That night provided little rest, only fitful sleep and come the morning he found little solace in the bright rays of the mid morning sunlight, streaming into the bedroom and breaking through his slumbers. Nick awoke, shielded his eyes from the splintering brilliance pouring in through the glass of his bedroom’s bay window. Logic, re-empowered itself and he realised that,
“If I hand’t been so stoned last night, I would have remembered to drop the fucking blinds.” He cursed himself for his tardiness and made a futile promise, which would only be remembered until the first joint of the day had been smoked, “never do that again”. Nick, groped around as usual and propped himself up on the soft mountain of pillows, he erected behind him, then just relaxed for a few minutes, before thinkingabout getting his weary bones, out of bed.
As he lay back and sank into the cushioned softness, that irresistibly awaited his head, he realised there was no rush, there was no work to go to, his day was his own. He smiled at this and snuggled a bit deeper into the comfort of his pillows. His thoughts turned to that meeting in The Dutch Barn, with Hugo Chambers. Even after the passage, of god knows how many years, since they had met at Uni, they were still the best of mates.
“You said we’d both stay in touch, no matter what and you were apparently right again, you old dog.” Then, he subconsciously began to use his fingers, in order to try and calculate, precisely how long, he and Hugo, had been .......... ‘partners in crime,’ as he would have put it, way back when. Nick, then began talking to himself. “We first met, when I was 18 and Hugo was a year older and now we’re in our mid-forties and that makes me, 'midder,' than him,” he joked and grinned at the window. He then, returned to his memory puzzle.
“So what’s that?” He said while trying to rapidly subtract 18, from 46. Nick’s brain activity, had never been at it’s best in the morning and had always functioned considerably more slowly, when it tried to do mathematical problems, whilst attempting to stretch.
“Eeeuuhhhh! Got it, that’s 28.” Nick shouted, as if this simple piece of subtraction, was some kind of ‘Eureka‘ moment. “Jesus Man, 28 fucking years!” With that, ’humongous’ stretch completed, Nick allowed himself to sink back into the inviting pillows and allow his mind, to wander off into the world of nostalgia. He recalled that fateful night, when they had first met, in a Student Bar and what that chance meeting, had led to.
Nick Swann and Hugo Chambers, just happened to wash up on the same beach, one September in 1984. That patch of sand, was located in the Student Bar at Leeds University. Even though Hugo was twelve months his senior and a true Geek, they hit it off at their first meeting and had been close friends ever since. It was probably that unbeknown to either of them, they came from the opposite sides of the same town. They both quickly realised, that the keys to this new kingdom, as expected, resided in the mutual and typically 'studenty' interests, of music and drugs.
So, from that very first moment when a Second Year Geek, who had not managed to acquire any friends in a whole year at University, met a lost Nerd, who was on his first foray away from home, their friendship was cemented by a mutual preference for a pint of 'Best Bitter.' The great plan to integrate themselves into hip student life, hatched between them during that first evening, was that Nick would somehow get himself involved in the university music scene and Hugo, rashly professed to having the ability, to supply differing quantities of some illegal drugs. Nick, thought that he was simply saying this out of bravado and that little, or nothing would ever come of his promises. How wrong, could he have been?
At the next meeting in The Quarryman’s Arms of the “Domination Society,” the name, which after much thought, they had chosen, for this very private club of only two members, they agreed to meet every Thursday evening. ‘The Quarryman,’ had been chosen because it was an old public house, which legend had it, was built in 1692 and it was well out of the way, off the main drag through town. When, he had rolled in on that next Thursday, Hugo breathed in deeply letting the satisfying mustiness of the place infuse itself, with his being. On looking over towards Nick’s position, he stated loudly, in a terrible Pirate brogue, or was that Popeye the Sailor?
“Ahhh, this place is fucking well spot on. Black spot on, I tells ye.” Nick chuckled to himself at this memory he was now reliving in present terms.
Hugo had then casually walked over to the bar, obtained two pints of the brown stuff from the over dressed barmaid and sat down next to Nick, placing one of the beverages in front of him and sinking back in his chosen chair, which a long self congratulatory sigh.
“Wow, who got de cream then, Doll?’ Nick rejoined, in an equally awful imitation of a Mafia Don, who in turn, was stuck somewhere in the distant past but his repost, was delivered while he was trying not to laugh and mostly, it was lost in a hail of splutter and spit, but that didn’t matter. For what Hugo, had to say next, was a revelation.
“The deal with the man, is set up and he will supply me with the stuff, so long as I can turn over enough cash, to make it worth his while.” Nick, almost dropped his drink, on hearing this news.
“What....How?” He said nonplussed at this news.
