28 December 2015

Parcels from India

163902588

His sixth year at Stewart’s Melville College was merely a formality for Johnny. Most students were treading water until university or employment, but Johnny only showed up so that he could sell dope to his classmates. He had sorted out a job placement as copy boy at The Scotsman newspaper on North Bridge Street. He told his parents that he would be attending Edinburgh University after the summer break, but he had already decided to quit full time education and make his living as a drug dealer. In any event his summer job only lasted three weeks before he was sacked for tardiness; he had been late for work almost every morning and did not seem to care. He didn’t tell his parents, but allowed them to think that he was going to work each morning when in fact he was whiling away his days in the cafes, museums, art galleries and cinemas of Edinburgh.

Johnny thought his birth place magical. From Edinburgh Castle to the Port of Leith, the city was a hive of commercial and recreational activity. A million people visited Edinburgh every year drawn by the arts festivals and the beauty of the ancient metropolis. He loved the fact that so many of the half million population were originally from foreign shores, there was a real cosmopolitan vibe to the city.

On leaving home that summer Johnny got himself a flat above a grocers shop in Fountainbridge. The flat was selected from several alternatives because it offered a back entrance from Dunbar Street which made the flow of traffic to and from his flat less conspicuous.

Johnny had kept some of his customers from school and had, through word of mouth, acquired a few more. He dealt in quarters, halves and ounces – nothing smaller. He was shifting at least a nine bar a week to his regulars and was pulling in two hundred to two fifty weekly – depending on demand. Ideally he would have liked to sell more dope to fewer people so that he could buy more at a lower price and besides fewer customers meant less risk.

Johnny was doing okay but it was not until he met Mr Sharma that things really took off for him. Sharma owned a chain of properties and a couple grocer shops. He spent his days behind the counter of the busiest of these on Fountainbridge below Johnny’s flat. During the first few weeks in his new domicile Johnny built up quite a rapport with the old man. One day when Johnny, who was obviously wasted, visited the shop to buy some beer when Mr Sharma struck up a surprising conversation.

“You like smoke?” asked Sharma.

“Depends on what you mean,” said Johnny.

“You know what I mean - I mean hashish,” replied Sharma.

“Yes, I like it very much”

“How much you want?” said Sharma holding out a finger.

“A quarter.”

“A quarter finger?” Sharma was unimpressed.

“I see, no, the whole finger.” replied Johnny.

The old man disappeared for a moment and returned with around a quarter ounce of soft black Indian hash. This was no cheap repressed gold seal – this was the creamiest Manali. It was a sticky dark brown on the outside, but tore open to reveal a pungent sweet khaki green putty on the inside.

He had to get some more, if he could only get a decent supply of this high quality dope he could make himself a fortune. Soon Johnny and Sharma were to become the best of buddies.

The old man loved his scotch whisky and Johnny would bring him bottles of malt when he went to score. It first he could only buy in ounces because that is all Sharma’s visiting friends and relatives could smuggle through customs on their persons. Then they hit upon a scheme to smuggle pounds of the high grade hash into the country.

Sharma would let out one of his flats to a fictitious John Bullock. Parcels from India containing chopping boards and rolling pins full of sticky black hash would be sent to John Bullock at that address. Johnny would be there to receive the parcels on Mr Bullock’s behalf, but he’d leave the unopened parcel by the door for a month before he could reasonably assume that customs officers were not following it. Johnny would keep his flat in the meantime and deal from there. It seemed like a foolproof plan and things went well, for a time.

The demand for Johnny’s strong black hash was high and he couldn’t keep everyone supplied. So he decided to franchise the operation. He approached a few trusted customers and friends and laid out the basics of the ‘dead parcel’ scheme. They would all rent out rooms to fictitious characters just as he had. They would receive parcels but leave them unopened for one month. They would then bring the parcels to him and he’d pay them in dope or in cash for their trouble. Johnny was moving into the big time, now he was turning over pounds of hash in the place of ounces.

Soon Johnny’s parcel business had gone nationwide and he had dope arriving in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Manchester, London and a host of other places. It was difficult for him to keep pace with all those parcels, so he brought in a friend to give him a hand. Donald ‘Duck’ Dewar was one of his oldest friends and Johnny trusted him implicitly. He took care of the transfer of the parcels conveying them from one place to another. Often he would drive alone to the other end of the country to pick them up and ferry them back to Edinburgh.

It was on just such a job that he arrived in Euston Station in London looking for his contact Brian. He waited near the statue of Robert Stevenson – he was late and expected to see Brian waiting there for him. Brian was nowhere to be seen, but a stranger approached him and said;

“Donald?”

“Yes,”

“Brian couldn’t make it, so he sent me,” the stranger handed Donald a duffel bag.

“Is everything alright?” asked Donald, “is Brian okay?”

“He has the flu, that’s all. He said he’d call you in the next couple of days.”

Satisfied that everything was in order Donald drove home. It took him eight hours after which he was exhausted. He tossed the bag beneath his bed and crashed, falling asleep immediately. He was still in his clothes. He was dreaming that he was still driving along the motorway, looking for an off ramp when his car started to make an odd thumping sound. The sound got louder and louder until at last it woke him up. When he awaked he was surrounded by customs officers and policemen.

“Donald Michael Dewar you are charged with the possession of cannabis with the intent to supply. You do not have to say anything, but anything you do say may be used in evidence...”

There was eighteen pounds of hash and six thousand pounds in cash under Donald’s bed. He was in big trouble. There were other arrests that day; Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise had been following the parcels for weeks. The affair made the papers and was featured on the TV news. Johnny started to receive calls from distressed associates. They hadn’t been busted by mere cops, they had been busted by customs officers who tore their places apart and threatened them with smuggling and conspiracy charges.

Johnny had to pour oil over much troubled water in the next few days. He went to see each of the busted friends who could tie him to the parcels; he took Psycho Peter with him. He promised that he’d pay their legal fees and do anything he could to help them out if only they would keep his name out of it. The presence of Psycho Peter was an implicit threat, one that was never voiced, but was left hanging in the air.

Finally Johnny visited Donald who was out on police bail. This was a tricky situation, one that had to be handled with kid gloves. Psycho Peter was not at this meeting, he did not have to be, Donald knew Peter quite well and in a way he was in the room with them.

“I’m sorry for what happened Donald, but you should never have talked to a stranger in a situation like that. You should have walked away and phoned me,” said Johnny.

“It all seemed so normal. I made that trip a dozen times. I had no idea I was being followed,” replied Donald.

“You got careless,” said Johnny, “So did Brian, he opened the parcel to have a smoke and he named you Donald, they all named you.”

Donald’s face went ashen. He started to cry. Johnny sat down next to him and put his arm around him. Donald began to sob uncontrollably.

“You are going down no matter what happens Donald,” said Johnny, “but I’ll pay your legal fees and put ten grand in a bank account for you coming out. You’ll get six years max. I’ll keep an eye on your mother for you; I’ll see that she is safe and sound. You needn’t worry about her while you are away. You’ll have a job with me waiting for you too. All you have to do is keep schtum, don’t mention my name.”

So it was that Johnny walked away when his friends all got busted. Donald was branded a criminal mastermind by the prosecution and was given ten years by the judge. He nearly fainted when he heard the sentence. He scanned the courtroom looking for his friend, but Johnny was weathering the storm in Ibiza and did not return until all the trials were over. He had learned the final lesson on how to be a successful drug dealer – you have to be a total cunt sometimes in order to survive.

