Blame the Irish.
I always do.
The fuckers don't care, they're used to it, all that Catholic guilt they inherit, blame is, like, habitual. Too, all that rain they get? Makes them amenable to bad shit. I've known my share of micks-you grow up in Brixton, they're part of the landscape. Not necessarily a good part but they have their spot. Worked with a few when I was starting out, getting my act together. I didn't know as much as I thought I knew, so sure, I had them in my early crew.
Give them one thing, they're fearless, will go that extra reckless yard, laugh on the trip, and true, they've got your back, won't let you get ambushed. But it's after, at the pub, they get stuck in it, and hell, they get to talking, talking loose. Near got my collar felt cos of that. So I don't use them any more. One guy, named, of course, Paddy, said to me: "Not that long ago, the B'n'Bs . . . they had signs proclaiming, No coloureds, no dogs, no Irish ."
He was smiling when he told me and that's when you most got to worry, the fucks are smiling, you're in for the high jump. Paddy got eight years over a botched post office gig, he'd torn off his mask halfway through the deal, as it itched. I'd driven to the Scrubs, see if he needed anything, and he shook his head, said, "Don't visit any more."
I was a little miffed and he explained, "Nothing personal but you're a Brit."
Like that made any sense, he was in a Brit nick . Logic and the Irish never gel, but he must have clocked my confusion, added, "In here, I'm with my countrymen. They see a Brit visiting, I'm fucked."
Let him stew.
Life was shaping up nice for me. Took some time but I'd put it together real slow. Doing some merchandise, a little meth, some heroin, and, of course, the coke. Didn't handle any of the shit my own self, had it all through channels, lots of dumb bastards out there will take the weight. I arranged the supply, got it to the public, and stayed real anonymous, had me a share in a pub, karaoke four nights a week, the slots, and on a Sunday, a tasty afternoon of lap dancing. The cops got their share and everyone was, if not happy, reasonably prosperous. None of us getting rich but it paid for a few extras. Bought into a car park and, no kidding, serious change in that.
Best of all, I'd a fine gaff on Electric Avenue, owned the lease, and from outside, looked like a squat, which keeps the burglars away. Inside, got me Heal's furniture, clean and open-plan living room, lots of wicker furniture. I like it, real laid-back vibe. No woman, I like my freedom. Sure, on a Friday night I pick up some fox, bring her back, but she's out of there by three in the morning. I don't need no permanent company. Move some babe in and that's the end of my hard-bought independence.
Under the floorboards is my stash: coke, fifteen large and a Glock. The baseball bat I keep by the bed.
Then I met Kelly.
I'd been to the Fridge to see a very bad hip hop outfit who were supposed to be the next big thing. Jeez, they were atrocious, no one told them the whole gangsta scene was, like . . . dead. I went down to the pub after, needed to get the taste out of my mouth. I ordered a pint of bitter and heard, "To match your mood."
A woman in her late twenties, dressed in late Goth style, lots of black make-up, clothes, attitude. I've nothing against them, they're harmless, and if they think the Cure are still relevant, well, it takes all kinds . . . better than listening to Dido. Her face wasn't pretty, not even close, but it had an energy, a vitality that made it noticeable. I gave her my best London look with lots of Brixton overshadow, the look that says, Fuck off . . . now .
She felt an explanation was due, said, "Bitter, for the bitterness in your face."
I did the American bit, asked, "I know you?"
She laughed, said, "Not yet."
I grabbed my pint, moved away. She was surrounded by other Goths but she was the centre, the flame they danced around. I'd noticed her eyes had an odd green fleck, made you want to stare at them. I shook myself, muttered, "Cop on."
On my second pint, I chanced a glance at her and she was looking right at me, winked. I was enraged, the fuck was that about? Had a JD for the road-I'm not a big drinker, that shit becomes a habit and I've plans, being a booze hound isn't among them. Knocked it back and headed for the door, she caught up with me, asked, "Buy me a kebab?"
Now I could hear the Irish lilt, almost like she was singing the words. I stopped, asked, "What the hell is the matter with you?"
She was smiling, went, "I'm hungry and I don't want to eat alone."
I indicated the pub. "What about your fan cub, won't they eat with you?"
She almost sneered. It curled her lip and I'd a compulsion to kiss her, a roaring in my head, What is happening to me?
"Adoration is so, like, tiresome, you fink?"
The little bit of London- fink -to what? To make me comfortable? "I wouldn't know, it's not a concept I'm familiar with."
She laughed out loud, and her laugh made you want to join in. She said, "Oh, don't we talk posh, what's a concept, then? Is it like a condom?"
I'm still not sure why, but I decided to buy her the bloody kebab-to get rid of her, to see what more outrageous banter she'd produce? She suggested we eat them in the park and I asked, "Are you out of your mind? It's a war zone."
She blew that off with: "I'll mind you ."
The way she said it, as if she meant it, as if . . . fuck, I dunno, as if she was looking for someone to mind. So I said my place was round the corner and she chirped, "Whoo . . . fast worker. My mammie warned me about men like you."
I'd just taken a bite of the kebab, it was about what you'd expect, tasteless with a hint of acid. I had to ask. "What kind of man is that, a stranger?"
She flung her kebab in the air. "No, English." Then she watched the kebab splatter on the road, sang, "Feed the birds."
Bringing her back to my place, the first mistake-and if it were the only one, well, even now, I don't know what was going on with me, like I was mesmerized.
She looked round my flat, and yeah, I was pretty damn proud, it looked good.
"Who lives here, some control freak, an anal retentive?"
Man, I was pissed, tried: "You have some problem with tidiness, with a place being clean?"
Fuck, you get defensive, you've already lost.