“Yeah, chill man. it’s going to be mostly ‘Dope’ but he also says, that he can provide a little ‘Whiz,’ when required and for special occasions.”
Nick, nearly choked, as he looked up at his new best friend. He was having more than a little trouble, coming to terms, with the slowly dawning fact, that Hugo had actually come through on his incredible promise. Nick continued to gawp wide eyed in disbelief and noticed that Hugo, was sat there, just nodding his head, with a knowing self satisfied smirk on his face. Nick, was sitting directly opposite and for once, he was stunned into silence by this news.
“Fuck me man, how did you pull that one off?” Hugo, simply narrowed his gaze to a squint and tapped his nose a couple of times, indicating his quiescence to subterfuge.
“It’s not what you know, it’s who,” said Hugo and then shut up about the subject, offering no more useful information to Nick. This amazing money making opportunity, that Hugo had apparently engineered, was not instantly followed by any reciprocal movement by Nick, in his search for an opportunity in the musical side of University life.
If by some strange circumstances, he could manage to inculcate himself into the Student Radio Station, or the live gig entertainments group, he would be well on the way to real University power. In the meantime, he would have to be content with organising the distribution of Hugo’s wares, amongst the scholarly body, while he searched and probed for his own boat to come in. It was not until early December, that an opportunity presented itself to get involved with the University’s Cultural Lowlife. However, the intervening time was not squandered. Initially, he had been concerned with the logistics of supply and the ongoing quality of the product but there proved to be no hiccups in the chain, Hugo, always provided him with top quality, soggy Brown Resin, from Afghanistan, or somewhere similar and in the amounts, that had been requested by the student body.
Things, were going very smoothly for The Domination Society and the money started to build up. When Nick was offered the position of late night D.J on the university radio station, he jumped at the chance.
“You will of course have free reign, to discuss any subject that you feel is relevant to the other students,” said the Controller. “And it goes without saying, that you will be able to choose any music for yourself.” Nick, thought that he’d died and gone to heaven. “I want you to create a vibrant audience for us, so it’s up to you to think outside the box on this one. You know, the kind of thing we mean. You could do an hour on S.T.D’s, or slots on long term relationships at University, or Sex & Drugs and Rock ’n Roll. You get the picture?” Nick, just nodded as the enthusiastic chap carried on. “We’ll start you on the one hour slot and if you prove to be a success, we can always move you up, to a two, or maybe three hour segment. The boys in the back room and myself, were thinking of calling the show, ‘60 Below’ and we were thinking, that if the show blossoms, we could simply change the name to '120,' or if things go swimmingly, '180 Below.’” Now he was unstoppable and apparently, without drawing breath, he simply carried on with his speech. “We were also thinking, that maybe you could use your name to better effect.”
On hearing that, Nick had instinctively cringed, just waiting for the 'Pink Controller,’ to utter his next few words. “How about, if we altered your name a little, to something like Nick O’Deimus. What do you think about that. ’60 Below, with Nick O’Deimus.’ Now that’s got a ring to it?” Nick, just looked at this balding, middle aged man, in a pink shirt, with some modicum of pity and said,
“I get it. You’re losing your audience and you want me to staunch the flow.” Before he could reply, Nick struck again and took all the wind out of his sails. “Am I right?” The bloody battle for power was distinctly over, when the 1980‘s Dad Rocker in pink, turned on his heels and with a cursory,
“You know, what’s expected of you,” opened the studio door and left Nick, alone in the room to ponder his success.
“Power,” he screamed and raised both his clenched fists to the air. The grand plan was now one step closer to fruition. “Drugs and music,” he said to himself, as he rubbed his hands together. “Drugs and music Nicky boy.” Later that evening, when they met up in The Quarryman’s Arms, Nick, informed Hugo of the days glad tidings.
“Fucking brilliant, man!” grinned Hugo, then they got down to the rather serious business of “not getting busted,” as Hugo so indelicately put it. “So far, in just three months, we’ve made £4,280 clear profit and the demand, for our services, just keeps on growing.” They looked at each other and then Nick said,
“We’re going to have to give up our student digs and move to somewhere that’s, how should I put it, a little more discrete, aren’t we?” Hugo, simply nodded his response, adding
“We’re going to have to do something about the cash, as well.”
At this time, they had some rather tatty student accommodation in Hooper Street, which was an area of urban decline, synonymous with transient populations of students, squatters and prostitutes. As such it attracted considerable police interest, which was not ideal for running an illegal drug operation.
