My story doesn't take place there, however, I'm merely getting my alibi established before we get down to the real meat of it.
Nel lived and worked in Corby, as so many people from my home town did in those days. They called it Little Scotland for the sheer number of Scots who migrated there to work in the steel industry. Anyway, Nel was on his way back down there after his holidays and he dropped by to spend the night before continuing on his way, and to tell me the tale. Sadly, Nel passed away recently, he was the last of the participants to do so which means I'm not exactly telling tales out of school. I did verify the story with two others who were involved, but the fourth denied all knowledge until his dying day. We didn't get on particularly well so he may have balked at trusting me with it. When I explained I couldn't very well drop him in it without doing the same with the others, he still swore blind he had nothing whatsoever to do with it. The thing is, I know for a certain fact that he was lying.
It was the last Friday of the Glasgow Fair fortnight, around 7:30 in the evening, and the fairground on The Braes was kicking into life. It seemed everyone in Saltcoats had heard about the pre-arranged rumble between the Glasgow gangs and the local equivalent; everyone but the cops, who were under the impression they had eradicated the problem some two years earlier with a huge rally of their own. These meetings had become something of an annual event, a sort of pre-cursor to the football casuals' dust-ups in the cities; perhaps that's where the idea for those sprang from.
Nel and his three cohorts wanted nothing to do with the war, having played a part in earlier skirmishes down through the years; they had a plan of their own and the fairground stramash was to be their cover.
When it all kicked off, The Braes was lined with onlookers; women, children, dogs and pensioners, plus, the usual confection outlets, the ice cream vans. Not to be outdone, the chip-bus took up a prime position by the harbour wall and was doing great business.
The winers and diners in the Saracen's Head also spilled onto the street at the front of the building to observe when the hostilities started, along with the entire staff.
Nel and his mates bided their time, listening intently for the battle to commence from behind The Sarry, and ready to leap into action when it did. They were in through the back door, which was conveniently lying ajar to create something of a draught in the stifling heat; they all knew what they had to do and went about it in military fashion.
The place was stripped clean. Two one-armed-bandits were thrown unceremoniously into the back of a Commer van before the stock-room was cleared of spirits and cigarettes. The till in the bar was next, and, aware that no one could see what they were up to, they took the time to root through the pockets of the many jackets which had been left hanging over chairs. That's where Nel came up with the prize, and the main reason he had sought me out; a slab of Paki Black the size of an Accrington brick.
The Commer van was safely tucked away in a garage lock-up at The Glebe long before the cops gained control of the fracas, and the haul was rendered down on the Saturday before being stashed in a safe place. I know Nel hadn't let on about his find to his confederates, and neither did I when speaking to them about the raid. It was his little secret, our little secret.
I took him to where he could sell what he didn't plan to keep and made a nice hash/cash score out of it for my trouble. Some three days later the Commer van, complete with the loot, made its way to Corby and, van and all, was sold on and the takings divided evenly between the four associates. Not one cigarette or bottle of spirits ever showed up in Saltcoats to ensure there could be no loose ends; the perfect crime.
My dear old Mum, bless her, was in the habit of sending me a copy of the local paper each week after the rest of the family had read it, and I delighted in the report on the mysterious raid. Of course the hash wasn't mentioned since no one could dare to include it among the missing effects. I didn't feel bad about making a little something from it, and I'm quite sure Nel didn't; the philosophy being, we wouldn't have had a leg to stand on if it happened to either one of us. Jungle law.
Adios Muchacho, rest in peace. You made an almighty summer extra, extra special and I'll never forget you for that reason and more.