Cherry Smack

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'Wall to Wall Floors'

He couldn’t bear the thought of moving back to his parents but with no job, his choices were limited. £2k would not go far but could buy him some time. He holed up in a hostel and called his Mum to explore a more palatable option.

Mum’s extended family immigrated to the USA before the McCarran embargo in ’52. Jimmy’s folks left it too late so got lumbered with the UK. Jimmy’s Mum grabbed her little green book and called Lena, her half Sister. For Jimmy it was a chance to live rent free; for his Mum it was an opportunity to reconnect. It was agreed Jimmy was going to stay with Lena & Kris Persaud in New York.

He touched down at JFK, stole a medallion taxi and headed across the Queensboro Bridge. The reveal of the skyline blew him away, captivated, shrank small, flying to Cloud city. Buildings a hundred stories high pierced the sky, congested sidewalks with people shuffling eager to cross the line before their up-time. This was fast and loud Manhattan. He lowered the cab window. The scent of exhaust fumes from cars and taxis fused with sizzling franks from hot dog stands. Alluring puffs of photogenic vapour rose mysteriously from vents, mesmeric like every movie he’d ever seen.

In the first week alone he got drenched at Action Park, gamed in Atlantic City and watched sailboats drift down the Hudson. He felt he had lived the dream but his odyssey was just beginning. The Persauds’ planned to pass him round from Uncle to Cousin, Cousin to Uncle just as Mum prescribed. Jimmy made alternate plans to meet up with Mark who was flying out at Ewan’s behest. First he had to meet his cousin Lennox.

They pulled up at a chocolate box house with picket fence frame. A huge shadowy silhouette emerged from the sun’s glare. Jimmy stepped out and the Persauds drove off.

“Hi Jimmy,” Lennox boomed crushing his hand in true Alpha male fashion. “You know you should have stayed with us Jimmy. They are good but we’re your family.”

Jimmy was impressed by his candour it certainly broke the ice; familiarity acquired in two seconds rather than two long British years. Jimmy apologised, Lennox patted him on the back.

“Anyway you must stay with us longer.”

Jimmy said he would try but he knew it was unlikely as he had a long line of feverish relatives to visit.

Lennox was older and reminded him of his brother Chris, the first born; a leader. He was a grafter, working as a mechanic by day and a baggage handler at La Guardia by night. Jimmy was filled with pride when he saw what he had accomplished. He came to America with nothing and now was the very epitome of the American Dream; a family man with a showcase home in Long Island and a muscle car Camaro in the front yard. In fact all his cousins were doing well.

“Roydon, you’ll meet him later." said Lennox "He’s a Doctor and Fredrick an Architect.”

They sat on the porch sipping Caribbean mauby from frosted tumblers.

“What do you do Jimmy?”

“I’m in between jobs at the moment. Thought I’d take a break, come and see the family.”

“Unemployed ay?” Jimmy laughed at Lennox’s no-nonsense approach. “Don’t worry about it. I was too. We’ve all been there.”

“You without a job, how comes?”

“Roydon and Fredrick got the smarts. When you are coloured the choices are limited unless you are qualified.”

“It’s the same in England.” declared Jimmy.

“It’s a struggle you got to try twice as hard. I was lucky, someone gave me a break and I ran with it.”

As they were first generation immigrants they had a point to prove. Already they had forged early retirement plans. The day job would be used to fund mini ventures from road construction to rice milling back home. Maybe they were older and further into the game but they had it all worked out. They planned to retire at fifty. It seemed like an impossible goal but nonetheless encouraged Jimmy to raise his game.

Jimmy had no contact with relatives in England. His folks never disclosed much about his heritage. No traditions were purposefully passed down; no cultural roots imbued, the past seemed irrelevant. His time with Lennox shifted purpose, up until then he was a lodger sponging off his kin. He emerged immersed in new fascinating light; a kindred spirit whispering revelation, drawing unexpected parallels.