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19 December 2015

The Birth of Buddha

Fat Buddha

 

I stalked the lonely city streets into the wee small hours. The only faces I encountered were the working girls on Commercial Street. One of those girls knew me and offered a blow job for a half quarter – I reminded her that I dealt on a cash only basis – her business and mine were the same in that particular stipulation. I walked on and eventually found myself at Buddha’s place, but there seemed to be little succour there.

“There’s plenty more fish in the sea – all you have to do is cast your net.”

“I’m not attracted to fish Buddha, I just want her back.”

“I know you Johnny – next week you’ll have another lovely dangling from your arm and you’ll be swearing that she is the one.”

“No Buddha, this one was special; at least I thought she was.”

“They are all special John Boy they are all special ­– here drop a bomb and cheer yourself up.”

He dropped a little packet of speed rapped in a cigarette paper on the table in front of me. Speed was Buddha’s universal panacea and an answer to every ill. His attention was rapt on the benefits books before him – his was altering the details with a putty rubber and sheets of letterset. He bought the order books from local junkies at two grams a pop and doctored them so that he could cash them himself under assumed identities at various post offices throughout the city. It was a profitable piece of business. The junkies reported the books lost and were issued new ones and since the lost order books never turned up everyone was a winner except the Department of Health and Social Security.

It wasn’t long before Buddha’s speed bomb took effect and the dawn found me rabbiting ten to the dozen about my lost love and how badly I had fucked up. Buddha was very patient and let me ramble on for some time before he interrupted.

“Did you ever wonder why I’m called Buddha?”

“I always figured it was because you quote him so often” I replied.

“No, it’s a bit more complicated than that and it all starts with a woman. She was the love of my life – though I was only a boy really. Do you know Yvonne McClelland?”

“You mean Yo Yo?” I enquired, she was called Yo Yo because her knickers were allegedly up and down like a yo yo.

“I’m the one who gave her that name” replied Buddha.

“You and Yo Yo?” I exclaimed “I can’t picture that.”

“We were going steady for two years” explained Buddha, “It was serious shit. Thing is, all we ever did was fight. She was a pernicious little dwarf, but I couldn’t see it because I was so much in love. She had a best friend – his name was Toots. I knew in my heart that there was more than just friendship between her and Toots, but couldn’t bear to face the truth. Anyway, my suspicions all came out one day when we had a huge bust up and I accused her of sleeping with Toots behind my back. She denied this of course and to prove it brought Toots round so that they could lie through their teeth together.

They were pretty convincing liars, I understand that they still are. We made up and I apologised to them both. We cemented the reconciliation with a cup of tea and a joint. Toots made the tea and I remember how his hand trembled as he handed me my cup. He’d put sugar and too much milk in it – so I only took a couple of sips. They were off to a Run Rig concert and I stayed home. I never could stand that teuchter shit.

They were only gone ten minutes when it hit me in an almighty wave – a tsunami of psychedelic paralysis. It was so strong I couldn’t stand up – I just laid there on the floor with surges of emotional torment washing through my consciousness. I was tripping out of my skull. Those two weasels had spiked my tea with a massive dose of acid – thank God I only took a couple of sips – if that wee shite Toots had made a decent cuppa I don’t know where I’d be today, probably in on the locked ward of the loony bin!”

Buddha paused to light the joint he had been rolling and released a thick plume of fragrant smoke into the air; the familiar perfume of Marrakesh.

“It was Alan Watts that saved me,” he pronounced.

“Alan Watts?” I enquired.

“He was a priest who took to Zen Buddhism. I was reading his book ‘The Way of Zen’ when this took place. You see I was totally consumed by the power of the hallucinations that were crashing in to me in waves when I heard – or should I say felt – this voice coming from within. You know what it said?”

I shook my head in response as I accepted the joint from Buddha who immediately set about rolling another. I wasn’t at all sure I’d feel anything of the hash over the powerful high of the speed, but it was a pleasant smoke nonetheless.

“The voice was overwhelming and it said over and over; ‘You are the Buddha’ there was no room for anything but the voice and it guided me to my clear spot – the centre of my being. I began to chant along with the voice ‘I am the Buddha – I am the Buddha’ It cleared my mind and produced an enormous sense of well being. I was still sitting on the floor, chanting my head off, when Yo Yo returned in the morning hoping to help herself to my cash. She was too late I had been busy packing my bags and my cash away. I told her I forgave her and left – I have never spoken to the bitch again.

Thing is I had quite an acid hangover and for the next six months or so went around telling folks that I was the Buddha – I couldn’t help myself, I’d blurt it out at the most inopportune moments. Soon everybody was calling me Buddha – at first in a mocking way, but later it was just my name.

That experience has stayed with me Johnny. In breaking my heart and poisoning me with LSD Yo Yo did me a huge favour. I overcame adversity to find my true self. Alan Watts himself said that you have to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, instead you relax, and float. Well, I learned to swim that night and have been buoyant ever since. You see it’s all karma Johnny and what is for you won’t pass you by. Sometimes what seems like bad karma is actually good and vice versa; I am constantly surprised by the machinations of karma – nothing is ever quite what it seems.”

We talked all day; I did a fair bit of pacing in that time while Buddha sat impassively waiting to get a word in here and there. We discussed love, politics, religion, philosophy and football. Which were all the same thing – more or less – to Buddha.

“Everybody is looking for answers in all the wrong places. Religion, philosophy – even love will not furnish the meaning they seek in their lives. You won’t find the answer out there in the big wide world, or up there in the sky – you’ll find it within.”

It was four o clock and already growing dark when Buddha started to gather his gear for an outside excursion. He threw me a hold all and said;

“Time for a wee chore Johnny – want to chum me?”

Chore was Leith speak for stealing – a chore, a job of work. I nodded my assent, although I was a little reticent as I did not know exactly what we’d be choring. I was soon to find out. Buddha had a magic key which fitted every parking meter in Edinburgh. We simply went along making withdrawals from every meter we came across. We didn’t empty them we simply ‘skimmed’ them.

“You don’t take everything,” said Buddha, “You simply skim off the cream – that way no-one notices and suspicions lay dormant.”

By seven we were hefting great weights of coins in our holdalls and we decided to call it a night. Buddha said he’d take the coins to the bank in the morning and he’d give me my cut then. I said he need not cut me in, but he insisted.

We did twice as many meters as I usually do simply cause you were here to carry the extra coinage – besides you could get busted same as me if the busies happened along. Rule number one out here in the shady regions – make sure you get your cut – especially when there is the risk of prosecution involved.”

We made for the amusement arcade on Leith Walk to spend some of our pennies. I made for the shoot ‘em ups and Buddha went for the slots. I believe he left with more coins than he came in with. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had some scam for fruit machines too.

“Life is like playing the slots Johnny – everybody is out for the big score – but I just skim the cream off the top. I like to leave little ripples – not the big splash. You can’t control karma, but you can improve your odds by spreading those ripples real thin.”

I met a girl at the arcade. Her name was Elspeth and she was gorgeous. I got her number and called her the next day. Buddha was right – if you want to catch fish you have to cast your net...

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2 December 2015

Empire of Dreams

Dream_Wolves

surely the night will pass

with no words intoned

nor evocation spoken

for no power of man’s can hasten

the thin grey dawn that illuminates

the ghostly creatures that populate

the fading empire of your dreams

.

24 November 2015

Bonnie & Clyde

Shotgun_smoke_blk_wht

Angel took a dirty hit and was sick for days while Belle nursed him back to health. Belle reckoned it was Angel’s karma for sneaking a fiver bag of skag to himself, but Angel pointed out that if he had shared it they would both be sick, so he had actually done Belle a favour.

