This Charming Madman
Having located likeminded suicidals in my own area, I now had no excuse not to be scoring at every opportunity. I honoured this obligation. Faith’s was a popular haunt for anyone who needed a place to smoke. If you’d scored at the Shepherd’s Bush end of Uxbridge Road, as so many did, it was no more than a short stroll. Even if Faith was out, or entertaining in the bathroom, there’d always be someone to let you in.
One night I turned up about one. Faith was in the bathroom. On hearing activity in the hallway, she poked a gummy head round the door, but my arrival failed to excite. I was surprised at this, until I realised she had company in there, a bloke, who obviously had what she needed, i.e. enough crack to keep their dalliance alive for, what, half an hour? It was probably a classic crack-cock alliance. He was crack-high, in sex-fiend mode, and wanted to know that Caesar-like power of having a woman kneel before him, sexually supplicate herself in the classic style, her gaping mouth plugged, both open and shut, like a silent gasp.
Analysis of such encounters always throws up a grimly pared-down example of the eternal tussle between supply and demand. Each has what the other wants. He wants his cock sucked, and is offering crack as an enticement. She wants crack, and her words imply she’ll do anything for it. But he won’t cough up until he’s got what he wants. She won’t give him what he wants until he’s coughed up. ‘Come on, gissa blowjob,’ implores the emperor. ‘I will,’ she promises, ‘but gissa pipe first…then I’ll be nice’n’horny for you.’ Stalemate. It’s just a case of who breaks first, like a mini Cuban missile crisis. You’re left hoping that somehow, in the end, it just blows over.
The guy who opened the door to me seemed quite calm and sane, even cordial and charming, in a slightly balking way. We chatted in the hall for a while, then he led me into the bedroom, where the withered Gerald languished on a bed like an aborted experiment. Jacob, that being the name of my new guardian, offered me a pipe, which I eagerly and greedily sucked up. That was that. I was now the arrogant yet impotent letch that the hapless me was apparently so keen to become. I could hear female voices in the front-room. The crack had kick-started the usual lasciviousness in me, but Jacob, employing his inimitable brand of gutter-suave, assured me there’d be plenty of time for that later, and plied me with another pipe. I had it, appreciated it, and was now his plaything. ‘So what was it you were looking for, friend?’ he enquired with consummate self-interest. ‘Well, I was just looking to get, what, forty?’ I replied, throwing out a random number and hoping it made sense to him. I was drug-hungry and gullible, scoring through go-betweens who’d then dish it out like fish at the feeding of the five thousand, i.e. messianically, and in small bits, and not very often to the poor fucker who’s bankrolling proceedings. Jacob was far from illiterate – he could see the word ‘sucker’ etched into my cheek like a fencing-scar.
So off we went to score. Deed done, it was decided we should go to Jacob’s place, not back to Faith’s. She was too much of a liability, apparently. Besides, that place was hot, could get raided any minute. That I believed. Even on the few times I’d been there, at various times of the day or night, people would come knocking at the door, and, if they weren’t let in, start banging on the window, clamouring for access. Sometimes, Faith would have a crafty look through the net-curtain. If she thought they had something, or would want to get something, they’d be granted an audience. If not, they’d be turned away…nastily, if necessarily. What’s more, the person in the flat above had aroused general suspicion. More than once, it was suggested they were a police-plant, staking out the place until it was time to strike. There were even paranoid whispers of boreholes in the ceiling through which they could spy activity below.
Jacob assured me that his place was safe. He was flat-sitting for a bloke in prison, with his girlfriend, that’s to say Jacob, knowing the guy was away, had broken in and made the place his own. It was in some anonymous tower-block round the back of Loftus Road. It was the usual porn-strewn shell of a place, a portable telly on a chair, clothes everywhere, kitchen with a kettle in but clearly no food, and stretched out on a mattress, Gushka, Jacob’s Latvian girlfriend, gawping at the telly, skinnily.
So the drugs were distributed, Jacob first, naturally. Then me, then his brittle, sticklike lover. Apparently they’d been together several years, since she’d come over from Latvia and started working in a beautician’s in Acton.
