An Elephant

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Chapter 6: Boots

Chapter 6: Boots

“Your knowledge of what is going on can only be superficial and relative.”

- William S. Burroughs

“What the fucking hell is happening!?” screamed Boots to himself. He felt like his whole life was in jeopardy and he had been bitterly self-conscious all day.

I’m in Marseille with Angry Grant and Dog - a man who put three tooled-up bouncers in the hospital and then chose to murder one of them later on. I’ve got this kitbag that could land us all in prison and I’m not even allowed a spliff to calm me down.

Yet again he sniffed while pumping his ill-fitting England shirt out in front of his chest to allow some air in. His newly-dyed hair fanned out beneath his chin and caught his attention.

I can’t believe they made me wear this he thought and tried to think of something else.

“Boots” Dog asked, “how exactly did you end up in your particular line of work.”

“You mean drug dealer” said Grant, making Dog tense his shoulders for a moment and glare at him.

“I prefer the term ‘ambience coordinator.’”

“Drugs are dead end” insisted Grant. “It’s just weakness.”

“The world is run by drug addicts, man: the Media… cokeheads in high finance. Wanna know a serious player in the world wide drug business? Jack Daniels. Johnnie Walker’s another one. Phillip Morris is a major peddler in death… And what are you gonna do about the illegal ones? They can’t even win the War Against Drugs inside prisons.”

He wiped the sweat from his face and sniffed.

I can’t believe how hot it is.

“How did you start, anyway?”

“I came home from school in 1979, eleven years old, after an anti-drug lecture the headmaster gave to everyone at school” began Boots “…and I said: ‘Mum, what are drugs like?’”

“What did she fuckin’ say?” snarled Grant.

“My Mum saw Hendrix, live at the Star Club in Hamburg when she was fifteen years old, and had been around the block, and she told me: ‘Well, cannabis is like this, and it does this to you, speed is like this, and it do this to you, acid is like this, heroin is like this…’ and so on. She gave me a cursory warning at the end and then wandered off to the kitchen to finish cooking dinner. I thought: ’they didn’t tell me that in assembly!’ She’s Deputy Head of a private convent school now; teaches French. Anyway I thought the effects of drugs were too interesting to miss out on, so I decided that research of intoxicants would be in order, as long as I was very careful.”

He lowered his voice in time and waited for the people nearby to pass, and sniffed again.

“I started with cannabis like most people, on to mushrooms which blew me away, and after acid, speed and a few more I reached a conclusion-”

“That you didn’t know what day it was?” said Grant.

“I decided that people that have never been drunk or stoned or anything, look at the world in a certain way - from a certain perspective - all the time.” Boots lifted his left hand up and described the shape of a square with it, as beads of sweat rolled from his wiry fingers and dripped down his forearms. He sniffed again. “When people get very drunk, they look at the world in a warped way, they lose their inhibitions and may take better to dancing or enjoy music more. Alcohol is a bad example ’though, ’cos in reality it pretty much dulls out awareness. The dulling effect makes drunks appear uninhibited, but a bit stupid to sober people.”

He could tell heavy drinker Grant didn’t like this reasoning one bit, but wasn’t put off:

“When people get stoned, it genuinely enhances certain parts of their awareness, they get euphoria, they get heightened sensitivity to colours and music, and art can seem mind-bogglingly beautiful. They’re really looking at the world from a new and enriched perspective.” Boots made the shape with his hands again, then twisted the shape slightly, to illustrate his point.

“They could also be considered stupid to straight and sober people, but in a different way; it does slow you down a bit, but there is also an addition, not just a subtraction like with alcohol….”

Grant was shaking his head and staring at the floor as they walked, while Dog kept his head up and continued his surveillance of the area and people. Boots sniffed again.

“…These people have looked at the same reality as everyone else, but from a new perspective, therefore have a better understanding of it. When people take acid, they look at reality from another, possibly more extreme point of view, and can get further, deeper understanding of it. So I figure the more different perspectives I look at reality from…” he awkwardly framed the square and looked at it from underneath and then very close up, then to the left, “…the better I understand reality, because I’ve looked at it from different places.”

“So you’re saying that the more drugs a person takes, the more he understands reality!?” Grant was absolutely horrified.

“I mean the range of drugs more than volumes, but yeah.”

“And how many have you fuckin’ had?”

“A hundred and twenty seven, last count.”

“There aren’t that many” Grant sneered in disbelief.