Lennox left with his kids to visit Roydon. He quickly surfed the access channels, settling on the Breakfast Club imagining he was the cool fop-haired one rather than Emilio the stiff athlete. On realising Emilio was making a play for his girl he switched. It was a scathing reminder, even his fictional on screen romances failed. He abandoned The Club, flicked across to MTV wacked up MJs - Off The Wall and danced around.

Jimmy adjourned invigorated. Famished, he checked the industrial sized pots on the cooker and sneaked a peak at the Guyanese dish they cooked for later; Gilbaka stew, a catfish with fatty skin. It looked nasty; where was the T-bone steak, the Pancakes with Maple Syrup? He spooned a tip of the gelatinous goup and stared as it hung in mid-air waiting approval. He sniffed it but wasn’t brave enough so put it back. He was starving and couldn’t eat their food. What was he supposed to do at dinner hold his nose and swallow? Jimmy jumped ship, made excuses and invited himself over to Mark’s for the day.

Everything was true to form. Ewan did have a condo opposite Central Park. Jimmy’s was astonished upon entering. The flat was huge minimalist with clean lines. Mark was mid-flow, glued to a beige IBM screen the size of Kentucky. He sat in a Polo top, faded 501’s and burgundy tassel loafers scratching his wig cap trawling S&M chatrooms for Ewan. He logged off fetched ice cold Buds to welcome Jimmy. They fell back into Eames recliners.

“You’re so jammy, look at this place. Plasma TV, cocktail bar,”

Mark pointed a remote “Check this out.”

The blinds drew back revealing a stunning view of Central Park. Jimmy stepped onto the balcony and looked across the way. Break dancers entertained tourist onlookers, horse drawn buggies trotted past a makeshift band jamming to Mile’s- ’Tutu.’

“Let’s get out there.”

They caught the subway to Penn Station. Within minutes they were in Times Square. Bright lights from story-tall neon’s surrounded them; a white hot Tron-esque reality pounding ads from every angle. They traversed the seedy streets in all its rude glory. Peep show purveyors and two-bit hustlers peppered side alleys and shop doorways.

They went to a clip-joint and sat at a table waiting for service. A waitress approached in opaque trouser socks and gloss heels. Mark knew something was up when he ordered a Sprite and got pocket change from a twenty. She walked off and returned fresh from failed solicitation with a Pan Am smile.

“You know if you’re interested I’ll put on a free show?” Mark was tempted by her charms but preferred a more subtle approach. Jimmy looked around. The place was bare, bar a few hoodlums guarding the door.

“Let’s find somewhere else.” suggested Mark.

They got up and made their way to the exit. A skinny runt chewing a bent tooth-pick blocked their way.

“Minimum charge is $500.”

“You sure?” argued Jimmy.

“You talk to my girl, now you got to pay?”

“We’re not interested in your bitch,” Mark scowled up for a fight.

Jimmy thought Mark had lost his mind but stood fast and clenched his fists ready for action. The doorman signaled to his boss.

“Don’t bother,” said Mark walking over to the Manager, a shady Brother perched on a stool. He dipped his shades as Mark flashed his wallet.

“Do you know what we call you?” said Mark. “An 803 and your girl a dwarf. Let me see. Your girl says the dance is free then charges $250 per drink? She sees my ring, credit cards blackmails me for $1000/$2000? Is that it?”

“What do you want?”

“Your gonna give back my money and we’re gonna help ourselves to the bar.”

“Or what?”

“Try me, go on just fucking try me please.”

“Ok, ok take it easy.”

Jimmy grabbed a bottle of Bacardi Rum and a pack a panatelas. They pushed pass the doorman. Jimmy swept suspicion aside till clear.

“Fake badge? I can’t believe it worked. ”

“It’s not fake.” He flicked the badge open. “O’ Reilly been dead for two years. Ewan’s a freak, I keep this on me when he’s in town, just in case.”

“That was intense.”

“Mate, the circles I move in now, trust me, it ain’t nothing,”

They strolled toward Madison on the corner of 7th & 34th outside Papaya Dogs, a hip diner. “You got to try these, they’re insane.”

