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.”
“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.
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.”
“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.
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, 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.