“If you count medicines there are probably hundreds of thousands, but even for intoxicants, a hundred and twenty seven isn’t that many. Chemical-heads in the States can get much easier access to legally – and therefore correctly manufactured - pharmaceuticals than we can in the UK – barbiturates, uppers, everything from Amitriptyline to Zopiclone They’ve got a huge range of prescription options that end up available on the black market. Powerful stuff, too, just watch ‘Drugstore Cowboy’… Actually France and mainland Europe are a bit easier, too.” This gave Boots the beginnings of an idea.

“Don’t even think about it” warned Dog, smiling quietly at the idea, but making sure he was understood. Boots immediately stopped wondering what might be available at the local pharmacy, without prescription.

“Don’t worry. Anyway, over a hundred is quite a lot for the UK, I suppose. I’ve got a copy of a catalogue from a company called Sigma that has absolutely loads – everything from ganja to smack and DMT. They even sell chemicals that smell like particular drugs, to train sniffer dogs, and they sell an essence of distressed people, so a dog can be trained to recognise if you’re a hostage or a terrorist. I’ve studied sniffer dogs a bit.” He nodded and smiled to himself in silence for a moment as they passed two locals, then carried on.

“If you want to do an experiment on the effects of a drug [sniff] you get a license from the home office and then just ring Sigma and place an order for some crack cocaine, opium or whatever.”

“What was the strongest? Have you taken heroin?” Grant asked.

“Smoked it,” came the answer “Haven’t wanted to inject, you know, it can be a bit… more-ish.” This time all three of them smiled.

“Luckily I have some very experienced volunteer testers for most of my creations, but as for heroin, I prefer smoking opium – it’s from the same poppy, but unrefined and a much richer experience. It’s often the case that the natural stuff has a pleasant, smoother effect, and it’s also generally safer; you smoke opium you’re fine [sniff] you’d be unconscious before you’re able to overdose. You refine opium up to morphine and further up to heroin and it becomes more and more addictive and potentially lethal. The chain goes a hell of a lot further up, past dilaudid, and you can play around with the chemistry, if you’ve a decent lab and the right contacts. William Burroughs tried and failed to make what he called dihydro-oxyheroin, which he guessed would be so potent that ‘one hit would be enough to secure life-time addiction.’

Boots put on Burrows’s nasal, monotone voice when he said it, but he knew that neither Dog nor Grant would recognise it.

“I don’t even like the term ‘heroin’ much, it’s a brand name [sniff].” Both Dog and Boots turned to look at him. “It was copyrighted by the pharmaceutical company, Bayer. It should be known as diamorphine. But even that is a walk in the park compared to some stuff, in terms of intensity, at least…”

Boots hardly paused for breath before continuing. Normally he would be able to engineer his perception, and thus his mood, via a variety of chemicals he generally had to hand. Espresso first thing in the morning, cannabis to relax, a range of stimulants for different social activities, Valium to come down, hallucinogens for high art and music and such like. He was banned from bringing or taking any drugs at all on this trip and was having a great deal of difficulty maintaining anything like calm, without a reefer. Today would be his first full day without cannabis, and therefore nicotine, in years. Withdrawal was taking its toll. Something inside him had realised that talking about his favourite subject was helping his nerves when self-medication could not, and Dog was allowing him to rant on, when no one was in earshot.

“…Dimethyl tryptamine derivatives: ayauasca, bannisteria caapi, 5- Meo-DMT - cane toad venom [sniff] they’re all far, far stronger experiences tha-”

“Venom!?” exploded Grant, missing Dog’s nod at the subject. “Like ‘poison’?”

“Yeah, from cane toads. I used to keep them and milk them, huge things.” Boots lifted both hands, struggling with his holdall somewhat, and held his hands like he was holding an invisible football.

“You milked fucking toads!?” Grant was almost shouting by the end of this short sentence, and dropped his head to acknowledge the fact to Dog, who firmly grabbed his bicep.

“Used to [sniff] before I turned vegetarian” Boots continued. “You have to hold up the toad by a pane of glass. It’s got glands behind its eyes and you squeeze them like zits. You get bufotenine squirting out, which is a poisonous liquid that can blind you, and you also get 5-methoxy dimethyl-tryptamine - 5-MEO-DMT - which is just about the strongest hallucinogen around. The DMT stays on the glass like snot and the poisonous liquid bit just runs off when you hold it up. Scratch off the DMT goo, dry it and stick it in a pipe, and be careful to lie down before it kicks in. You’ve got two seconds. I’ve stopped the 5-MEO though, ’cos the toads don’t like to be milked [sniff].”

