In Search of Jimmy Ratt
By Rich Martens
Knowsley, England. 1982. The sky is grey, too grey,
even by English standards.
The clouds clung to the sky like a giant wool blanket.
Every day in Knowsley is like this, an abysmal eyesore, a
scar on the English countryside, a horrid place where only
the worst kind of scum congregate for the most wretched of
The whole damn city is a red-light district. The women
are loose and easy, fast and crafty. One flashes me a look
as I walk past her alley on my way to the pub, her eyes
promising a bit of dirty fun, but even a newcomer like me
knows to keep walking. Her long legs, suffocating in the
mesh of black fishnet stockings, lead the eye upwards from
sparkling red flats to a skimpy blue miniskirt. Her tiny
breasts heave under a white, half-undone corset top as she
breathes. She’s trying to lure Americans looking for a
kinky lay, but I shall have none of that.
She turns around, clawing softly with chipped, black
fingernails as she slides down the brick wall in a final
grab at my attention. Halfway to the ground, her black
panties peek out from under her miniskirt and, though she
is tempting with her bright green eyes, platinum-blonde-
and-pink streaked hair, and plump, rosy lips, I keep my
She’s no goddess, but a wolf in whore’s clothing, a
modern day Siren of the streets. I pity the next fool who
follows her into the alley and lays down on the dingy,
soiled mattress behind the dumpster, but he’ll only have
himself to blame when she slices his throat with the
pocketknife hidden underneath the stained pillow, riffles
through his wallet for a few petty quid, and leaves him for
But I won’t be that fool, oh no, not I, for I have
promise in this world.
I walked down the streets of the city, my hands
clenched firmly in my pockets. I didn’t want to risk
flashing any kind of signals to the wrong passerby. I
walked briskly and with purpose as if two iron poles were
fastened to my calves.
I kept my eyes fixed squarely in front of me, never
straying to glance at the various urchins of the street.
Even back home, I knew better than to lock eyes with them,
because once you did, you were trapped and forced to shake
them off with polite smirks and uncomfortable shakes of the
head. These urchins, though, they were different. Sure,
these urchins want your change just as much, but they were
willing to go a lot further than begging. These urchins
will gang up on you, tear the clothes right off your back,
and then fight each other for the spoils.
The sidewalks consisted of various sizes and shapes of
slate laid out in winding paths that led up and down the
hills and valleys of the city. My walk to the pub took me
longer than expected as I made it a point to cross the
street every time I saw one of Knowsley’s forlorn souls
Along the way, I pass boarded up store fronts, too
many to count, some of which housed clans of young
miscreants huddling around games of jacks or marbles, their
supple faces covered in ash and grime. But I didn’t stop to
pity them, I couldn’t. If I did, they would surely rob me,
and if they didn’t, someone else would.
The one time I did stop was to check the name on the
window of one of the few storefronts whose door wasn’t
boarded up, though it was still covered with graffiti. It
was The Racket, a sad, sinking drinking hall and unofficial
punk rock club immortalized in the song “Shake The Racket”,
or so I hoped it was. It was a long shot, to be sure, but
to find Jimmy Ratt, risks would have to be taken.
I open the door and scan the interior of the pub for
signs of life. Clouds of dust dance hesitantly through the
dank air in the light of a single white bulb affixed in the
center of the ceiling. A few shards of broken glass garnish
the harsh concrete floor, still emanating with the stale
odor of a warm, English lager.
To the right of the door is an arrangement of a dozen
or so pallets made to give the impression of a stage and
three large sheets of plywood to give the impression of
stability. A microphone stand stands rigidly near the front
of the stage, cobwebs growing around the base of it.
On the far back wall is the bar, a black painted two-
by-four resting on top of three large pieces of plywood
nailed into the floor. There are no stools, just a chipped
brass pole for weary drinkers to rest a foot on. Behind the
bar is a foggy mirror with two shelves of unlabeled bottles
on either side. A pile of rags rest on the makeshift
counter along with a green, half empty bottle of cheep
“Hello?” I say in my no-nonsense, cut-to-the-chase,
east coast accent.