They reckoned Preacher was selling adulterated gear, but there was no point complaining to Preacher about it – his wrath was legendary. Preacher aka Big Henry was a six foot seven inch ogre with a countenance of pure malevolence, no one fucked with Preacher. His mother had hoped that Henry would enter the priesthood, but his first hit at the age of fifteen had put paid to that ambition. Still, Henry had memorised much of the scriptures in his youth and was in the habit of quoting from them whenever he deemed it appropriate – which was often enough to be irritating.

Angel and Belle were in deep shit again – routine business for a pair of dyed in the wool smack addicts. Buddha had laid them on a nine bar for a monkey so that they could get themselves back on their feet after a lean spell. They had sold the dope and naturally spent the proceeds on skag which meant they were deep in debt to Buddha. They had avoided him for some days and when he finally caught up with them he’d lost his customary serenity and was unequivocal about getting his dough back.

“You’ve abused my trust gentlemen and that has hurt my feelings as well as negatively impacting on my business. I really am disappointed in you both. I thought with us being compadres that you’d spare me all this hassle. You let me down and I’m royally pissed off. You better have my bread next week – I’ll be sending Bomber round to collect – one way or another.”

Bomber was a renowned heavy known for his signature trade mark of breaking the limbs of his victims; the boys were really up shit creek now. There was no way they could raise five hundred quid in a week. They had no income to speak of – besides the government’s kind donation of twenty eight a week unemployment money and whatever pennies they could chore along the way.

It was then that they hatched an inspired solution to their problems. They decided to rob Preacher; it would be just retribution for his selling kit of dubious quality. They knew when Henry signed on and his flat was guaranteed to be empty. He would be gone for over an hour which should give them time to break in­ – locate Preacher’s stash and his money – and vanish long before the evangelical dealer returned.

The door to Preacher’s ground floor flat was reinforced by a sheet of solid steel, but Belle reckoned he could squeeze in through the bathroom window before letting Angel in through the door. The plan went smoothly enough and the boys were ransacking the flat when disaster struck. Preacher returned early; he had forgotten to take his UB40 without which he could not sign on to receive his unemployment benefit.

There was a moment of sheer panic when the boys heard the key in the lock. Henry clocked them as they ran for the bathroom which was now their only means of escape. Belle made it through the window easily enough, but Angel could not fit and was stuck with his legs still inside. There was a deafening explosion as half the bathroom door disintegrated into splinters and Preacher, shotgun in hand, hollered like the voice of God himself.

“Come out of there you wee poofs, before I blast you to kingdom come!”

The door had absorbed most of the blast and Angel was unhurt, but Preacher kicked in what remained of the door and dragging him back into the flat started laying into the helpless Angel with ferocious intent.

“Vengeance is mine – I shall repay sayeth the Lord; act with hostility against Me, then I will act with hostility against you; and I, even I, will strike you seven times for your sins. I will also bring upon you a sword which will execute vengeance...”

Preacher had tired of beating Angel and sat in his chair with the shotgun pointed at his prone body when the police arrived to haul them both away. Preacher was an old lag and stood on his right to silence while he awaited his lawyer. Angel on the other hand sang like a bird.

“You see Henry was showing me the shotgun and it just went off. He was as surprised as me that it was loaded – I shit a brick I can tell you.”

The cops were unimpressed and clearly aware that Angel was blowing smoke up their collective arses. They interrogated him for some time asking the same questions again and again.

“What were you doing at Henry’s?”

“I went to discuss the scriptures. Henry is my spiritual advisor.”

“Why are you covered in bruises?”

“I was jumped on my way to Henry’s place. Three young neds attacked me because I’m queer. You should be after them homophobic fuckers instead of grilling me.”

They released Angel eventually, but Preacher was charged with illegal possession of an unlicensed firearm and held on remand. He might have been charged with assault with a deadly weapon, or even attempted murder had Angel told the truth. Preacher was grateful when he found out and resolved not to kill Angel after all. “He’s alright for a wee poof.”

Angel and Belle were no nearer solving their problem; they still owed Buddha five hundred bucks and time was running out before Bomber the bone crusher came to collect. Belle decided to fall back on an old dodge he had heard of in reform school. They scoped out the Dockers Club in Leith for a good dark place to hide while observing the club and its entrance. Belle gave the windows a great thump which set the alarm off and the boys ran to their vantage point and waited for the police who arrived twenty minutes later. The cops made a cursory reconnaissance of the club and went to wait in their car for the manager to arrive a few minutes later. They all went inside and looked around, but discovering nothing amiss they locked up and left. Ten minutes later Belle rattled the windows and set off the alarm again. The police and the manager were called out, but nothing was missing and there was no sign of an attempted entry. The fourth time Belle rattled the windows nothing happened, there was no alarm because, assuming that the alarm was faulty, the manager had switched it off. Now the boys could break in and help themselves to the riches secreted in the hallowed portals of Leith Dockers Club with little fear of detection.

They plundered the place methodically; between the cigarette machine, the slots and the strong box in the manager’s office they netted three hundred and twenty three pounds. It was enough to placate Buddha and buy them some more time – they did eventually pay Buddha off; but it was only a matter of time before they were in more difficulties with another dealer. Angel and Belle lived like that – day to day without a care for tomorrow. They were constantly at risk of a beating; sometimes simply because they were junkies, or because they were queer; but more often than not because they were involved in some dodgy deal that had gone awry.

They developed an adversarial relationship with the world. Their distinct personalities had blurred over the years into distillate twins. The more their habits grew the closer they became. Angel and Belle were almost a single entity and stood apart from the rest of the race in a junkie cabal of two. Theirs was an almost incestuous relationship which revolved around smack – where to find it and how to pay for it. They fancied themselves as a pair of outlaws perpetually on the run. They survived from one scrape to another while they waited on the one big score that would set them free. One day they’d get themselves straightened out – all they needed was an even break to see them on their way, but their options narrowed daily. Ultimately there was only one way their relationship could end and that was in death. Their big score, when it came, would be their final one.

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20 November 2015

The Word

Tablets-Of-Stone 

In the beginning was the word and the word was absolute, the word was final. Some who heard the word were shamed by its harshness and covered their ears when it was uttered; others embraced the word and took it to their hearts. They engraved the word onto tablets of stone and issued the proclamation that those who followed it were blessed and those who did not were damned.

Those who followed the word said that they drew strength from its rugged complexion. Those who rejected the word said that it was coercive and lacked nuance or true meaning. The followers of the word said that those who did not prostrate themselves before it were heretics and ought to be stoned. They said that the word had given their lives a purpose that no heretic could ever understand. Those who disagreed argued that it was man who gave meaning to words and that the true believers had missed the point of words entirely. The word had caused a schism amongst the people and down the centuries many wars were fought over its veracity.

In the end there were no people left to argue the difference – all had been swept away by the conflict that the word had brought and, as many had predicted, the word simply vanished because there were no ears left to hear it and there was no-one left to fight over it. The word had been a blessing and it had been a curse. If there was a lesson to be learned it surely had to be not to place so much importance on any given word, because words are merely our tools and should never be our masters.

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18 November 2015

Shout

Shout

These are dark days for the innocent, because innocence is being slaughtered daily. Whether by suicide bombers or unmanned drones it’s the non combatants who suffer most in times of war and there are always wars to suffer in. The aggressors don’t seem to mind; sometimes they kill to make a point – sometimes they are simply careless. If all the innocent dead could speak I wonder what they would say? I imagine they would shout and shout loudly to forsake the violence and find a better way.

