The old town clock bell warned the neighbourhood: it was a new chime but the same familiar message - eleven O'clock: Katie's Preach Easy was open for business again.
It was six months since I'd been in Pontypridd, but the change Prohibition had made since Big Barry's Mob had rode into town with their big talk and bigger guns was plain for all to see. Old ladies scuttled to prayer meetings, clutching their shawls & rosaries. Large, burly, tattooed girls of seventeen stood silently on street corners hoping you'd ask for directions, fearing you might open the Chevy door a little wider and reveal one of the Archdeacon's men. He'd want to know where the hard stuff was all right, but you didn't want to have to tell him. Not and go home to your Mam.
I knew Katie's from the old days. I knew the songs and the laughter, families taking the kids out on a Sunday for a touch of heaven to lighten up the load of living in Rhondda Cynon Taff. But this wasn't the old days.
Big Barry lives in Cardiff. They aren't the same in Cardiff. They have chauffeurs and Starbucks and Marks and Spencer occupies three floors. It's a different world. Big Barry had these schemes - him in his purple shirts and his flunkies all in black - to drive fear through the hearts of all Glamorgan: and in his dotage, his schemes were coming thick and fast. Some says it's the English he's surrounding himself with. Others, he's just getting mean.
Anyways, the last straw is - Big Barry turned off the taps at all the Preach Easys. He calls it "hygiene". Says it's "for everybody's good".
No-one really understands it. But the Preach Easys - they can be pretty sneaky. Some are hiring hit mobs from the Legion of Mary; a dozen fearsome women with banners and signs, singing "Blessed Assurance" and condemning all weak-willed mortals who seek to break Big Barry's Prohibition Order. "Don't Whine About The Wine" they cry; "No Blood But Yours" they threaten.
Sure, it's a front. The places that got these gals - they're giving out Communion by the gallon. But the Archdeacon - Big Barry's main hit man - he's fooled every time. And no-one's making him wise. They'd find themselves with a one-way to Penrhys, or Pete the Grave walking slowly infront of them, and them never walking again. It's that kind of community.
Katie's just had two old women and a flag under the clock tower: "Lips that touch liquor shall not touch ours". It seemed a fair incitement to the Chalice for me. Stew the Warden nodded me in when he recognised me. "Cup's at the front", he said.
"Quiet day?" I asked, seeing the pews outnumber the clients.
"Oh, that's just the summer," he replied. "They're all in caravans in Porthcawl. That's where the real action is this weekend. Should be safe here."
I nodded, grateful for the tip, and for the rain bucketing down outside. I'm a fair-weather caravanner myself. Not like most from these parts. It's bred into you.
Just then a sudden movement amongst the musicians up at the front had me diving for cover - but Eirlys from Pets & Irrigation tapped me on the shoulder: "Dab, there's no need for that - Jenny just has a violin in that case. It's Morgan you need to watch out for."
Embarrassed, I tied my shoelace before regaining my seat if not my dignity. That was lost amongst the chewing gum and sawdust on the kneeler at my feet. I tried to settle and listen in to Katie's regular Orator, Sleepy Joe Jones, but my trouble radar was buzzing on the back of my neck, and it wasn't just Eirlys' "Eau de Llanelli".
Eventually Sleepy Joe was done and the Eucharistic was ready. It was time. The congregation was both excited and tense. This was it - we were breaking Big Barry's Prohibition Order. There were kids skipping and old folk shufflin' and the rest of us trying not to reveal to each other just how desperate we were for a single sip of the Good stuff. It had been a month and a half since I'd last received; who knew when I'd do this again.
When - Bang! The doors fly open and the two crones from the Legion run in screeching, "The Archdeacon, the Archdeacon!"
Stew the Warden gets his wand, unscrews the end and removes the saftey. Sleepy Joe tells the children to hide behind the altar. Women are crying, fathers are standing tall, trying not to be too obvious as they hide behind the pillars, and the teenagers are awkwardly gangling in the same old corner not having noticed anything at all just yet. Morgan reaches for his violin case, but gets Jenny's by mistake.
And as the Archdeacon's shadow falls over the threshold of Katie's Preach Easy, and the congregation inside suddenly feel what fear is really made of, Sleepy Joe Jones shows that a real man is more than talk as he makes to walk down the aisle and be the first in line to take whatever's coming his way.
I'm not the brave sort. Never have been. Never will be. But a coward is a coward, a bully is a bully, and a fool is a fool, and I know decent folk deserve better than this. So I come out from behind the cabinet where the hymn books are kept, right in front of Sleepy Joe, & I push him back to his flock, so it's suddenly me walking straight up to the Archdeacon, who kind of looks surprised.
"Who do you think you are, sunshine?" he asks, still in the porch, acolytes to the left and to the right.
I can see the metal bar that locks the Preach Easy door standing by the side in its usual place. I can see that I have one shot. And I just leans on the back pew, like I own the place. But I'm ever so carefully picking up a Bible that's lying there, and flicking through it, finding the perfect reference.
No, can't find it. But the Word of God is still mighty powerful...
I closes my Bible. I looks the Archdeacon in the face and I throws that book for all I am worth at the metal bar by the door, which the book hits magnificently square on, forcing it down, slamming the doors shut and locking them firmly as they go. And as the Good Book is flying through the air before the astonished eyes of the momentarily immobile Archdeacon I says:
"I'm just a man looking for a crumb of redemption and a sip of grace. And no-one dies today."