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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.

.

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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5 November 2015

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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3 November 2015

Compulsive

Black-Keys

there is no gelt

in this writing lark

no final reward

just a hunger

an insatiable need

to press the keys

and play the notes

that fill the page

typing done

I am alone

I work best alone

but I sleep best

with company

and it’s meant

to be that way

no virtual life for me

I love flesh and blood

for I was born

of flesh and blood

to go the way

that all flesh does

not prematurely

but after a long while

when I’ve perfected

my papers

and catalogued

my women

in alphabetical order

or numerical significance

according to rank

and ability

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1 November 2015

Buddha

Buddha_03blk

“You have to hustle,” that’s what Buddha says, “If you want to make a buck you can’t fuck about, no credit and no tasters. It’s cash on the barrel every time; cash is the only currency available. If your deals are straight down to the nearest fraction and the quality is high your reputation will flourish. A good reputation guarantees sales so remember to never be stingy with the deals and never punt anything you wouldn’t smoke yourself.”

Buddha’s been a speed freak most of his days. He’s a strict vegetarian and without blood and bones to fill his guts he’s outlived most of his contemporaries and never known a day’s illness in his life. Or so he says. His place is a mess; a sick fluorescent light stutters and strobes in and out creating jagged time in his bombed out kitchen. The sink is full of pots dishes encrusted with gastronomic anomalies like salmonella and botulism. It’s a regular doper’s scullery for weighing deals, cooking crack and smoking hot knives from the stove. Poor Buddha, he was once the golden boy – surely one of the chosen. He was that older kid who seemed wise to everything a young hipster should know. We were like brothers back in the day when we used to dex cough syrup together which he washed down with orange juice and I with El Dorado wine.

Disgusting though it is I’m in the kitchen because I have no time for fraternisation with the motley natives who festoon Buddha’s living room. Besides, I have a bottle of scotch which I will share with no man. I need the whole hit, the fire in my belly, the saturation of my soul. Music drifts in though the open kitchen window; a familiar melody from my youth and numb reverberations of times past have me untied for a moment until I recognise my surroundings. I’ve been here before – I’m in the Buddha’s kitchen and not fully compos mentis. I take a long slow drag and it feels warm and thick as it coils in my lungs and produces a dull throbbing in the brain pan.

“It’s simple.” Buddha says, “There’s no great mystery. No secret recipe. You breathe in – you breathe out, you breathe in – you breathe out. Everything is perfectly natural, but there is no explanation, so you can forget about that.”

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