A squeak comes from behind the bar. “Is someone back
I edge cautiously inside and made my way towards the
bar. I peek over the counter and see a little blonde girl
no older than thirteen lying on top of a bulbous lump of a
man. She springs up from behind the bar and shrieks at the
sight of me. She clutches at the pile of rags, her clothes,
on the counter and uses them to hastily cover her naked
body. She runs around the open side of the bar and out the
door into the street.
“What inna ‘ell? What’cha want?” The man behind the
bar shuffles in frustration on the floor as he struggles to
pull up his pants. His fingers are fat and stubby, like ten
little hot dogs clutching for his zipper. He grunts and
perspires like pig in a pen, cursing as he writhes on the
ground, his white, button-up shirt clinging to the wet
folds of his flesh.
After some time, he manages to get up off the floor,
though not without some manner of difficulty. He clutches
at the countertop, his ham hock sized hands banging wildly
throughout the wooden structure causing the bottle of
brandy to dance off the edge in an explosion of glass and
Slowly, his bald head crests over the counter,
gleaming at its peak from the solitary light above. What
few teeth he has peek at me through a vengeful snarl. The
maroon boil on his right nostril seems to pulsate in rhythm
as he speaks. “Yeah? Well, what’cha want now? Aye? You come
in ‘ere, ruin me shag, an’ now you’re just gonna stand ‘ere
lookin’ like some sorry sod in ‘a bucket? What’cha
He grabs a towel from under the bar an wipes the sweat
from his face.
“I’m looking for Jimmy Ratt,” I say.
“Jimmy Ratt?” he says while combing down the last
remaining wisps of hair left stranded on his scalp. “What
the ‘ell’s a Jimmy Ratt?”
“So then The Ratz have never played here?”
The man rests his full weight on the bar, the poor
thing, causing it to creak in frustration. He clenches his
fingers over the edge of the counter, exposing his chapped,
brown knuckles. “Look here, right?” he says, “Lots’a bands
come in ‘ere, thinkin’ in their plum gasket minds that by
playin’ their shitty rock ‘n’ roll music they’ll get outa
this begga’s arsehole of a place ‘n’ not ‘ave to worry
‘bout money the rest of they lives. Believe me boy, I seen
‘undreds, lit’rally ‘undrdeds of bands come through ‘at
door there and di’n’t one of them make anythin’ for
themselves but trouble. What makes you think these Rabits
of wha’ever you call ‘em should mean anythin’ different to
I fish around in my coat pocket for a tiny slip of
paper. I’d made sure to carry as little as I could; there’s
my key to the hotel room, my pocket knife, my passport, a
couple of pounds for bus fare, and that precious slip of
paper, the whole reason I was here to begin with. I hold it
out at arms length and, gripping the sides between my thumb
and index finger, snap it to bring him to his full
“Well, you see here,” I say, “I’ve got this check,
unendorsed of course, made payable to Jimmy Ratt for,
follow along with me on this one, one hundred thousand
dollars, American, along with subsequent checks of lesser,
though still worthwhile, values ready to be written out to
anyone with information on where to find him.”
The man heaves his shoulders up in a brief, painful
sounding chuckle. A smile creeps along his face like a
toothless Cheshire Cat as his laugh grows larger and more
“Typical Americans, thinkin’ you can get wha’ever you
want just by tossin’ out enough swag! Ha!” He wipes the
tears from his eyes and I return the check to my pocket. He
gumes at his wrist in his last moments of composure. “In
all seriousness lad, I ‘ope you ‘aven’t tried buyin’ anyone
else ‘round ‘ere with that rubbish; ‘round ‘ere, the only
sorta barterin’ we do is over the drink.”
He grabs one of the bottles from the shelves behind
him. He shakes it, uncorks to top, and takes a whiff. “Nah,
too gooda stuff to be wasted on the likes a you.” He waves
his finger over the other bottles and picks another one up,
a barely translucent brown one filled halfway to the top.
He grins and places it firmly on the counter between us. He
reaches under the bar and pulls out two square shot glasses
and fills both of them to the very top. As it turns out,
the alcohol inside (presumably a whisky) was darker than
the bottle itself. The tar-like stuff rests flat in the
glasses, so heavy and so thick I can’t see to the bottom.
“Cheers mate,” he says before downing his glass in one
slurping guzzle. He laughs and I can smell the bitterness
of it on his breath.
I pick up my glass; it’s warm to the touch. I curl my
tongue and turn the glass so that one of the square edges
rests in the crease. I close my eyes and tilt my head back.