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image by Misha Gordin ‘Shout’

17 November 2015

Droplets

Droplet

every drop of conscience

measured drip by drip

soon reaches saturation

in a reservoir of emotion

that’s filled to its capacity

and fit to burst its banks

soaking the mind in a deluge

of melancholy and anguish

I can only escape drowning

by occupying higher ground

with some trick of the attention

acquired through adversity

and oceans of experience

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16 November 2015

My Bloody Hands

My-Bloody-Hands_03

Damn the eyes that saw me

Damn the ears that heard

I’d wipe them from my mind

Just like I’d wipe away the guilt

But there is no pleading innocence

And there are no witnesses required

To testify to the infamous deeds

And the savage acts of betrayal

Perpetrated by these bloody hands

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15 November 2015

Shame

Shame

Your blows reigned down as hammers on my head, but they did not hurt me. It was the fact that you landed them that hurt me. As the last remnants of innocence were violently ripped away from my psyche, I puzzled over whether what you did to me was a manifestation of your love, or your hate? You were always such an angry ill tempered man. I tried my best to please you, but my every effort was met with derision. Your sarcastic barbs hurt even more than the beatings. I grew up wondering why you hated me so, in the end I hated myself. I hated the plump soft being that I was and wished I was someone else – anyone else but the failure that was me. That was your cruellest gift – my own self loathing, my sense of shame. I also felt ashamed on those occasions when you beat me – I often wondered if you felt shame too.

Would it surprise you to know that I grew up to be just like you? Lacking self control and lashing out at those I loved. I had to face that demon – the demon within. I don’t hit people now. I don’t carry that anger anymore. They tell me that I’ve broken the cycle of violence. Why couldn’t you break it? Why were you so weak that you beat up on women and little boys? I learned to break the cycle through shame when one day I did something so foul I could no longer live with myself.

I jeopardised the most precious thing in my life because I could not control my rage. That was the last time; there have been no others since. I was so ashamed I could have died from it – I could have ended my life with little regret, but for the pain I had caused others. I swore that day I would never raise my hands again and that I’d be a man of reason. I count to ten, then ten again if need be – I count until the anger subsides and I keep my mouth shut while I count. No dirty words will escape my lips – my mouth shall not shame me, much less my fists.

I find that with the passage of time it has grown easier to be a reasonable man. There is little that can cause me anger today. I’m ashamed of the man that I was and that shame has been a great teacher, but I’ll suffer it no more. I can at last hold my head high and say that I’m proud of who I am – a peaceful and loving man who is comfortable in his own skin and in balance with his world. I am the father you could have been, but never were to me. I hope that in your new life you have peace and prosperity and that you live to never again feel anger or to experience shame.

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14 November 2015

Wicked Deeds

AK-47_02

they say that wicked deeds cast long shadows

that just as blackness creeps to smother every day

so that same darkness reigns in the hearts of men

who take to words of war only to perish by the sword

that men who dwell in evil times and have evil thoughts

derive grim comfort from the suffering of their enemies

.

but I have seen that friendship casts the clearest light

that it is light which prevails to illuminate the day

and that which resides naturally in the hearts of men is love

for those who spread the word of love and live by its dictates

and all of those who dwell in the spirit of affection

derive great joy from the happiness of their brothers

.

each man believes in the justice of his own cause

for some this belief surpasses all understanding

to be the author of cruel and murderous deeds

is to reject the light and lessen their own humanity

to close the mind to love is to embrace cancerous hatred

which itself can only do harm through some human agency

.

I believe the good outweighs the bad in this world

that in acts of kindness we express our true humanity

all it takes is a little goodness to show us the error of violence

and that if you do harm to one – then you do harm to us all

we require open minds and hearts to perceive the possibility

that we who share this world are all brothers and sisters

and the courage of our convictions to then act accordingly

.

13 November 2015

Another Place

Lesley

I dreamed of you

and you were young

you had not aged

as I have done

when I awakened

you had gone

to another place

with a different sun

7 November 2015

Smack City

heroin

Best Pal

His name was John McAlpine, but was known to everyone as Best Pal because he addressed everyone as his ‘best pal’. He was a drinking man and had a cauliflower nose riddled with burst blood vessels. He was short but muscular with broad shoulders and shovels for hands. Best Pal had spent his adult life in the construction industry as a steel erector. He lost his head for heights one day when he sobered up enough to realise that he was a hundred feet off the ground standing on a three inch wide girder with no safety net. He was, he concluded, too old to be a steel monkey.

He landed a job as a cleaner in a pharmaceuticals factory in the Tynecastle area of Edinburgh. McFarlane Smith Pharmaceuticals Ltd was the only company in Europe licensed to produce diamorphine and they supplied pure medical grade heroin to most of the continent.

Best Pal was assigned to scrape the excess diamorphine powder from the machines every night and he was in the job a matter of days when he realised that here was in the process a small margin for error between the factory floor and the stores. The product was not weighed on the factory floor; production was merely estimated before the diamorphine was shipped to the stores for auditing there. Heroin could go missing between the shop floor and the stores and no-one would be any the wiser.

Always on the lookout for a fast buck Best Pal decided to smuggle heroin from the factory in his tobacco tin. The only trouble was that he did not know who to sell the pharmaceutical grade smack to. So he approached the only person he knew who might be interested. He went to Bobby Ferris a small time crook, but a big fish in the neighbourhood.

He found Bobby in the Americana Club in Fountainbridge on the site of the old meat market, from what he could see little had changed, it was still a meat market. The place was hoachin with brass in tight dresses and dandies in loose fitting trousers.

“What can I do you for Best Pal?”

“It’s what I can do for you Bobby.”

Best Pal handed Bobby a tobacco tin. It was full of white crystalline powder. Bobby closed it immediately and looked around furtively to see if he was being watched. He suspected some kind of setup, but relaxed after a beat.

“What is it?”

“Diamorphine – pure heroin.”

“Where did you get it?”

“I work in the place that makes it. There’s more where that came from.”

“How much?”

“As much as you want.”

“How much do you want for it?”

“I don’t know – how much is it worth?”

“I’ll give you £200 for every tinful.”

Best Pal seemed more than pleased at that. He had just sold over two ounces of pure Heroin for £200. To Bobby it was worth over £2,000; he could see that there was a fortune to be made from Best Pal’s pilfering.

“How often can you supply a tin?”

“Five days a week.”

“That’s a grand a week, if you go flashing that around...”

“I’ll be saving it for my retirement. I’m gonna open a new bank account with a bogus ID.”

Bobby was busy doing the maths – he would be pulling in thousands of pounds every week. Maybe he would be getting that E type Jaguar he had been dreaming about after all.

Bobby knew a couple of people who were in the heroin business. Edgar Allan, Poe to his friends, could handle some of the action as could Buddha who was a dealer in Bobby’s old neighbourhood. He knew he was sitting on a goldmine, but was reluctant to get involved in the smack business directly. He would leave that to others, but he’d take a percentage of the action.

He arranged for one of Psycho Peter’s guys to pick up the junk from Best Pal. He would weigh it, cut it with glucose and deliver it to Poe and Buddha. This meant that Psycho Peter would get a slice from Bobby’s end, but it was a small price to pay to maintain a safe distance from the whole sordid business.

