The Fryup Flyweight

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The Fryup Flyweight is my novel in progress. It’s the story of a boxer called Roscoe Siskin and his rise from rural poverty to the Las Vegas Strip. Stretching the rags-to-riches stereotype to its most extreme, The Fryup Flyweight strikes out at traditional sports-bio cliches with all the force of a fine left hook. For more details please e-mail me at staniforthmark@hotmail.co.uk.

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Prologue

The origin of the name Fryup stems from a combination of the name of the Old Norse goddess of love, Freyja, and hop, which denotes a small valley. In Norse mythology, Freyja is a goddess associated with love, beauty, fertility, gold, sorcery, war, and death

– Place Names Of The North York Moors

Head up to Fryup today and there’s hardly a sign of Roscoe Siskin ever having been there. It’s a tossed handful of houses hunkered down on the high moors like it’s hiding out from something. There’s no welcome sign, no Home Of The Famous… They did try a sign once, screwed in wood at village limits. No-one knew who put it there, but its straight-line letters and general smartness spoke of someone who must have gave a shit. It said, Birthplace Of World Champion Roscoe Siskin. It got daubed on first, thick white paint that blocked out its letters, then it got hauled down and chucked in the beck. It was smeared off and put back and the same thing happened. No-one gave enough of a shit to replace it second time round. It stayed in the beck, got lapped over till the letters faded out.

Most of the long-stay statics he grew up in are gone. There’s a couple still perched there, insides gutted out and rooves peeled back like sardine can lids. The rest is weedy concrete squares and scorched breezeblocks. The reception hut and its flat above are boarded up, the kiddie pool drained and smashed with glass. The old barns are buckled and the Frydale Hall’s roof is stripped clean of slate, though it still hulks down over the rest of the place like it has no inclination to loose its grip.

Scratch hard enough, you might still find him. The stock room at the back of the news shop is still said to be piled high with Black Panther tee-shirts. They won’t put them on display, but they will flog them off at a fiver a time to the occasional folks who still come along asking.

As far as Fryup goes, that’s about it, save the gloom of guilt that still hugs the place over how it treated him. There’s no-one would claim Roscoe Siskin was any kind of angel. But the fact is while most kids his age slumped straight out of school on the village green steps and more or less set themselves for life the moment they clicked up their first can of Super Strength, he got off his arse and did what he did, and the so-called God-fearing folk of Fryup ought to be rightly proud of that.

You could hack down half of Fryup forest will all the shit that’s been spouted over Roscoe Siskin’s life and death. Folk would say one thing then sell different stories for cash. The new-built porches and fancy cars round the place paint up those who didn’t manage to keep their gobs shut. This book is a way of clawing through all the bullshit. It might not come over as any kind of classic, but for sure it’s none of that ghost-wrote crap they spew out on the sports shelves these days, stuff that sugar-coats it thick enough it could smear up some serial killer to make out they’d done no wrong. Roscoe Siskin did plenty wrong, and with that in mind this book might not be best for those sensitive disposition-type folk who find themselves getting easily worked up over things. There sure as hell won’t be a book-signing session in the Fryup village hall any time soon. But it is what it is. It’s pretty much the truth, and I don’t suppose my old man would give too much of a shit if you take it or leave it.

– Pancho Siskin, 2012

Chapter One

Roscoe Siskin – the Black Panther, the Pocket Rocket, the future flyweight champion of the world – slid out on a caravan floor on October 29, 1974, in a place you’d never have heard of if it hadn’t been for him.

The day he was born, the sky blacked over and the rain did not let up for two whole weeks. The beck burst its banks and flushed the guts out of the shut-up gift shops. It fused the electrics and closed the church through three whole Sundays. There are still plenty of God-fearing folk in Fryup who claim the Good Lord has held a beef ever since.

It was the rain that saved Roscoe Siskin’s life the first time. It spat down with such contempt a neighbour called Denise Chickens took it upon herself to call her dogs in. She saw her two terriers scraping up at Marcie Siskin’s front door. Their names were Bo and Luke, as in the Dukes of Hazzard. Denise Chickens lived alone and sat through long-taped re-runs. Hearing bawls of pain, she shouldered the door of the long-stay static and found Marcie Siskin splayed out on the muck-streaked lino with a half-empty gin bottle rolled over her stomach and blood pooling up between her legs. The room hung heavy with the stench of shit and cigarettes. Roscoe slid out six weeks early and for his first weigh-in he scaled three pounds nothing. ‘I took one look at him and gave him up as a goner,’ said Denise Chickens. ‘It’s nothing short of a miracle that bairn survived to do what he did.’