My nose hairs burn as I feel the warm, oily stuff fill my
mouth, then my throat, and finally hit my stomach. It goes
down heavy but leaves a singeing trail like candle wax in
my throat. I choke and gasp. I slam my hand against the
countertop. “Good God!” I say, “What is in that?”
“Aww, whatsa ma’er? Baby’s milk too hot?” He pours us
two more shots as a young couple walk in and stand next to
me. He downs another shot while I swallow furiously to wash
the taste of my first one out. Whether it was this forceful
motion, the lingering feeling of the alcohol clinging to my
throat, or a combination of the two I can’t be sure, but
the feeling that the stuff would soon be coming back up was
“Bathroom?” I gasp. With his thumb, he points to a
door next to the makeshift stage.
I burst in and find a toilet stationed in the only
stall, the original door long since broken off its hinges
and replaced by a closet door. The young man follows close
behind and I spew into the toilet like a geyser.
He pats me on the back and I lurch further into the
toilet, the stagnant water mixed wit the oily vomit washing
back and forth against the porcelain, leaving little chunks
of my breakfast clinging to the sides.
“’at’s it. Let it awl out now,” he says.
My eyes burn as I look up at the tank of the toilet,
chipped and covered with malicious graffiti written in blue
and black ink. One last stubborn thread of heavy viscous
saliva dangles from my bottom lip. I wipe it off on the
back of my wrist and spin around on my heels. I topple over
and land seated on the cold cement floor of the bathroom,
wedged between the toilet and the wall of the stall.
He grabs my arm from its resting place on the rim of
the toilet and helps me up off the floor. “Feelin’ a bit
be’er now are ya?” he says.
He’s dressed in a blue denim jacket studded with metal
chains that ring as he moves. A wet spot has soaked into my
gabardine trench coat; I can feel the weight of whatever it
was that I sat in bumping against my calves as I swagger in
the young man’s steady grip on my shoulder.
“You goin’ ta be alroight?”
“Yeah. I just needed to get it out of my system,” I
says as I wipe my nose with my sleeve.
“Oh shit! American eh? Where abouts from?”
“New York City.”
“Get outta ‘ere wif ‘at! Wha’ brings an obviously
well-a-do business man like yourself to ‘is ‘ell’ole?”
I clear my throat and spit into the toilet. “Just
that,” I say, “business.” Bitter and exasperated, I take
out my pen and wrathfully etch, “Where IS Jimmy Ratt?” onto
the flimsy wall of the stall.
I walk around the young man and exit the stall to go
rinse my hands in the sink. The only working faucet handle
spits out an icy cone of water so cold that my hands turn
apple red before I even have a chance to turn it off. I pat
the chilly water onto my cheeks to sober myself up a
“I ‘ate ta break it to ya mate, but ain’t no business
doin’ ‘round ‘ere ‘cept the dir’y kinds,” he says as he
lights a cigarette that he pulled from the breast pocket of
Given the absence of towels, I dry my hands on my blue
cotton shirt. “Actually, I’m here looking for someone. A
local talent. Goes by the name ‘Jimmy Ratt.’”
Before taking even a single drag on his cigarette, he
throws it to the ground and grinds it into the cement floor
under his black combat boots. “Wait a tick, did you just
say you was lookin’ for Jimmy Ratt?”
“Jimmy Ratt of The Ratz, roight?”
“Yeah, why? You know him?”
He steps back and combs his grimey fingers through his
short, black Mohawk. “Know ‘im?” he exclaims, “we was
practically bruvers back when we was boaf shittin’ in
“Really?” I say with great interest.
“Oh yeah! Come back to da front wif me and we’ll talk
ova a couple a lagers!” My stomach quivers at the mere
mention. He chuckles and says, “Or be’er yet, I’ll ‘ave a
lager and you…well…” He leaves his thought unfinished and
wraps his arm around my neck.
We walk out of the bathroom, his arm squeezing my
throat like a nutcracker. “Careful with that one ‘ere
Elsbrey,” the bartender says, “he’s a delicate flower there
that one is!” His burley arm lies dead on the bar
countertop, uncomfortably close to the skeletal hands of a
young woman wearing only an oversized white t-shirt that
reaches down to her shins. Her hair is matted and curly, as
if she’d just stepped out of the shower.
