Thursday, April 28, 2005

Chapter 19

CHRISTY
Mandeville give me the jitters from the first time I seen him. I’d just been up the yard talking with Vince while he served Alex with some Thermalite. Vince still owed me a fiver for some black. I was working up to it when he said, ‘You after that fiver?’
I said, ‘Oh. Yeah. I was forgetting.’
He did Alex’s yard ticket, said something to him and Alex give Vince a fiver. Then Vince give me the fiver. I freaked a bit, thinking Vince was flogging on the gear he got off me. He looked at me and shrugged. ‘He’s a big tipper.’ The day after, I was doing the invoice for Alex. There was half the blocks on there he’d really had. First clue I had about that sort of stuff.
Back in the office this tall bloke in a suit was talking to Potter. ‘Need to be one jump ahead in this business. Tell you what I do. When I’m staying in a hotel and I’m negotiating over drinks, I always tip the barman in advance to substitute ginger ale for all but the first whiskey.’
Potter made interested noises.
‘Need to keep sharp,’ the tall bloke said.
Potter said, ‘Christy, Mr Mandeville, area manager.’
‘Hello Christy. Glad to hear you’ve got over your mystery illness.’
I never knew if someone was being sarcastic but there was no need to guess with him. I’d been on the skive two days the previous week. He knew. I couldn’t get back to the kennel quick enough.
I sat in the kennel with the invoices thinking what else I could get caught out for. About half three Potter stuck his head round the door. I nearly jumped out me skin. ‘Give Ken a hand unloading that Larchlap, Christy. Get it over with.’
We finished unloading. Mandeville called Ken into the office. That’s when they sacked him. I seen Ken storm across the warehouse, with Potter and Mandeville a few feet behind. Potter said, ‘Believe me I’m as upset about this as you Ken.’ Then, once Ken had slammed the door shut, ‘I won’t be able to nip round and shag your wife in the afternoons anymore.’
Mandeville laughed, said, ‘Really?’
Potter said, ‘Joking aren’t you? You seen her?’
I nipped round the loading bay to get a better look, in time to see Ken take a run up to Mandeville’s B.M.W., and boot in the headlights. Mandeville shot out, and started wagging his finger at Ken. He pointed down at Ken’s feet. Next thing, Ken took off one boot and slung it straight at Mandeville’s head. He missed by miles but I’d’ve still paid good money to see it.
I seen Ken in town the week after. He said Mandeville wasn’t bothered about the headlights but he wanted Ken’s boots back, reckoning they were company property. Conrad’s used to put in half the price of your boots if you got steel toe-capped ones. So Ken took off one boot, said, ‘That’s your one. Have it, you cunt!’, and launched it. He said he felt an arse afterwards because he had to hop to his car. He didn’t mind about the job though. All those kids, he was better off signing on.
Mandeville had us all in the office and give us a bollocking about how dishonesty wouldn’t be tolerated. Then, out of nowhere, behind him at the window, Animal appeared, giving the finger to Mandeville’s back. He disappeared for a bit. When he come back he was on Danny’s shoulders. He poked his head through the top of the window. ‘Christy you prat. We’ve come to save you from turning out normal.’ I didn’t know where to put meself.
When I knocked off, Danny’s Wartburg was waiting at the gate. I got in. It was good to see them. It’s shit being on your own all the time. I could never keep away for more than a couple of weeks.
First thing they said, both together, was, ‘ Have a look Christy.’
Animal had a brochure in his hand. Danny was holding out this little paper packet.
‘What’s that?’ I said.
‘Sulphate. We went up Dunmore Cottage this afternoon.’
‘Done any yet?’
‘Give you three guesses. I got a gramme for you.’
‘Is that a gramme?’
‘Bit under. Dennis has had a line out of it.’
He always had. What a full gramme looked like was anyone’s guess.
Danny said, ‘He gets worse that wanker. He’s started calling me Billy Whizz now. Prat.’
We done a line each. Animal told me about Pontin’s. ‘We’ve booked it for Easter bank holiday but we need another body; it’s five to a chalet.’
‘We would’ve asked before, but we thought you might still be lovesick.’
‘Even asked Kev. He’s still dithering. We need to get the forms in.’
I said I’d think about it.
Animal was fidgetting, tapping on the dashboard. ‘Shite! We’ve done this too early. I fancy going somewhere.’
Danny said, ‘What about that thing Fred was going to?’
On the way back from Dorchester they’d met Fred W. He was going to this exhibition of paintings up the Beagle Cafe. He made out he was only going for the free drink but he was into all that.
The Beagle Cafe was next door to Natural Selection, the hippy bakery. The same bloke owned both. Terry out of Doublethink worked there. It wasn’t a proper caff; it only did coffee and cakes and salad. We parked round the corner. Walking past, Danny give a quick look sideways. ‘Fucksake. It’s full of College hippies.’
The cafe was down this narrow corridor and through a door on the left. Just past the door was this table stacked with drink. There was a few paintings on the wall in the corridor. They all looked like designs for lino to me. I wouldn’t’ve minded seeing the other stuff though.
Animal elbowed me in the ribs. ‘Fuck the paintings. Get the booze!’