They sat on the top floor tucking into fully loaded foot longs.

“How’s Sophia?” asked Jimmy.

“Not too good. I’m glad I’m over. She caught me with the home help. A friend of hers comes round to do the cleaning. We give her a bit to help her out. She started coming on to me and with my track record, I didn’t stand a chance. I’m in the doghouse.”

“You got a problem mate.”

“I know. Still it’ll be alright. She kept hinting at a £5k diamond. That and fridge wash ought to fix things.”

“Fridge wash?”
“Yeah, my dad taught me, you’ll see when you got ankle chains. If you fuck up big, do something big around the house. It brings them off kill mode. I will clean every nook and cranny, plant the stone in the ice tray and bingo, I’m back indoors,”

Mark squeezed fresh papaya sauce on his frank. “How’s your holiday going?”

“What holiday, it’s over, the £2k is gone. I promised Mum I’d meet everyone,” He sneered “Looks like I’ll have to now. It’s all a bit much.”

“I might be able to help with the cash,” Mark explained, he was in town on business, setting up deals.

“You sure, what about Marcel?”

“What he don’t know can’t hurt him. The way you kept your cool back then, trust me, you’re good, but you need to rough up.” Mark looked him over “What’s with the hat and scarf. You look like a Duran Duran extra,” Jimmy laughed. “You get back to the relatives, keep Mum happy and I’ll let you know when I need you for the run.”

Jimmy went back to Lennox; as soon as he returned there was a knock at the door. Rawl had come to the rescue and whisked him away to his next stop, Harlem on the corner of 125th and Malcolm X Blvd.

Rawl was Jimmy’s second cousin, young, slick with bags of confidence. He acted as if he owned the streets, posing in his Atlantic blue Trans Am. He’d block traffic and casually sweet talk female acquaintances through the open top. He lived above a Roti House with his Dad and progressive sister Sherri. The flat had typical West Indian décor, Sherri made a point of removing the chintzy crochet and protective plastic covering the leather settee to make a good impression. Jimmy shared a bedroom with Rawl and was shown the top bunk before heading down for a bite to eat from the Roti shop.

Trinidadians, Bajan and Guyanese all mixed, lining up at the counter for service exchanging gossip. It was strange. He witnessed a real sense of community, something missing from England. Back home, there were traditions his folks kept but in amongst his white peers Jimmy never paid them attention. His mouth watered at the surrounding sights and smells, bake, pepper pot. The ’Buss up shut’ was to die for, a death row meal so heavenly it would absolve all who ate. Rawl broke him from trance. “Come on we got to go,” He polished his plate clean as it was ripped from grasp and placed on the gingham table cloth.

They stopped off to the butcher’s shop where Rawl’s half-brother, Snook worked. Snook would slip him free meat out back when the boss was not looking. They went out the back. Introductions were made and misogynist banter followed as they eyed up the custom awarding marks out of ten. Snook slipped him parcel of beef steak and gave him the heads up. An old flame was approaching on the war path. They sneaked out via the back to the car.

Rawl panted trying to divert attention “Do you like Coasters?”

“Coasters? Yeah, they’re all right?”

He started the car, his eyes fixated on rear view mirrors. “There’s a park, Coney Island- -” he looked back over his shoulder “- -it’s an old amusement park. Let’s go we can meet up with Snook later, ok?”

Jimmy glanced back and saw her indignantly strutting around. Rawl inched the car forward checking for traffic. “Actually, I think I left something back in the shop.” exclaimed Jimmy.

“What!”

“Psych, I’m kidding don’t panic.”

“British humour, Christ!”

Jimmy was crying inside, it was nice to see him break a sweat.

It was a hot day. They cranked the music up and drove with the top down to Brooklyn. Having cleared danger he was now in the mood to let off some steam. They pulled up, walked along the creaky boardwalk, pass the Wonder Wheel to board The Cyclone, an old fashioned wood roller coaster.

