A Slackers Ball
It was Monday, October 19th. The day was an unprecedented disaster. The room was grim, filled with the panicked faces of the fallen. As positions went bad the bad disappeared. This was Black Monday, a truly seismic event which heralded a 60% fall in the stock market. Companies folded, employees sacked, careers shattered. It was all going wrong. The city became a ghost town, bars were empty, the Yuppies fled and stiff corporates moved in. The F.S.A was breathing heavily down their neck as compliance and segregated accounts were introduced in a vain attempt to make them respectable. Shatkin was under new management. Mechanical bankers moved in, performing a charisma by-pass, draining all that was left of a fading scene. His boss, Alan was prejudicially sacked and Jimmy, the habitual offender, knew he was next.
Barely a week had passed when a meeting was convened to discuss Jimmy’s misconduct. Simon carried the ever watchful eye;
“They’ll have something on you, probably the day you bunked last week.”
“Isn’t it three strikes then out?”
“Nah summary dismissal for serious offences and you were caught on TV mate, so you can’t play the sick card.”
“Yeah that spot on the 6 o’clock news was bad luck, caught in the back at The Arbitrage what are the odds?”
“One way or another you’re out the door mate.”
“Fuck, corporate wankers.”
“I know Jimmy, I’m so mad, everyone hates them. They’re gunning for us one by one but what can you do?”
Ever since his boss, Alan left the writing was on the wall. He realised it was over and was ready to go but not without a fight. He was called into the boardroom and remained standing as the jury of eight sat, ready to condemn. He knew the game was up so spoke without reserve.
“I know what’s going on, pay me my severance and I’ll go, no fuss,”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible, your contract clearly states,” said Vanessa, gloating, thumbing the pages to read the clause.
“I don’t care about the contract. Don’t try me.”
“What did you say?” said Andrew, the Finance Director.
“Let’s not play games, Andrew,”
“You got something to say?”
“Ok, I warned ya. Actually, Vanessa you may want to leave the room. What I’m about to say is highly incriminating.” She remained seated “Fine, up to you.”
Andrew coughed. “Now hold on, hold on, we’re just talking.”
“It’s too late for that. You see Vanessa I covered up reports on their say so. Bet you didn’t know that did you? Now I could call the FSA about non-segregated client funds, false accounting, shall I go on?”
“Is that a threat?” asked Andrew.
“I don’t know, why don’t you try me? You gone quiet Vanessa. You know you are obliged to report this? My offer’s starting to look pretty good now, isn’t it?”
“It’s just your word,” said Andrew.
Jimmy lent forward with his hands on the table staring them down. “Come off it. John left because of you, not his wife, everyone knows ’dummy the reds.’ remember?”
“That’s just your word.”
“No, I got snapshot reports at home. Client borrowings in the red, over exposed positions, overdrawn house accounts. It’s very naughty stuff, a real mess, seriously you should look into it?” He mocked.
“Suppose what you’re saying is true, you’ll be in trouble too.”
He headed toward the door and looked back quietly optimistic. “Don’t try me. Now I’m leaving and you’re going to pay me double to keep my mouth shut.”
A day later they panicked and paid him off. Simon was crossed off the expulsion list along with three others. Despite receiving a nice pay out he was fateful and offloaded on Pra.
“I figure after severance I got till next month before the Landlord kicks me out.”
He put his head in his hands, swept back his hair. “Yeah I fell a bit behind. My credit cards are maxed. I blew my advance on the car so the rents gone.”
“You got experience now. Can’t you switch to another firm?”
“What firm, have you seen the news, there all gone. Rothschild, Morgan they’re all gone. I’m screwed, it’s over.”
A week had passed. Jimmy sat in Aladin, a curry house on Brick Lane. It was a grey miserable morning. He shuddered as drizzle ran down the pane. Mark burst in energetic and full of bluster.