This arrangement went on for months and the cabal of dealers was getting rich on the proceeds of Best Pal’s filching. He had by now graduated to smuggling heroin in his thermos flask and was now drawing at least a grand a day. Meanwhile, the cops were finding deals of high quality diamorphine all over Edinburgh. Despite having been stepped on the gear was remarkably pure. Junkies had been paying the usual prices for the smack and assuming it had been cut in the regular way they prepared their gear as normal. Addicts began to die and there was an outcry in the press, but no-one knew where the ‘China White’ as it was being called on the street, was coming from.

Angel

The junk helped dull the pain of his disappointments, which were many. At first he was smoking it and floating on the luxuriating pillow of light that enfolded him like a warm blanket. Soon he was hitting up for that soft warm spike to the brain that exploded in his senses like a million fragments of ecstasy.

Angel sat with his arm outstretched on the table; a neck tie tourniquet was loosely wrapped around his left arm. An empty syringe was balanced precariously in the fingertips of his right hand. His head tilted back in jaw sagging reverie, his snore awakened him from the abyss of black abstraction. He was as light as a feather floating on a warm breeze. Pure pleasure fanned through him in luxuriant velvet spirals. He felt the blood pump through his brain bringing solace and easy rapture. He could feel his soul sail toward the rain filled clouds and for a short while Angel felt no pain; but worries were never far away.

It had been in all the newspapers and all over TV, the gay plague – AIDS, had killed fifty people in Britain – mostly gay men. Edinburgh was apparently the ‘AIDs capital of Europe’ due to all the junkies who were sharing needles. Angel had paid slight attention to the AIDs scare as long as it was in America, but now that it was closer to home he grew concerned. What if he were to catch it? What if he already had it? They could test for it now and Angel was to be one of the first to volunteer, he tested negative, much to his relief. He urged Belle to get tested too.

“I don’t see the point – if you’re clear then I’m clear.”

“That’s not necessarily true Belle – you could still have it.”

“Why would I want to know if I did? It’s incurable for Christ’s sake. What good would knowing do?”

“They only just found out what it is. Now they can develop treatments for it, maybe even a cure.”

“When they have a cure for it I’ll take the test, until then nobody is going to tell me how to live my life!”

The last was a shot aimed at Angel who had insisted they start using condoms. Belle took the condoms as a personal slight. It was as if Angel was accusing him of being a health risk, of being diseased.

“You won’t catch me wearing one and you won’t be coming near me with one of those things on either,” exclaimed Belle. “They ruin everything that’s good about sex; kill the spontaneity, the passion. Condoms are for straight people. Even the Pope hates them!”

“It’s not like the Pope approves of us either,” laughed Angel. “It’s just a precaution – any one of those strangers you bring back could have it – there’s no way of telling. I don’t want to do that anymore, no more strange guys in our bed - it’s dangerous.”

On the face of it they had little in common. Angel liked football – Belle despised all sport. Angel liked rock music – Belle liked dance music. Angel loved art and found it hard to believe that Belle had lived in the city all his life and never once visited the National Gallery. Belle liked TV soap operas and could not understand Angel’s distain of Coronation Street.

They hated each other’s friends. Angel found many of Belle’s friends to be too affected and cringed inwardly when Belle would camp it up with them. Belle thought straight people were boring. Angel thought Belle had a gay agenda and if something wasn’t gay Belle wasn’t interested. It seemed that their only common interests were sex and drugs. It seemed to be enough to keep them together. The truth was they were bound together through inertia. They had formed a comfortable, if unspoken, compact that neither would rock the boat too much.

“He’s so non-scene it hurts the eyes.”

“He’s terribly butch for such a twinkle toes.”

“Does he command in the bedroom darling?”

“Yes, he’s mucho macho.”

“Macho, macho man, I’ve got to be a macho man...”

Belle was entertaining his friends Pasha and Nicky. They were roasting Angel who was trying hard to ignore them. He’d put David Bowie’s Hunky Dory on the record player and had it cranked up when Mick Ronson let it rip on Queen Bitch. The three friends had to shout above Bowie singing, “She’s so swishy in her satin and tat, in her frock coat and bipporty – bopperty hat...”

When the rather quieter Bewlay Brothers began Belle went over to drape his arm over Angel’s shoulder and said, “We’re going to the Blue Moon – want to come?”

“No,” replied Angel, “Drew’s coming over – we’re gonna watch the football.”

“Football’s boring.”

“It’s the finals of the European Championship; France versus Spain. I don’t want to miss it; I’ve seen every game in the tournament so far.”

“Don’t I know it,” said the forbearing Belle.

“He’s straight I tell you,” interjected Pasha, “He may be knobbing you, but he’s straight. You’re either one or the other, none of this in-between nonsense; he’s as straight as a die.”

Angel wished they’d just leave before Drew arrived. He didn’t want them embarrassing his friend. But letting them know he wanted them to leave would be a tactical error, they were bound to stay if they realised how desperate he was to see them go. He need not have worried; Belle was as keen for his friends to avoid the ascorbic Drew as Angel was. Belle resented Angel’s straight friends – especially Drew. The strength of his relationship with Angel made Belle jealous; he was as embarrassed by Angel’s straight friends as Angel was by his gay ones.

Drew passed Belle, Pasha and Nicky on the stairs, “Good evening ladies.” He could not help himself, he was always sending up Belle and his friends. Belle called Drew Angel’s pet hippy; Drew called him Tinkerbell. There was a mutual antagonism that held a fragile truce for Angel’s sake, but the two were always making sly digs at each other. Belle lacked Drew’s dry wit, but made up for it in pure bitchiness.

The game was over; France had won 2 – 0. The boys settled into the business of getting royally ripped. Joints were rolled and beer was drunk as they talked about football and listened to The Smiths and REM. It was late when Belle arrived home with company - a young blonde boy who looked totally lost.

“I brought you a present!” beamed Belle.

Angel was bright red with embarrassment, but felt the delicious frisson of desire coiling in his lap. It was Drew who broke the awkward silence: “I’m off home then – see you later Angel, bye Tinkerbell,” Belle fizzed at Drew’s parting remark but said nothing.

Later, his face sagged and his pupils were pinpricks in glassy vacant marbles as he sat at the kitchen table with a syringe full of heroin. Angel was very particular about his works – he did not share his rig with anyone and only ever used a Becton and Dickson, 29g ‘Ultra-Fine’ syringe. He liked the longer needle so that he could fish around for those elusive deep veins. Angel was adept at giving hits to others too - Belle said it was like being “kissed by an Angel.”

The solution was plunger drawn into the syringe and shone aqueous amber through the glass. Plunger driven, the alchemic brew, liquid gold, flowed through his veins to his heart and spread like a warm fuzzy blanket through his body. His head floated in a dance of slow symmetry, all was right, all was good. He untied the tourniquet and loosed the great weight; it slumped at his feet and slumbered. He was light in the head and in the heart. All over the city junkies were getting wasted on Bobby’s gear – some of them might not live to see daybreak. Six had already died and it was only a matter of time before a seventh popped their clogs. The police were still baffled as to where this purer form of heroin was coming from, but a special task force was being set up to investigate the matter.

