Thursday, April 28, 2005

Chapter 29

The night before Amsterdam Christy sat in the back of the Wartburg with panic throbbing through his body. Something was happening. The pattern was repeating; people leaving, getting away. That afternoon his mother had left for a week with her sister in Swindon. She touched his elbow as a goodbye. That wasn’t usual. She stood at the front gate waiting for the minicab and whistling ‘I Remember You’. The cab came. She went. Another black car leaving.
Something was going on. Phil had pulled out of the Amsterdam trip. He said it clashed with Les’s eighteenth. Then Danny had decided not to go, giving no reason. When Animal asked Christy to take Danny’s place, Christy felt like he was sitting on a high ledge trying not to look down and fall. He looked down and fell; said yes. And now they were taking him to Dunmore.
Phil, Danny, Patrick and Animal led him into the front room of Dunmore Cottage. Everything was the same as it always had been.
Phil smiled at Dennis and Binny. ‘Here he is. Here we are again.’
Binny peered at Christy. He was judging him, Christy knew, working out the best strategy. Binny smiled. ‘I remember you.’
Three bongs later Patrick nudged the proceedings to the next stage. ‘Where’s this party then?’
Dennis answered. ‘Oh yeah. At the Freak Wharf. White Lackington. Used to be a hospital. Squatted now.’
Phil said, ‘Any entertainment there?’
Christy looked at Phil, wondering.
Binny grinned. ‘You’ll have to make your own entertainment.’
Dennis pulled a bag of tabs from his jacket pocket. ‘Talking of which.’
‘New lot?’ Animal asked.
‘Yeah,’ Dennis said. ‘Some are ducks, some are rabbits.’ He held the bag out to each of them in turn. ‘Take your pick.’
The bag reached Christy. He dipped in. No point trying to stop it all now.
Danny inspected his tab. ‘What’s everyone got?’
Christy looked confused. ‘I’ve got a duck.’
Animal smiled. ‘Christy’s out for a duck.’
Danny passed Christy a joint. ‘You ready for a ducking Christy?’
Christy balanced the tab on the end of his finger. He swallowed it down. No point now.
Animal clapped. ‘Yes! Straight back in with a whole tab.’
They must have given Christy something to make him sleep. Danny parked beside Dennis’s car. The four stepped out of the car and left Christy in the back, curled like a question mark.
The shell of the old cottage hospital stood against the sky, as black as a rotten tooth. Patrick pointed to it. ‘Never know when you might need a hospital.’
In the grounds people milled like cattle among the trees and shrubs. Near the hospital entrance was a pool of silver, an oval pond reflecting the moonlight and the floodlights. On the lawn was a pool of red, the crackling remains of a large fire. From the hospital windows speakers blared Motorhead. While Dennis and Binny wandered off to socialise, Danny, Animal, Phil and Patrick bought beers out of black dustbins and stood checking their watches.

A metallic bang. The driver’s door of the car yanked open. Christy woke tripping, with the upward rush of a diver surfacing. Danny lunged across the front seats, grabbed a small package from the glove compartment and tossed it out of the door. Righting himself he looked at Christy, his eyes bright, black, and wide. ‘Fucking coppers. Again. You’d better get out and stay with us.’
Christy scrabbled towards Danny. The windows of the car billowed inwards. Sparks showered from every surface. Invisible things were crawling and scurrying over his skin. Danny led him to the edge of the fire where the other three stood with inky panicking eyes. Christy stared into Patrick’s face. ‘Where are they?’
Patrick pointed to the outskirts of the party. Through the drifting smoke and the acrid rippling air Christy could see the shapes of fancy dress policemen, stage policemen, television policemen, as they snaked through the edges of the crowd.
From the side of his mouth Phil said, ‘If they get any closer we chuck our personal in the fire.’ There was no need. Soon the police vanished like ghosts.
Christy looked once, looked again to make sure. ‘Where they gone?’
‘Vanished, Christy,’ Animal said. ‘Magic.’
Patrick said, ‘Yeah. It’s just a trick.’
Christy looked into the hot, waxy faces of the others. He knew they hadn’t done the acid. ‘Where are we?’
‘Party, Christy,’ Phil said.
‘Hospital, Christy,’ Danny said. ‘Used to be one.’
‘Yeah,’ Patrick said. ‘Used to be a loony bin.’
‘Where’s Dennis and Binny?’ Christy asked.
‘Round somewhere,’ Phil said.
‘Oh,’ Christy said. They were behind the scenes somewhere, directing the action.
Christy inhaled burning flesh. ‘What’s that smell?’
‘Burgers,’ Phil explained.
‘Which burgers?’
‘Yeah,’ Danny said. ‘Witch burgers. They’re burning witches.’
‘Be ducking a few of them later,’ Animal said. ‘In the pond over there. See if they float.’
Christy looked into the fire. The embers squirmed and churned like a million bloated maggots. He tried to see where the fire ended. He started patting his legs as if he was brushing dust from them; beating out the flames. He’d been spiked; now he was going to burn. He tugged Danny’s sleeve. ‘Why aren’t you going Amsterdam Danny?’
Danny was saved from having to invent an excuse. From the road came a roaring flood of light, moving. A woman in a leather jacket bumped past Christy. He heard her say, ‘Shit. Angels.’
A cluster of burning white lights like furious eyes approached. The air filled with the hot, specific smell of British motorbikes. The Windsor chapter of Hells Angels dismounted and nonchalantly, randomly, began hitting people with axes, wrenches, lengths of chain.
The five boys scattered towards the trees at the edge of the grounds. Christy ran behind a thick, dead oak. He knelt, shaking, grinding his forehead against the bark. He felt a hand paw at his back and heard a male voice yelp, ‘Fuck!’. It was Animal. His breath came in short tight gulps.
Christy looked at him. ‘Is it your brothers?’
Animal showed surprise. ‘F-f-fucksake.’
Honour satisfied, the bikers left. The remaining party-goers reappeared like lost Japanese soldiers coming out of the jungle. The five boys gathered again. Round the edge of the fire were three seats from an old bus. Animal, Christy and Danny claimed them.
Christy felt his seat rocking. He could hear squeaking. That was about what Phil said that time. The fire and the people and the sky all swooped backwards. He looked up into Phil’s sniggering face.
‘That’s him for another half-hour.’ Phil laughed.
Patrick looked down. ‘Get yourself up Christy.’
Cut yourself up Christy.
Christy uprighted himself. ‘Why aren’t you going Amsterdam Danny?’
No answer.
‘Why aren’t you going though, Danny?’
Animal rolled his eyes. ‘Fuck me. How many whys in Christy?’
‘Too many,’ Patrick said. ‘Give him a tip Danny.’
The sky whooshed again. Christy lay winded. ‘What’s these seats?’
‘You’re on a bus Christy,’ Patrick said. ‘That one Danny was saying about buying.’
They’d stuffed him full of acid. Now they’d stuck him on a bus to who knew where.
Phil’s face appeared above him. ‘We’re on the way to Swindon. See your mum.’
Why was she in Swindon? Mandeville was in Swindon. You think you’re sat on top of it; next thing you know it’s got you flat on your back. Cut yourself up.
Danny stood. ‘We should get in the car; warm up, get some kip.’
They left Christy on his back like a stranded sheep. He lay still while all the threads wove themselves together. He looked at the sky. The sky was black, without stars.
By dawn, he felt straight enough to know that something was being acted out; some performance or ritual. He wandered into the old hospital. In the first room two men were talking. One was telling the other a story.
‘I was with this bird and I was stoned and I was pissed and I was pissed and I was stoned. Then I threw up all over her.’
The second man, who had a mauve bruise covering one side of his face, looked uninterested. ‘Is that it?’
‘That’s all I can remember.’
He’d only been told the basic details.
The two men stared at Christy. He shuffled his feet. ‘I haven’t been inside a hospital lately.’
The one with the bruise said, ‘You might be again. Sooner than you think.’
In the car the others woke, aching and gluey-eyed, faces grey as cigarette ash, last night’s sweat itching under their clothes. They gathered among the burnt remains of the fire where they found Christy, poking the ashes with the toe of his boot and muttering.
On the way back to the island, Christy sat in the car with his eyes closed. Patrick told him later he was screaming all the way.
Danny dropped Patrick and Animal off first. Patrick leaned in at the window and spoke to Phil. ‘You should’ve come.’
‘I can’t,’ Phil said.
‘Under thumb you are,’ Patrick said.
‘What’s the matter?’ Phil asked. ‘Jealous?’
Too tired for a row, Danny spoke. ‘Have a good time. Bring us back some gear.’
‘Yeah, alright,’ Patrick said. ‘We’ll hollow Christy out. Smuggle it back that way.’
That afternoon, resigned, Christy packed his bag and took the bus to meet Patrick and Animal at Weymouth station. He couldn’t stop it; they were pulling the strings now. Phil’s dad was on duty at the station. He winked at Animal and said, ‘Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.’
The 3.15 train to Waterloo drew a line across a spoiled land. Christy stared blankly at the fields, the allotments, the tight tidy terraces, the turned backs of towns. He watched the world as it looked the other way.
Animal leaned across and tapped Christy’s knee. ‘Say something Christy, for fuck’s sake.’
Christy looked at him, dull-eyed. ‘Where’s Phil?’
Animal laughed. ‘He’s with Les.’
‘I’ve never met her,’ Christy said.
Patrick rubbed his eyes, then spoke. ‘Doesn’t exist then, does she?’
Christy pressed his face against the man-made stubble of the seat and pretended to fall asleep. At Liverpool Street they joined the second train. Christy watched grey, flat Essex passing.

A blood-orange sun rose as they arrived at Amsterdam’s Centraal station; big, clean half-sister of St Pancras. The city looked to Christy like it should stink of fish. The three of them stood looking at a map on the wall. It showed the streets of the city spreading out like the threads of a web.
Christy sensed a shape and smell behind him. He turned to see a man in his thirties with a thick black beard, greasy back-combed hair, and a boxer’s face, beaten but suspicious still. Around the armpits of his ancient black jacket were concentric dry sweat stains like the rings in the trunk of a tree.
His accent was part-German, part-Irish. ‘Alright lads? After a hotel? Cheapo, cheapo.’
Christy looked him up and down. ‘How did you know we’re English?’
The man looked at Animal and Patrick and smiled. ‘Just a guess.’
How had they arranged that?
They followed the hotel tout into the city. As he led them down Damrak he told how he’d previously worked in a pornographic bookshop in Berlin. He could say, ‘Gentlemen, this isn’t a library,’ in seven languages.
They turned left into the red-light district. On the corner was a busker, lighting a cigarette between songs. Christy saw the tout make eye contact with the busker. The busker began playing the chords to ‘Wild Thing.’
Animal said, ‘Wonder how the Wildman is.’
Patrick laughed. ‘Yeah. What was that rumour about him again? I forget now.’
‘Oh that,’ Animal said, looking sideways at Christy. ‘Apparently his dad topped himself.’
Patrick smiled. ‘Not surprised with a son like that.’
The tout smiled. Even he knew.
He led them past shop windows full of latex genitalia and magazines showing people with bored, pasty, grunting faces, fucking for a living. They stopped in front of a tall, narrow, sand-coloured building on Warmoesstraat. The tout rang the bell. A fat balding man answered. His nose was pockmarked. At the corner of his mouth was dry brown spit. A half-moon of hairy white gut showed at the top of his trousers where his tee-shirt ended.
The tout spoke. ‘Three more.’
The fat man nodded and led the guests into a small reception room furnished with plastic garden chairs. Christy stood waiting for his punishment, waiting for the coming blows.

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