Then, as we introduced what was left of ourselves, Jacob made a request of me. ‘Gimme five minutes with my woman,’ he said. I presumed his motives were sexual, and panicked in case he wanted me to leave the room, and so the drugs. But no, the drugs were leaving me. Jacob got up and went into the hallway, adding, ‘Gushka, come,’ like a loveless trainer summoning a dog. Meekly, she rose to follow him. Moments later, I heard the bathroom door close, and tried to kill time by flicking through some well-worn porn. Anyone leaving the room with the drugs was someone I didn’t want to see leaving, but I sensed that Jacob was the kind of man one didn’t cross. I was right. Like most bullies, he had a knack for sniffing out the ones who wouldn’t fight back. It wasn’t long before I heard a whimper emit from the bathroom. I wondered if they were having sex, or something resembling it. Then there was another sound, this time palpably anguished. It sounded like he was torturing her. Even in my cracked-up state, I still had access to at least the bare bones of a moral code, and wondered if I should try to intervene, even knock politely on the door and ask, ‘Is everything ok?’ But it struck me that any intervention could end in disaster. I didn’t know to what psychotic lengths Jacob would go. He reminded me of the patient in the mental ward who befriends you, with the intention of trying to convince you he’s sane, and asks you to have a word with the authorities on his behalf. Then, when you’re about to leave, he rugby-tackles you, pins you to the floor with his hands around your neck, crying, ‘Don’t forget to tell them I’m sane!’ No, to interrupt Jacob’s brutalities could have ended up with me getting a dose of it, and Gushka getting an extra helping for having provoked the interruption in the first place.
About half an hour later, as I was languishing in a state of crashing anxiety, Jacob re-emerged, and came back into the living-room. ‘Sorry about that,’ he said. I thought for a moment he was apologising for his own actions, but how foolish I was. ‘She doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of the word “respect”,’ he explained. ‘Did you see the way she was, in here?’ I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, but, because he had the drugs, I thought I’d better keep him sweet. ‘Yeah,’ I said, vaguely. ‘I introduce her to someone new, and she behaves like that.’ I still wasn’t sure what it was she was supposed to have done. ‘You mean like her being kind of indifferent?’ I guessed. ‘I ask her to put the kettle on, cos I want a coffee, and she just lies there, and that’s in front of someone. How does that make me look?’ ‘Yeah, I know what you mean,’ I said, selling my soul with every syllable. ‘Then she starts making all that noise,’ he continued, explaining, ‘There’s a Muslim guy downstairs, with young daughters. She’s going to end up embarrassing not just herself, but me as well.’ I now knew that I was in the presence of a skewed mind. And quite why Muslims were any more susceptible to the sounds of domestic violence than anyone else, I had no clue. ‘Doesn’t she realise that making those kind of noises could end up reflecting back on me?’ Then he sat back down and loaded up a pipe. That done, he picked up one of the tattered magazines that lay around, turning to a page with a girl with breasts like balloons. ‘Bet she had tits when she was twelve,’ he said, handing me the page to see.
Then Gushka came back, seemingly intact. ‘You’ve got to learn some respect, Gush,’ he said, ‘Ben’s a guest, and you don’t disrespect me in front of guests.’ ‘Ok, Jacob,’ she said, as if she’d heard it many times before. ‘You’ve got to realise, you’d be nothing without me. People would rob you, rape you, screw you into the ground if it wasn’t for me. You do realise that, don’t you Gush?’ ‘Yes, Jacob.’ He was very confident of the moral low-ground he monopolised, and his free-thinking credentials were again flagged up. ‘What do you think, Ben?’ he asked. ‘Do you think I should put her on the game?’ I smiled in such a way that he would feel endorsed, but she wouldn’t see. My soul was now completely in flames. ‘Could I have a pipe, please?’ I asked, not wishing to dwell on the twelve-year-old me, twitching like a phoenix in a stone-cold hearth.
There was a hole in a floorboard. Jacob said he’d lost a bit of crack down there a few weeks before. I found myself foraging about in the dust, like James Herriot feeling around inside an empty cow. No crack found, the money gone, and not even any heroin to come down with, I eventually made my way home, midmorning, bitter, beaten, and broke.
The pattern of my using was beginning to take shape, as my network of contacts grew. When the government slung a couple of hundred quid in my account, I’d be down the road like a shot. Wednesdays were the day. I might go to bed on Tuesday night, but I’d be counting the minutes until two, when the money appeared in my account. I’d leave my flat at quarter-to, to give me time to get down the road and unearth, or be unearthed by, a suitable person to score through, which rarely took more than half an hour, if I walked at the right pace, along the right stretch of road, in the right style. Then, another nocturnal whirlwind blown out, I’d crawl home to an empty fridge and a daybed, where I’d remain for anything from two to four days, eeking out a half-life by foraging in the cupboard for instant noodles or cereal, which I’d almost certainly have with water, due to having lost the ability to shop for food some weeks before. The last vestiges of my social life had also gone. No more pub quiz on a Tuesday night with old schoolmates. No more spots in bottom-of-the-ladder comedy-clubs. No, I was either not answering the phone, or broke, or both, and getting very cagey about making arrangements with anyone, because I probably wouldn’t honour them anyway. No more a social butterfly, I was now an antisocial moth, chaotically spiralling round an invisible, yet voracious flame.
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