Dog looked left and right, then behind them, to check no one was in earshot, and raised his eyebrows. He appeared to condone this last point and asked:

“So you think this stuff from toads is the most extreme drug experience?” He seemed to Boots to be genuinely interested.

“Well it’s an assault on the senses. It’s a bit like bungie-jumping. If you have it indoors, you hear a sound a bit like tearing cellophane and the floor, ceiling, walls and windows all just fold up and disappear completely. You leave the physical world that you see around you now and go… somewhere else entirely.” He shook his head vigorously and tore at the air like scrunching up a newspaper with his free hand.

“It’s not really a drug in the normal sense, either. Psychoactive drugs normally alter the balance of neurotransmitters that you use to think with [sniff]. DMT actually is one of these neurotransmitters - you are making it right now as part of the mechanism of how you think and who you are.”

“And is this experience is unique to cane toad venom?” asked Dog.

“There are lots of tryptamines, and a few can bring a similar experience: mushroom ayahuascas, pure DMT, even some salvia divinorum extracts – anything above a concentration of about twenty-to-one [sniff]. Not the blend I give to my Mum.”

“You give that shit to your Mum?” Grant almost doubled up, scaring two old French ladies that were passing.

“Only a ‘five times’ salvia concentration. She shares it with the ladies in her croquet team. I told them it was legal and a few of them were fine and well into it. Sometimes a bit of weed, too. They think I work at ICI, I told them I was a psychopharmacologist, and they never seem to give it any more thought. Anyway, have you ever watched competitive croquet? The tactics? They can be evil man, they need a bit of a trip and some peace and love... and the ‘times five’ is quite a mild-ish hit.” He sniffed and watched as Dog and Grant looked at each other in despair.

“Salvia concentrations of thirty and more are a different matter altogether, though – very powerful. You don’t feel like you’re taking it, as it kicks in, you feel like it’s taking you.” Boots briefly lost focus in his eyes as he recalled the sensation. “Having said all that, I’ve heard recently about two very interesting things: bromodragonfly and plat-“

“Dragonfly! You wanna smoke insects now!?” Grant, untroubled by an open mind, had no interest for such experimentation, and was clearly getting annoyed with Boots’s specialist subject. Dog held a finger up to his lips, but it was aimed at Grant, to allow Boots to continue his explanation:

“It’s called bromo- ‘dragonfly’ because the molecule has the appearance of wings on each side, like a dragonfly. They stop it being broken down easily in the blood, and it means that the dose is only one thousandth of a gram, but it lasts for at least 24 hours [sniff].” He maintained a matter-of-fact tone as the other two mulled this over.

“I’m also interested by duck-billed platypus venom, which rumour has it can be highly hallucinogenic, so I’m currently trying to get hold of some of that. Not easy, I can tell you, and I wouldn’t know what to do with it when I get some, in terms of dose and preparation.”

Boots used his free hand to wipe the sweat from his face with his football shirt. Dog seemed to be wondering something about the platypus anecdote, and Grant’s mind seemed to have drawn a blank altogether, so Boots unconsciously switched back to verbal diarrhoea to help soothe his nerves:

“By far the weirdest thing I’ve tried is Artane, ’though - that’s for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease and schizophrenia. I had a psychiatric nurse called Scott steal it for me, and that’s the only thing that, not only would I not want again, but I would probably try and stop other people from trying it.”

“That must have been some intense stuff” said Dog.

“Actually it’s not intense at all and that’s why it’s so [sniff] ‘weird’ is just the best way to describe it. I took a couple of tablets and was on the sofa, skinning up and watching the telly, and was discussing the program with a lad I know called Graham; I know him quite well, I used to live with him. I’m in the middle of a sentence and look to my left on the sofa - where he’s been sitting - and he’s not there. I just stopped in mid-sentence and he’s just not there. If I look at you now Dog…” Boots looked straight at Dog, then covered his eyes and looked away and, still looking away said: “I can’t see you behind me [sniff] but I’m sure you’re still there. I have a very specific image or idea that it’s Dog, and you’re right here.” He pointed at Dog who was still behind him, then turned back around.

“I wasn’t visually hallucinating something or somebody that wasn’t there, because I was looking in a different direction, but I was hearing voices, probably talking to myself out loud, and the image or idea of the person there was so specific – it was Graham. It was so… just… out there. I didn’t properly come down for three days, and then had to ring up a drugs advisory line, ’cos I was still hearing voices.”