She was delighted, moved to me, got her tongue way down my throat, and in jig time we were going at it like demented things. Passion is not something I've had huge experience with-sure, I mean I get my share, but never like that.
Later, lying on the floor, me grabbing for air, she asked, "What do you want?"
She was smoking. I didn't think it was time to mention my place was smoke-free, so I let it slide, not easily, bit down. I leaned on one elbow, said, "I think I just had what I want."
She flicked the butt in the direction of the sink; I had to deliberately avert my eyes, not thinking where it landed. She said, "Sex, sex is no big deal. I mean in life, the . . . what do they call it . . . the bigger picture ?"
I wanted to be comfortable, not go to jail, keep things focused. I said, "Nice set of wheels, have my eye on - "
She cut me off, went: "Bollocks, fecking cars, what is it with guys and motors? Is it like some phallic symbol? Got me a mean engine ."
Her tone, dripping with bile. Before I could get my mouth going, she continued, "I want to be loaded, serious wedge, you know what I'm saying?"
I nearly let slip about my stash, held back and asked, "So, you get loaded, then what?"
She was pulling on her clothes, looked at me like I was dense. "Then it's fuck you, world ."
She was heading for the door, I asked, "You leaving?"
That's what I always wanted, get them out as soon as possible. Now, though . . .
Her hand was on her hip and she raised an eyebrow. "What, you think you're up for another round? I think you shot your load, need a week to get you hot again, or am I wrong?"
That stung, I'd never had complaints before, should have told her to bang the door behind her, near whimpered, "Will I see you?"
Her smile, smirk in neon, said, "I'll call you."
And was gone.
She didn't . . . call.
I went back to the pub, no sign of her. Okay, I went back a few times, asked the barman. I knew him a long time, we had, as they say, history, not all of it bad. He was surprised, said, "The Irish babe, yeah?"
I nodded miserably, hated to reveal a need, especially to a frigging barman, cos they talk to you, you can be sure they talk to others, and I didn't want the word out that I was, like . . . bloody needy, or worse, vulnerable. That story goes out, you are dead, the predators coming out of the flaming woodwork. He stared at me. "Matt, you surprise me, hadn't figured you for a wally."
Bad, real fucking bad.
I should have slapped him on the side of the head, get the status established, but I wanted the information. I got some edge into my voice, snapped, "What's that mean?"
He was doing bar stuff, taking his own sweet time, stashing glasses, polishing the counter, and I suppressed my impatience. Finally he straightened, touched his nose, said, "Word to the wise, mate, stay clear, she hangs with that black guy, Neville, you don't want to mess with that dude."
Neville, story was he offed some dealer, did major trade in crystal, and was serious bad news. I moved to leave, said: "I knew that."
He didn't scoff but it was in the neighborhood. "Yeah, right."
Fuck fuck fuck.
The bitch, playing with me, I resolved to put her out of my head, get on with my business. Plus, I had to get a new carpet, the cigarette had burned a hole right where you'd notice.
A week later, I was in the pub where we had the karaoke nights, nice little earner, punters get a few on, then they want to sing, did brisk sales those nights. I was at the back, discussing some plans with the manager, when I heard a voice go, "I'd like to sing 'Howling at Midnight'."
It was her, Kelly, with the Lucinda Williams song, one of my favorites, she no doubt saw the CD in my gaff. I looked quickly round, no sign of Neville, the pub hushed as she launched. Her voice was startling pure, innocent, and yet, had a hint of danger that made you pay attention. When she finished, the applause was deafening. The manager, his mouth open, whispered, "Christ, she's good."
Then she hopped off the stage, headed in my direction, small smile in place. I resolved to stay cool but to my horror whined, "You never called."
Even the manager gave me an odd look.
"What happened to hello, how have you been ?" she asked.
I moved her away, touching her arm lightly, and just that small gesture had me panting. She said: "Yes, thank you, I would like a drink."
I ordered two large vodkas, no ice, and tonics. She took the glass. "I'd have liked a Bushmills, but shit, I just can't resist the alpha male."
The touch of mockery, her eyes shining, that fleck of green dancing in there. I was dizzy, decided to get it out in the open, asked, "What do you want?"
She licked the rim of the glass, said, "I want you inside me, now."
Never finished my drink, never got to mention the black guy either. We were in my place, me tearing off my shirt, her standing, the smile on her lips, I heard: "White dude is hung."
She'd left the door ajar. Neville standing there, a car iron held loosely in his hand. I looked at her, she shrugged, moved to my left. Neville sauntered over, almost lazily took a swipe at my knee. I was on the floor.
"Cat goes down easy."
Kelly came over, licked his ear. "Let's get the stuff, get the fuck out of here."
He wanted to play, I could see it in his eyes. He drawled, "How about it, Leroy, you want to give us that famous stash you got, or you wanna go tough, make me beat the fucking crap outta you?" Either is, like, cool with me. Yo, babe, this mother got any, like, beverages?"
I said I'd get the stash, and he laughed.
"Well, get to it, bro, shit ain't come les' you go get it."
I crawled along the carpet, pulled it back, plied the floorboard loose, Kelly was shouting, "Nev, you want Heineken or Becks?"
I shot him in the balls, let him bleed out. Kelly had two bottles in her hands, let them slide to the floor, I said, "You're fucking up my carpet again, what's with you?"
I shot her in the gut, they say it's the most agonizing, she certainly seemed to prove that. I bent down, whispered, "Loaded enough for you, or you want some more? I got plenty left."
Getting my shirt tucked into my pants, I made sure it was neat, hate when it's not straight, ruins the sit of the material. I looked round, complained: "Now I'm going to have to redo the whole room."