The seating was a mining cart with worn slated seats and loose fitting lap belts. Unlike a modern day coaster you felt more petrified than exhilarated as there was a very real chance of falling to your death. They could feel every pot and rivet as they squeaked and trundled along. Rawl deliberately rocked the cart at the top, stimulating a terrifying battle of nerves. Three people had died on this ride and Jimmy was going to make it four if he didn’t stop. Rawl laughed, the ride ended and he playfully shoved him around afterwards. He teased Jimmy into another ride straight away provoking him into a duel. He was trying desperately to hold up the British end but as soon as it kicked off felt he’d been shoved out a plane at thirty thousand feet without a parachute. He crawled out; with his head dazed and spinning, struggling to stand up right.

“What do you think?” quizzed Rawl.

“Slightly terrifying…but cool,” he grinned.

“Brit humour, I love it. Come on, one more then, ha ha.”

He raced to the next,the Tilt-A-Whirl desperately trying to break him but they were too late it was closing time. Jimmy faked disappointment but was secretly over the moon as he knew the ride; back in England it was called the Waltzer, a ride so violent it was marginally preferable to decapitation. He was relieved the trial was over and could leave, hopelessly nauseated but with his British pride intact.


They visited Snook as planned; a hard to the core Rasta, the epitome of cool. He lived in a rundown tenement off Hunt’s Point in the Bronx. His flat was on the first floor. Prostitute and dealers hung in the stairwell seeking game. Incense burned above Snook’s door marking a free zone. In the hall hung a framed oil of Haile Selassie, Jah; the incarnation of Christ. On the side stood hydroponic Aloe Vera prune pots, sprouting stems with purpose.

“What do you use them for?” He cut one revealing a clear gel like inner.

“Try it,” Jimmy took a bite.

“That’s vile.”

“It’s a bit harsh at first, raw. You can use it on skin, hair I usually mix it with, pineapple and honey and drink it.” Snook led him down the corridor to the back room and opened a bulky white fire door. He was immediately hit by the familiar woody tones of skunk. Eyes fell on a clinic clean hi-tec lab, rows of marijuana plants 4ft high, bristled under dedicated HSP lamps, sectioned by PVC curtains. Silent overhead steel extractors pumped scent through to window vents.

“You sell this stuff?”

He nodded. “I got some clients waiting, come.” They went back to the lounge. His neighbour, Eli an orthodox Jew sat there, side curls hanging beneath his Hasidic hat, smiling politely, waiting for the main event. A large porcelain bowl was bought in by Snook and placed on an ornate glass coffee table. Mohammed, a regular, dressed in a white thwab, placed a green bong filled with water alongside. He stood wrapping his Gutra head scarf round his head and afterward poured hot mint tea into shot glasses. Eli cracked a bottle of vintage Johnny Walker and glugged four lowball glasses, Mohammed began stuffing the bong with grass.

“You’re Muslim?”

“What are you?”

“I was baptised went to Sunday school.”

He pointed to his head and heart. “Being a man of faith is in here and here,”

“I got the badge and threw it back.”

“You’ll find it again one day, we all do, Shukran,” he said bowing his head.

Snook reached into a clear plastic bag and piled mounds of grass into the bowl. He ground the herb finely crushing all the lumps and seeds onto long rice paper skins. He swilled whiskey in his left hand and with his right rolled a tight spliff about the size of a slim cigar.

“Don’t you roll J’s you know tobacco mixed with a tiny bit of grass?”

He laughed “Nah, Ital, solid,” In the background Al Jeel, repetitive whaling Arab music played through tinny radio speakers. Somewhere in between inhaling the bong, knocking back whiskey Jimmy, head numb, eyes heavy took off soaring into bright empty space. Snook lit the blunt and passed it round.

Jimmy had a tug and coughed. “Yeah, yeah it’s potent.”