Shady

The arrangement fared well for a long time. Bobby, Poe, Buddha and Psycho Peter were growing rich – as was Best Pal, but on a smaller scale. However, all that was about to change. The police paid a visit to McFarlane Smith and were assured that every gram of their heroin was accounted for and that they were meticulous in their security precautions. Best Pal heard that the busies were wandering around the factory floor and began to panic. He was concerned that the diamorphine room might be under surveillance. His solution to the problem was to scrape up some powder from the morphine room and smuggle that out instead – after all it’s practically the same thing. On the surface the morphine was identical to the heroin, but it wasn’t long before the customers started to complain. Morphine does not have the same rush as heroin and it makes you itch. An exasperated Bobby ordered his distributors to bring it all back while sorted things out with his supplier. He ended up in possession of nearly two kilos of useless morphine. When he was informed of the situation Buddha hit the roof, he was a long time dealer who offered Bobby some sagacious advice;

“You never take it back Bobby. The deals flow downwards, never up. In a few days time those junkie bastards will be queuing up to buy morphine – put it back on the streets and wait. I’m keeping mine and I’ll sell it too – you’ll see”

Nevertheless, Bobby found himself in possession of a large quantity of morphine. He could not bring himself to flush it down the toilet – it was worth a small fortune. So Bobby, Poe and Psycho Peter found themselves in the flat of a small time dealer called Shady Jim wrapping a big bag of morphine with duct tape; in the end it was about the size of a volley ball. They left the package with Jim and told him to stash it somewhere safe. Shady then gave the package to Angel and issued the same instructions. Angel was too paranoid to take the ball of tape home with him – so he put it in a carrier bag and left it with a maiden aunt.

“It’s present for my mum, for when she gets back from Canada.” he explained, “Can I just leave it here for safe keeping?”

His aunty acquiesced to his request, but she was more than a little suspicious. She was so suspicious that she took the package to her neighbour who was a special constable in the Lothian and Borders police force. He agreed that the package looked suspect and since her nephew had a history of drug abuse he suggested that they take it to the cop shop. At the station they unravelled the tape carefully, noticing that there were clearly visible finger prints all over it. They found the bag of morphine at the centre of the puzzle and sent it to the lab. The results came back as morphine – fifty six percent pure. This was the breakthrough the drug squad were looking for. The whole gang – but for Buddha – were busted bang to rights on fingerprint evidence while Best Pal was caught with a thermos full of smack in a stop and search at the factory gates.

Bobby

Bobby, Poe and Psycho Peter got six years each. Shady Jim got three years just because his prints were on the package. Best Pal turned Queen’s evidence and testified that Bobby had coerced him into sealing the heroin; he was relocated on the witness protection scheme and drank himself to death soon afterwards. Angel got a two year suspended sentence because he had played such a minor role and had no previous convictions. It was while he was in jail that Bobby heard that his estranged daughter Sandra was not only hooked on his skag, but she’d contracted AIDs. She died before he got out. He took it hard and always blamed himself for her death – the heroin trade had made him wealthy for a time, but robbed him savagely in the long run.

“I believe in karma,” said Buddha later, “you get what you give – good or bad. One of the ways karma works is that it finds out what you are most afraid of and makes it happen. But karma isn’t only about troubles, but surmounting them. I was just lucky none of the other three turned Queen’s evidence on me – or I’d have been in Perth prison with them. I’d never make it in there – going to prison is like dying with your eyes open.”

Karma was to bite Bobby’s arse one more time on his release from prison. After he got out the fortune he had amassed was confiscated under the Proceeds of Crime Act. This included his £350,000 home and his prized E –Type Jaguar. Many speculated that he had managed to secrete away a small fortune that the authorities were not aware of, many more said he got what he deserved and was a dirty heroin dealer who should still be inside. I’m sure that wherever he is now Bobby landed on his feet and is making a go of things. He was a born criminal, but he was perhaps as honest as his circumstances would allow.

.

Robin Hood

Spike

His name was Graham Hood, so naturally we all called him Robin. He hated the moniker, but he was stuck with it – many people thought it was his real name. Buddha was to blame; he was the first to daub him ‘Robin Hood’ as a joke – he once referred to me as Little John, but wilted under my baleful glare. The appellation never surfaced again and I was relieved, the wrong nickname can be a death sentence for your credibility and I often pondered what part his name played in Robin’s fall from grace. It must be hell to be referred to constantly by an alias that you hate.

Robin was the grand zombie and prince of thieves. His habit was tattooed into his flesh with a million track marks – there wasn’t a vein in his body he hadn’t tapped out. The monkey on his back was toothless with age and so was Robin; his teeth had long gone the way of his scruples. Robin’s idea of wealth redistribution was to rob the poor to pay his dealer. He was always on the lookout for a fast buck; which is why he once tried to rob a bank – with his usual half arsed aplomb.

He was sick, real sick, after three days without a hit. We could see that he was in trouble which is why we were playing him at pool for pints and letting him win. We didn’t know that he had been down to the bank where he had taped an ‘out of order’ message over the night depository with the instruction to post the cash through the bank’s letter box. He had also taped a plastic bag to the inside of the letter box and stuffed it inside. He intended to return to the scene to fish out what money he could once all the local businesses had closed for the day.

It was a stroke of genius by Robin’s standards and he might have gotten away with it had a wary shop keeper not phoned plod with his suspicions. The fact that Robin was late and miraculously drunk when he finally got to the bank did not help. He was just about to extract the bag from the letter box when Sergeant Holden stepped out of the shadows.

“Hold it son, don’t touch the bag!” He was doing Robin a huge favour. If he had laid his hands on the cash he would have been done with robbery – instead of attempted robbery. As it was a cruel judge fetched Robin three years in Saughton jail for his efforts. His life truly hit the skids after that. He could be seen panhandling for change in the High Street most days and the rumour was the he had become quite an accomplished cat burglar by night. It’s good to see that the government’s re-education and rehabilitation services had an impact on Robin’s life.

I sometimes wonder what became of Robin. I lost touch with many of my old compadres when I left the city. He was in so deep that I don’t suppose he ever got out of the life. I imagine that he overdid one day – his last hit proving as fatal as his first.

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6 November 2015

Pimp

Wad_of_money

“The wee small hours have nearly faded away John Boy and it’s been one hell of a night. It did me good to visit our old stomping grounds and see so many familiar faces. There’s no friend like an old friend Johnny and we go back a long way don’t we? So welcome to my pad – please treat it as your own. You want a girl? I’ll fetch you a girl – anything you want buddy is yours for the asking. How about some champagne? Or some charley? Or maybe a wee drop blow? I can make a couple of calls and get you anything you want. Remember, the hospitality of the house is at your disposal and anything you want is gratis – it’s only the best for my old mucker. You’re one of the family after all.

What do you think of the place then? Is this the sweetest deal or what? You need to be part of this – it’s a gold mine. All the roads around here lead towards the red light district and here we are at the epicentre – ground zero of the promiscuous explosion. This is the best whorehouse in town and people come from miles around to spend their money here.

Those cheapskate curb crawlers and knee tremblers are not our target customers; they’ll pick up any shady piece of brass in the street for a disease riddled quickie down some dark alley and think nothing of it – hardly a quality experience is it?. We like to minimise the risk and ramp up the pleasure here – you pay a little more, but you get a lot more. You get comfortable and safe surroundings for a start; we run a hygienic establishment here, and have never had any complaints about our standards.

It’s the company that sometimes attracts the complaints; some of our neighbours don’t like the transformers, some don’t like the twinks, some don’t like the girls, while others just despise the punters. I myself don’t like the junkies - thieving toe rags the lot of them. We like to discourage folk from hanging around outside – it creates a bad impression. I love this place Johnny – it has an air of immorality that appeals to my bohemian nature and there is gravy to be made here – lots of gravy.

