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 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;
“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.