Elixium

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Chapter 10 – Climbing The Tower

Reuben Fenwick must have been lying when he wished Tom good luck, as the following morning the police showed up and arrested him for attempted burglary. The loud knocking on the front door woke him from a deep sleep. His head ached, and he turned over, unable to face the morning. Voices murmured outside in the hall, and then Laura, his housemate, yelled at the top of her lungs.

“TOM! TOM! IT’S THE POLICE! FOR YOU!”

He rubbed his eyes and yawned. The police? What the fuck?

Knuckles wrapped on his bedroom door. “Mr Toombs,” said a male voice, deadly serious. “This is Chief Inspector Peavler and Constable Barker. Open up!”

What the hell is going on?

He stumbled out of bed and pulled on a pair of tracksuit bottoms from the floor. When he opened the bedroom door, he found two cops waiting for him. Both were short in stature, but overcompensated with militaristic uniforms, radios, batons and sour expressions.

“You’re under arrest for attempted burglary, Mr Toombs.”

The constable slapped a cold pair of handcuffs around his wrists. He cursed Reuben. The tosspot obviously wanted revenge for turning down the job offer.

He soon found himself in an interview room. They supplied him with a lawyer, a young woman with a red, runny nose. Fantastic, thought Tom. If I ever get out of here, I’ll probably get the lurgy.

“We’ve spoken to Mr Fenwick this morning,” said Chief Inspector Peavler. He was bald with a squashed-in nose. “He was most upset.”

“Downright pissed off, I’d say.” Constable Barker added. Barker had a long, oval face.

“Yes,” agreed Peavler. “And your name came up, Tom. Can I call you Tom?”

Tom shrugged.

“Fenwick says you broke into the company’s vault last Tuesday lunchtime.” said Peavler.

Barker turned to his superior. “He used the words ‘corporate espionage’. Been watching too much James Bond, I reckon.”

Chief Inspector Peavler sniggered. “He must be mistaken. Canteens get so busy these days. You probably broke into Elixium’s vault so you could finish your sandwiches in peace, right?”

“There’s a mile long queue for the microwave around here at lunchtime,” said Constable Barker. “Nothing more annoying when you want a baked potato.”

“Or a bowl of soup,” added Peavler.

Tom folded his arms and leaned back in the chair. He’d had enough of this shit. His throat was dry, and he hadn’t showered or cleaned his teeth. He ran his hand over the stubble on his face. “Look, why don’t you just tell me what evidence you’ve got. None, right? That’s why you’re putting on this stupid double act.”

Constable Barker leaned forward and grinned. “CCTV footage of the entire event. Multiple eye witnesses, and Mr Fenwick’s statement, of course.”

“Interesting story about the camera footage,” said Peavler. “Elixium doesn’t keep the tapes, they send them off to the company who installed the cameras, Avant Guard Security. They were happy to furnish us with the evidence, after we’d spoken to a Mr Russell Toombs.”

“Any relation?” asked Barker.

My brother. What a fucking rat! Tom turned to his lawyer. “Aren’t you supposed to help? Come up with strategies and stuff.”

“I’d like to view the tapes,” said the lawyer. “But the evidence sounds—” Her voice broke. She pulled some tissues from her bag and sneezed into them. “—damming.”

Tom squinted and rubbed his forehead. This can’t be happening! “It’s not what you think, man. They coaxed me into doing it. There’s a word for that.”

“Entrapment?” suggested his lawyer.

“Yeah,” said Tom. “That’s it.”

“Entrapment?” asked Constable Barker, his bushy eyebrows raised. “Terrible film. George Clooney and what’s-her-face.”

“Catherine Zeta-Jones.”

“That’s the one.”

“And yeah,” agreed Peavler. “Dire film.”

“Very poor.”

“Listen to me,” said Tom, raising his voice. “Reuben set me up. It’s his idea of a loyalty test.” He thought about mentioning Reuben’s involvement with an elite sex ring, but remembered his old boss’ comments about contacts within the police. Knowing his luck, Venom Empire probably supplied Swedish rent boys to these two bozos.

“That’s interesting, Tom,” said Constable Barker, looking at his watch. “We’ll leave you now to discuss things further with your lawyer.”

After they left, his lawyer told him she’d attempt to broker a deal with the prosecutor and would be in touch.

He spent the night in a cold, grubby and noisy cell at the police station. At least he was alone so he could nurse his splitting headache and exhausted body. He needed a smoke; he couldn’t sleep without a joint. Tossing and turning, he imagined dunking Reuben Fuckwit head first into a barrel full of piranha fish until they stripped his body down to the bone. His imagination failed to conjure a fate cruel enough for his brother Russell right now, but he’d work on it.

The next day, he appeared at a pre-trial conference before the magistrates. His defence lawyer and the prosecutor agreed on a deal. In return for pleading guilty to a misdemeanour, Tom would avoid a prison sentence.

“We can’t win against Elixium in court,” said his lawyer. “Your only option is to accept the deal.”

Tom agreed, but boiled with anger when he realised the deal required him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and pay damages to Elixium. Interestingly, the charge related only to attempted burglary of Elixium’s intellectual property. Reuben hadn’t mentioned Metanox to the police. He wants me to take the drug, Tom realised.

Mental note: must destroy Metanox ASAP.