Marcie Siskin spent three months in hospital and there were a number of days when they feared such a miracle would not happen. Roscoe struggled to gain weight and suffered a series of life-threatening infections. At least twice a dazed-out Marcie was asked if she wanted to reach for a priest. Denise Chickens through it best to be on the safe side and anoint the new-born with a name. She chose Roscoe after the sheriff out of the Dukes of Hazzard. ‘What with the dogs having sniffed him out in the first place, the name just seemed to fit,’ she said. There would come to be some kind of irony in the fact Roscoe Siskin lived his life named after a character whose job was to maintain law and order.

Roscoe’s premature naming proved unnecessary. He beat expectations by starting to put on weight. Either due to plain disinterest or the drugs she had sunk in order to keep her pain at bay, Marcie Siskin showed no inclination to change the name she saw scrawled on her baby’s cot when she finally came round. She was warned that doubts still remained over Roscoe’s long-term prospects. The statistics said babies with such a low birth weight had a twenty-five per cent chance of dying inside their first year. They were at a greater risk of long-term disability, and more likely to possess a lower IQ and drop out of school. The nurse clasped Marcie Siskin’s shoulder and told her: ‘But I reckon your boy’s a fighter, right enough.’

Marcie Siskin was never the type to give too much of a toss about statistics. After three months in hospital, she decided the doctors and nurses had done enough. One new year morning, soon after the breakfast rounds and with the rain still sheeting down outside, she shrugged off her soreness and bundled Roscoe straight out into the downpour. By the time hospital staff got wind of her exit she was half-way back to Fryup, hitched up in the passenger seat of old Blunt Marley’s slaughter van. Blunt Marley had sailed round the S-bends on his way to the moor-top to pick up a couple of carcasses, and almost slid right into the waif-like young girl in her sodden hospital gown, cradling what he first mistook for a new-born kitten.

He slid to a halt and Marcie Siskin clambered in without so much as a word. He peered through the puddles till he reached the top of the high street and turned and told her: ‘it’s flooded out.’

Marcie wrapped up Roscoe as best she could in the bed-sheet she had brought for the purpose, and waded out and up in the vague direction of the old Thackeray farm.

Blunt Marley had always been a man of few words, but even he must have wondered at the prospects of seeing Roscoe Siskin alive again, let alone have his face stare back out of TV screens or Las Vegas billboards. Blunt Marley would live on to a ripe old age, and would always be found propping up the bar of the Sailors, the last pub in Fryup still standing. Finding the gift of the gab that had eluded him for much of his life, Blunt Marley would never tire of regaling locals and visitors alike with the tale of how, but for his trip up to fetch those carcasses, the world would most likely never have got to hear of Roscoe Siskin, and all the glory and shit that came with him.

They said Roscoe Siskin’s great-grandmother was a witch who kept the Mark’s-e’en-Watch. Each St Mark’s Eve she would sit out on her porch and keep look-out for the wraiths of those due to die in the next twelve months. They would come tramping up on the old corpse road which zig-zagged deep through peat towards the graveyard. She kept her own counsel over all that she saw. For all who pour scorn on her story, there’s still few folk in Fryup brave enough to set foot on the so-called Hell Road once the sunset has settled on April 25 each year.

She had spawned a fair number of sons when she was young but all but the youngest was wiped out when a rogue German bomb flattened her shack in the War. They said it was her search for their souls that sent her over into darkness. The youngest son George grew to gain the gnarled old fields that surrounded his mother’s rebuilt home. By the time he ended his teens he had re-shaped the land near single-handed for the time the farming boom took hold. There was something about the blend of moorland peat and wispy sea-salt breeze that made the crops pop up faster than there were folk in Fryup fit to pluck them. The farmers started pulling up boys from town who were fresh back from the War. Locals called them the Gold Rush Days, and the girls who chased up after them had shiny names to match. There were three pubs strung out over main street and in each the bar was almost always three deep. There was talk of a brothel down Back Moor Lane. It was run by an ex-chip shop assistant called Fat Annie who soon hooked on to the fact that the strapping lads she had queuing out the door most week nights were after more than a deep-fried supper to keep them satisfied. Such was the surge in business that within three months she had quit her chip shop shift and came to trawl the lanes for talent in her rose-red Austin Sprite. The boys slept sardined in barns and stayed happy just so long as they were making enough of a fortune to frequent the bars when they liked and Fat Annie’s at least once a week.

