Thursday, December 16, 2004

Chapter 11

WILLSON
Summer was over already. Christy went to his room and shut the door. When people phoned he said he wanted a few nights in. He wasn’t feeling right. He lay on his bed thinking about the way they’d all said yes, about the way Patrick had said he’d still be as much of a mate as ever. Christy turned to his detective novels. He tried to suck some comfort from the tidy mysteries where people were readable.

Phil, Danny and Patrick worried about the drug squad finding their gear. Animal worried about his brothers finding his. Most of it he kept in his locker at work.
Every Friday the pantomime repeated. His brothers gathered in one bedroom with their freshly opened pay-packets in their hands. Animal, with a bookie’s biro and a cigarette packet, took their orders like a waiter; sixteenths, eighths, quarters. He said, ‘Right. I’ll just shoot round the bloke’s and get it.’
In the downstairs toilet he transferred the required packets from one pocket to another. He let himself out of the house. He walked to the Esplanade, sat under the Jubilee clock for ten minutes, then returned to his brothers.

Christy sat in the kennel trying to ignore his itching crotch. Where the overalls touched a rash had appeared, hot, coral pink. It felt like something was working its way into him or out of him through the raw skin. Something was happening to him. When he went into shops now, people would think he worked there and ask him for help. It was as if the hours behind the counter at Conrad’s were tainting him with a stink.
He rubbed his temples and stared at the meaningless grid of the invoice in front of him. It was one of Steve’s which Christy had repeatedly put to the bottom of the pile. He heard Steve’s Cortina pull up, then his wedge heels clumping across the warehouse floor.
He reached the office in time to find Steve with the phone wedged under his chin. ‘Any chance of a price on this Japanese oak?’ Christy asked. Steve waved him away like an insect and continued with his phone call.
On the way back to the kennel Christy stopped off at the toilets. Potter had just been in there. Christy opened the window. It gave onto a two-foot gap between Conrad’s and the dog-food factory. He thought for a second, then dropped the invoice out of the window. He made up some rules. It had to be an invoice that Steve had quoted on. Christy had to have asked Steve for a price at least five times. He could only do it once every month.

For now, Danny was where he wanted to be; in two places at once, both inside and outside of everything. He’d persuaded Ian, who’d given up drumming, to let him buy his drum kit, paying by instalments. Danny replaced Ian in The Bad Detectives. After an argument with Fred, Ed left The Shakespeare Monkees and began living in the garage of their dad’s house. Replaced by Psychedelic Derek, Ed secretly formed The Cows with Recurring Jeff and Danny. Dave left The Bad Detectives, gave up singing, learnt bass and formed Genius Or Lunatic with Max from the disbanded Dead Loss Orchestra. Danny drummed for Genius Or Lunatic until they’d saved up for a drum machine. It was nothing personal. Max said for Danny to keep in touch. There were some things a drum machine couldn’t do, like get hold of dope.

Bernie and Christy were leaning on the counter.
‘How come they can afford to take on this new bloke Vince if they’re doing so bad?’ Christy asked.
Every month head office sent through target sales figures. Every month Potter put a graph up on the noticeboard showing the failure to reach that target.
Bernie bit into a biscuit. ‘Them figures have so-called been below target since I can remember.’
‘Why don’t they close the place down then? Like Potter’s always saying.’
‘Think about it,’ Bernie said. ‘Who does the books?’
‘Potter’s wife.’
‘So what’s to stop Potter sticking any figure he wants up on the noticeboard?’
‘What for?’
‘So he can sit and say, if you buggers don’t pull your fingers out it’s the dole office for all of us.’
Bernie straightened as a customer entered. Elderly, with glasses and spotless overalls the man held a notepad and pen. He asked if they had any mahogany in stock. Bernie said yes. The man asked if they stocked lauan.
Bernie scratched his nose. ‘Yeah. Philippine mahogany. Same difference.’
‘Hardly.’
The man asked for plasticiser.
Bernie went to check the shelves. ‘Sorry. Run out. Fairy Liquid’ll do the trick at a pinch.’
The man sniffed. ‘Weakens the mortar.’ He asked for a ball-valve. Bernie fetched one and told him the price. The man winked and said, ‘Anything off for cash?’
Bernie shook his head. There was sweat on his top lip. When he wrote out the cash ticket his hands were shaking. He watched the door shut behind the customer.
‘Mystery shopper,’ he said. ‘Definitely.’
He explained how head office paid people to go round the branches pretending to be customers, to test the staff.
‘They try and wind you up, or catch you on the fiddle.’
‘But he didn’t even look like a proper punter,’ Christy said.
Bernie tapped the side of his nose with his finger. ‘Double bluff,’ he said. ‘You can’t trust these bastards.’
Christy went into the toilets and opened the window. The invoice was still there.