“What did the advisor say?” asked Dog.

“You’re a stupid cunt?” asked Grant.

“I rang up the one in the Yellow Pages and told this bloke what I’d had, and he said it was a bit too specialist [sniff] it wasn’t on his list. He gave me another number to ring, at Guy’s hospital in London, where this woman called me an idiot when I told her what I’d had. She shouted ‘What the hell did you do that for?!’ Grant and Dog exchanged looks again, presumably wondering the same thing.

“I said: ‘For a consciousness experiment [sniff].’ I felt a bit sheepish, and there was some irony in there, but she missed it completely. I was obviously speaking to some kind of clinical pharmacist, and definitely not someone trained to council hippies when they’re hearing voices and getting so freaked out [sniff].

“Apparently I’d totally overestimated the dose, and it took days before I stopped hearing voices, but the whole experience were so [sniff] real I feel like I could wake up now, and go back to that same night, and it would all have just been part of the artane experience. R-e-a-l-l-y spooky.”

“Fucking bollocks” said Grant. It’s all fucking bollocks. I’ve never taken drugs. What’s wrong with just getting pissed, it’s great.” Grant sucked hard on his cigarette.

Drink yourself into a near stupor and then hit an innocent bystander with a bottle? Boots remembered Grant telling the story of one of his big nights out to another bouncer that worked under Dog …Drink-drive your way home and punch your girlfriend ’cos there’s no dinner, before finishing another half-pint of vodka, puking in the toilet then falling asleep next to it. Jesus, alcohol is a shit drug… and if there’s anyone that could really do with a joint to calm down, it’s you.

“You also smoke twenty plus cigarettes a day.”

“That doesn’t count as ‘drugs’.”

Why the hell not? Boots was always riled by this line of thinking.

“To me [sniff] that makes you a drug addict” said Boots, before he could restrain himself. Dog coughed quickly to remind Grant not to overreact, which had the desired effect.

“You smoke about twenty spliffs a day, don’t you?” enquired Grant.

“Give or take.”

“And they’re full of nicotiiiiine, you prick.” Boots swerved to his left as Grant strained toward him, jaw first, failing to contain his adrenaline. “And you’ve been complaining all fucking morning that you can’t relax because you’re desperate for a spliff!” Grant was aghast at Boots’s accusation and attitude.

“I don’t deny it.” He coughed. “It does make me an addict - a nicotine addict. But smoking spliffs is good fun and I love it. Smoking weed is really good for relaxation, it lowers the blood pressure, and it increases the pleasure of listening to music and all sorts of stuff. Even apart from helping people with MS, glaucoma, and arthritis, it has a positive effect on some tumors…”

Boots fell silent they passed some people gathered around a stall selling cold drinks. There were football chants drifting from a long way off, he presumed at the beach.

“…If I end up getting lung cancer from spliffs I can think, ‘Well at least it’s from spliffs – I like how they make me feel’ if I got cancer from cigarettes, I’d feel...” stupid he thought, but said only “Y’know.” He shrugged and looked sideways at Grant, and almost felt pity.

“… and I don’t drink alcohol much at all [sniff] and that’s a drug that you take quite a lot of.”

“Alcohol isn’t really a drug like some of the headfuck stuff you take, and it’s legal so doesn’t really count.”

Why doesn’t it count?

“Poppers is legal and that’s a headfuck and a half, if you ask me, although I quite like it.”

Grant pounced again:

“Isn’t that the cheap and nasty stuff from sex shops that gives you a thumping migraine for thirty seconds and makes you think your head will explode?”

“Its dead intense [sniff] but I don’t get snobby about the cost versus effect. If you ask me, if a bottle of poppers cost two hundred quid, then everybody would want some when it got passed it around the dance floor.”

“Bollocks!” was the best Grant could come up with, shaking his head.

Boots chose not to pursue his point.

Let the wookie win he thought to himself.

He looked at Dog who was furtively looking round a corner as they reached a quiet side road. They turned the corner, and walked down the deserted cobbles, away from the busier street they were on.

I never thought I’d hear myself thinking this, but thank God Dog is here. Grant worked on the door and was supposed to stop violence, but Boots sometimes felt he could just snap and kick the shit out of him at any moment, but Dog…

To Boots and many others, Dog looked like he could possibly be the most dangerous man in the world - an enormous forty year-old slab of tattooed granite, whose belly disguised the fact that he was in fact super fit and had competed in a triathlon earlier on in the year. His Popeye forearms demonstrated massive strength, not just chubby flesh.

