Adult Romantic Drama
So here we go again – a filthy, dimly lit alley on a cold, damp night in Portsmouth – scaring the life out of some poor sod, whose only crime was to get behind with the rent. Talk about heavy-handed. The guy is clearly traumatised as Ali Kurmi pushes him against the wall, leans into him, teeth gritted, fingers tightening around his collar.
The lad lets out a pathetic whimper.
In the nearby harbour, a ship's horn moans over the background drone of the carrier Queen Elizabeth's generators, that relentlessly tick over. The pungent smell of diesel fuel taints the salt-sea air, adding to the heavy atmosphere.
Pay up or get hurt – simple as that. Ali's ruthless father demands it, and Ali and his two cousins deliver, with force if necessary, whenever the call comes.
It could be Portsmouth, Southampton, Bristol or Brighton – Liverpool, even.
Patriarch Javed Kurmi has properties wherever there's a university – he's certainly cornered the market in the south. The trouble is, there are always some students who piss their rent money away rather than setting it aside for their landlord. So they ... need a little visit.
Ali's cousin, Hammad, looks scary – he's tall and he works out. You can see that. You wouldn't want to argue with him, that's for sure. The same goes for Kamran – high octane, high alert.
Hammad pushes Ali out of the way and kicks the guy's legs from under him. Down he goes, begging to be spared – promising to pay up soon. Kamran steps in for good measure, kicking the student on to his side – placing a foot firmly on his neck.
'Listen, want to keep that handsome face – you pay up now. Understand?'
'I can't,' splutters the lad, 'I haven't got any money on me.'
'So what are you going to do?'
'I'll pay – I will.'
Kamran presses his foot down harder; 'When?' he demands.
'Please, please don't,' the lad begs. 'I'll get the money. I will.'
'How?' asks Hammad.
Ali is standing a few metres away, squirming. This is so not him. What the hell is he doing here anyway, having sworn he would never do it again? 'Alright! That's enough,' he says, unable to watch any more.
'Ease up. He'll pay up – won't you?'
'I will, tomorrow – honest I will.'
Kamran slowly and reluctantly lifts his foot, sneering at his cousin.
As far as Hammad and Kamran are concerned, it's just routine. No cuts, no scars – just a few bruises to act as a reminder never to mess with the Kurmis again. And it works every time, in spite of their cousin.
They know only too well that Ali isn't up to this job. His mind is elsewhere. It always is. He just hasn't got it. They laugh at his futile attempts to disguise himself by turning up his collar whenever they're on a job. What's the bloody use of that? But family's family, Ali's their cousin and Uncle Javed pays them well. So, they play ball and don't ask questions.
Yet again, Ali is crippled inside. He feels nothing but shame and disgust. He's raging with resentment and frustration, most of it towards his father, the rest at himself.
Although he's said it many times before, tonight will be the last time.
Kamran kicks the hapless student in the thigh, hard. The student rolls over and groans, cursing into the evening air as the three Kurmis slouch away.
Another dirty deed for the boss. And another very bad day for Ali's karma.
Max and Christine Walsh were married in 1982 and to celebrate their milestone ruby wedding anniversary they've decided to go the whole hog and throw one of the biggest parties seen in Alresford for many a year.
Status in these parts tends to be based on the number of watercress beds you have – rather than Range Rovers. So here we are on party day. The contractors have finished preparing for the main event and the stage is set. The grounds are alive and buzzing with people going about their different tasks.
It's a lavish display of opulence – all stage-managed by Finn O'Donnell and his team. Finn has been joined today by new recruit, Laura, who has been briefed by him to look after the entertainers and their various entourages.
Her presence hasn't gone unnoticed. Wherever she moves, heads turn and follow her. She carries a strong air of confidence, whilst maintaining an element of vulnerability. It makes the combination irresistible.
'Are you OK for the band and DJ?' says Finn, on the phone.
'Yes, all good – I've spoken to the band and I've left a voicemail for the DJ; they all know where to come and I've told them to text me when they get here,' she says.
'Splendid. Tell you what, come over to the catering tent when you're ready. You can't work on an empty stomach. See you in a bit.'