This was a bit of a dive when I first started, but things were running smoothly enough. I was making a few bob and everything was cushty, until I fucked it up. They used to call them sins of the flesh, but that’s a vague term; I prefer fornication. My seed, according to my erstwhile benefactor, was spilled on sacred ground – his daughter being the ground in question. She was up the duff and he demanded satisfaction in the matter, but I don’t swing that way. I know it was his kid and he had a right to be upset, but we were consenting adults sharing each other’s bodies and that was nothing to do with him. His whole shotgun approach was a bit heavy handed. He insisted I would marry the bint or lose my position as head nonce in his knocking shop. I felt threatened when he said that – I was coining in some decent graft in my post as head clerk. I had planned on building a little nest egg to secure my future, but I couldn’t marry the cow and I couldn’t stand to lose the job, so I came up with a third option.

I stalked my prey carefully for a few gut churning days before deciding when and where to do the deed. I figured I would break into his office and stage a bungled robbery first thing on Friday morning when he brought the wages in. Meanwhile, I played along with the old bastard’s plans and as far as he was concerned I would marry his bovine bow legged daughter at the soonest possible convenience.

My patron was punctual as usual and I think the sheer shock of what awaited him in the office might have finished the old bugger off, but I’d swung my heavy club before he had time to utter a single word or let loose with a scream. The first blow cracked open his skull like an egg, but I didn’t stop there. The police report said that the victim endured a ferocious and sustained assault from a weapon as yet unidentified. Now there’s a phrase I won’t forget in a hurry; ‘ferocious and sustained’. There was blood and brains everywhere – I nearly chucked my breakfast. At that moment I genuinely felt sorry I had done it. I could have gotten another job – some sweet deal somewhere up the west end maybe, but I knew in my heart that this was my last chance to score big before I grew too old. I took no pleasure in my actions, but it was done of necessity and if I had to I’d do it again.

My former benefactor out of the way the first thing I did was to drop the daughter post-haste. As it turned out she and her mother were just as relieved as I was that the wedding was cancelled; she never wanted to marry a man who was so much older than herself. She kept the baby, but I’ve to remain out of the picture; which suits me. I bung her a couple of quid from time to time – I’m not a complete bastard. What? It’s a boy mate – little Francis – does something for me knowing there’s a wee me running around out there. I was made up when she dropped it by the way, totally made up.

Anyway, with the old man having been murdered in a botched robbery his widow took ownership of the property which was too dilapidated to sell on. She was not interested in the business – I doubt she’d ever set foot in the building. So she just left it all to me to manage; at last I got to run the place the way I wanted.

We now cater to the lecherous and perverted at large in this city of licentious excess. We can service every taste; you name it and we have the personnel and the equipment right here on the premises to fulfil your needs. I had the dining room transformed into a ballroom where we hold orgiastic parties day and night. We charge admittance just to enter that room, and that’s before the punter even chooses a whore. Previously, we were just a hotel that rented rooms by the hour to anyone who asked and so the place was haunted by junkies, rent boys and scrubbers. There was a lot of money changing hands, but we weren’t seeing much of it. Nowadays we peddle flesh not beds and we get the lion’s share of all the action – straight down the line.

We went from hotel to brothel practically overnight and I had to grease a few palms during the transition, but now we are established and the dough is rolling in I don’t care if I have to bung the rozzers a little sugar now and then; in fact it’s good for business. We’ve never been busted because we keep them sweet. Occasionally a couple of busies drop in looking for a few free drinks – others come to sample the flesh on offer – all on the house of course. We can put up with that in the interests of good community policing.

I never touch the goods myself. It’s constantly there in my face I know, but it’s not for me. I never paid for pussy in my life and I don’t take freebies from the girls either – that would be the same thing as paying. I don’t fuck whores, I prefer to go non trade, but I’m only attracted to the flesh that’s available; some might say that I’m a pragmatic man – others that I’m lazy, but I’m past chasing after skirt that’s unavailable. My endocrine system is the final arbiter of my romantic entanglements. I’ve learned to lay my trust in the body – the body knows instinctively what it’s due – nowadays I know what is for me and what isn’t by scent alone. I’m not joking – can tell from ten paces if she wants it or not.

Jesus, we go back a long ways don’t we? We did our first stretch together back in Saughton jail when we were still wet behind the ears, but they soon made men of us. I came out of prison with a first class education in criminal enterprise. There wasn’t a scam going that I wasn’t wise to, but there’ll be no more of that kind of graft for us boy. You can come and work for me here and I’ll teach you the oldest profession there is – pimping. I’ll start you off as night manager; you’ll keep an eye on the place in the early hours. You’ll make money don’t worry – there is always some action over and above the wage packet. You’re a smart cookie – you’ll make out fine. Look at me; my little nest egg is already bursting at the seams.

Do you read at all? I read a lot – it exercises the mind and you learn a bit too. There are books on every conceivable subject in my office; help yourself to them they’re yours. You know you missed a lot when you were dubbed up inside. Everyone is hooked up to the internet now – with their computers, we even take bookings online. It seems that these days every crook I know has a side line on the internet, most of them are peddling second hand goods that their kids liberated from the scheme. You can nick a mountain bike in the morning and by the afternoon it’s sold and on its way to Timbuktu – well beyond the reach of plod. Fascinating stuff the internet, if I was starting out now I’d get myself into computers, but I’m an old dog to be learning new tricks and besides I’d rather be where I am now and raking it in.

Stick with me Johnny and you’ll be rolling in it too. It’s an honest trade – there’s no twisting arms and none of my whores are strung out – I’d be showing them the door otherwise. Think it over – you could do a lot worse – after all we are all whores old son and we all have a price. Mine was having a place of my own and I was willing to swing for the chance at it. I may have sold my soul, but it was a stroke of luck the day I set foot in here. I believe in luck and the occasional tiny miracle, but I put my faith in planning above all. You have to think ahead in this life – you need to have a plan, even if it’s as basic as clubbing your way to the top the way I did.”

Toxic

Arsenic_01

There was arsenic in his voice, boozy and bitter with recrimination, dark and foreboding as a winter storm. He was hostage to his fate; tied down by mewling brats and locked into the mundane drama of domestic life. His only succour was the drink that made him mean and the memories that only fuelled his dissatisfaction. He was something of a philosopher when drunk – but his homilies smelled of meat and murder, and his declarations were as brutal as his hands. His facts were plain as his daily bread – his fictions as transparent as his liquor. He seemed to sup from that poisoned cup that eats at a man’s insides. He spewed forth a venomous mixture of sarcasm and bile that burned the ears and shamed the listener. I can honestly say I never knew him, I never saw beyond the disguise, he was an enigma to me and a puzzle to my heart.

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5 November 2015

Fossils

Fossil_02

I assembled a menagerie of brightly polished fossils from my collection, each perfectly honed to provide the kind of keen edge a man could shred his soul on. I fastened them to a blackened bough of oak and fashioned a great club festooned with ragged edges. It was a powerful weapon – a primordial weapon. It was unconventional, but it would do the job. Looking back I realise there was perhaps an element of animism in my choice of instrument – maybe I was thinking that some arcane power trapped in those long dead fossilised animals could be harnessed to an act of savage aggression. It’s conceivable that I was hoping for a little magical assistance on the day – I’d never killed before and I suppose I was looking for any advantage I could muster. To tell the truth I don’t think I was thinking too clearly at all, I was in a black and murderous place. He and I were the same – fossilised men from the age of Cain. I took no pleasure in the deed, but it was done of necessity and if I had to I’d do it again.

.

