His story was a strange one.
I will allow you to judge.
He had worked for Leicester city council until his – I could hear the quote marks around the next word, “accident”… and then … but I get ahead of myself. I will begin at the beginning.
I was sitting in the waiting room of a famous burns unit somewhere in England having lost a fight with a chip pan, when this small and elderly man came in hobbling painfully on two sticks, his face and hands as badly deformed by the scars of burns as the face of the racing driver Nicki Lauder.
The only vacant chair was by me and the man came slowly towards it and with difficulty sat down and rested his sticks. He turned his head towards me and I realised he was trying to smile an acknowledgement or apology for me moving my paper to make room for his bottom and I gave a warm smile in response.
The clinic was running late and as gradually we began talking I noticed that his voice was young and that the apparent age was caused by his disfigurements.
He burbled on. I was only half listening but I felt he was lonely and was saying yes and no, hopefully in the right places. His voice continued – ‘generally, we repaired places of historic importance straight away – blah blah – if they are beyond repair then they should be replaced on a like for like basis – burble blah – like for like means same materials, design and level of craftsmanship’…
and so on and so on – and I was wishing fervently that my name would be called when my ears perked up – ‘Greyfriars, that was the one,’ he was saying.
I knew the name! Some history bloke had written a book a bit ago and said it was important. The man and I were talking in February 2013 and by that time Greyfriars was very, very important, suddenly shooting to global fame with the discovery of a medieval king, Richard III, in the car park the previous year. Just the day before there had been a news conference confirming that the DNA had proved that the remains were indeed that of the long dead king.
‘We found him,’ he said, ‘me and the team, we –‘
At that point my name was called and it was my turn to see the consultant. ‘Wait for me,’ I said, ‘We can go for a coffee after you have been seen.’ His eyes looked hopeful and then resigned. He did not expect that he would get either the coffee or to tell the rest of his tale, but tell it he did over enough coffee to refloat the Titanic.
His name was Dimitri Shukla (– my parents took the idea of United Nations into their own hands, said Dimitri whose father is second generation Indian and his mother Russian. ) He worked as overseer on site for Leicester City Council, his main area of responsibility being historic monuments and carparks. Car parks! That was where the problem had started.
It was in the spring of 2011 and the carpark of the council office worker’s building in the centre of Leicester was pitted deeply with pot holes following the icy conditions of the long winter of discontent and bitter cold of 2010 and 11.
The city’s finances were in a mess (a bit like my own) with far more going out than was coming in and no way to make the books look better in the foreseeable future. Revenue was desperately needed. Tourists were bored with Leicester and the only thing of interest to see was a crisp factory.
Brave words hide a sorry story. You may look at the complete statement of account at http://www.leicester.gov.uk/your-council-services/council-and-democracy/key-documents/annual-accounts/ but I would recommend that you pass on that dubious pleasure and get a life.
Dimitri and his team were told to ‘make good’ the council workers car park as the workers, social service personal, were revolting. His words, not mine.
Work began on 1st April 2011. Dimitri looked into the distance as he told the next bit, obviously still worried about telling his tale. He and the three man gang were to remove the existing tarmac and resurface. No sooner had the digger started when the shovel uncovered a bone, two bones, a whole skeleton. ‘‘We felt awful’’ he said with a shudder, ‘‘The JCB had punched a hole in this poor skeleton’s head and there he was all naked and boney and laying there. I called the boss at Glenfield and he said not to go offsite. One of the office workers came towards the window and then suddenly all the blinds were drawn.
“We were all sat round and not allowed offsite and there was this bloody thing in the hole we had dug, with its empty sockets just staring at us and that mouth grinning like he was laughing. Lost a tooth, it had. Laying all twisted and broken up a bit I reckon.’’
Dimitri was getting very worked up so I suggested a bite to eat and a chat about something else. The food – pastrami and gherkin with mustard mayo on rye – he accepted but the offer of another subject he rejected. I was glad. I wanted to hear the rest of the saga.
‘’The boss, Mr M, arrived and saw the body – the skeleton. I told him we had to call the police. I watch Time Team. They always call the police when they find human remains but Mr M said no, he’d call his superior and we must just wait.
‘it didn’t seem right. It was all wrong. This human laying there dead and us not telling the police or a pastor or someone.