The air was thick with swirling pungent smoke. These guys were heavy weights and chained smoked spliffs like cigarettes. The small talk was over. They sat there saying nothing, phasing in and out of reality, blowing thick chemical fumes into swirling sunlight. The absurd suddenly made sense. Sat in the middle of a hydroponic garden, sharing weed with men of faith, seemed completely natural. He was oblivious, higher than an interstellar kite, indeed if they pulled off masks to reveal Alien faces he would not have bat an eye lid. He had left the surreal behind long ago and was now gleefully drifting into the ether. Rawl prodded Jimmy.

“Time to go, I got plans for my British friend.” They bid a silent farewell, clambered into a cab and set off for Soho. Jimmy sat checking his numb face for state of anaesthesia. They stopped at the lights, a parade of hot sisters crossed, traffic stopping jelly on springs, packed in leotards and toe pumps.

“Mmm hmm, I’m getting out,” ventured Jimmy. Rawl spotted their pimp in the shadows. The lights changed. “You see that, amber, a warning,”

“Well amber’s the new fucking green,” he mumbled getting up to leave.

Rawl pulled him back. “Easy my friend.”

He fell into his seat, passed out and woke up thirty minutes later in the Square, Soho; a neon sin bin full of bars pushing fake alcohol and cheap thrills.

“You ever been with an Asian Latino?”

“Asian Latino? Is that even possible?”

He led him to a place exclusively reserved for locals in-the-know, ‘Equus’ a VIP club off the main drag. On stage was a DJ blasting techno to slick videos projected up onto a vast white brick wall. They shuffled pass the crowds up the stairs to a private suite overlooking the atrium. Jimmy peered down; the floor was crammed with girls, hustling, trying their best to tease custom. Business men in suits looked on, sat at tables dotted round the perimeter, smoking cigars surrounded by an army of waiters poised to cater to every whim.

“What sort of place is this?” asked Jimmy.

“Why don’t you like it?”

“Yeah it’s cool but it looks pricey.”

“Don’t worry it’s on me, relax VIP all the way.”

Jimmy sneaked suspicion, Rawl had no job yet there he was holding free reign. They were led upstairs to a cosy leather lined room with suede seating. He hastily buried doubts, eager to cash in. A large bowl of fruit fogged on dry ice was placed on a milk glass table. An assortment of ice cold imported lagers, and miniature shorts were delivered on a platter and coasters positioned by a slinky waitress.

“Eat,” insisted Rawl.

Jimmy bit into a black grape, sweet with impeccable snap. Rawl lapped up chin juice from a perfectly ripened pear. “I invited some friends down, hope you don’t mind.” Two stunningly attractive young ladies entered in traditional cheongsam satin dress; “This is Lei and Jai,” They smiled as they squeezed onto the sofa. Lei popped fruit into Jimmy’s mouth. As soon as he took out a smoke she lit it up, Jai followed suit. This was next level opulence he could not refuse. He continued to indulge fast and loose. Rawl’s hands wandered up Jai’s skirt, kissing her on the neck. Lei stroked Jimmy’s leg, creeping up slowly, brushing lightly at the seam. The hour wore Jai pulled Lei onto the floor and unzipped her dress sucking them into a lewd vortex.

Jimmy got the call from Mark. He borrowed Rawl’s lime green Eldorado, and told him he would be back in a couple of days. He pulled up opposite the park and Mark hopped in.

“Take the M5, we are going to Connecticut.”

“What’s the gig?”

“Picking up a shipment, simple.” Mark opened his bag and took a loaded 38.

“Fuck, what’s that for?”

“Calm down, we are in America mate, it’s just for show. These are serious dudes. They will search us, if we’re not carrying they’ll think we’re soft and jack us. Trust me we need to pack.”

“I think my face is numb.”

They drove to Hartford on the edge of town and pulled up into a sketchy Motel. The surrounding houses were derelict, shops closed windows boarded.

“Just be cool, look mean, say nothing.”

They knocked on a shabby blue door, room 25b. A hefty Latino peeped through the window blinds. They were frisked and the 38 placed on the table. A shabby fat man grinned at Jimmy shovelling tortilla chips as he spoke.

