Welcome to The Joint. Come inside and have a drink, won’t you?
My short story challenge continues, though this week has been more challenging than most for actually getting the time to do a little creative fiction writing. I blame the rather intense quantity of in-car travel I’ve been doing this week, because that’s basically why.
Explanations (if needed) for the whole challenge thing after the story.
If you were to head to city hall, bribe the council master of records — he’s fond of a bottle of port, if you care — and rifle through some ancient dusty filing cabinets, you would find that the property title for the business operating out of 23 Harvard Lane refers to a public house by the name of Wilson & Sons, established 1762.
Nobody called it Wilson’s, or Wilson and Sons, or Willy’s or anything of the sort.
At one time, a shingle hung from the front did bear the proprietor’s name, but that was a very long time ago, in the era of the steam train and the great Empire and the upheaval that saw so many folks move to the city in search of work.
Many of them over the years had taken in a drink, a game of darts and perhaps an interesting job proposal within its walls.
All you got in this modern age was a slightly broken neon sign promoting that the business inside sold BE_R.
No fancy logo, no signs harking back to a simpler time, no hounds, stags or waterfowl imagery to further sell the establishment. It simply didn’t need them.
To all the locals and regulars, and even those who wouldn’t dare to step within fifty yards of its front doors, it was simply The Joint.
Nobody knew when it had become The Joint.
It just was The Joint.
You could hail a taxi from the other side of town and say “Take me to The Joint”, and the cabbie would know exactly where you wanted to go.
The odds were good that the cabbie would size you up before taking you there, as well as working out whether they were likely to get a tip, or just be thankful to get there and get away alive.
It is said — though rarely all that loud — that one cabbie once got a windfall from a notorious crime boss after he carefully failed to take a certain 1960s buxom blonde starlet that the crime boss was seeing at the time to The Joint, because the starlet would have found the crime boss in the arms of a completely different, slightly younger buxom brunette starlet at the time. Of course, nobody names names, because The Joint’s regular clientele do not appreciate snitches. Or at least not for long.
More than one tourist had fallen foul of the error of annoying a taxi driver in some way before asking “to be taken to the classiest joint in town”, because The Joint was not a place that welcomed noisy tourists with their cameras and their irritating questions.
Conversely, very few tourists who did end up in The Joint tended to file police complaints after their experiences, though often that was because they lacked simple details. Like their wallets or passports for example.
Everyone knew The Joint, from the street kids playing ball in the park across the way to the drunkards who propped up the bar from open to close every day to the police who generally — as long as the right envelopes passed across the right desks in a more or less regular fashion — turned a blind eye to what goes on in The Joint.
They will appear for larger than usual fights or disturbances outside, but there are no records of the constabulary exploring any of the more serious, if slightly-less-than-legitimate dealings that often go on in the back room that you can only get into if you are close with the bouncer.
The joint had gone through its share of bouncers over the years, but by tradition, they were always called Glenn.
The first Glenn had taught the trade to the next Glenn, and so on and so forth over the years. Gentle cajoling is not the style of Glenn, who typically prefers a short hard thump and the soft sounds of bodies hitting the ground on the pavement outside The Joint. There’s just no negotiating with Glenn, though many have tried.
Some Glenns lasted a few months, some a few years, and one Glenn had seen The Joint all the way through the Second World War and the upheavals of the 1950s and 1960s before finally ceding the shilleagh and black jacket to a younger, now considerably more nimble Glenn.
There was some commotion in the 1970s when Glenn got stabbed by a young punk. Not that Glenns hadn’t died working at The Joint before.
The challenge was that the only replacement likely to keep the peace was a woman.
However, she declared quickly that, in the interests of equality and respect for tradition, she would be Glenn as well.
Patrons quickly learned that jokes about her leaving “as soon as she got knocked up” would quickly lead to them being knocked out, dragged out and left in the gutter with fewer teeth than they had walked in with.
Glenn may have been from what is sometimes called the fairer sex, but she also possessed a fairly devestating right hook, and the will to use it.
Walk in today, and Glenn will be there, guarding the door to the back room and sometimes sweeping a broom if it’s particularly quiet. Although not on Saturdays, because The Joint is never quiet on Saturdays.
Head to The Joint today, and you will find that the same essential charm of the place remains, despite the modern trend for gentrification and fancy pub menus.
Walk in asking for an aperitif or vegan menu options and you’ll be lucky to walk out at all, but turn up with a taste for a slightly green scotch egg and a pint of best bitter — floating elements optional, but best not questioned — and nobody will ask any questions of you, though you may be offered a deal on a very cheap motor car or your choice of narcotics if you stay there more than ten minutes. Five if it’s a Saturday.
* Extract from Sinden’s Secret Guide To London, fifth edition, 1993
So I did promise an explanation for those coming in late. I’ve challenged myself (once again) to come up with a short piece of creative writing — typically a short story, though I’ve already deviated from that form — every week for a year.
Given it’s week 17 of the challenge, and you’ve read this far, it means you’ve got a host of other stories and pieces to read.
There might be even more than that, depending on when you’re reading this.
Click on the short story challenge tag to find everything that I’ve tagged that way. Including what you’re reading now. Technology — it’s great, but also kind of spooky.
Want even more reading material? The last time I did one of these challenges, it ended up being an eBook all of its own, called Fifty-Two:
And if you want something entirely different, there’s also my B-movie novel, Sharksplosion. Yeah, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d think a book with that title might be like: