Thursday, April 28, 2005

Chapter 24

WILLSON
They arrived at Stonehenge the weekend after Father’s Day. People kept telling them they’d missed the Solstice. That was nothing; they’d missed A.T.V. The five were some of the few weekenders around on the site. Mostly, the hard-core cases remained, coming down.
As they pulled onto the site four kids ran straight at the Wartburg. Danny braked. He wound down the window, shouted at the closest boy. ‘I could’ve killed you then, you twat.’
The boy leaned in at the window. His neck was marbled with dirt. ‘Any trips?’ he asked.
Danny laughed, shocked. He managed to produce the standard answer. ‘Don’t know what you’re on about, mate.’
‘I’m selling, not buying. Question marks. One fifty. It’s only them and unicorns on the site and the unicorns are shit.’
Danny’s mouth opened and closed. He turned and looked at the others. Patrick leaned forward. ‘Tell him to fuck off and come back when he’s moved up to big school.’
The boy leaned in at the window again. ‘Alright, fuck you then. Your loss.’ He ran off with his friends. None of them looked a day over twelve.
Danny parked the car between a double-decker bus and a purple 1950’s ambulance. ‘Handy,’ he said, taking the keys out of the ignition. ‘You never know when you might need an ambulance.’
Within the fringe of battered vans and buses was a ragged selection of tents and shelters. Around small camp-fires the ragged tents’ ragged owners sat, talking vacantly. The five found a space and pitched the tent.
Christy paused from banging in a tent peg and straightened himself. ‘It’s like in those Robin Hood films,’ he said, smiling.
Animal looked at him. ‘I don’t know why you bother doing gear. You’re fucking weird enough without it.’
With the tent pitched they went to check out the rest of the site. Through the centre of the tents ran a clear pathway. At either side of this were makeshift stalls selling headshop tat. The path led to the stones, and a small stage of scaffolding and tarpaulin. Above the stage was a banner saying; ‘It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.’
They stopped near the stage. Phil, watching the people milling past, lowered his voice. ‘Some fucking states here. You can tell the ones who’ve been here from the start.’
‘I know,’ Danny said. ‘Cut their heads off and count the rings of dirt.’
‘We ought to start sorting out some chemicals,’ Patrick said.
Animal said, ‘Could’ve fucking had some back then if you hadn’t opened your mouth.’
‘Yeah, but they were kids, Animal.’
On the outskirts of one of the fireside groups Christy smiled nervously at the strangers beside him. He turned to Phil. ‘Do you reckon it’s alright to skin up?’
Animal gave him a look. ‘Don’t be a wanker Christy. Course. Have you seen a copper since we got here?’
‘Well, not uniform, no.’
A woman in her thirties wearing Wellington boots, crouched down beside Christy. Christy thought about running. The woman spoke quietly. ‘Sulphate?’
Patrick, in charge as ever, said, ‘Any trips about?’
‘Unicorns.’
Phil looked at Patrick, thinking, I fucking told you.
Patrick looked at Phil. ‘Alright then, bollocks. What we having? Three grammes of sulph between us?’
The woman ambled off towards the purple ambulance. Christy could see her talking to a slight figure. Reaching into his jacket pocket, the slight figure turned so that Christy got a sideways view. It was the boy with the marbled neck.

None of them slept; they just fell silent eventually. Christy lay on his back squinting up at the pattern made by the mould and the dew on the roof of the tent. The sun was coming up and Christy was coming down. The inside of the tent was becoming unbearably hot. Sweat poured from him. He took off his jacket and placed it under his head. His money was in the top left pocket. Repeatedly, he touched it to check that it was still there. Patrick said something to Phil. Christy didn’t catch what it was. Then he heard Phil say, ‘So tight, his balls squeak when he walks.’
Christy sat up, picked up his jacket. ‘Think I’ll see if I can shift these sixteenths.’ He’d come with a quarter of personal and a quarter in sixteenths to sell.
‘Leave your jacket Christy, you’ll be sweating your bollocks off,’ Animal said.
‘Yeah, don’t you trust us Christy?’ Patrick asked.
Christy left his jacket. As he stepped from the tent he heard Phil and Danny’s voices. ‘No need to guess where his money is.’
‘I know.’
‘What do you reckon to what I was saying?’
‘Alright. Call it two quid.’
Only the speedfreaks and acidheads were around, the hardened cases who’d fallen out of time. Casualties shuffled through the debris of the previous night like mourners walking away from a burial. Christy paused in front of the stage, scratched himself. A short, stocky woman with home-made tattoos on her arms was collecting rubbish around his feet, and placing it in a black bin liner. She looked at him. ‘Either help tidy things up or get out the way so other people can.’
Christy moved ten paces to the right and stood slack jawed, staring out over the plain. A man of about twenty five was walking towards him. Christy thought of the sixteenths. The man spoke. ‘What’s up? Catching flies?’
Christy retreated to the tent. He lifted the flap.
Phil looked up. ‘How did you get on?’
‘No luck.’
Phil laughed. Danny handed him two pound notes. Christy would check his pockets when he got the chance.

Saturday afternoon, Christy, Phil and Animal lay in the tent listening to the throbathwackathrob of the police helicopter, hovering over the site, just checking. The flap of the tent parted. The three lay blinking at the wedge of white light. Patrick and Danny crawled in.
‘Been shopping,’ Danny said, tossing a bag of dexedrine onto the groundsheet.
Phil picked up the bag and checked for the lettering. ‘Where you get these?’
‘The smack tent.’
‘Smack tent?’ Christy asked.
Patrick explained. ‘Met these smackheads. They’ve asked us round for a session if we fancy it.’

There were three of them. All had that vile scaghead scratch and sniff about them. Pawing at their faces, talking through their noses, their movements were loose and slow, but without clumsiness. One had a blue dot tattooed between his eyebrows. His fingernails were black. He did most of the talking. The thin one didn’t have much to say, just lay there with his head propped up on one elbow. Sometimes he’d scratch his nose, but mostly he just lay there.
The third one didn’t seem to fit. As the five walked into the tent, he looked up from the joint he was rolling and said, ‘If eighty per cent of your body’s made of water, how come you don’t dissolve when you’re in the sea?’
The other two looked at their visitors and rolled their eyes, as if to say, ‘Ignore him; he’s a twat.’
Christy handed over the sixteenths. They gave him cost, plus a bit over, as a favour pretty much, they told him. There was something about the even, unemphatic tone of everything they said which made it impossible for Christy to judge what they meant. He didn’t trust them.
They talked about the festival. Dotface said, ‘Good band on later; LSD 25.’
Christy said, ‘Why 25?’
‘There’s twenty five of them. Don’t half kick up a fucking din.’
Christy thought he was serious. Everyone else was in fits. It was Dunmore all over again. They had only one interest.
Phil asked what they did for jobs. They looked at each other, puzzled. The irritating one returned the question. When Patrick said he was on the print, the dullness in Dotface’s eyes seemed to flick aside momentarily, like a second eyelid.
‘Would you be able to run up a print job without anyone noticing?’
Patrick said that it was possible in theory.
Dotface began spinning the idea of Patrick printing up batches of acid tabs at work; sheets of them, thousands of them. Patrick lapped it up. ‘So, what? You’d add the acid after, then?’
‘Yeah. Something like that.’ Dotface glanced at the thin one and smiled.
Christy knew. It was just a scam. They would’ve sold the blank tabs, no acid on them. Dennis had said about it once. You’d bowl up at some big festival, Reading say, knock out as many tabs as you could, as quickly as you could, and get out before anybody had a chance to realise they were never coming up. And if you got caught with the lot, all you’d get done for would be going equipped to deceive.
Sensing that the idea wasn’t a runner, Dotface changed the subject. ‘Had any decent chemicals yet?’
‘Some sulph last night,’ Danny said.
‘Yeah? Who off?’
‘Some little kid. Freaked me out a bit.’
‘That’ll be Mal. He’s a tricky little cunt.’
‘How do you mean, tricky?’
‘He has wraps in three pockets. One’s got the proper kit in, one’s got a bit of sulph cut with ground up Sudafed, one’s got foot powder. He susses you out and you get what he can get away with.’