He had explained on the plane that he spent a great many weekends travelling to watch football, and his younger days had given him a great deal of experience of football violence, but he was well over that kind of thing now and he avoided it like the plague. Too much like work, Boots had supposed. The more Boots heard about Dog - from Kevin and other acquaintances - he seemed, impossibly, to be even more dangerous than he actually looked, and by quite some margin. Boots had only recently seen the CCTV footage of Dog fighting Jimmy the House and two other bouncers. Dog was a life-long student of the martial arts, and travelled to Asia for a few months every year to practice and learn more, and in Manchester he had his own stable of fighters, some of whom were professional. He also ran his own syndicate of door personnel, and they watched the doors of some of the less salubrious pubs and clubs around Manchester. The team also looked after Kevin when Dog was out of the country.

…This is all Kevin’s fault….

It was Kevin who had arranged for them to come to France: he had connections all over the world. Not big-time on the scale of Escobar and such like, but for a Mancunian without a major firm in the mid 90’s, to own twenty or so up-scale properties, have a share portfolio and travel as much as he did, he was successful enough, especially for someone who did not get involved in moving coke anymore. He took plenty of it, but an episode in the Hacienda in ’91 had made him wary of the coke business, and he now stuck to cannabis distribution, plus Boots’s niche market, which was small but highly lucrative, and – before today at least – relatively low risk.

In 1991 Kevin had been partying with a few mates, and whilst he was never one to flaunt his business, or do any in public, the Hacienda represented a great deal of scrutiny, partly from the police, but more tellingly from the people who vied for the business that went on inside. Kevin had been partying since the night before and found himself drinking a Lucozade, standing at one side of the main Hacienda dance floor when one of his mates pointed to his chest, wide-eyed. Kevin had a small red dot moving shakily around his torso and his heart, which was already under the pressure of two Mitsubishis and a couple of grams of Columbian flake. It nearly burst.

In 1991 in the north of England, you could not get pocket laser key rings that are ten-a-penny in Thailand today. The revelation was that he had gun-mounted laser sights pointed straight at him. As the Hacienda had airport-style metal detectors at the door, this meant that the owner had been allowed to bring the gun in. More importantly that they might also be allowed to escape with it.

Kevin and his mates all left immediately, and he never found out who was pointing the weapon at him. He therefore never knew whether he had narrowly missed being shot or if it was simply meant as a warning message. He had decided that the Summer of Love era was well and truly over, the coke and crack business would soon take off, and with it any semblance of politeness and safety in the business. He had decided to hire Dog as a part-time body guard soon after.

Men in Kevin’s line of business are used to paranoia, and a few can thrive on the buzz it can provide. Most think it is the worst thing about it, because it never really goes away - you can be lying on a beach in the Caribbean smoking a spliff, silent apart from the sound of breaking waves when the panic takes you without warning. Have any of your houses been broken into? Or raided? Have any of your people been arrested, or shot? Will you be met at Manchester airport by the police, to get sixteen years, maybe out in seven for good behaviour?

Boots was in a similar state of high paranoia today, and was even starting to twitch intermittently.

“How do you know Kevin, Boots?” Grant looked at him disapprovingly, apparently reading his mind.

“I used to just buy weed off him [sniff] or boys that worked for him. The amounts of weed were getting bigger and bigger and I started working with him in… God, that must have been ’89, nearly ten years ago now, a year or two before he met you Dog.” Dog nodded.

“It started with the car seat trick in Amsterdam: Definitely one of my better ideas.” Dog smiled as he checked the surrounding area. They were approaching a tiny crossroads.

“What was that then?” asked Grant.

Boots waited until another couple of locals had crossed their path on the paved alley. The bright sun reflected off the plain whitewashed walls, and made him squint his eyes almost totally shut.

“We could only safely do it once, but me and Guy Cool drove to Holland using the ferry, to meet up with powder contacts of Kevin’s – these serious, mule-running heavies from Surinam, next to Brazil. The mules’d swallow up to a kilo and a half of coke, in the fingers of surgical gloves, then fly to New York. In New York they would shit the pellets, wash them, and eat them again, and then fly to Holland.”

“Shit them and eat them again!” Grant couldn’t contain his disgust at what Boots matter-of-factly considered a necessary evil.