Jeannie Topping shared a three-room flat down in town with her folks and four sisters. Her old man had returned from War service unscathed and got a high-up job at the fish processing plant on the quayside. The plant paid the salaries of a fair proportion of town girls, and with crates-full swimming in off the trawlers each morning, it was widely seen to be the best thing going when it came to snaring a firm set wage. By the time she turned sixteen, Jeannie Topping had come to be seen as the best catch of the lot. She had a crack-tooth smile that could snag any man she chose at twenty paces, and by the number of fleet boys hanging round the fish plant door clamouring for her attention at knocking-off time, she picked out a fair few. But if any had designs on reeling her in for keeps they were due to be disappointed. Much to her old man’s dismay Jeannie made it clear she did not intend to spend the rest of her days ripping out fish guts, especially when there was the prospect of a party to be had elsewhere.

Like most of the rest of the town girls, Jeannie had got wind of the big profits to be made up on the moors. She had come face to face with girls who flounced back with the latest fancy goods, and not so much as a fish-whiff on the ends of their fingers. She convinced her best friend Betty Stoute to also quit her job, and two days later the pair pitched up in Fryup. Betty lugged a trunk of belongings that made it clear she intended to stay for keeps. Jeannie turned up in just the clothes she was wearing and a spare pair of knickers to her name. They bunked above one of the pubs with six other girls who soon came to gossiping about job opportunities and the best available boys. Betty got a barmaid job in the Drovers but Jeannie’s early choice of employment remained unclear. Some recalled her serving for a short time in the chip shop, while others whispered how she’d soon become the star turn at Fat Annie’s, stripping punters of the kind of cash she could never have hauled from all the haddock in the whole North Sea.

Jeannie Topping’s sights were soon set squarely on the fattest catch of them all, and due to the amount of land he owned, that man was George Siskin.

George Siskin was in his late twenties by the time Jeannie Topping arrived on the scene. His old mother was long dead and George still lived alone at their old place. While most other boys his age were down in the pubs seeking out Gold Rush girls, George seldom ventured far from his fields. He spent his time snipping more land from neighbours all he could. As the crop price rose and George Siskin grew richer, he had new barns built and set the old muck-track up to his place with stone. He was soon the richest farmer in Fryup. Those who recalled his mother reckoned it was down to something more than fate.

One of those boys who had accepted George Siskin’s offer for his hard-scrabble sliver of land was Billy Thackeray. Billy Thackeray had soon supped the proceeds in the Sailors, and watched on while George reaped and sowed a whole lot greater profit from the muddy acres he had once called his own. Billy Thackeray could not abide his old school friend’s success, and grew even more bitter once he lost the fight for Jeannie Topping’s attentions.

Like all Thackerays, Billy Thackeray had long since come to assume he could get what he wanted with his fists. Even in those days, the Thackeray name clung to Fryup thick and dark as bonfire fog. The Thackeray rule of business was a deal was a deal, unless they saw fit to weight the scales in their favour. There were few around who would dare beg to differ. There were stories hissed round that served to heighten the sense of fear. They told of the time Billy Thackeray found himself short-changed by a half-cousin over a moonshine scam. If the half-cousin in question hoped his blood ties might haul him out of a hole, he was sadly mistaken. Billy Thackeray went and twined him by his ankles to the back of his old Massey Fergie, and dragged him round the lanes till just about every square inch of skin was stripped clean off his bones. That was before Billy’s steel toe-caps proceeded to finish the job. Though the lanes were thronged for market day, there wasn’t a soul around who claimed to have seen a thing. By the time Billy was through, the night was clammy with sticky pollen heat, and the cries of the half-cousin pleading with him to hurry and finish him off.