He run past the doorway and grabbed a bottle of vodka and a bottle of whiskey off the table. I had on me army surplus coat with the big inside pockets. Animal stuffed a bottle in each of me pockets. Someone in the cafe called out, ‘Hello.’ We run like fuck.
I was still shaking when we parked up behind the Merman. We sat in the car and started on the vodka while we waited for opening time. Danny chopped out a line of speed on the cover of the A.A. atlas, all along the London road. He did it out thin but it was still a big bastard. He said, ‘There you go look. You’d almost think you were going somewhere.’ After he’d done it he said, ‘I fucking hate this. This nothing happening.’ He stubbed out his cig. ‘Then when you try and make things happen no fucker’s interested.’
I said, ‘Like what?’
He looked at Animal. ‘He know?’
‘Don’t know.’
‘There’s this house going. We was talking about renting it.’
Animal butted in. ‘We would’ve asked but you were busy hiding.’
I said I wasn’t sure.
Danny tutted. ‘Fucking typical. Patrick blanked the idea straight off, Phil’s got cold feet. Now you.’
I was glad to get in the pub. We hid in the alcove and had lagers with a vodka top. Danny kept having a dab out of his gramme so he was off, going on about how one of his dad’s mates was selling this old mini-bus and that we should buy it and fit it out and go off travelling like Olly did and how it wouldn’t cost much and how it’d be an experience and how it’d be a way of getting away and all that. Animal just smiled, humouring him.
About half nine Kev come in to use the bog. He come over. Danny asked him again about Pontin’s.
‘I can’t.’
‘Can’t?’
‘Can’t.’
‘How come?’
He looked embarrassed. Then he told us. ‘I want to spend more time with Karen. We’re getting married.’
‘Fuck off!’
‘Fuck off!’
‘Christ!’
We all looked at each other. Animal thought of it first. ‘She’s not up the stick is she?’
‘I’m not meant to tell anyone yet.’
‘Fuck me, Kev,’ Animal said. ‘Didn’t you use anything?’
‘No.’
‘Brilliant,’ Danny said. ‘You’re in the barbers, Karen’s in Boots all day, can’t move for johnnies, neither thinks to bring some home.’
I couldn’t believe it. There was him doing that, making that, and I didn’t even feel old enough to think of anything to say about it. Once a woman come in at work with her kid. He was mucking about and she said, ‘You behave or the man’ll tell you off.’ I didn’t even think she meant me.
And doing it by accident. Kev of all people. It was like he was changing in front of me. Later on he said about Sid and Nancy getting busted. He said it was a nasty business. A nasty business. He was already sounding like someone’s dad.
It must’ve been there on me face. When Kev went up to get crisps Animal said, ‘Don’t think of it as losing a friend Christy, think of it as...’ But he couldn’t think of anything to think of it as.
Patrick come in. Danny told him. He walked up to the bar, prodded Kev, goes, ‘Alright, Kev? Anything for the weekend?’
Patrick asked us if anyone fancied the disco at Preston. Ever since he’d started driving he’d been trawling round the village discos. He’d got this idea from his dad that girls out in the furthest villages were dying for sex. He reckoned it made a nice change for them to fuck someone with a different surname.
We just looked blank at him. Those places were shit. We went once, when Danny still had his hair green. We had to beg to get in. As soon as we were in, we wanted to get out again. Down one side there was girls with hairdos like their mums. They had dance steps worked out. Down the other side was farmboys and matelots and a load of other meatheads and knuckle-draggers. The D.J was putting on an American accent. He’d been in the infants with Patrick and Animal. We got there half-eightish. The first fight was over and you could already smell the cider-sick.
I thought about Kev, and the paintings at the caff, and work, and the disco. Between the things I couldn’t have and the things I didn’t want I couldn’t fucking move.
Patrick said, ‘Fancy it? Or are you going to piss the night away here?’
I said, ‘What a choice. What’s the point?’
He walked towards the door. ‘The point is, to hunt cunt.’
Animal took the offer of a lift to Weymouth, Kev made his excuses and left. Danny said he was staying. Patrick and Animal walked out.
Danny looked across the table at me. His eyes were all bloodshot. That was the only time I ever seen him pissed. Speeding loads of times, but pissed never. He said, ‘I’ll put you down for Pontin’s.’
‘Yeah.’
He asked if I’d had any news about Clair. I said no.
He said, ‘Listen. Sorry I got pissy earlier. About the house.’
‘Alright.’
‘Just surprised. I’d’ve thought you’d want to get away.’
I said how there wasn’t anything to get away from. There wasn’t by then.
He said, ‘Think yourself lucky. It’s fucking murder round mine.’
I didn’t know what he was on about. He looked like he really wanted to tell me something. We decided to give up while we were behind and call it a night.

We was stood at the top of Mallams. Danny was just saying how I should come and watch Hello Cruel World practise at the weekend, when this Capri pulled up. That Ian who used to be in The Bad Detectives jumped out.
He come over and smacked Danny one right in the mouth. Decked him. Ian just goes, ‘Rip me off, you cunt. Pay off them drums by Saturday or I’ll be up your house with a fucking rounders bat.’
I thought, perfect end to a perfect day that is.

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