Mano a Mano

A short film written and directed by Simon Downham-Knight

I wrote and directed Mano a Mano back in 2010. Like a lot of my work, its roots are planted firmly in reality and in this film’s case, it was something that happened to me in the late 1980s, when I was a teenager. I left home when I was sixteen years old, due to a breakdown in the family and without parental guidance, I ended up getting into all sorts of trouble.

In 1988, I moved into a house share in Seven Kings, Essex that was owned and managed by a local gangster. He asked me if I wanted to make some extra cash but I was doing a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) with London Underground and it took up all my time. He asked me if I could introduce him to some of my friends, who might be willing to get a casual post round job through a local employment agency. Make some extra money on top of the meagre wages that they paid. The scam was to feel the letters for anything that felt like it might contain a credit card and then pocket it and give the card to him. He would then give the kid twenty quid per card. A lot of the local community knew of the scam and he would sign the credit card and use it to buy something for someone and they would pay him half the ticket amount for the item. For example, if a washing machine cost three hundred pounds, he would make £125 out the deal. He was happy, the locals were happy, my friends were happy. The only people who weren’t happy were the people whose credit cards were going missing, but that was only temporary, as they always got their money back. The banks were the real people who were losing out and who really gives a shit about them? He was known in the area as a real Robin Hood, but I had heard rumours that he was a nasty piece of work capable of knee capping, or even strangling people.

Poster designed by Wayne Murray

Eventually one of my mates got nicked with a pocket full of credit cards and under the threat of a twelve year stretch for fraud, he grassed everyone up, unbeknownst to me. The gangster landlord turned up at the house that night with a locked briefcase that he asked me to look after for him, with a promise of £500 when he came and picked it up a few days later and I reluctantly agreed.

It was obvious what was in there. You only had to tip the case from side to side to know there was a large number of credit cards tattling around in there. Over the next few days, my friends were arrested one by one and they didn’t return to the area once they were released. I was terrified. My anxiety levels went through the roof every time I heard the doorbell ring. When I heard that my best friend had been arrested; I decided that I needed to get rid the briefcase. I obviously wasn’t thinking straight and I have often wondered what made me throw that briefcase in the river and watch it float away rather than hide it somewhere, away from me, and pick it up later, but hindsight is 20:20 vision as they say and I was only eighteen.

Not long after this, things calmed down and he came looking for his briefcase. Obviously, I didn’t have it any more, so I stalled him for a few days and then did a moonlight flit to Watford, where, hopefully, he wouldn’t find me.

It was in Watford, bored and starved of company that I met “Ken” the man the character in my film is based on. Out of the frying pan into the fire as they say. Ken had a nineteen year old girlfriend, with whom he had sired five children. You can work that one out for yourselves. They were called Dan, Danny, Daniel, Danielle and Daniella. Ken’s reasoning for this was that when, in the future, any one of them got into trouble with the law and they gave their name as “Dan Lewis” the police would not know which Dan Lewis they had arrested and be unable to charge them. My film plays out, largely, how I remember the day he told me about the “maddest thing he’d ever done”. I managed to get out of there, pretty much, unscathed, but his next victim wasn’t so lucky. In real life, “Ken” lived on the fourth floor of a low rise block of flats and a few weeks after my lucky escape, I walked past his flat and found bits of wood and broken glass scattered on the ground below his balcony. It turned out he had shoved a kid of around my age through the window and over his balcony, killing him. “Ken” was now up for murder and his girlfriend revealed her true feelings for him and the terror she felt about being his slave for years. She moved away soon after that, taking her children with her and changing their names. I never saw her or “Ken” again.

The original intention for the film was for the fight sequence to rival the fight sequence between “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Keith David in They Live in both length and intensity. Time and budget constraints meant the result was somewhat shorter, but I was ultimately very pleased with the result of this no budget short film.

Published by simonmandrake

A weekly dose of short stories, short films, web series, blogs and articles.

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