George and Jeannie got married in the summer of 1956. Their wedding was one of the grandest social events Fryup had seen. Jeannie made a point of packing the pews with the great and good from down in town. Two of her sisters held the hems of her white silk dress as she swept up the aisle. They held a pink champagne reception at the old Frydale Hall across the valley, and beamed out for newspaper shots as they cut into their frilled-up, four-storey wedding cake.

If there was one thing that could be said for the Thackerays, it was that they could sniff out the chance of quick cash from a dale-sized slurry dump. Billy Thackeray had long since come to realise on this occasion there was not a whole lot he could accomplish through physical threats alone. Instead he fashioned a plan to seize back control of the Fryup farming plots. He pushed and petitioned to prop an animal feeds mill in his back yard. Such was the size of the harvests even Billy Thackeray’s blunt arithmetic was enough to convince a bunch of big-time investors to buy in on the deal. Six months later the silo that came to hulk the Fryup skyline was declared open for business, and it proved the day George Siskin’s fortunes changed. Billy Thackeray refused to allow so much as an ear of Siskin barley to pass through his threshers. While George was forced to continue sending his seed out of the dale to be processed, his rivals could under-cut him by having their work done on sight, even when a more than fair percentage of their profits was heading straight into Billy Thackeray’s pockets. Inside two years George Siskin went from a high-society wedding to being just about busted. Jeannie had had their first child, Rita, nine months after the wedding and come 1958 she was pregnant again with their second child. George had been forced to start selling off his fields at rock-bottom prices, and there were no prizes for guessing who was first in the queue. Rather than admitting defeat to a Thackeray, George Siskin took himself with his shotgun one morning and blew his brains out in a back barn. Neighbours found Jeannie screaming out at the lane end in just her nightie. She had heard the single shot and had no need to traipse up through the muck to know the story. The shock caused Marcie Siskin to arrive four weeks early.

The place Marcie grew up in was a whole lot different to the one that had lured her mother up from town a handful of years earlier. The Thackeray mill was grinding at such a rate it would soon pluck the thin Fryup soil clean of profit. Inside five years the feeds mill was closed down and the silo slowly rusting up. Most of the farm boys and good-time girls trickled back down to town, figuring the sea was a safer bet. Two of Fryup’s three pubs pulled down their shutters for keeps. Fat Annie’s place was put on the market, and she was last known living a quiet cul-de-sac on the outskirts of town where only a handful of old sailors still knew of her secret. Betty Stoute did her best to persuade Jeannie to head back home, but Jeannie could not bring herself to leave the sprawling place she had set up with George when times had been good. She would crouch silent for hours in the back barn while her two bairns bawled their eyes dry over in the house. Concerns were spread over whether Jeannie was in a fit state to bring up her children. The more folk pressed the more she shut herself away and spurned offers of outside help.

If one of Jeannie’s intentions in sticking around was to see Billy Thackeray pulled down just as deep as the rest of them, she was sadly let down. While a fair proportion of Fryup farmers supped their last pocket-fulls of spare change in the Sailors, Billy Thackeray switched his attention to the tourist trade. He had seen how town had come to be thronged with folk on seaside holidays, and he set about ploughing his profits into sweeping out the old barns and luring in families with tinted-up brochure shots of bright blue seas and purple-hewed moors. In the meantime, he took an even tighter hold of Fryup’s future by hitching himself to one of the last of the former good-time girls and having her start spilling bairns from her loins faster than rats.

The sight of Billy Thackeray’s continued successes just about finished off Jeannie. She would take to her bed for days on end and leave her two kids to roam neighbours’ homes in search of shelter and food. When she was six years old Marcie suffered an accident that likely shaped her future. She was toppled by a bale in the next-door hay barn while on a scavenge for food. Her sister Rita heard the commotion and rushed to the barn to find Marcie had scrabbled out from under, and regained her feet wobbly as a fresh-born lamb. Not wishing to risk disturbing their mother, Rita took Marcie’s hand and led her straight home to bed, scolding her along the way for going in a place she knew was not allowed. It was only the next morning, when Rita awoke to find her sister sweating up and frothing at the mouth, that she finally roused her mother to phone for help.

The doctor called it concussion, but whatever it was it seemed to have cost Marcie the bit of her brain that was marked for common sense. Plenty who recalled her bright-eyed early days said she was never the same again. Once the frothing had dried, Marcie gained a thick lip-gloss smile and a strike-dumb gaze that stayed for keeps. It was cute at the time but once Marcie grew older and began fleshing out, it became a look that would cause her no end of trouble.