“Not exactly short sleeve weather ay Jimmy? “He took off his Burberry mac, hung it on the back of the chair and sat down. “You ordered yet?”
After studying the menu at length they plumped for the usual; Rogan Gosh for Jimmy and Chicken Korma for Mark. Mark raised his glass.
“God bless Shatkin and all who sink in her right?”
“Did they pay you off?”
“You kidding, involuntary redundancy. No worries, I sold the client list to Chase.” Jimmy was both impressed and shocked. “It’s compensation, anyway I need some seed money.”
“Seed money, for what?”
The waiter set down two tall beer glasses. “I’ve been thinking about ramping up my operation, expanding into Tower Hamlets and now’s as good a time as any. Trouble is, it’s too much work for me- -“ He popped a Grolsch swing cap and began to pour for Jimmy, “- - I need a lieutenant?” The dishes arrived and were spooned sizzling hot onto plates. They heaped a mouthful. “I know what you’re thinking, a bit rough, violent? All bollocks, no-one’s going to shove a gun in your face and march you off to a chop house in Medellin.”
“It’s in Columbia.” He wet his appetite and replaced the flute. “Coke, Speed, Mary Jane, we don’t need to push. The demand is sky high, the money good. We play it big, make a bunch and get out.”
A couple of stiffs in suits entered and sat opposite. “Aren’t you tired of it all, being told what to do being a slave to the man?” Jimmy looked over at the suits. “What you think they’re legit, honest? Let me tell you those fuckers are the biggest crooks of all. How do you think Ewan made it? It’s from who he knew. Polite conversation in pretentious wine bars, insider dealing that’s how. Tips from rich pricks like them. The market’s fucked, interest rates at 15%, my Mum’s lost her house and it’s their fault, so forget what you think. You want justice, you want to get even? Get with the program.”
“Huh, so what are you now, Robin Hood?”
“No but I don’t feel guilty. Al Capone, Tommy guns on Valentine’s Day over what? Prohibition in 1930’s USA, that’s what; all over that stuff you’re drinking right now. It’s all arbitrary bullshit.”
Mark passed Jimmy a teen of coke under the table “Look here’s a little something.”
“Thought that would cheer you up, that’ll do ya for a while.”
Jimmy went to the Men’s to make himself happy. Reality sank in, Mark made a lot of sense. He knew he couldn’t go back to Mum’s, he needed the money. When he came back the rain had stopped. A shaft of sunlight cracked on the table. Jimmy felt in control again, tore off some Naan bread and took the last swig of Grolsch.
“Ok, I’m in but I want half.”
Jimmy suggested he expand the operation and deal dope. Pra had been dealing on campus for a while. He never held much just enough to top up the loan. The intention was for Mark to supply Pra’s contact and supersize the deal.
Mark lived in a high rise in Napier Court, Hackney. Everyone knew him as the Pharmacist, but no one, not even Jimmy knew he lived on a council estate with his ex, Sophia, a single mum he knew from childhood. She was the only one who would put up with him. He’d come crawling back after caught red handed with other girls. Girls who used him, milked him for what he had, what he could offer. Jimmy grew paranoid, wondering who Mark really was and if he could trust him.
The lifts were all broken, graffiti riddled the walls. They climbed the cold concrete stairs, piss-stink and stained. A small boy ran out, Mark’s adopted son, Johnny.
“She’s gone to the shops.”
“I got you something.” He pulled out the latest Batman comic. “You go and
play in your room ok.” Johnny ran off excited.
“You look after him?
“I’m pretty much his dad.”
“Where’s his real dad?”
“Left before he was born, poor git, never seen him.” Jimmy began to relax.
“Does he know you’re not his real Dad?”
“No, Sophia says he’s not old enough. Probably best for now.”
There was a knock at the door. Mark had lined up some business in anticipation.
“Pra’s contact better be as good as he says, Do you know him?”
“No, but Pra’s no fool,”
“Students,” groaned Mark. “Ok, it’s your funeral,”
Marcel, a tall well-spoken Nigerian in a tan cashmere coat entered. Mark grabbed some ice cold Sols. Marcel pulled out a leather case and some electronic scales, the red LED’s flashed on.
“Nice kit,” said Mark.
“Yeah saves dicking about with weights. It’s the ones the labs use; accurate to a 1000th of a gram.”
He chopped up two lines to sample. Mark scored.
“Ok we’re good.” Marcel scooped up the goods and weighed out exactly half a kilo. He reached into his bag and pulled out a shiny caramel coloured brick.
“Jimmy, do you know what this is?”
“Very good. It’s Moroccan hash, not pure resin. Here try some.”
He cut off a bit from the underside. Jimmy rolled a spliff and sparked up.
“It takes five to kick in.”
Jimmy took it down deep “…..Shit!”
“Five seconds that is,” They laughed. ”Good shit huh? I’ll give you two bars and we’ll see how you get on. You got a week to shift it, then I start charging interest, £500 for every week you’re late. You still in?”
They shook hands and Marcel left. Mark read him the riot act.
“Right here’s the deal. I’ll move the coke and you move the hash up North.
Remember, you can have fun, just don’t flaunt it. There are plenty of sharks out there that will cut themselves in, take half of your shit or shop you. Keep it under the radar,”
“Cool, I get it.”
“Number one and only rule, don’t get caught. Only deal with trusted contacts, no-one new.” He tapped his temple to drive the message home “Use your loaf, nothing last forever Jimmy. Now’s your time so be careful and don’t fuck it up.”
Mark stood outside Napier Court and matched a cigarette. It was a clear and brilliant day. Bird song gave way to green grocers hauling carts down a cobbled track toward the street Market. Mark looked back to catch Johnny knocking from the fifth floor, peering out the window. Sophia suddenly pulled him away. His heart dipped, she didn’t want him to know what daddy was up to. The clock was ticking, he knew he had to do better. This was the last big push. After this they would get away, skip to the countryside or it was over.
Mark felt twitchy, for the first time matters were out of his hands. He felt totally unprepared, venturing into unfamiliar territory; dealing with a complete stranger. It defied all logic and broke every one of his self-proclaimed rules. He was relying on good intelligence from Pra and a dose of beginners luck from his new partner Jimmy. Mark heard a familiar rumble. He raced round to the main street. Jimmy sat there in his metallic red TVR with the top down, music pumping.
“What did I say about flaunting it?”
“I only got a month before it goes back.”
Mark got in. “Next time park round the back and don’t blow your horn, it’s 6 in the morning for Christ’s sake.”
They raced up the A1 to Didsbury, Manchester.
Nowhere was the stagnation of Britain more evident. The Japanese Pavilion stood defiantly, it’s ornate red brick spires looking down, mocking the new. 70s edifices falling foul, un-pretty graffiti stained boxes, poking tongues, spoiling the beauty. The Arndale centre cold and destitute sat opposite crumbling train arches, paint peeled, stain glass stolen to turn a quick buck. They watched as the Punks picnicked in Hulme park; the great unwashed squatting on the lawn, harbouring malice at the abandonment of a once prosperous town.
“Be on your best behaviour when we meet Pra’s guy. Show respect remember this is an introduction after this you are on your own.”
“Have you spoken to him?”
“No not yet. From what I hear he’s a dick but he sleeps with a Glock under his pillow so I wouldn’t fuck with him. We’re not making the exchange till Sunday so just relax and enjoy the night.”
Jimmy dropped off Mark at the Hotel and picked up Pra to go for a drink. A Nissan Skyline flashed them up, hot to trot. A boy racer had pulled alongside eager to impress his girlfriend. He weaved beside, then behind with his lights flashing, goading them into a duel. Jimmy refused to entertain, the last thing he needed was the Bill on his back. No sooner had he lost them, an EVO pulled up, at the next set of lights revved his engine and burned him on green.
“What is it with this place?” He pulled up alongside at the next set, out of curiosity. The passenger leaned forward looked across and waved “Oh my god,” shrieked Jimmy.
“What?” Pra looked across it was Kelly.
Jimmy was furious eager to attack. ”Right he’s dust! ”
“Don’t race him.”
Jimmy was not listening. “Hold onto your hats.”
“Don’t do it - -”
The lights turned green and Jimmy floored it, heads threw back, backs pinned, they screamed exhilarated. Within seconds the EVO was shrinking in the rear view mirror.
“- -What are you doing? Slow down, let him take you.” shrieked Pra.
“What is wrong with you?”
“He’s Roger, our contact, our buyer. I’m serious, that’s how I met him through Kelly. Now slow the fuck down.”
Jimmy immediately backed off and let Roger beat him to the lights. “Alright, alright be cool.” Roger overtook and cut him up to rub his nose in it, stealing the inside lane, Jimmy switched to the outside. They stopped at the junction. Just as the lights were about to change they heard an almighty thwack. Roger’s EVO had been shunted from behind by the Skyline from earlier, they couldn’t believe their eyes,
The EVO was totalled, the back completely caved to the rear pillar. It rolled across the junction to the far set of lights before hitting a barrier. Bits of fibre and smashed glass littered the carriageway.
Jimmy ran up to Kelly and opened the door. “You alright?”
“Yeah, I’m ok, thanks Jimmy?” he grabbed her hand and led her out of harm’s way.
Roger intimidated to her. “You know him?” he looked murderous.
Pra went across to Roger. “You okay mate?”
“Prakesh, you with him?”
“Yeah, you okay Roger?”
“You better go.”
Pra winced. “Everything cool for tomorrow?”
“I said you better go.”
Jimmy and Pra turned and walked away, looking back as patrol Police
approached plodding around, marshalling traffic.
“You should have told me.” said Jimmy.
“I didn’t see the point.”
“Do you see the point now?”
“Excuse me, I wasn’t expecting a fucking face off in the street.”
“Does, it matter?” Pra stared him down hard. “Yeah alright, I guess it’s a bit awkward.”
“A bit awkward? It’s a fucking disaster.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“It’s out of our hands now. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens. Birds, they fuck up everything.”
Day broke, they picked up Mark and made their way to Moss Side, a notoriously troubled inner city suburb. The building was a crumbling block of flats. None of the lads were particularly thrilled about the choice of venue. The neighbourhood was by-passed by Police, it was lawless, a safe haven for gangs and drug cartels. They parked up in a side alley next to Roger’s EVO, a presumed safe zone.
Jimmy nudged Pra as he passed the crumpled wreck. Mark bought up the rear concealing the merchandise under his coat.
“You alright lads, you look a bit nervous?”
“Nah were cool,” said Jimmy heading for the stairs.
“We’re taking the lift, less you wanna get jacked.”
At the top of the hallway were couple of Roger’s boys holding back two ferocious Bull Terriers, barking, snapping forward. Pra went first, a lookout opened the door.
The walls were lined with wood panelling, mouldy and dank. They were led into the lounge. A shaft of light spilled through a split in the curtains onto a blood stained goat skin rug. Roger, a blue eyed poster boy for Hitler Youth, stood with his back to them baiting a caged Python with live mice. Mark entered first, he turned and caught Jimmy entering last.
“You’re kidding Pra right?” said Roger.
“Is everything ok?” asked Mark. He went across and squared up to Jimmy.
“I’m not the superstitious type but your friend is fucking jinx, so if you don’t mind.”
“What do you mean?” Roger recapped the prior night’s events, a distorted and somewhat biased account. He knew why Jimmy was there and relished the chance to hit him where it hurt.
“I’m sorry Roger I had no idea. Jimmy can be a bit of a prick sometimes. My apologies.”