“Look, it’s Boy George ! ” They laughed.

“Have you got the gear?” said Mark abruptly.

He licked his fingers clean. “Marco load him up,” Marco bought out two large boxes and took one can out.

“What’s that dog food?” said Mark.

They laughed. Jimmy boldly walked over grabbed the can, flicked a switchblade from his ankle, stabbed it open and snorted dust off the tip.

“We’re good.” said Jimmy with a stony face.

“Boy George grown some balls,” said the elder. “100% Columbian. They use local fisher vessels, load up in international waters. No-one suspects.”

They stashed the cans in the boot and left. Jimmy rambled on desperately trying not to crack. “It’s tinned goat meat, coke in goat meat.”

Mark laughed “You were un-fucking-believable, proper fucking gangster. How did you know, Cosmo?”

“Miami Vice," said Jimmy holding his gut. "Crockett and Tubbs.” Jimmy pulled over. “I feel sick.” He stepped out barfed the tarmac wiped his lips and got back in the car.

“Which one’s Crockett again?”

“I don’t fucking know. I just want to get out of here.”

He twisted the key, the car turned over but wouldn’t start. “Oh that’s just dandy,” He tried again.

“Don’t pump the accelerator you’ll flood it,” said Mark. Jimmy grew frustrated, he repeatedly turned the key draining the battery till dead.

“Where did you get this piece of junk?”

“Rawl, my cousin…. Can we walk to the station?”

Mark scratched his forehead. “With two cases of coke and a 38; what do think!? It’s no use we’ll have to get a jump.” He slammed his fist on the dashboard. “Shit!”

There was a car parked opposite. Jimmy approached and knocked on the window. A beefcake blond with a moustache wound down the tinted window. He was quite obliging and offered to help. As he stepped out Mark grew faint, Jimmy choked panicked. Their saviour was sporting blues, an Officer’s uniform; Jimmy had approached an unmarked car. He switched gear, racking his brains to think of a way to abort without raising suspicion but it was too late. The officer drove over Jimmy popped the hood, hooked up the battery and cranked it but it wouldn’t start. Mark intervened. “It’s ok Officer, we’ll get it towed,”

“No need sir. Just leave it for a while, then try again it will start.”

“Really it’s no trouble, we’ll get a tow.”

The officer glanced at the out of State plates. “You got somewhere to be?”

Jimmy jumped in pre-emptive. “I’m a cook, got to cater for a surprise party.” Mark forced a lop-sided smile whilst supressing a stage-one coronary.

The officer went round the back. “Can you pop the trunk please Sir?” and there they stood, peering down on 48 cans of jailbait. He took out a can and inspected it.

“What’s your name?”

“Jimmy.”

“Where do you work?”

“The Roti House 127th and Lennox in Harlem.” He went back to his patrol car for a radio check. In the meantime the car started.

The officer came back. “Okay, you can go. Good luck with the party.”

They pulled away gently then quickly sped into the distance. “Phew..Ha-ha, man I thought we’d had it, where did you come up with that shit?” asked Mark.

“It’s where I’m staying, The Roti House.”

“They do curry goat?”

“It’s my favourite.”

“No shit, me too.”

Mark was leading him off again into a double life, only this time the stakes were higher. The money was easy until your luck failed. Jimmy grew wary, he took their near miss as a warning shot and reflected. Lennox revealed a slower but risk free alternative, he proved it could be done. Jimmy took a break, dropped off Mark and retired back to the slow lane, reflective with a fat wad of notes.

Rawl invited him to a wedding reception on the day. They cruised around and stopped off for stone baked pizza before collecting Marlon, a relative of the Bride who had flown across especially. As he devoured the gooey triangle they spun the infectious track ’Gimme Punani.’ It had an insanely catchy hook. Marlon hopped in and they all sang along,

“You know what they’re singing?” asked Rawl.

“No.” replied Jimmy

“Shit, nah coolie in England?”

“I was one of three blacks in school.”