“Yeah, it is horrible, but at Schiphol, flights from New York [sniff] have a lot less customs attention compared with those from South America.

“Guy and me met up with them in the Pink Floyd Coffee Shop in Amsterdam, and we showed them where our car was [sniff]. They took the car away and put ten kilos of coke into it, stuffed into the seats, five packages in each. The next day we went to the pigs to report the car stolen, and then went to get stoned for three days.” He smiled and watched Grant thinking about this, drawing a blank.

“Three days later, when the police called and said they’d found the car, undamaged, by the Prinsengracht canal, we collected it and said ‘thank you’. We drove back to the ferry, shitting ourselves, but ready to claim that it wasn’t our coke in the seats, if they found it. Even if they did, it didn’t have any of our DNA on it. Worked a treat! It was only going to work once, ’cos the police had record of us, but I earned a load of money and started working with Kevin full time.”

Grant nodded, looking genuinely impressed by the idea. Boots thought it was the first time he had ever shown any respect for Boots since they had known each other.

Boots winced slightly remembering how paranoid he had become, leading up to a mild seizure on his return. When they got the coke home it was when he first learned the importance of face masks when dealing with large amounts of pure coke. He got so high that only some emergency Valium kept him out of the hospital.

“And what about you two?” Grant pointed between Boots and Dog.

Boots reminisced, and recalled how he first met Dog, although initially, Boots had known Dog by reputation only:

He had heard about the evening in 1993 when, while unarmed and alone, Dog was working on the door of The Albany, a quiet South Manchester bar that Kevin used as his only regular public haunt. Dog was challenged in the doorway by Jimmy the House and two other steroid-pumped thugs that worked for another security syndicate. They were looking to damage Kevin, who wasn’t even in the bar at the time. Two were armed with knives and one had a rounders bat, and they tried to go through Dog, who had a different idea.

They were unprepared for one so heavy to move so quickly and skilfully. Luckily, Kevin had decided to pay a fortune for state of the art surveillance equipment at the door, because Dog was soon arrested while the three were still in hospital - two were in critical condition, and all three had suffered several stab wounds.

Until the video footage was produced and viewed, the arresting officers did not believe that Dog was unarmed at the time of the attack, that he had not held a knife during the incident, that he was alone, or that it was self defence. The footage showed that, seemingly unprovoked, led by Jimmy the House, all three pulled out the weapons and attacked Dog. He suffered two shallow cuts to his outer forearms, that did not even require stitches, but the total of twelve other stab wounds incurred, that were shared between the three assailants, were all inflicted while Dog evaded and simply redirected the slashes and stabs aimed at him, using Jimmy as a shield.

At no time did he hold a blade himself, and he had simply disarmed both knives and the bat with movements that, despite much police scrutiny, from three separate camera angles, they couldn’t quite work out exactly what he had done and how he had done it so quickly. From when they first pounced, to when Dog used the phone behind the bar to dial 999, the attack had lasted fourteen seconds. There was a lot of blood at the scene, but all three survived the counter-attack after paramedic and hospital treatment.

A few days later, Jimmy the House left hospital, but within a week he was found dead in an alley near his home. The cause of death was a deemed to be a perfectly placed, single strike to the back of the neck with a blunt instrument - he never knew what hit him. Along with many others, Boots was certain that what hit him, was Dog.

Boots looked at Dog in awe, as had most passers-by all morning - apart from the ones who made a point of looking elsewhere. He wondered how many tattoos he had, and if he could lift a small car, like the strong men he had seen on television.

If The Hulk had a harelip and a Lacoste T-shirt, then he’d be right here.

Boots had never heard Dog raise his voice, he hardly ever swore, he had a certain grace for one so huge, and Boots had mercifully never witnessed him lose his temper. There was so much power locked up inside Dog, surely it was clear to all around him that only the suicidal should try it on. He was the perfect deterrent for the door of The Albany, and apart from Jimmy the House and his two mates, no one had ever tried anything while he was working there.

“Does that tattoo mean the Tao, Dog? [sniff]” Boots looked at the side of his neck.

“Yeah… Good spot” Dog nodded.

“I recently read a Timothy Leary translation of the Tao Te Ching, especially adapted for people on a psychedelic session – you know, with a bit of transcendental medication. It’s the major work of Taoism with a twist of psychedelia. I took a shit load of mushrooms and read it - up until the shrooms’ effect got too strong and the text started unzipping off the page. I spent half an hour puking, but after that I had one of the most profound experiences ever. In the introduction it says that with certain techniques and chemicals, rather than perceive with just the five senses, you can perceive directly with the nerves themselves, stronger doses and you can perceive the world on a cellular level, and with very high doses you can access the blinding light, or void, a goal of Buddhism.”

“Timothy Leary?” queried Dog, “As in ‘Tune in turn on, drop out’?” Boots nodded back with enthusiasm.

“Why the spiritual interest, Boots?”

“With the rich and famous, you often hear of people giving up drugs when they find religion and spirituality of some sort. I thought the results of this enlightenment must be amazing if it’s even better than the good quality drugs they’r-”

“Do you ever have a fucking conversation that doesn’t involve drugs?” asked Grant.

Boots shrugged and with straight face, said:

“It’s my hobby.”

Boots loved to say this, and had a well-practiced look of earnest innocence when he said it. “…But you don’t really even necessarily need drugs - in the normal sense - to induce special sensory experiences. The poet Coleridge used to eat raw pork before bedtime.” He’ll love this Boots thought of Grant, “The stomach cramps induced lucid dreaming and helped his creativity. That’s when he came up with ‘In Xanadu, did Kubla Kahn, a pleasure dome decree.’ Although I don’t suppose all the laudanum did any harm.”

Grant stared ahead, blankly.

He doesn’t know what laudanum is Boots thought.

“That’s very literary for a chemist, Boots” said Dog.

Boots felt that they could talk freely walking down the quiet alley, although the distant football chants and his new product meant he was still far from relaxed, and they would be at Place St George any minute.

“S’pose. I’m actually a ‘tactical’ reader, though. [sniff] I think that carrying a book around with me might distract people, and make me less likely to get collared ’cos I look ‘studenty’. I carry drugs all the time, even if it’s only a bit of personal weed. I’m scruffy and probably underweight.”

“Probably?” interrupted Grant. “You look like a purple-haired streak of piss.”

“The colour’ll wash out” was Boots’s only defence.

“Before we get to Place St George?” asked Dog.

Even with purple hair I don’t stand out as much as you Boots thought, of Dog.

“What did you take to make your hair turn purple?” asked Grant. “Have you been snorting dried-out elephant shit or something? Made your hair change colour?”

“Actually there is shit in this bag, but not from an elephant.”

“I’m not surprised. I meant to ask you about that” said Dog. “It smells rank.”

“It’s lion shit” said Boots, and beamed widely through several seconds of stunned silence from the other two. “I smeared a tiny bit on the inside of the bag.”

“Lion shit? The shit… from a real lion?” asked Dog, nonplussed.

“Yeah…” Boots waited for this to sink in “Sniffer dogs - all dogs - are afraid of lions. Apparently they also recognise the droppings somehow, and shy away from it. I thought there could be traces of drugs on me or the bag, so I took the precaution of wiping a bit of lion shit around the inside. I thought it might help at customs.”

“Where did you get lion shit from?” Dog couldn’t help but ask, smiling through his confusion.

“I’ve got a client at Knowsley Safari Park. I got loads of it. I keep it in the freezer… I swapped it for some Dexedrine.”

“You are fucking berserk” said Grant, shaking his bright red face.

You’re actually being paid to look after me thought Boots. It was the first time this had occurred to him all day, and he felt a little more confident.

“’Berserk’” he said assertively, “… is another drug reference” he proudly stated. “It comes from the Viking marauders. They used to take a load of magic mushroom tea on their longboats before storming ashore to rape and pillage, off their heads on shrooms, to… go ‘berserk’” he shrugged.

“True,” said Dog “they wore bear skins. ‘Ber-serk’ means bear shirt.”

“Does it really?” Boots was impressed by this. It was not the first time that day that Dog had surprised both he and Grant by showing himself to be more than just a simple thug; he actually came across as cultured.

“A similar Filipino word is ‘amok’” explained Dog.

“As in ‘to run amok’?” Sensing their imminent arrival at Place St George, Boots was suddenly trying hard not to think about the impending business deal, so as to remain calm. Listening to Dog was a welcome distraction.

“Yeah. When Magellan was in the Philippines in 1521, he went to an island called Mactan. Magellan had already persuaded the chief of Cebu and other major areas to convert to Christianity and swear allegiance to Spain. He was overconfident, and thought that with his trained soldiers, five ships and modern cannons, they’d easily overcome Chief Lapu Lapu and his savages, if they had to.

