A COLLECTION OF STORIES BY LUKE TAGG
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SMOKE: Blow Your Head Off

Originally published: 16 November 2004

I read a story yesterday about a 57-year old veteran sergeant in the Denver Sheriff's Department who has been suspended after an incident involving himself and a 20-year old driver who he pulled over near Castle Rock, on Interstate 25.

The cop - Elton Yamada - illegally used red and blue mounted lights to pull the driver over in a fit of road rage, and then a confrontation ensued in which Yamada reportedly said: "I am serious. I will blow your fucking head off right now."

Yamada could find himself without a job shortly. One might say deservedly so.

The reason the story interested me was that I've heard and used that very same phrase before on two separate occasions. There's something of a thrill when saying it, but when hearing it your legs turn to water and you sweat like a pig.

The first incident happened - inevitably - when I was a mad-for-it student, and it came about as the result of a very drunken Saturday afternoon at the Stag's Head Hotel.

Myself and a couple of other bawdy lads (one of whom was Duncan, one of my best mates at drama school) were supposed to see a student play that night on campus, and we decided to spend the afternoon getting slammed at Stag's (as one does).

Normally we would go upstairs and play pool, but that afternoon we settled ourselves downstairs within arm's reach of the bar and started to put in some serious work. Sandy was pulling the pints that afternoon and life was good.

About an hour in - by now pleasantly buzzed - we were joined by two 40-something divorcees who were looking for a party first and some stud ass second, and yelling at Sandy to bring the table two bottles of Tassies they settled down in a flurry of laughter, bad perfume, too much lip gloss and broken dreams.

We didn't mind, although drunk as we were getting we had nothing on them and they were actually pretty irritating. Laughing too loudly, missing the ashtray and generally being way too obvious.

Not my type, although it must be said that a crate of Labels is a time-honoured way of broadening your definitions of what you consider sexy or not.

But not that day. We drank up the Tassies, which on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of a Cape Town summer (scorching heat and hot, gusty winds) is not necessarily an extremely clever idea, and we moved onto shooters and shots and down-downs and so forth and late into the afternoon someone suddenly realised that we were supposed to be at the show.

By this stage Duncan and my other mate (identity withheld for professional reasons) were deeply involved in an argument, which was heightened in tension by the staggering volume of alcohol consumed.

Duncan - not known for shying away from the very testosterone that drives the male of the species - crushed the wine glass he was holding in his hand and lacerated himself to bits.

He couldn't care less, deadened as his senses were with alcohol, but the effect was dramatic - blood was everywhere, Sandy was fussing, the divorcees screamed in horror and disappeared (they'd seen too many bar fights to hang around waiting for cops), and I was trying to drag my mates outside.

You must understand - even though they were genuinely pissed off with each other the animosity was no deeper than the puddle of lager and soaked ash we left on the table in Stag's. It was more a macho thing than anything else.

We all went outside and started staggering up the road, but only about 20 paces on the two started up again, and one of them was pushed by the other up against a fence.

They both got covered in Duncan's blood and looking down the road I saw a young policeman nervously advancing with his weapon drawn.

If it wasn't his first day on the force it was near as dammit - the gun was shaking in his hands (he was holding it out in front of him with both hands at the end of stiff arms, LA Cop style) and he was trembling like a leaf and sweating. The guy was a time bomb, and my two mates were too pissed to spot it.

The two carried on grappling at the fence and I started advancing on the cop, swaying slightly. He turned his gun from them to me, and screamed at the top of his lungs: "Stay where you are! Stay where you are! Move and I'll blow your fucking head off!"

Duncan and my other mate noticed him (he was kinda hard to ignore) and both summed up the situation, covered from head to toe in blood. They both started laughing and walking towards the cop saying things like "It's cool, bru", and "Don't worry, bru", but nothing they said had the desired effect of calming him down.

I had to get them to stop advancing because by now the cop's knuckles were white and his finger was caressing the trigger. Once I'd got them to understand that he wanted to blow our fucking heads off, they subsided slightly (although Duncan reverted to his standard save-all: "No, bru - just tell him we're students", as if that would magically explain everything).

I explained to the cop what had happened and some chick came out of Stag's and helped to calm him down.

I can't remember how it ended but for some reason he let us go (I reckon the thought of the paperwork on this one was too ghastly to bear), and linking arms we swayed off into the dusk, singing.


The second incident was when I used the words myself, and it was a few years after the first.

I used to make frequent trips into Bo-Kaap, a suburb in the Malay Quarter of Cape Town on the slopes of Signal Hill. The trips weren't to buy furniture or sample the finest rooties or play with the kiddies in the park at the top of Wale Street - let's just say there were financial transactions and business deals with the shadier elements of one of the shadier suburbs on the Peninsula which required my urgent attention.

After a couple of bad experiences with enraged Muslim mobs I started carrying a very large pistol in the car with me. It wasn't real - it was an air gun which shot small plastic pellets - but it was modelled exactly upon the Colt .45, and was even almost as heavy as the real thing.

I kept it on the side of the driver's seat, but never really thought I'd need it. And fervently hoped I wouldn't - it's quite one thing pointing a toy gun at someone who believes it's real, but quite another when they spot it's a fake and haul out their blunderbusses slowly and deliberately, licking their lips in savage anticipation.

As you've probably guessed by now - the occasion arrived one night when I needed it.

I'd picked up some gentleman I didn't know from a bar of soap - and to describe him as a perfumed ponce would be probably the most inaccurate portrait I could paint.

We had to drive to a location on the Foreshore, in the squatter camp under the flyover highways above, and let me tell you this much: white boy sitting alone in car in middle of slum with not one other white face around tends to attract a passing glance or two.

Eventually the guy got back and spun me some story about something or other (my contacts and business associates had a collective mumble that was impossible to understand), and we had to drive back to Bo-Kaap.

By now it was dark and I could tell the guy was shifty (I know what you're thinking - of course he was bloody shifty! - but there are degrees of shifty and degrees of danger, and only frequent contact with both allow you insight into how it all works).

I stopped on the side of a dark, unlit road with coarse brush on either side, and told him to give me my money back and get out of the car. He muttered and mumbled and shifted but refused to do either, and his hand was slowly dipping into his jeans pocket.

I'd learned many years previously what a hand dipping into a jeans pocket meant, and realised I was about to have my gizzard slit.

I reached down quickly and grabbed the fake gun and before he could do anything I jammed it into his cheek and cocked it. He froze, as one does.

"Give me my fucking money and get out of my fucking car or I'll blow your fucking head off!" I roared.

He just sat there and I reached with my free hand inside the inner pocket of his jacket, where I'd seen him put my money, and took it out myself. I yelled at him again to get out and he slowly and carefully did so.

I squealed away in shock and horror, my right leg tattooing furiously on the accelerator as the nerves in it jumped uncontrollably about, forcing me to drive in fits and starts.

It was the last time I visited Bo-Kaap. When you arrive at the sign pointing the way ahead - you take it.

So I think I know how both that cop and the kid he pulled over in Denver must have felt during that exchange - been there, done that.

Got the grey hairs.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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