’ you?” he yelps.
 
“Where’s the stereo, John?”
 
John swallows. “Nowhere.”
 
I stand up. I’m quite a bit taller than Donny John, and a lot broader. I place my hands on his shoulders, give them a squeeze and pull him closer so I can look down into his face. John tips his head back and peers out from under the peak of his cap. “Where’s the stereo, John?” I ask again.
 
He can’t look me in the eye. Looks like he’s about to burst into tears. This daft fucking man-boy, shaking like a shitting dog. “Someone borrowed it,” he says.
 
I notice that my hands have crept closer to his neck. I’m so mad that I could quite easily choke him to death. Deep down, I know he’s a bit slow, a bit of a victim – the kind of person my mam would describe as having a heart of gold… but it’s left him daft, soft. Completely unsuited to the realities of life. Weak. That’s why people take advantage of him. People like me, and people much fucking worse than me.
 
“Who took it?”
 
He lets himself cry now. “It’s OK, John,” I say as tenderly as possible, all the while fighting the impulse to smash his face in. I sit him down and then sit next to him. “Who was it, John? Who took it?”
 
“They don’t come round often, just every now and then,” John says as he wipes the tears from his eyes. “They’re just young lads really, they like to come round here with a couple of bottles. Sometimes, they bring a couple of birds.” He looks up, gives me a cheeky grin before continuing, “They’re proper tidy, some of them.”
 
I start punching him, thumping his chest and stomach. I can’t help myself. He cries and whimpers like a young kid getting the belt. I tell myself that it’s for the best; that he needs to be taught a lesson. There are a lot of nasty fuckers out there who will use him and exploit him given half the chance.
 
Thank god he’s got someone like me looking out for him.
 
 
 
It doesn’t take long for him to spill his guts. He tells me it was taken by Carl Kirkland, a young(ish) ball-bag who knocks about the estate with his mates. He’s been using Donny John’s as a doss-house, taking his mates round with a bit of weed or whatever, and then bullying John into buying them all booze. A couple of days ago they turned up, but John was skint after a trip to the bookies, so they decided to help themselves to his stereo.
 
I take a walk around the estate. I stop a group of lads on bikes near the offie, and they point me towards the playing fields at the back of St. Hilda’s.
 
As I approach, I can see some lads and lasses hanging around near the bench next to the bin on the footpath that winds through the field. “I’m looking for Carl,” I say as I approach.
 
One of the lads stands up. I can tell by the way he puffs his chest out that he’s a cocky little shit, really thinks he’s something. His mates get up and try and follow his example. Back-up. It’s almost comical. There’s only one way to deal with it. As I walk up, I address the lad who got up first: “Are you Carl?”
 
I don’t even give him time to nod his head. I punch him square in the solar plexus, knocking the wind out of him. A couple of the lasses give out a high-pitched squeal, and predictably, his mates scatter like mice.
 
I pick him up off the ground. He’s gone bright red and he’s gasping for air. I tell him to calm down and take steady breaths. When he finally gets it together enough to talk, he starts in with the whole my dad will kick yer arse shit, so I give him a sharp slap around the mouth, pull him close and whisper into his ear: “You better shuddup, or I’ll go fetch yer dad and smash his face in while you watch.”
 
He shuts up then. “What have you done with the stereo you took from
Donny John’s?”
 
It takes him a moment, like he can’t quite believe that this is because of a
shitty JVC 3-disc changer. “Are you joking me or what? That piece of shit?”
 
“It’s got my cassette single of ‘Dominator’ by Human Resource in the deck,”
I say as I start punching him again. “It’s the seven-inch single mix, you fucker.”
 
He doesn’t know what I’m on about, but he’s scared and starts crying. For
the second time today, I’ve reduced a bloke to tears through the sheer f
orce of violence. I should be cutting myself a bit of swagger, y’know, “still
got it” and all that, but I feel a bit depressed that the day has come to this.
Could have done with a quiet night in, truth be told.
 
