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28 December 2015

Parcels from India

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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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