“Aw lay of it will ya?” my new friend says. We walk up
to the bar and the girl holds out her hand.
“’ose this you’ve found babe?” she says.
He releases me from his grip, puts his hand on my
shoulder and says, “Sorry mate, I don’t fink I eva caught
“It’s George,” I say, “George Moyers.”
“Ah, Georgie! Real good ta meet ya. Name’s Evan
Elsbery.” He wraps his spidery fingers around my wrist and
shakes it with the ferocity of a jackhammer. “’is is ‘ow
they shook ‘ands back inna day, you know? Nobles an’ kings
an’ folks a ‘at sort. Did it to check for daggas inna
sleeves of they guests. Not to say I fink you’ve got any
daggas up your sleeves, eh Georgie boy? Eh?” He jabs me in
the gut with his elbow a few times and stands next to his
lady friend. And he was right; I wasn’t carrying a knife in
my sleeve, I kept it in my pocket. “An’ ‘is ‘ere is the
love of me loife, Frieda.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” she says with fluttering
lashes. “But please, just call me Freddie.”
The bartender carries on wiping the same circular area
of the counter as if to purposely avoid being roped into
the conversation. That’s fine if he didn’t want to know my
name, I had no interest in knowing his either.
These two, however, Evan and Freddie, seemed to want
to know every facet of my life. They asked about my love
life (of which there was little to discuss), questions
about where I bought my slacks, and what I thought about
the current situation in Lebanon.
“Please, enough about me though,” I say as I take out
my notepad and pen.
“Oh yeah, this guy wif ‘is ‘I’m here on business’
talk. No time for a bi’a conversation ‘ese days wif guys
like ‘im eh Georgie? Alroight, alroight, fair enough. I’ll
tell ya all what ‘ere is to know ‘bout ol’ Jim Jim, or wha’
I can rememba at least.”
“So, you personally knew Jimmy Ratt? Correct?”
“Yeah, ‘cept in ‘ose days we all knew ‘im as Lags.”
“Who knew him as Lags?”
“Kids in’na neighbor’ood like. We all called ‘im Lags
‘cause every time we’d be out, playin’ games or wha’eva,
you know, like kids like to do, ‘e’d be like, way be’ind,
laggin’ as it was, and we’d all say, ‘Ay, Jimmy Lags!’ an’
you know, ‘e’d come runnin’ to try an’ catch up.”
“What would he be doing usually?”
“Like, to fall be’ind?”
“Yeah, well, you know like, kids shit, skimmin’ stones
or kickin’ cans an’ all ‘at. ‘Course ‘en ‘e got olda ‘n’
‘e’d be talkin’ to girl, peekin’ at ‘er knickers an’ ‘er
muver would come outside ‘n’ tell ‘em, ‘Stay far away from
that ‘orrible Jimmy Roth!”
And with that, I had made my first big breakthrough in
my search. I scribble “Roth” down on my notepad while he
keeps chattering on about childhood memories.
“Well acourse ‘e was a trouble maka all along wun ‘e?
‘e’d not only go back ‘ere the very next day to poke at
they naughty bits an’ all ‘at, but ‘e’d break their li’le
‘earts soon afta, kickin’ sand in ‘eir eyes, spitin’ in
‘eir ‘air, wha’eva it took to send ‘em cryin’ back to they
muvers where they’d just get a lashin’ for their
“So when did you boys stop being friends?”
“It was after secondary that we started partin’ ways
like. We all was movin’ in different directions, which I
guess is what’s s’posed to ‘appen.”
“Well, like I was getting’ into politics an’
philosophy an’ ‘at while all ‘e eva wanted to do was shag
an’ smoke an’ shag. Tell you wha’, you go down the ways
‘ere, look for a young tart calls ‘erself Maggie Mae, she’d
be the one ‘at best knows where you might be able to find
ol’ Jim Jim now. Pi’y really, a boy wit’ so much goin’ for
‘im like ‘at; a real pi’y.”
He painted a picture of Jimmy that I had in my head
the first time I heard of The Ratz: a group of rowdy,
filthy do-nothings that played loud music, partook in
copious amount of heroin, and slept with underage girls who
did much of the same. And leading them was Jimmy Ratt.