Marcie’s strange antics would hardly help matters. School friends told stories of her stripping off to her bra and panties during break times, and sometimes more. After school she would lift booze bottles from her bag and tempt boys under the pier in town or else up in the barns. She was suspended from school by the age of fifteen, and she soon roused her mother from her torpor when rumours went round she was spending her new-found spare time with the Thackeray boys.

There were already four of them by then, and Billy Thackeray would go on to put his name to three more bairns before he was finally done. The eldest two, Caleb and Clint, were a pair of thick-necked, heavy-freckled twins who were around one year younger than Marcie. By their mid-teenage years they had both served spells in borstal and it was said there was hardly a house on main street that hadn’t seen a muddy Thackeray footprint on its stairs at some point in time. Locals whispered stories over their antics that more than matched their old man’s, not least the tale of how Clint came to be walking with a permanent limp. The twins had come up with a plan to haul trout fresh out of Artie Blackstock’s lakes at nightfall and make a small fortune flogging them to the tourists round their old man’s static site the following day. Such was the size of their nightly catch it sent Artie Blackstock half-way to bankruptcy, and tempted him into taking some desperate measures. He scattered rusty old man-traps round the lakeside and they snared hold of one of the culprits that very first night, when they just about snapped Clint’s left ankle clean off. The discovery of a Thackeray boy he’d caught in his trap sent Artie Blackstock almost out of his mind with worry. But instead of clomping their big meaty fists through his teeth or twining him up to the back of their old man’s tractor they let him stew long enough till Clint was back on his feet. A good six months later Artie Blackstock headed down his lakeside one morning and discovered all his remaining rainbows upside-down on the surface, having sucked up whole barrel-fulls of old crop pesticides. Artie Blackstock might have kept his health but he was left looking for new ways to earn a living.

There was another tale of the time Caleb was caught red-handed with a stack of Kwik Save booze in the back of his wagon. Caleb got community service for his trouble, and those who saw him out planting new bulbs on the Fryup by-pass said he seemed to take it well, at least till the following spring when the bulbs bloomed up the word CUNTS at passing motorists in carnation pink.

The day Marcie Siskin slurred out she was pregnant was the day her mother tossed her out of their run-down place for good. Marcie was fifteen years old and it was considered odds-on one of the Thackeray boys must be the father. Jeannie could not abide the idea of Thackeray seed plugging up her daughter’s swelling belly. She saw it as another way of the Thackerays getting one over on her in revenge for her snubbing Billy’s advances soon after her arrival in town. She shrugged on one of George’s old jackets and stomped round to the Thackeray yard where she stood in front of the old silo screaming obscenities till the cops came and steered her off home.

In fact Marcie would always swear blind her son was no Thackeray, and the plain fact was there was no shortage of other possible options. Marcie was one of a group of Fryup girls who would head down to town each night and knot up on the prom hoping to catch a fleet boy’s eye. Those fleet boys might have guaranteed to stink up the bed sheets if they ever got that far, but their days hauling haddock gave them heaps of ready cash and muscles to match. They held their short time on dry land fairly precious, and the furthest things generally got by way of romance was a quick sprawl on the lobster pots under the pier. Even those from Fryup who made it that far ran the risk of facing up to the town girls who didn’t take kindly to a bunch of so-called inbreds from up on the moors heading down to hook up their boys. Many a Fryup girl would end the night limping the five miles home with a black eye and a broken heel, let alone the lobster pot stains the locals called crab scabs on account of their needing a whole box of Daz Automatic to shift.

Marcie would doll up and head down with her friend Debbie Rivis. Such was Marcie’s reputation that a joke swept round her bairn would pop out looking like that pervy old codhead off the fish fingers packets, which was folks’ way of taunting her for getting knocked up when the fleet was in.