Dotface paused and fished out a polythene bag. ‘Any of you lot want any microdots for tonight?’
Christy was sat facing Animal. He pulled a warning face at him but Animal didn’t even notice.
The annoying one said, ‘I done one last night and I was rolling about in the mud.’ This was a recommendation. They decided to have one each.
Back at their own tent, the five discussed the smackheads.
‘Notice that dot he had on his forehead?’ Phil asked. ‘They do that in Borstal with boot polish. Fucking mental.’
‘I thought he was advertising,’ Patrick said. ‘Little picture of a microdot, that was. Pays to advertise.’
‘I didn’t like them,’ Christy said. ‘That with them wanting you to print up those dodgy trips.’
‘They’re desperate, Christy,’ Patrick said. ‘They’ve got expensive hobbies.’
‘They were alright,’ Danny said. ‘Apart from the cosmic twat in the waistcoat. You could tell the other two didn’t like him.’
‘Yeah,’ Animal said. ‘There’s always one.’ He was looking straight at Christy.
They did a microdot each. Christy wasn’t convinced. What were they doing getting trips off chancers like that? He wasn’t going to sit there dead straight all night. He did the crumbs of the sulphate and six dexedrine as well.
Danny looked at Christy. ‘Fuck me. When you come up you aren’t half going to know about it.’
They went and sat near the stones near the stage and waited as the sun went down. Irritably, Danny said, ‘I’m not getting fuck all off this.’
‘Me neither.’
‘Nor me.’
‘No.’
‘Not sure. Might be the speed.’
‘Yeah. You fucking hog.’
Christy felt his stomach cramps turning into butterflies. In the fading light the clouds started bubbling, rolling across the sky. Christy looked into Danny’s face. He could see the pores opening and closing. Why weren’t the others coming up?
Dennis was right that time when he said tripping was like being in a secret society where only you know who else is in on it. Christy began to notice the secret signs. He spotted Phil doing a double-take, looking curiously at the end of his cigarette. He noticed Danny and Animal lapsing into silence. To nobody, for no apparent reason, Patrick said, ‘Yeah. Probably.’
Danny stood up and stretched his arms out. ‘Anyone fancy a wander?’ Everybody smiled. They all knew then.
They worked their way to the heart of the crowd in the middle of the stones. It was intense but Christy was handling it. Time fell to bits. There were people with flaming torches, ready for a burning. Flames like streamers fluttered behind them. The stones were haloed yellow. LSD 25 played. The crowd danced, treading water. Each dancer left ghost snapshots of themselves behind with every movement. The five stood, trembling, touching each other occasionally to make sure they were still there.
Christy wandered off for a piss against the side of somebody’s van. The side of the van was rippling like molten enamel. He could hear music; not the band, but music coming from nowhere, like the wind in tune. He stood, looking and listening.
He returned to the crowd. People were wearing warpaint like Red Indians; He didn’t mind. Animal, Danny, Phil and Patrick had sat down. Their faces were longer, pointed. He rejoined them. They sat still forever with the world shimmering and humming around them.