* * *
Jimmy and the band took the stage the same way every
First, Frankie Krisp takes his seat behind the drums,
a fairly simple set composed of just one snare, a hi-hat,
two cymbals, a floor tom, and a huge thirty-inch bass drum.
The smacks the skins of the drums full force, steady and
rhythmically at first to get the crowd clapping along.
Slowly, the beat grows and then, Frankie lets it all out.
His wrists cut through the air, his drumsticks meeting the
cymbals in perfect harmonic clarity, a shrill and
thunderous clash of metal fills the tiny club while his
right foot pumps a devastating heartbeat into the hooting
Then, Jo-Jo “Jackhammer” Samson clomps onto the stage
like a bull being led into a pen. He’s a behemoth of a man
with legs built like fire hydrants and fingers strong
enough to curl a nail in its joints. His outfit, glistening
black leather adorned with studs and rings, make him look
like a shadow of insurmountable destruction on stage. If it
weren’t for the enormous biceps revealed by his sleeveless
leather jacket, it would have been hard to believe he was
human at all. The erratic rhythms of his opening bass riffs
pummel your body from head to foot. The rest of the band
hasn’t even come onstage yet already he’s sweating and
Next up, Billy-James McArthur-Paulson Jr., a shaven
headed, raving madman who comes out wearing only a
camouflage painted codpiece. He jumps around the stage like
a banshee unleashed, cursing and spiting on the people in
the front row while sustaining a squealing high E from his
guitar. So unpredictable are his antics, even Jo-Jo has
been known to recoil in fear at what he might do next.
Finally, once everyone is plugged in and the crowd is
half deaf from the warm-up, Jimmy take the stage in all his
shirtless splendor, pink gashes running the length of his
chest and back from last night’s show. He snarls at his
crowd of adoring fans, each of them hoping, wishing,
praying to be kicked in the face as they attempt to claw
their way closer to his majesty. His hair is short, spiky,
and slick with sweat. Waves of perspiration flick off his
head in faint waves as he combs through his hair with his
“Fuck you Knowsley!” he hollers into the microphone,
grabbing it from the stand and hurling it into the crowd.
“This shit is bullocks in comparison to Bridgeport! I want
to see you all fucking on the dance floor! That’s right,
you there with the giant knockers, grab that scrawny shit
next to you! I don’t care if he’s your brother or a total
stranger, you fuck him ‘till the paint peels off these
He gives the crowd one last look of disgust and pity,
turns to the band as they wrap up their showboating antics,
and screams until the speakers begin to smoke.
Now, the show can begin.
* * *
“’e’d always said ‘e was gonna make a name for ‘imself
wif ‘is music. None of us thought ‘e would but, you,
know…time makes fools of us all I guess.”
I close my notepad and put it back in my pocket. Evan
and I shake hands once more and I excuse myself from their
company. And just as I’m about the leave the bar, the
bartender says, after not saying a word during my
conversation with Evan, “’ere! Wha’ about all that money
you was throwin’ ‘round when you first came in ‘ere? ‘A
check,’” he says, imitating the way I snapped the check in
his face earlier, “‘to anyone with information regarding
Jimmy Ratt’. Ain’t that what you said before? Well, where’s
all ‘ose big American baffos now, eh?”
Evan and Freddie turn around and rest their elbows on
the bar behind them. “Was you really gonna ditch out on us
like that?” he says. “I thought we was mates Georgie!”
I swoon and clench my fists. I had no such checks, of
course. Even the one for Jimmy was a fake. I wasn’t trying
to cheat anybody, per se, they money was just a prop, an
implication of wealth that could be very real. It’s world
economics, like the national debt; no one expects for it to
be paid back, it’s more of a running tab than a bill. So in
my mind and in Mr. Morris’ mind, I didn’t owe anyone,
including Jimmy, anything unless I knew I would be getting
something back. Like I’d told Evan in the bathroom, it’s
just business, something I couldn’t explain to these
“Well, royalties have to first be cleared through the
company, see, so I can’t really pay you now but -”
Evan holds up his hand. “Spare it. I know what’s goin’
on here. You’re just anotha corrupt business man lookin’
for anotha soul to suck the life out of. I know that to
you, we just look like a buncha poor, ignorant folk ‘ose
time would be be’er spent diggin’ ditches, but we’re people
too Goddammit! And I will be damned if I let you walk out
that door wifout you getting’ wha’ you deserve!”