“Thank you Mark. I’m glad someone round here’s got some manners.”
”I’m sorry about your car, really. How about we give you a little discount to ease the pain?”
“That’s very good of you Mark, take a seat.” He stared at Jimmy. “Goodbye.”
Mark gave the nod. Jimmy made his way out. “Oh, Jimmy, that is your name right? One last thing - -” The body guard winded him in the gut. “- -you ever talk to my girl again and you’re a dead man.”
The guard flashed his pistol to drive the point home. Jimmy went back down to the car. He had gone from zero to sixty and back again. He sat slumped in his seat, frustrated, slowly coming to terms with the situation. He braced himself for the fallout.
Pra stepped into the back, Mark slammed the car door. “Let’s get out of here.”
“What do you think? I’m telling you Jimmy, you fucked up.”
“Did Pra tell you what happened?” said Jimmy concocting a defence.
“Yeah, you got your arse handed to you. Look it don’t matter now, you’re out.”
“You fucked up and now you’re out. This isn’t a game, these guys are serious, did you see the fucking gun?”
“Yeah, but Mark.”
“But nothing. What were you thinking? I know you’re new to the game but did you not think, wrecking his car and fucking his girl might be bad for business?”
“Yeah but that’s not what happened.”
“All that matters is what psycho-boy thinks, Anyway spilt milk, it’s over.”
Jimmy conceded, even though it was all wrong he felt he had little choice.
“Now, after I’ve had a minor heart attack I reckon we go back to Pra’s and get shit faced - -” He looked at the boys opened his bag full of notes and screamed “- - it’s payday!”
Pra had a bedsit, a converted lounge on the ground floor of an eight bedroom Victorian house. Garish flock wallpaper adorned the walls. A writing desk and chair were shoved against a bay window. In the center was a black lacquered coffee table opposite a green chesterfield settee.
Pra pulled out a drawer and unrolled a plastic bag of pills and weed. When it came to building blunts Pra was the Chief Architect. He was meticulous, a real craftsman. It would take him an age to construct but no-one complained as he could make an eighth last all night. He got busy crafting roaches, splicing papers. Short or stumpy twin sisters, XXL monsters were delivered with consummate ease.
Pra sparked a Joker and slipped on a video he made for stoning to. Johnny Cash was imitating Elvis on a slapstick version of ’Heartbreak Hotel.’
“You know he’s a pretty good actor.”
“Yeah, I caught him on Columbo. He’s flying a plane with his wife’s next to him unconscious. He puts on a parachute and jumps out.”
“Mate he was totally baddass.”
“Did they catch him?”
“You’re kidding right? Have you seen Columbo?”
Pra sped forward and stopped. ’Hold on, Fat Busters, I love this show,” said Mark.
The Boot Camp Commandant put the participants through their paces. Mark hit the blunt hard, taking it deep, holding it till his head was fuzzy and light.
“What the fuck does he know about losing weight? Cheeky fuck, never had cream cake in his life? The cheek, ’look I can run it backwards, shouting abuse.’ Why doesn’t he try it with a fucking Elephant on his back, that’ll make it even, hahahh!”
They were free-falling to the tea party complete with March Hare and Hatter.
Jimmy sucked hard on the Joker, swigging cans of Special Brew, zoning in and out of the room.
“You know you’re fat when your socks start feeling tight,”
“You know the best way to lose weight?” Mark pulled out a bag of dust and shook it.
“Actually Skag is much better,” said Pra cooking up a batch.
“What sort of student are you, cooking H. Where’s the Jenga where’s The Morrissey?”
“Nah, fuck that shit, try this.” Pra tossed him some Molly, a pink ecstasy pill stamped with an anarchy symbol. They popped tabs like breath mints, inhaled doobs. Elvis came on the video in a Gold Lame suit singing Hound Dog, he cranked the volume.