Finn is a happy man when things run smoothly and today is looking good. He and the Walshes decided on Thursday, to run with Plan A for the party. Plan B was to be put in place in the event of rain. Today, the gods are smiling down and it's non-stop sunshine, and it's a very pleasant outlook for the party, which gets under way at 4 o'clock.
Guests will be welcomed with champagne; and for those feeling adventurous, there's Karting, Bubble Walking on Water, Archery and a Micro Fun Fair for the youngsters and oldsters. Circus performers will be walking around mingling with the guests, too.
After a lavish dinner inside the main marquee, the music will begin – there's a disco with a Top DJ and a live band to keep the show rocking and rolling until midnight. Even the Walshes think that's probably late enough to be disturbing the residents of Alresford and beyond.
They have been very specific about the music for the event and the theme is 70s and 80s music – not just disco and soul music but also music by some of the greatest rock bands: Genesis, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Stones, The Foo Fighters, and others. The Walshes are big music fans and used to go to all the big festivals. They like nothing more than a bit of "Glasto".
Finn knows his job and he's booked Ali Kurmi for the DJ gig.
Ali has a great reputation and, hey presto, he specialises in this very kind of music. So, he'll be providing the background music throughout – as well as putting on his special show later in the evening. The live music will be from Brother Soul – a band that loves to party and has a big following for live gigs. Ali has worked with the band many times before and he's persuaded them to play one of his numbers tonight. So, let the party and the show commence.
Ali follows the directions in the text message and parks his van on the grass behind the main marquee in the fenced-off area, where all the service vans are parked. There's a mini marquee too, which has been set aside for the band and Ali. A further large one, obviously for the catering, is to the rear and connected to the main marquee. Outside, a young man in chef's whites with bright copper coloured hair, shaved at the sides, slouches against a tent prop as he squeezes the filter of his cigarette. He inhales and slowly blows out a cloud of smoke as he turns to take in and wonder at the grounds and house.
The side of the main house is visible, and it would appear to be neo-Georgian in style. From where Ali's standing it looks as though it's been built with exceptionally good taste; no tack here, he thinks.
He looks back at his van, glad that he doesn't have the whole rig to carry in, and is looking forward to the gig immensely.
The great thing about corporate work is that you seldom get any aggro. The worst that can happen, usually, is dealing with a few posh drunks. Anyway, he looks at his phone again. He needs to find a woman called Laura O'Brien.
Laura steps out of a door to the side of the main house, where Finn O'Donnell and his team have their modest quarters. The sun is high in the sky and the grounds look incredible. She's just had a text from the DJ to say that he's arrived, and she's off to meet him in the service car park. Ali waits patiently by his van and does a 180-degree pan, looking out for the woman he's just texted. Towards the house he sees someone moving and heading in his direction.
It's definitely a lady. My God, it's certainly a lady. She's dressed in tight, light blue jeans and a white, red-trimmed jacket, with short sleeves. She's coming towards him and the closer she gets, the harder he stares. This lady is gliding across the grass and Ali is transfixed by the sheer presence and elegance of her movement.
He can see that she's considerably older than him, but is completely bowled over by her looming beauty.
Wow – what an amazing figure! She is advancing, beaming with the biggest and loveliest smile Ali has seen in his whole life. And, beautiful penetrating eyes. Another wow.
This woman must have a very happy partner.
'Ali, is it?' says Laura, still smiling and holding out her hand.
Ali nervously wipes his right hand behind his back and offers it to Laura, immediately realising the naffness.
'Pleased to meet you,' he bumbles, in awe.
Still smiling, Laura says, 'Follow me and I'll take you to Finn. You two know each other quite well I understand?'
'Yes, we've worked together before.'
'Oh that's good. Have you eaten by the way?'
'Yes thanks,' says Ali, who is actually starving, having skipped breakfast.
'Let's go this way. Here's my card, with my number if you need it and I'm not around. Just give me a shout.'
Ali clutches his man-bag and follows Laura, admiring her from behind.
What the hell is happening here? This woman is gor-geous.
They step inside the house, eyes adjusting to the change in light, and walk down to Finn's 'Ops room' door.