“Yeah you’re right, man. We can’t stay there. I mean, how long’s it going to be, before we come home one night and find that some fucker’s broken in and stolen our stash.” He then left his compadre little time to reply, before he finished his observation with, “How expensive, would that be?” Nick didn’t need much convincing on this point, he’d been thinking along those lines himself, for quite a while. More, out of a growing fear of getting busted than ending up owing money to the dealer.
“O.K. then, where do you suggest that we go?” Enquired Nick.
“Hmm, how do you fancy getting something up in Victoria Park, or somewhere like that?” His reply came a touch too fast for it to be off the cuff.
“You’ve thought about this one before, haven’t you,you old dog? Can we afford it?” Hugo, just grinned sheepishly at his buddy.
“Yeah, well you try to convince me, that you’ve never considered a move on up the ladder, when there’s the sound of glass breaking outside the door and it’s not a bottle, it’s the sound of another front window being smashed in?” Nick, couldn’t fault his logic, they both had too much to lose, if there was to be a break in, at their place.
“Alright then, let’s sort out a time, to go and view the ‘Park’ area and see what’s on offer.”
“We could buy some really hot stuff, if we liked” added Hugo. Nick, looked curiously at him, searching for some explanation.
“Like what?” He asked.
“Like sound systems, or a brand new video and a surround sound home cinema, plus, a fucking big Television. Just use your imagination.” Adding, “What use is money, if you never spend it?”
Nick had no argument with any Hugo’s eminently valid points but there was always the contentious issue of money, in a proposition like this. “So, we go for this place and just how are we going to pay the rent, it must be through the roof, compared to Hooper Street?”
Hugo, squinted at him, with a pitying look of naive hopelessness reflected in his eyes. “For Christ’s sake man, we sell vast amounts of Cannabis, to an ever growing number of Students and to put it bluntly, we’re fucking rich and are just getting richer.” With that he glared at Nick and seeing the final remnants of doubt, disappear from his eyes, added, “Don’t worry about the rent, that’ll all be taken care of well in advance, from the cash we have now.” Nick, relaxed a little and Hugo waved his outstretched fingers and continued, “Don’t worry your head over such matters, young Skywalker. Even though, I’ll be leaving at the end of next year, your rent, for the following twelve months, will be paid well in advance of those events just so long as business continues to be this lucrative.”
Nick, was speechless. “Wow, man.” Was all, that he found he could splutter. “What made you decide on such a crazy course?”
Hugo, looked him straight in the eyes and simply said, “Because you’re my only friend and probably, always will be.”
His confederate’s candor surprised Nick, who tried to make light of the moment by making some inane glib comment, which barely registered with Hugo, who just carried on with his statement, as though Nick, had never uttered a word. “We Computer Geeks, aren’t exactly popular, in this world. We’re useful and that’s about it. I’ve been at this University, for almost 16 months and do you know, how many people here like me?”
Nick, didn’t know what to say, in response to that loaded question, so he remained dumb and just stared back at Hugo, hoping that it was somehow rhetorical. He needn’t have worried, for Hugo, quickly filled in any space, that was left by the pregnant pause, adding just one word.
“You.” Nick, was truly flattered by this revelation and patiently waited for Hugo to finish his statement. “I supply the stuff and you distribute it, to an eager cliental.” He then, purposely coughed and closed with “It’s the perfect partnership, if you ask me.”
Their search in Victoria Park led them to an old bijou Art Nouveau property at the end of Rutland Avenue, called “Lothlorien.” It was a house lost in time. Drapes hung from the walls and each room, had a large leafy pot plant closely adjacent to the window. Each of which, had leaves that almost filled the entirety of the available space. The decor, was unbelievable. It dated mostly, from the 1920’s and had printed flock wallpapers and richly patterned carpets on the floor. Each room differed from the last, only in the smallest detail and it was mostly decked out in hues of green.
“This place is fucking magic,” squeaked Nick. Hugo, simply nodded in agreement and enquired,
“Can you imagine, how much this lot cost to put together?” Nick, nodded his head in agreement but was far more interested in the cost of the rental, that a place like this, could command.
“You do know, that we’ll never be able to afford this place, I’ll bet, it’s way beyond the means of some little guy’s like you and me, dealing a few ounces of Hash, here and there.”
Hugo, then silently peered across the room and smiled knowingly at his friend. “Go on then, how much do you reckon?” He asked and then insisted. “Go on, give it your best shot and guess.” Just as he was about to offer an outlandish and obviously incorrect answer, there came a gentle tapping, on the kitchen door which caused both of them to jump.