“Ah this is it,” Said Pra. “You know who’s in the audience?” Pra pointed. “Jimmy Hendrix, that’s him at his first gig, said it got him into music.”
“What Hound Dog?”
“Nah the suit you nonse, said it was the coolest thing he’d ever seen.”
“Now that is the sort of shit only students know.”
Pra followed through “In 1960, Gore Vidal turned down Ronald Regan for the role as President in ‘The Best Man,’ said there was no way he would make a convincing President.”
“I take it back. You are one hell of a student.”
Mark was on his back, eyes darting round following speckled light flicker off the ceiling disco ball. The other students from the bedsit came down to investigate the racket and stayed. A lad perched on the edge of the settee, swigging a bottle a White Lightening fresh from fancy dress, togged in a cowboy suit. Mark hung out the window to get some fresh air and fell out on his arse into a rose bush, snoring oblivious.
Two girls entered Vicky, a petite girl from the valleys. She had a Marilyn Monroe look, bleach blond hair, 50s skirt and red heels. They’d come straight from a rave and were looking to score. Pra was still upright, pressed up against her friend, Jane Whitmore, a girl who had designs on him the very first day she moved in. She was rumoured to have an STD. Pra sloped off regardless thinking he might get away it if he played around the edges. Vicky was cast adrift. Jimmy, quick to spot an opportunity swooped in for a kiss, she ducked.
“Who are you?”
He was disadvantaged “I’m Jimmy, Pra’s mate,” He scrambled to make ground. Your name is, don’t tell me?” he looked at her, she reminded him of Vicky Wilks of the film Mrs Parks. “Vicky.”
“Fuck no way, did Jane tell ya? That’s impossible, how did you know seriously?”
“I just pick up on things sometimes.” Truth was he lucked out by mere coincidence, his life was plagued with them but never understood why. Vicky was deeply spiritual, had her aurora regularly photographed, believed in Alien possession so instantly wrapped herself in the illusion. They wound up in heap beneath some discarded curtains, fumbling, surrounded by other invitees who stepped over oblivious in search of residue and discarded cigarette butts.
The party goers left in the small hours. Pra came down for some more skag, entered the room slowly and kicked Jimmy awake. It looked like a bric-a-brac shop had exploded its contents on the floor. Pra was about to curse him out but Jimmy shook his head and mouthed ‘not now’ pointing down with his eyes. There was motion under the covers. Pra nodded in approval and sloped off back to his den.
The stragglers left one by one. The boys were wiped out and slept through the entire day. Jimmy woke the next morning confused and thought it a classic case of missing time abduction. Pra snapped him back to reality and glossed over the weekend desperately searching for an upside. They chatted over a burnt steak and half a glass of bourbon.
“Let’s face it, I got to get back to London and find a job.”
“I got an uncle who runs an Estate agents in Camden. He said he was looking for some help, maybe I can give him a call?”
“No offence mate but your contacts suck.”
Pra grabbed the cold stiff steak and tore off a strip. “Yeah, well anyway have a think.”
He agreed, all the while, eager to put distance between himself and the weekend. Mark joined him, keen to avoid broken promise with Johnny. They raced back to London and stopped off at a Little Chef. Mark woofed down a Full English slurping milky tea.
“I know I said it, but you understand I had to knock you down to keep the deal alive? Here- ” He passed him an envelope “- there’s £2k in there, your share.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course, it wasn’t your fault. Roger’s a class A prick. I can’t believe he’s with your girl; that would burn me too.”
“She’s not my girl.”
Mark smiled nodding. “Yes she is.”
“You still need help shifting the coke?”
“Sorry Jimmy but I’m hooking up with Marcel and he don’t want you on board.”
“You said it yourself, Roger’s a dick.”
“You’re a hothead Jimmy you got to keep your cool. Duelling down the high street over a girl; is not cool. Anyway Marcel knows; I had to tell him. If things change, maybe I can use you but that’s it for now.”