There were a number of likely candidates. One was a fisherlad called Cammy, who sent in offers of paternity tests till the day he died. He went to the papers insisting he did not want a penny of what Roscoe had to offer. He said: ‘All I want is the chance to hear him call me dad.’ Another was a porter called Rodney Blowes. He was a tall, slim man with pepper-black hair who was better known by the nickname Snake. He briefly moved in with Marcie once she got fixed up in one of the Thackeray statics, but he shipped out a matter of days before Roscoe was born. ‘He worked at the docks on and off,’ said an old work colleague called James Purvis. ‘He could clean out a cod in two seconds flat. He had a teardrop tattoo on his cheek, and used to get drink and boast about killing a man in a bar-fight. He wasn’t a man you wanted to cross. One day he just upped and disappeared. He was always running from something.’

Denise Chickens recalled Rodney Blowes cropping up at the hospital on the day Roscoe was born. ‘He was a shabby man, quite probably half-cut. I mistook him for a vagrant at first. He asked who I was. He squinted down at his bairn and that was that, he turned on his heels.’

Roscoe Siskin never came to directly address the identity of his father. Sometimes he swore he was six feet under. But the doubts were enough for Jeannie Topping to shut out her daughter from that day on. Marcie’s sister Rita took her mother’s side in the affair. Rita was shorter and more skinny-chested than her sister, and never seemed able to terms with the fact that it was Marcie and not herself who earned more than her share of the boys’ attentions.

Faced with no other options, Marcie begged to be fixed up in one of the statics that the Thackerays had propped up on the old farming plots. The trickle of tourists had almost dried up. They had been tempted over to Sun World, an all-mod-cons complex stuck up the next valley over. Most of Fryup had gone to its grand opening, like folk dredging up at their own funeral. They made the most of the all-day deals, stuffing their faces with the free buffet spread and flapping about in the clear blue pool. They hoovered up the half-price vouchers for future day trips. The sun shone and the bunting fluttered and the place smelled of fresh paint and the kind of sweet future a few tired old statics could never hope to match.

Billy Thackeray let Marcie move into one of the bust-up statics at the back. He had already started to cut his losses and sell off some of the better-shaped vans to full-time tenants. She took a cleaning job round the few vans still occupied, plus there were all sorts of rumours of payment in kind. Once she started showing she required other ways to pay her rent. Rodney Blowes encouraged her into shoplifting, reckoning on her being able to stuff all manner of products up her maternity outfits. Soon she was stealing to order and Rodney Blowes was raking in profits selling the swag straight out of black bin-bags in town. On one occasion she was hauled in by cops for trying to swish out of Kwik Save with a bottle of Captain Morgan’s Navy Rum clanking in her crotch. She got a stack of fines and a ban from the shop for life. When Rodney Blowes left Marcie took to drowning her disappointment glugging the booze she could no long sell. More concerns were expressed over her mental state. She stomped the site in just her nightie, half-cut and flapping away all offers of help. She boarded her door and hid out in the forest when ever the social came calling. Sometimes she would crouch for hours in the wet till the clop of their heels and the drone of their engines had disappeared back to town. Her place was filthy with fag-ash and half-empty food boxes. She told those who got close that she intended to give the baby up for adoption. ‘She often said she wished she’d had the thing flushed out,’ said Denise Chickens. ‘There were times I couldn’t help thinking it might have been better for all concerned.’

Greg Myles was one year older than Marcie Siskin. He recalled a little from school though he seldom mixed in her circle. He saw out his O Levels and got a job as a junior reporter on the local Gazette. He turned up drenched for his first day. The paper’s senior reporter had failed to make it in due to flooding. His deputy had taken a call about an incident in Fryup, but claimed to have been beaten back before the S-bends. The truth is it would take less than a puddle for the town’s reporters to talk themselves out of a trip up the moors. Fryup was seen as a place of tall tales and feisty locals. The paper’s drawers were said to be piled with stories from the place that would never be fit to see the light of day. Supposedly there was one about a kid who got caught by his old man sticking it up their old goat behind the hen house. Instead of beating his kid black and blue, his father fetched the butcher knife and made him hold the goat down and saw its head clean off. Then he skinned and boiled it up and made the boy eat the lot, inners and balls and all. He spooned out its brain and force fed him till he spewed the goat back up and more besides. It was the Fryup way of teaching a kid a life lesson. And though it never made the paper, there wasn’t a soul up the moors who didn’t know the identity of the kid in question.