Blades

Scalpels_blk

That’s a finely honed edge – diamond cut. Ideal for dissection or vivisection these blades come with a lifetime guarantee – your lifetime that is. You’ll never buy a better set of knives. These are no Jack the Ripper slasher tools – these are a set of precision instruments cast in the finest Sheffield steel by craftsmen with pedigree. Whether your work is surgical excision or exploratory investigation these will cut like laser beams time after time.

Never again will you wish you had your fingers on the appropriate instruments for your more intricate work; you’ll feel these are a part of your hands. They practically guide themselves through soft tissue and even the toughest sinew. These blades are weapons in the arsenal of reason – inductive and heuristic tools of discovery that are as at home testing ad hoc hypotheses as they are in the surgery loping off limbs.

Furthermore, if it should ever come to pass that you intend to utilise one of these scalpels in the foreshortening of your own life – let us assure you that due to the extraordinary keenness of the cutting edge you will nary feel a thing. I think we can guarantee you a gentleman’s death in any circumstance, should such a need ever arise.

.

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4 November 2015

Astral Voyager

Meth_Lines

We were at Danny’s place listening to records and relaxing with some good ganja. It was chilly in his drafty flat, but the grass and lashings of hot tea kept our minds off the cold. Danny was at least ten years my senior – which seems like a lifetime when you are only nineteen. Despite the age difference we apparently had much in common, like literature, music and of course drugs – we were both very keen on drugs. It was deeper than a hobby with us – it was more of a vocation.

To tell the truth Danny was a much heavier user than I was; he had a long standing junk habit which meant he had to have hits at regular intervals or he’d get sick. I was never into skag; I was afraid of it. I could never have lived the life of a junkie; I hated needles for one thing and couldn’t deal with deprivation for another. I respected Danny, but I could never live in the frugal manner he did. Of course I attributed his thrift to the heroin; I did not realise at the time that he was also supporting an estranged wife and two kids. Many people had warned me to beware of Danny simply because he was an addict – but he was always straight with me and everybody else as far as I could tell.

We were listening to Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, Danny’s choice not mine, and I was standing at the window watching the snow fall when the phone rang. Danny answered it and turned to me. “It’s Buddha”, he said, “he’s been looking for you,” and he held out the phone.

“Get your arse up here post-haste John boy – I have a surprise for you.” Buddha sounded excited, but I hated it when he called me ‘John boy’ I was a good three or four inches taller than him and only two years his junior.

“What is it?” I asked – knowing full well he would not tell me. He loved to be mysterious did Buddha. “It wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you now would it?” he replied.

“This better not be a wind up”, I warned him, “It’s brass monkeys out there.”

“Just get your arse up here and bring Danny – you won’t be sorry I promise”

We took the lucky thirteen bus into town. The snow was still falling as we trudged up to Buddha’s pad. We found him highly animated and speaking at ten to the dozen.

“Come in boys – take the weight off. Would you like a cuppa, a glass of wine, a wee dram?” He was buzzing around his flat rearranging his soft furnishings and checking his reflection in the mirror, he was always a little vain was Buddha. “I suppose you are wondering why I sent for you?” he beamed. We both rolled our eyes but nodded in assent.

“Well, follow me lads,” and he led us into the kitchen where we found a mountain of white powder waiting for us on the worktop.

This,” said Buddha sorting out three large lines from the mound of white stuff “is pure methamphetamine sulphate – crystal meth to the uninformed; snort it and watch the diamonds roll from your eyes.”

So we did and it was good, it was very good. With the initial rush my blood engorged veins glowed electrically with a million watts of creamy power. It was prolonged and orgasmic, so strong I that I felt nauseous and only just held down my lunch as cold beads of sweat erupted from my forehead. Then I felt a great euphoric wave envelop me and I was expanding and unfolding into the universe over and over again. I was as light as a feather now that the weight of life was lifted from my shoulders; you could have dropped me in the ocean and I wouldn’t have left a ripple.

“So d’ya dig it?” asked Buddha, “I knew you’d be surprised. I can get unlimited quantities of this shit. I know the guy who runs the lab somewhere in Perth. I can lay it on you, any quantity you like, starting at eighty an ounce. You’re getting it pure because you are mates, but you can step all over it and still sell it on at a tenner a gram – it’s a license to print money.”

It was too good an arrangement to turn down, so Danny and I opted for four ounces each just to test the market. Little did we know that we’d be snorting a hell of a lot of this stuff ourselves in the months ahead. Nor did we realise what a problem that it would become – especially for Danny who was already strung out on smack. We toasted our new enterprise with another line and agreed that it was indeed auspicious karma that we had landed such a sweet deal.

“This stuff is ambrosia,“ said Buddha, “the crème de la crème. They’ll be beating down our doors to get to it. We’re gonna be rich gentlemen – we’ll be rolling in it.”

We glided out of Buddha’s place and onto the snow white streets a couple of hours later, it was already growing dark. We were immaculately high and did not even feel the cold. Our bus was late and we figured it might not arrive at all with the snow lying so thickly. So we decided to walk home, but stopped at Moscardini’s cafe for a cup of tea and another furtive line on the way.

We were wrapped in conversation all the way back; we just could not stop talking. We were so engrossed we didn’t see the police car drawing up beside us until an officer called out, “Hold it a minute boys.” My heart was in my mouth as the copper got out of the car and crunched through the snow towards us. He enquired where we were destined and we indicated we were on our way home. He asked our names and addresses and I gave him mine, but Danny hesitated a beat before answering.

“Astral Voyager,” he said.

“What was that?” asked the bemused cop.

“Astral Voyager,” repeated Danny, “It’s my name.”

My heart sank. This was no time to be playing jokes with the police. I had four ounces of pure methedrine in my pocket. I thought we were headed for the cop shop and a search which could only conclude in a bust. The copper turned and spoke to his oppo in the squad car who ran a radio check for Astral Voyager at 138b Leith Walk. It came back positive – there was indeed an Astral Voyager residing at that address. Evidently satisfied the cops drove away and we began to laugh the way only immortals can. Danny explained he’d changed his name by deed poll back in his Hare Krishna days and that he had never officially reverted back when he left the temple.

“You lived in a temple?”

“Sure, for three years almost.”

“I never knew that.”

“No reason why you should.”

I was beginning to realise I really knew very little about Danny, or should I say Astral Voyager. He was now a proper man of mystery in my eyes. I knew he was a sound geezer and a good laugh and I knew he liked Todd Rundgren and drugs, but I never knew he had lived in a temple. I didn’t know he was a skilled welder either until I bumped into him on a construction site one day. There’s the cliché about junkies; that they are all liars and cheats, but I never heard of anybody being ripped off by Danny. It was always a point of principle with him that he worked for a living and paid his own way. There was nothing tragic about this man; he was a born survivor and a decent human being.

I lost touch with Danny when I moved away, but I bumped into him again about twenty years later. He told me he was straight now and that he had remarried and was living in one of those fancy houses in the New Town. He asked about Buddha and we reminisced about how fucked up we both were with that speed and how fried our brains got through malnutrition and sleep deprivation. Of course Buddha was still tweaking – he couldn’t function without amphetamines; we marvelled at the man’s stamina but agreed that meth was too much like hard work to be considered fun.

We had a good long conversation and we agreed to meet up again soon, but we never did. Someone told me later that he contracted some virulent form of cancer that felled him quite suddenly. When I heard I felt my world shrink a little and my mind went back to that day in the snow. I hope Danny’s beliefs were a comfort to him in the end and that the gods were kind to him when his time finally came.

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