“On Mactan, Lapu Lapu’s tribe had weight of numbers, but mostly carried pointed sticks as the only weapons they could get hold of. Magellan’s men went ashore to teach the natives a lesson, but all the local warriors ran amok and decimated them. They went ‘berserk’ and killed almost everybody. Chief Lapu Lapu led the first organized resistance of Filipinos against foreign invaders, so he was their first national hero.

Dog stopped walking and pointed to a sweeping scene tattooed onto his left thigh, it showed what must be Lapu Lapu wielding a sword.

“You see drugs references everywhere, Boots. Martial culture is my thing. Drugs can be positive or negative, depending on your point of view, so can violence. I spend a lot of time in the Philippines studying their warrior arts, Lapu Lapu is a famous story over there, and many are inspired by it.”

“And if you put it like that,” said Boots, “I suppose military stuff has obviously had a significant effect on the history of the world. I am a total pacifist and nothing about violence could ever be considered enlightened, but-”

“You might be surprised, Boots” interrupted Dog. You must be aware of the Shaolin monks, for a start.” Boots nodded.

“I suppose all these Chinese and Japanese chop socky people are credited with some kind of mysterious wisdom, somehow.”

“The Shaolin Temple is credited with the origin of much traditional Chinese Kung Fu. Thanks to the arrival of the enlightened Bodhidarma from India, they learned the animal moves that he saw in nature, meditated, and practiced them to get healthier. Later on they used them to defend themselves against people trying to steal their temple gold. So goes the legend, anyway.”

Boots was puzzled.

“I don’t quite see how any violent practice could help with enlightenment in the same way as all the internal goings-on of something like meditation can do.”

“The physical discipline required by the martial arts offers surprising mental and psychological benefits, Boots. You get improved concentration, quicker thinking, you can cultivate an inner calm and an overall sense of power.

I bet you can thought Boots, looking at Dog’s gigantic chest and biceps.

“The Philippines have a great history of stick fighting that stems from after Magellan, when the Spanish banned the carrying of blades. A very common example of this would be training with a stick in each hand, we call it ‘sinawali’. You can imagine that sparring ‘empty hand’ or with gloves on is difficult enough, mentally.”

“I bet it is against you, Dog” said Grant. Dog ignored him and continued:

“Well if you complicate it further and imagine that the stick is an extension of each arm. It can spin and turn, like a having another joint, and the other person has the same, and you are playing around with each other, trying to hit, block, parry and possibly disarm, all at the same time. It is just too quick for calculation, and becomes too much for the conscious mind to cope with.” Like any good teacher, Dog waited for this to sink in before continuing.

“You get what the Japanese call ’mushin’. The closest English translation would be no mind. Your conscious mind just switches off, in the same way as with meditation, despite being in a frantic environment. You let your muscle memory take over and if you can maintain calm through that kind of chaos, everything else is a walk in the park. So something outwardly violent, through practice, can lead to an inner calm.”

“That’s mind-blowing!” Boots couldn’t contain himself.

Mental! Boots was getting a new and profound respect for Dog’s intellect. He watched Grant who appeared completely unimpressed. I don’t suppose you get the same effect with a head butt he thought.

Voodoo! remembered Boots, after a while. There was a rumour that Dog had been at some crazy voodoo-style power rituals while on his travels in Asia, but Boots had always been too scared to ask him about it. Today he was prepared to broach the subject:

“Any other ritual spiritual stuff to report from the Far East, Dog?” Dog apparently guessed what Boots was getting at.

“I’ve been involved in what are known as anting-anting ceremonies in the Philippines, with cobra venom and stuff…” Boots was very keen to find out more, but Dog was restlessly putting himself between Boots and some passers-by that shared their narrow path, and he could tell that Dog wasn’t comfortable with giving any more detail for the moment.

“I don’t really see it as necessarily conflicting with any other practices, like Buddhism though” Dog continued.

“What’s Buddhism got to do with anything?” asked Grant.

Cryptically, Dog answered:

“To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.”

There was a pause until Boots spoke with the wonder of a child:

“Dog, are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

“Yes” was the slowly-considered answer. “Well... Taoist - specifically - which is a Chinese off-shoot.”

Wow! Boots was truly stunned. Dog may be an ex-football hooligan, a bouncer, a body guard and Jimmy The House’s murderer… but I think he’s a fucking Buddhist.

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