London Dark Alley

Not many alleys are left in America, but London abounds in these narrow passages. Estate agents called them ‘cul de sac’. That’s obsolete French for ‘back of the bag’. My friend Sam Royalle lived on one in Nottinghill Gate.

Off Westbourne Grove to be exact.

The top of the alley was bracketed by a Domino’s Pizza and a bloodbath of a pub serving the disenfranchised of the the council housing across the way.
Sam and I never drank at the bucket of blood. We preferred the Westbourne Pub loaded with poseurs and trustafarians.

Models too.

Sam had dealings with them all.

Plus the yardies of Brixton. Nasty lot, who fancied themselves gunmen and shot people to prove it too. One claimed Sam owed him money.

100,000 quid.

That was a lot of money in 1995 and a lot of money now.

The yardies threatened Sam with certain death. They weren’t the kind of people who joked about violence and one night the boys from Spanish Town showed up at his flat with shotguns. Not a daily occurrence on his mews. Neither of us were home.

The manager of the Domino Pizza shop. He was from Pakistan off the Karakorum Highway.

The tribal land breed danger and he said, “These men were not nice men. They wanted pizza for free, but I am from Gilgit. No one gets pizza for free.”

I was meeting my father in France to tour the Loire Valley.

Sam joined us.


My father flew back to Boston and I suggested that he hide out in Thailand. He accepted my advice and the next day we flew from Charles De Gaulle . His ticket was for Bangkok. He had a reservation for the Malaysia Hotel. Nothing really bad ever happened there. We shook hands and he threw me his keys.

“Anything that fits is yours, but keep an eye out for any suspicious Jamaicans.”

The warning was well taken even though Nottinghill Gate was fraught with suspicious Jamaicans and whiteys too. Sam had a leather jacket from Agnes B. It was my size. Danger versus fashion. I risked the run.

Across from the cul-de-sac the grocer waved the coast is clear. I stood at the door and he asked if I was going to pay rent. I bought a bag of ginger snaps. My purchase silenced him.

After thirty minutes I decided that it was safe. I crossed Westbourne Grove and entered Sam’s apartment without turning on the lights. Everything was there. The yardies hadn’t broken into the place. I pulled the leather jacket from the closet ready to leave. The motion detection lights illuminated in the alley.

Someone had followed me.

I ducked under a table.

Knocks sounded on the door. My blood pounded out a bongo beat like the heart in Edgar Allen Poe’s TELL-TALE HEART. I heard voices accented from Jamaica. The shadows were not black enough to camouflage my white skin. The high windows were crowded with the silhouette of heads. A heavy thud rocked the front door. It did not give way. Several minutes later the light in the alley went out. I waited a half-hour before exiting from the house. No one was in the mews. No one confronted me on Westbourne Grove. I had the jacket in my hand. The leather was soft as a baby seal.

The grocer waved good-bye.

“Nice jacket.”

I have it to this day.

Some dark alleys aren’t so bad as long as you don’t walk them when they are dark.

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