In Olly’s kitchen Animal dropped to his knees. Wringing his hands he looked at Olly. ‘But please. You’ve got to help me. I’m hurting real bad.’
‘Oh, fuck off,’ Olly laughed. ‘I’m just saying, you lot’ve near enough smoked me out of house and home. I don’t want to run out before the new crop’s in.’
Phil looked at Olly carefully. ‘Any chance you could put us in touch with somebody. Save us hassling you.’
‘There’s Dennis I suppose. Up at Dunmore.’
‘Dunmore?’ Patrick asked.
‘Dunmore Cottage,’ Olly said. ‘As in done more drugs than you can shake a stick at. Run you up there now if you like.’
He stepped out into the garden to kiss Denise goodbye. He peered into the orange wigwam where the children were playing. ‘See you later you two. Keep the flap open, otherwise you’ll bake.’
The neat brick house was on a small Dorchester estate, built for junior management first time buyers. There was a rotary drier on the front lawn. Olly rang the bell. Dennis opened the door, smiled at Olly, looked once each at Patrick, Animal, Phil and Danny. He led them into the living room, where a T.V showed an old Western, silently.
Dennis introduced Binny. For a clumsy second the boys hovered just inside the doorway, smiling, waiting. Binny, cleaning his glasses with his sleeve, nodded towards the sofa. ‘What’s up? Got piles?’
Joints circled. Conversation slowed to nothing. Danny turned to Dennis. ‘Any grass about then?’
‘There’s only solid about at the moment,’ Dennis answered, licking the seam of a cigarette.
‘That’ll do,’ Danny said.
‘It’s rocky. Is that okay?’
Danny paused, then gave up. ‘How do you mean?’
‘Moroccan,’ Dennis said, smiling, superior.
As they were leaving, Patrick stopped in the hallway. He made it sound casual. ‘How much would we need to get before the price went down?’
‘Two ounces usually,’ Dennis said.
Patrick smiled, began calculating.

Christy thought he could at least rely on Kev. He’d had no cause to doubt him since that thing he said at primary. But now he never seemed to be at home. So Christy waited until he could realistically pretend he wanted a trim.
As Christy entered the barbers Kev glanced at him in the mirror and smiled. Christy sat alone on the black vinyl bench along one wall. He stared down at the cigarette-burnt maroon lino and waited. No puddings now. Brings home Pink Elephants from work. Pink in the middle, disgusting. Says they’ll never catch on. She says waste not want not all the time now.
Arnie swept the cape from his customer and turned to Christy. ‘Who’s next please?’
Christy looked up. ‘Mind if Kev does me?’
Arnie nodded and smiled.
Christy sat listening to the soft tick of Kev’s scissors, and drifting. Before, but how long? Him with his jacket on. Like he’s blurred. Half not there. Disappearing. Dinner. Fish in a dish. Yellow bubbles in the milk. Dead and dried up. The eyes looking back. Dead. Drying up.
He heard his name. He sat in the leather chair. Kev tucked in the cape, pinned it at the neck. He straightened Christy’s head and asked what he wanted done. He began cutting.
‘Not working today then?’ he asked.
Christy, puzzled, looked at Kevin’s reflection. ‘Don’t work Saturdays Kev. You know that.’
Kev looked interested, nodded. ‘Nice to have a weekend. One thing I miss in this job. So what line of work are you in?’
Christy turned. The point of the scissors caught his temple. ‘Kev. It’s me.’
Kev lowered his voice. ‘Help me out Christy. It’s part of the training. Got to show I can chat to the customers.’
Christy tried. He asked how Karen was.
‘Alright. She’s got herself a little job in Boots.’
‘Oh, right. What, part-time?’
‘No full-time. Handy now we’re saving.’
Christy didn’t ask what they were saving for. He could guess.
There was a lull. Kev looked like he wanted to say something but couldn’t. He had an anecdote prepared. He told Christy about his mother’s new boyfriend, Roger. She’d met him at the Con Club on a Country and Western night. He was into C.B. He cut verges for the Council.
‘He came round ours the other night, straight from work. Hopping mad he was. He’d hit this big bit of dog-mess with his Flymo. Got covered, he did. Even Mum couldn’t help smiling.’ Kev paused with his scissors in mid-air, suddenly conscious of the lack of a punchline.
Christy wasn’t laughing. He’d seen Roger around. He could imagine what Kev couldn’t. He could imagine Roger punching Kev’s mother where it didn’t show, the second Kev left the house.
Kev scraped the back of Christy’s neck with the razor. It wasn’t going well. ‘Anyway. What have you been up to lately?’
Christy frowned. ‘Nothing, really. Been feeling funny. Hard to say.’ He paused. ‘It’s like something’s going on that I don’t know about.’
Kev sighed. ‘You’re not helping much Christy. That’s not the sort of thing we’re supposed to talk about.’