Everybody had peaked. They started walking back to the tent. Red lines of light darted along the ground like night photos of speeding cars. In the sky the clouds were stacked up like the steps on a pyramid. The crowds parted like fishes either side of the five. The moon was white and blurry like a torch under bedsheets.
Over to the left, between the tents, someone was shouting. Christy looked over. A man in a leather jacket was holding the kid with the dirty neck, by the dirty throat. He was punching him in the face again and again, shouting, ‘I’ll give you peace and love you cunt!’
Christy swerved his mind away from what he saw, and back to Phil and the others. Animal and Phil were talking about the Wildman of Bonio, how he got knocked down by a milkfloat when he was seven and had never been the same again. Patrick said, ‘He sounds a right state.’
Animal said, ‘He is. You know that rumour about his old man don’t you?’
Patrick said, ‘Yeah. Not surprised with a son like that.’ He looked at Christy.
‘Just going for a piss a minute,’ Christy said.
Phil said, ‘Yeah. Me too.’
They walked out beyond the edge of the tents and started pissing into the darkness. Christy listened to check that Phil had started. Then he ran. He was still pissing. His dick was flapping pale in the darkness. Piss was flying everywhere. He got it stuffed away after fifty yards.
Behind him he could hear Phil shouting to the others. ‘Jesus! Christy’s fucking freaked right out!’
Christy slowed slightly and turned his head. The other four were standing with their mouths open. He kept running. He looked again. They’d started running. He found it in him to run harder, faster, until he stopped feeling anything, as if his body had stopped being anything. There was no cover, nowhere to hide. Soon the others gave up. He saw them each drop back and stand bent over with their hands on their thighs.
He ran straight across the A303. He didn’t see the cars, he just heard the squealing of brakes. Soon he was off the open plain and was running through fields, farms he supposed. He pushed blindly through hedges. His scratched arms bled. He kept running.
Then the ground stoped underneath him. He dropped like he’d been shot. His ear hit the ground. There was a sour, damp smell in the ditch. His jeans were still wet with piss. He lay still, with his mind crumbling. The acid dug deeper, to a level below words, below memory, to where the past is part of the cells.
There were stones in the bottom of the ditch. Christy stuck some under his back so he wouldn’t sleep. He had to watch who was coming. He stayed there, not moving. The sun came up. Mist came down into the ditch like gas. He got up in case it was gas.
He crossed a field to a lane. There were a couple of houses dotted along the lane. The biggest house was set back up a curved drive. Christy crawled across the gravel in case anyone was listening.
He stood up in the porch. There was glass in the side of it. He could see himself. He flattened his hair with his hand. He rang the bell. A man came to the door. His hair was white, his cardigan was grey, his slippers were pink.
Christy spoke. ‘Can I come in and phone the police please? Two men from the festival just threatened to set their dogs on me. Up the lane there, a minute ago.’
The man looked at Christy. He said, ‘It’s six-thirty,’ and shut the door. The flap of the letterbox opened. ‘I’ll call the police and get them to deal with you. Wait at the end of the drive.’
Christy stood and waited. After about twenty minutes a police van appeared. It slowed as it approached down the lane. Christy waved and the van stopped. Two officers stepped out.
‘Are you the one we’ve had a phone call about?’
‘Yeah. There was two men up the lane. They said they’d kill me.’
The first policeman raised an eyebrow. ‘Do you know who they were?’
‘No.’
‘Any idea why they’d want to kill you?’
‘No. They were from the festival,’ Christy said, as if that explained everything.
‘You been up the festival?’
‘Yes.’
‘Describe these two blokes then.’
Christy made something up. The officers didn’t make any notes. Christy failed to make it sound like an afterthought when he said, ‘Probably safest if you give me a lift to Salisbury. That way they can’t get at me.’
The penny dropped. The officers looked at each other, then looked at Christy. The older one said, ‘We’re not running a fucking taxi service.’
‘You’re not allowed to swear at me.’
They got in the van. As the younger one shut the driver’s door he said, ‘Make yourself scarce, son.’
They drove away.
Christy started walking towards Salisbury. The lane narrowed, the hedges grew taller. There was talking in the hedges, but not loud enough to hear clearly. It was about him. Every second step he took there was a squeak. That was about what Phil had said.
He stopped. There was a van and a car, parked in a lay-by. There was a man sat in the van talking on a C.B. That was how things were being controlled. Christy walked back the way he came and stopped to work out what to do.
He decided to walk past quickly, make a mental note of the registration, and check who owned the vehicles later. He got level with the van. The man in the front was eating a sandwich. He looked round, straight at Christy. Christy ran. He kept running until he felt like everything was going to burst out through his ribs. They weren’t going to get him, he was going to make sure of that.

He knew he was getting near Salisbury; there were more houses and more people staring at him. In the centre of town he chose the third phonebox that he saw. He phoned three minicab firms at random from Yellow Pages. He ordered a cab from each, one to collect him at one end of the street, one at the other, and one at the phone box. He did ip dip in his head to choose which one he’d take. That way there’d be less chance they were in on it.
He took the middle one. The driver wound down the window when Christy got in. He checked where he was going. ‘Call it eight quid for cash.’
Christy was tempted to get out there and then. It was less than the fare quoted over the phone. Patrick and the others must have felt guilty and put in some money towards the fare. It was too late. They knew where he was. He lay down on the back seat and pulled a rug over his head.

Smelling like an animal, he let himself into the house. He went up to his room. Creeping up the stairs he could hear his mother in the front room. She was singing ‘Happy Days Are Here Again.’

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