“Would you two gentlemen like a cup of Tea? I thought that I would ask, as you do seem to have been here a while and you must be getting thirsty by now?” said the impressively dressed elderly lady, who emerged from behind the now open door. Without waiting for an answer she filled the kettle, put it on to boil and busied herself preparing the tea pot, cups and saucers. She continued “Are you interested in living here? ‘Lothlorien,’ would be pleased to have young gentlemen who appreciate her beauty as her guests for a while.” Nick and Hugo, didn’t know what to say, they were both unaware, that there was anybody else on the property. Seeing their curiosity she added “I live in the old garage conversion now, just beyond the fence. This old house was just too big for me........”
Hugo recovered first, “A cup of tea would be lovely, thank you. Yes, be assured, we would be very pleased to take on the role of her paying guests, if it’s fine with ‘Lorien’?”
With those words the countenance of her face changed, almost instantly her skin tone appeared to brighten, her eyes twinkled, the years lifted from her demeanor and Nick could see she was a very beautiful woman. “I haven’t heard the house called that for many a year. My husband used to refer to the old dear, as ‘Lorien’.” Smiling, she added, “I sometimes think that he saw this place, as his surrogate mistress.”
Hugo, ever as sharp as the keenest blade in the cutlery draw, once again saw the opportunity to ingratiate himself and boldly stated, “Surely not, it’s obvious, that he had an Angel standing right there beside him, so why should he need another?”
There was a pregnant pause and Nick decided to be bold “I am Nicolas Swann and my friend here is Hugo Chambers”, he held out his hand and she took it saying,
“Pleased to meet you both, I am Rosemary Applegate.”
Hugo continued “Pleased to meet you Rosemary. You’re absolutely right, we both love this place, ‘Lorien’ is beautiful. We were just about to enquire, as to the cost of becoming her paying guests?” He sipped his tea, creepily smiling at their host.
Rosemary laughed, “my hubby, would have loved you, you’re such a consummate charmer , how would £2000 per annum sit with you?” Hugo, almost bit her hand off. “You’ve got yourself a buyer Madam. When can we move in?” He said, while in the same instant, offering her his hand to shake and quickly finalize the deal. “We’ll take great care ‘Lorien’ for you. You’ll have no worries on that score.”
She seemed, happy with that and simply commented, “I’ll put this in the hands of the letting agent. You can deal with them directly.” With that she left as silently as she had arrived.
“Fucking far out,” spluttered Nick “what a great deal. Two Grand a year, for all this and the anonymity it brings. Wow man, we’ve got it made!”
Within the week they had signed the lease with the letting agent Goodbourne and Timms and paid for two years in advance with the option of a third year. That weekend they moved in to ‘Lorien’ Now they were secure, so both of them could get down to some serious studying and expand the substances market. Stereo’s, early computers, videos and tv’s, didn’t just grow on trees. They spent their time at ‘Lorien‘ quietly so as not to draw attention to themselves. During their entire time at University together, Hugo obtained the drugs and passed them on to Nick who managed to build up quite a considerable network of smaller Dealers, thereby ensuring discretion.
Soon it came time for Hugo, to leave The University. Nick, was utterly bereft, his best friend, was leaving, to go out into the world and now he would be alone, within the walls of 'Lorien.' Hugo, departed the Campus, on the Friday evening and having introduced Nick to the ‘Main Man’ so the business could continue seamlessly, walked out of Nick’s life on the Saturday morning, leaving all his contact details and a promise to, “Stay in touch”. Before Nick could begin to feel lonely, Joanne Kelly turned up in The Student Bar, and soon filled any void in Nick’s life. The beautiful Joanne, was to go on and play a pivotal role in his existence.
After a whirlwind few days of sex and desire, Joanne Kelly moved into ‘Lorien’ as his companion. Now, it was Nick’s turn, with Joanne’s help, to run the growing ’cottage industry‘ that ‘Lorien,’ had become. Joanne, took to the drugs market, with a sense of imagination. Joanne, expanded ’the business’ into 'Mary Jane’s Maryland Cookies,' complete with abundant chocolate chips, and 'Mary Jane’s Honey Cupcakes,' both of which became immensely popular on Campus, swelling the coffers nicely. Joe, as she became known, catered for exclusive clients on request only. Miss Kelly, had many talents besides being an eminently able baker, she was brilliant with all the management stuff and the juggling of the money. Most importantly though, as far as Nick was concerned, she was just plain old fashioned fun to be around.
Suddenly back in the present, Nick felt a single wet tear escape his right eye and run annoyingly down his cheek. He wiped it away quickly.
“Oh, enough of this crapNicolas, it’s time to get your carcass out, from under these covers and get on with anotherday.” He levered himself upright and swung his legs out of bed, put both of his warm feet, into the strategically placed slippers, stood up, yawned and stretched.