He charges at me like a demon unleashed, his head
bowed down and his brow tightened into a solid block above
his two raging grey eyes. Calmly and without hesitation, I
take out my pocket knife. I press the silvery button on the
side of its maroon handle and the blade flicks out, nothing
great, a five-incher maybe, but it’s enough to get the job
I hold the knife out at waist height, my arm fixed at
a perfect right angle. He stops just short of the
glistening tip of the blade, rears up on the heels of his
boots, and holds up both hands in submission.
“Let’s try this again, hm?” I say. Freddie stands up.
Her face twitches in fear. Occasionally, she snarls, both
angered and confused by the course of actions playing out
before her. She wants to reach for a smoke, but the pack is
in Evan’s back pocket and she won’t dare move from the
relative security of the bar, so she settles on biting her
The bartender cracks a nearly empty bottle from
beneath the bar on the hard leather sole of his shoe.
Everyone turns at the sound, myself having to look over
Evan’s shoulder. The bartender sways his weight back and
forth between his two legs and points the fractured butt of
the bottle at each of us, unsure of who to target. “You!”
he says, pointing the bottle at me from the opposite side
of the room, “You’ve worn out your welcome ‘ere! I want you
outta my bar and I don’t expect you ta show your smug face
‘round ‘ere eva again!”
“Fair enough,” I say and close up my knife. “But
before I leave let me just say -”
He hurls the bottle across the room, causing it to
crash into some hundred glistening pieces against the wall
just over my shoulder. Freddie squeals, ducks, and covers
her ears at the frightening sound. “It’s always talk with
you American’s,” the bartender says. “Just leave and be
done wif it!”
I press my tongue against my bottom lip, turn on my
heels, and leave The Racket.
* * *
“I thought I had problems, this boy was inta some real
“Well, one time he wanted me to do him in the ass,”
she tells me. She takes a long, hard drag on her cigarette,
curling the smoke around her tongue.
We were sitting in the alley, Maggie and I, our backs
against opposite walls and our legs brought in close to our
chests, my pale ankles masked under the dark elastic cloth
of my black dress socks.
She rests her wrist on her knee between drags and
fiddles with the oversized wedding ring she’d undoubtedly
knocked off some sorry sap earlier in the day.
“So whateva, I did what any girl in my position would
have done. I don’t judge and I needed the money, so I
grabbed a beer bottle from that dumpster over there,” she
says, pointing to it, “told him to bend ova and -”
“No, that’s…that’s fine. That’s enough. I, um, don’t
need to hear-” I take off my glasses and rub my eyes clean
of the visual. Her black panties peak out from under her
skirt as she knocks her knees together rhythmically while
taking another drag, the smoke pumping out of her mouth
like plumes from a steam engine. As uneasy as her story
made me, it was encouraging to know that Jimmy did have a
weak spot. All these self-righteous rockers, they’re all
the same on the inside, nothing but a bunch of cowering,
naive punks with closets full of skeletons.
“Any idea of where I might find Jimmy now?” I say.
She grins and grinds her cigarette into the wet brick
wall behind her. “For that,” she tells me, “I’m gonna need
* * *
I remember the first time Jimmy came around to see me.
He was so adorable. He walked sheepishly down the road,
both his hands buried in the pockets of his tight leather
pants. He peered into the alleyway and saw me leaning
sideways against one of the buildings, releasing a thin
veil of smoke under my teeth as I smiled back at him.
Jimmy looked to see if there was anyone else around.
“Are you the one they call Maggie?” he said.
I slinked towards him like a newt onto dry land, the
soles of my shoes emitting a shallow shuffle as they grazed
over the bits of rubble and broken glass. “You can call me
anything you want baby,” I replied.
I combed my fingers through the back of his scruffy
head of short, blonde hair. I touched my nose to his and
said, “You’re shaking. Is this our first time?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“How old are you?”
I giggled and licked the tip of his nose. “Don’t
worry, I’ll be gentle.”
* * *
“Wait,” I say, “You say his hair was blonde?”
“Yeah, I fink so.”
“I need to know. How sure are you?”
She squints her eyes and puckers her lips. “Alright,
you got me. What’s this all about?”