‘’Waited most of the bloody morning, we did and then Mr M gets a call and another call and then three other suits from Glenfield all turn up and start looking in the hole and talking and arguing. Me and the lads, we needed a drink and we needed a p**s, but no, we weren’t allowed off site.
‘’Jase (I gathered Jase was one of the workmen) gets out his phone and one of them suits just dives at him and chucks it in the hole with the bones, then he says to put a tarpaulin over it and to go home and not say nothing to no one.
“Jim and Jase went in the van together and Stuey set off on his bike. My car was in for its MOT and it’s not far to the bus so I was about to set off walking when Mr M catches me up and pulls me round sharpish and says ‘Dim, you not to tell anybody this or you are finished here. No reference. No job. No future. No nothing.’
“ I was shocked. Mr M isn’t a bad sort for management and I just didn’t know what had had got into him. He looked scared sh*tless himself. Grey under his South of France tan.
“ Just then there was a squeal of breaks and Stuey went sailing past the gate, his bike following in a rainbow wheeled arch. Thud. Screeches, yells, shouts screams. Me and Mr M, we rushed for the gate and there was Stuey without a head in a mangled mess on the bonnet of a Skoda. Police. Ambulance. Sirens. The rest is a blur. A nightmare. Cops asking questions, Mr M saying we aint seen anything, protecting himself or protecting me? I don’t know. I remember Mr M saying he’d give me a lift back to the house I share with me mam and I remember her fussing and making me some tea in Great Grannies old Samovar that she only uses for special occasions.
“All that afternoon, all that evening, the phone was ringing, anonymous callers, breathers, scarers frightening poor mam, laughter, deranged laughter. It was a nightmare, the memory of the bones, the thought of mangled Stuey, the calls. I wept. I’m not ashamed to tell you I wept and wept and me mam she just sat there and stroked my head like I was a baby.
“Worse was to follow.
“Central News came on the television. Jase and Jim had been killed outright in a hit and run incident on the way home.
“Three of us – dead.” Tears formed in his lashless eyes and one oused it’s way down his scarred and withered cheek.
“The knock came at the door at 7 p.m. I knew it would be ‘them’ waiting to get me but it was Mr M battered, blooding heavily one finger hanging by a lump of flesh. Mam, she pushed past me to get the poor man off the doorstep – she was proud of her clean doorstep – genuflecting at her iron crucifix in the Prie Dieu as she went.
“What happened next is in tatters, in fragments in my mind. A shot, Mr M goes down with a bullet through his head jolting mam, the crucifix fell from the Prie Dieu impaling her through the jugular and a bottle came whizzing past my ear.
“Jesus saved our mam” he said, “Saved her”.
“You mean she lived with a heavy cast iron crucifix through her jugular?” I asked incredulous. Dim looked bewildered…
“No. Not mam. She was dead long before she hit the ground but Jesus saved her from seeing her little Dimitri Varunovitch like this. He was merciful to her, was Jesus.”
For once I was speechless but gathered myself enough to ask about the bottle. “It hit the wall and seemed to implode” he said, “I know nothing more. Months later I came out of a coma and found my body…” he indicated his battered livid and red scarred flesh, “I’ve been moved from hospital to hospital ever since. I’m still in one.”
He paused. “I didn’t remember my name at first and no one knew it as I was unrecognizable so when the horror came back into my mind I decided to stay unknown. They call me John Smith now.
“Last year they announced on the news that they had found that dead king, but Mr. Jeff, it was a hoax. It was me and the lads that found him and they tried to shut us up by any way they could till they got the maximum publicity. They need the money, you see. Money is all it is about.
Two men in hospital uniform approached the table. “Ready, Mr. Smith? Time to go home.” I saw their identification badges. Nurses from a psychiatric hospital.
“Has he been weaving his tales again?” one asked of me, “Great story teller is our John,” and they took him by both arms and walked him out of the room.
Jeff ‘Jefferty’ Jeff has recovered from the burn to the hand, but has not attempted deep fat frying since. Mr Shukla aka Mr Smith was never heard of again (except occasionally on Facebook someone who may be Mr Shukla under an assumed name insists that the dig was a hoax.)
A bag of Walker’s crisps.
A bag of McCoy’s Crisps
Finding Richard III, the unofficial account; by eminent mediaevalist Dr Don Ashtray-Pill
A kettle of fish
A bag of Kettle crisps
“Greyfriars, Leicester site” map by Hel-hama
© Jeff ”Jefferty” Jeff: March 4th 2015