“Man that’s something else. You’re a proper white Brit,” said Rawl.

“Compared to you I’m fucking royalty.”

They went shopping for outfits in the Bronx. As soon as they stepped out the car Marlon got jacked for his gold neck chain. Rawl stepped in and like magic they came across shook Marlon’s hand and apologised for the mix up.

“They friends of yours?” asked Jimmy.

“Not really. I just knew what to say.”

Jimmy knew Rawl was slick but suspected this was a stretch even for him. They got dressed back at the flat. Sherri snapped a Polaroid for Jimmy.

She scribbled on the back and passed it across. “Keepsake?”

He flipped it, inscribed were the words ’Islander, Brit Gent and G-Man. Sherri XX.’ Sherri’s light hearted observation cut straight to the heart of it; they were three boys from the same origin with totally different lives. The islander naive and trusting, The Brit born and bred and Rawl, a possible slip, or unwitting admission?

The wedding was an informal free for all. Speeches were made by anyone with half a mind. Everyone mixed and mingled. As a Brit from the UK, Jimmy was deemed VIP and took pride of place next to Marlon seated feet away from a towering Black Cake. He helped Marlon serve.

“Hi, you having a good time?” He uttered politely, sliding a slice onto paper plates. The girls giggled coy. He whispered to Marlon. “Did I say something funny?”

“It’s your accent.”

The girls stopped. “Are you British… say something else?”

“What do you want me to say?”
“Oh my god did you hear that?”

“Man, I wish I had a British accent.” ribbed Marlon.

He felt like royalty at first, elevated but the novelty soon wore off. Word spread and a line of parents assembled with their daughters in tow trying to fix him up. He felt caged, a freak show oddity, prodded and poked. Sherri sensed tension and whisked him away to safety. Jimmy grinned;

“Why are you smiling?” she asked.

“In England I’d have to wait all night, down half a bottle of Teachers and square up to the competition to get a sniff.”

“This is not England.”

“What is it then, Guyana?”

“Nah it’s women. You’re different Jimmy and girls like that.”

“Really?”

“No-one says really but you, you’re quite a catch.”

They took to the dance floor. She placed her hands round his hips wining to Soca. “It’s a shame we’re related.”

“You sure we are?” teased Jimmy.

She laughed and walked away “Only just, Mr. Bramble.”

Mark rang Jimmy to make another run. He said he needed a break, time to think it over and suggest an alternative. After Marlon’s brush in the Bronx, Rawl finally confessed he was in the game, a gangbanging soldier for VIK, a fierce crew with a tough reputation. Jimmy set up a meeting with Mark at an Ale house in South Sea Port overlooking Brooklyn Bridge.

They sat sipping frothy beer tops from pewter tankers. Rawl tapped a cigarette on the table. “You know when you dread a day? This day wasn’t one of them but it fucking well should have been. Waking up in a hospital bed, my balls the size of golf balls, pissing green,” He offered the pack round. “I was a guinea pig on a safety trial for Virax, supposed to cure impotence, it didn’t. I figured there has to be a better way to earn, so joined VIK. I’m just a grunt, move a few bags a day nothing major.”

“This should be a piece of cake for you then. It’s good money, no risk.”

“You don’t know VIK. They’d drop my ass, head first from a twelve story if they found out.”

“It’s A-grade powder straight from Medellin. Unless you tell someone there is no way they’ll know.”

“Just a drop you say? Where?”

“Vegas.” Rawl’s eyes lit up. He gambled professionally in between selling crack. Poker was his game and the chance to play Vegas was too tempting to resist.

“Sounds right up my street. Why don’t you come hang with me and Jimmy tonight, I know a place I think you’ll like?”

“Believe you me I would love to but Ewan’s entertaining the Japs. Need a Hoochie Mama with a flat arse, some kind of Asian fetish. More chance of rocking horse winning the National in my opinion.” He got up to leave. “Call me midday tomorrow if you’re still on for it and I’ll fill you in on the detail.”

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