Eventually, he tells me everything. About how he took it to the Dosh Shop
in the town centre, but he’s still got the docket at home, so I walk him back
to his house.
 
“It’s in your name, so I need you to get it out of the shop,” I tell him. “I’ll be
here at nine in morning in a taxi. You better be outside waiting or, so help
me, god, I’ll break every fucking one of the windows in yer house, got it?”
 
He gives me a frantic nod, and then disappears into his house.
 
I’ve got a bit of a stress-induced headache, so I nip for a quick pint before going home and settling down in front of Masterchef.
 
 
 
I’m pleased to find that he’s stood on his doorstep just as he was told when I go round the following day. After watching Greg and John dismantle some new hopefuls, I had visions of going on some mad goose-chase around the estate to find him. But he knows which side is buttered. Good lad.
 
When the taxi pulls up, I wave at him and he jumps into the back-seat. His face has gone a nice shade of purple, and his left eye is swollen. “Got the docket?” I say as he gets in.
 
He doesn’t reply, holds the slip of paper up instead.
 
The journey to the town centre is mostly quiet. The one bit of conversation takes place while we’re stuck behind a line of traffic down Freetown Way.
 
The kid turns to me and asks suddenly: “Why’s he called Donny John?”
 
“What?”
 
“Donny John – why’s he called that?”
 
I give him a look, one that says: are you fucking daft or what? Then I say, “Because he’s called John, and that’s where he’s from.”
“Eh?”
 
“Doncaster. He’s originally from Doncaster. That’s why he talks funny.”
 
“Ah right,” the kid says, turning to look out of the window.
 
 
 
I stand outside the shop and have a fag while he goes inside. I’m keeping a cool façade, but inside I’m shitting it. I don’t know how thorough they are when they check stuff before they take it in. A great deal of my future depends on what happens in the next ten minutes or so. I try and drive all the various scenarios out of my head, but it’s difficult. After I finish my fag, I immediately light up another.
 
Eventually, the kid comes out of the shop. “Look, mate, I need a hand,” he says as he sticks his head around the door.
 
I stand at the entrance, because I’m not comfortable with being caught on the shop’s CCTV, and he drags it to the door. I pick up the speakers and he carries the main hi-fi component. We bung it into the boot of the taxi and head back to the estate.
When we arrive at Donny John’s, the kid helps me get the stereo to the doorstep, and then I let him off the hook. “Does this mean we’re OK?” he asks.
 
“We’re OK, kid,” I tell him. “Sorry I had to fuck you up. It’s just that you came on with the attitude, so I had to take the situation in hand…”
 
“I understand,” he says.
 
“I don’t mind you coming round to Donny John’s,” I say. “I mean, he enjoys the company. Just don’t take the piss.”
 
“OK,” he says, and then he trudges off.
 
I knock on the door, and when Donny John opens it and sees the stereo, he breaks out into a big grin, like a kid on Christmas morning. “You got it back,” he says.
 
“Sure did,” I reply. “Now help me get it inside.”
 
“I can’t believe yer’ve done this for me,” Donny John says. “Yerra good friend to me. I don’t deserve it.”
 
I smile and put my arm around Donny John’s shoulder. “Tell us what,” I say. “Go make us a cuppa while I get it set up.”
 
“Of course,” Donny John says, and then he waddles off.
 
I wait until he’s left the room, and then I check the speakers. I tap on each of them until I find the one with the loose panel on the back. Carefully removing it, I reach inside and pat around until I find the package. I take it out and examine it. By the looks of it, it’s not been disturbed, and is still stuffed full of powder. I pin it back to the inside of the casing, and then I replace the panel, and let out a long sigh of relief.
 
“Everything OK?” Donny John asks when he returns with the tea.
 
“Everything’s great,” I say, smiling. “Everything is exactly as it should be.”
 
 
 

 

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