Greg Myles was too new to know of such a reputation, and saw his chance to make an early impression. He said he knew a back way up, and struck out in the hope of a first day scoop. He was clad only in a chain store anorak and carried a notebook that dripped into a useless lumpy pulp inside a mile. Three hours later, after begging a lift in a tractor trailer that also included a couple of stranded paramedics, he arrived in Fryup. There on top of the Thackerays’ old thirty-foot silo, half-way hid in a grey gauze of rain, he could just about make out the huddled shape of Marcie Siskin. A fire crew had winched up a platform in the hope of tempting her down. They sent up Denise Chickens to try to talk things through. She lowered back down with her face white as fish flesh. She told the crews: ‘She’s got the bairn up there with her.’

The rain slowed to a drizzle and the night drew in early. A crowd of locals soon gathered, and the silo was spotlit up. Down in the high street, the chip shop’s orange sign fizzed up it was open for business. The elder Thackeray boys rolled up. They set about demanding fees from all those intent on getting up close. No-one was surprised by their antics. There was a rumour went round they had plans to charge Marcie for the trip up their tower just as soon as she’d got her feet stuck back on firm-ish ground.

Marcie stuck fast and was handed blankets and bottled milk. The damp air crackled with loudspeaker pleas. Once she seemed set fast for the night, the crowd started drifting home disappointed. Greg Myles dashed down to Fryup’s only phone box to dial through a story. He was relieved to find the line still intact. The next day’s front page would blare: SILO MUM HORROR. He was half-way back up with a bag of chips when the cloud split just long enough for him to catch sight of Marcie Siskin toppling from its summit.

You could fill whole fields with the theories of all those who claimed to have been there and seen her fall. Some said she’d seemed to reach for the platform and slipped on the slippery top, others that it was down to a simple death wish. Some made much of the fact they had wheeled out her sister Rita to try calling her down moments earlier, said their relationship between the sisters had soured so much you could not put it past Marcie Siskin hurling herself off that tower out of nothing more than spite. The coroner would make the verdict accidental death, but there have never been too many folk in Fryup inclined to take much notice of what the authorities have to say. Only two things were clear. One was the way Marcie Siskin thudded head-first on the stone-strewn ground there was no hope in hell of finding any life left in her. The other that somewhere in the course of her fall, baby Roscoe had somehow unfurled from her grasp.

‘At first it seemed Roscoe had gone and vanished right in the mist,’ said Greg Myles. ‘There were folk clawing through trying to find the poor thing. It took a good few minutes before anyone had the thought to check out the trailer of slurry the Thackerays had hitched up close by.’

Those folk who like to talk about fate found another in the fact that Roscoe Siskin’s first full journey ended in him being plopped up to his neck in pig shit. He stank something rotten but was otherwise unharmed. The paramedics pulled him out and wiped him clean as best they could. They wrapped him twice over and took him back down to the hospital on the back of a tractor. It was too late for Greg Myles to splash the news over the next day’s front page, but once word got out about the miracle bairn he would start taking calls from round the world. Tabloids and TV crews sent reporters to camp out in front of the hospital, and large sums of money were supposedly offered for a first firm glimpse. Others were ordered to wade up to Fryup and find some family. The locals for a large part kept their gobs shut, preferring for the time being at least to save their theories for themselves. An exception was Marcie’s sister Rita, who looked to make the most of the unlikely publicity. Before they had even buried her sister, Rita had busied herself down at the hospital and claimed she would take good care of baby Roscoe, at least for as long as the cameras flashed. She was twenty years old and had shown no inclination for kids of her own, never mind a man who might have her. She had stayed home in the old farm, stuck fast with her mother Jeannie, who was in such a state she barely registered Marcie’s demise, and who would be dead from cancer before the year was out. Rita sold a couple of tell-alls saying how she planned to raise baby Roscoe in her sister’s memory, and appeared suitably teary-eyed on the regional news. But by the time she’d signed the forms that gave her custody of Roscoe for keeps, the press were looking elsewhere for their stories. Inside a week a six-month old girl got washed away by floods in Cornwall and was found dangling by her nappy from an overhanging branch three miles downstream. As the last TV trucks rolled out of Fryup Rita was forced to reckon with the fact that she’d gone and lumbered herself with a bawling bairn for barely the price of a patio. Such was the less-than-loving embrace in which Roscoe Siskin found himself when he finally made it home for the first time.

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