*

Tom attended the psychiatry appointment the following Wednesday morning, bringing Dave along for moral support. Dave had recommended the psychiatrist, Dr Palmer, who’d he been seeing for years for his chronic anxiety. The receptionist gave him a stack of forms to fill in while he waited. Have you ever had any seizures, faints or blackouts? Have you ever been diagnosed with any form of cancer? Have you ever had surgery? He tried to remember the date of his tonsillectomy but struggled to concentrate.

Dave was playing with the Tamagotchi his next-door neighbour’s kid gave him to look after while she was on holiday. It had shat everywhere and devolved into a mantis-like monstrosity. “I over-fed it,” said Dave, and smiled. His friend seemed more relaxed than usual.

“Dave,” he whispered, conscious of the receptionist, “I need to tell you something.”

“What?”

“After the Metanox the other night,” he murmured, “I dreamt some weird things. Someone spoke to me… my boss’ dead father.” The Grandmaster’s body had died, but he somehow transferred his consciousness into the drug. A synthetic being. Crystallised into chemical form, only existing in the minds of users.

Dave looked confused. “What are you talking about?”

“We need to have a long talk.”

“Too right. I’ve seen the local paper, and I know why we’re here. You broke into Elixium!”

Tom dipped his head. He hadn’t been honest with Dave and risked their friendship to take Metanox. “Venom Empire tricked me. Reuben, my ex-boss, is involved. From what he said, it’s a sex ring for the rich and powerful.”

Dave bit his lip and nodded, before taking a sidelong look to see if the receptionist was listening. “We’ll talk more later. Don’t mention these hallucinations to the psychiatrist, ok?”

“I won’t,” said Tom. “What’s he like?”

“Dr Palmer? He’s brilliant.” Dave’s eyes fixed on him. “Whatever you saw the other night wasn’t real. You were high on Metanox. You poured it away, didn’t you?”

“Well…” He hadn’t got around to it yet.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Have you got a death wish? You need to get rid of it before you get yourself in more trouble!”

“OK.”

“I mean it.”

“Alright,” said Tom, spreading his palms. “I promise I’ll flush it when I get home.”

The receptionist called his name and told him to take the stairs to the second floor. Dave wished him luck; his shift at the tuna factory started in an hour.

*

A psychiatrist showed Tom into his office. He was in his late thirties and wore a tweed jacket and a red cravat which matched the colour of his chinstrap beard. He had shimmering green eyes, like the sun glistening over a tranquil lake.

“I’m Dr Joshua Palmer, but please call me Joshua. Do you prefer Tom or Thomas?” His voice was calm and clear and with a slight lisp.

“Tom,” he replied, handing over the forms he completed in the waiting room.

“Do you know why you’re here, Tom?”

He nodded. The psychiatrist remained silent, reading through the forms. “I guess you want me to say I’m sorry and I’ll never do it again.”

“No,” said Dr Palmer, plucking a pen from his jacket pocket and circling something on one of the forms. “You’re required to attend a mental health screen, nothing more. You say here you’re using drugs.”

He didn’t want to talk about his drug use, but he nodded.

“Can I ask why?”

A simple question, but hard to answer. Tom thought about all the raves he’d been to, all the ganja he’d smoked, and all the pills he’d taken. He looked out of the window at the shit-brown clouds smeared across the sky and the shabby council flats dwarfed by high-rise offices.

He shrugged, unable to articulate his urban ennui. The psychiatrist wouldn’t understand anyway. Living high on the hog with his expensive, dapper clothes. I bet he’s never had a moment of loneliness or despair in his entire life.

“Are you working?” Joshua asked, turning to his purring desktop computer to type notes.

“I’m going to get another job… Soon.”

“Partner?”

An image of Isla flashed in his mind. Tears welled in her eyes; he’d hurt her. He hoped she’d find someone who’d take better care of her. “No.”

“A recent break up?”

“Not really.” He crossed his arms.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not particularly.” His eyes scanned the Elixium stationery filling the psychiatrist’s office: notepads, pens and a mouse mat with the company’s black pyramid logo. The company’s marketing department spent millions on these ‘gifts’ for good reason. They infected doctors’ minds with logos and advertisements in order to manipulate them into prescribing Elixium’s products. Yes, he’s one of Elixium’s drug dealers. Paid to mind-rape me—refashion me into a productive and healthy individual. Employed, married and mortgaged, another moron watching televised garbage while sociopaths like Reuben Fenwick claim the world.

Joshua put the forms away and fixated on him. “Talking, sharing our experiences, is the most effective therapy.”

As Tom expected the psychiatrist to push pharmaceuticals, this reply surprised him. Maybe he’d judged the guy too harshly. “Alright,” he said. “I met a girl. Isla. I failed her and now she’s gone.”

The doctor’s eyes lit up at the mention of Isla’s name. “What do you mean by failed her?”

“It’s complicated.” He couldn’t exactly tell him about Isla’s ties to Venom Empire and that he was supposed to flee the country with her. “Can we change the subject?”

“If you wish,” said Joshua. “How’s your mood?”

“Crap,” he said.

“Low mood is common when a loved one passes away. It’s the mind’s way of processing the trauma of loss. But I sense that you felt low before then. Am I right?”

Tom shrugged. “Maybe that’s why I do drugs.” He wished he could dissolve into a crowd of smiling ravers, with ecstasy pumping through his veins. Some banging tunes instead of the repetitive musak of life, looping endlessly, but shuffled in a slightly different order each time. Work, sleep and leisure, over and over again.

“I see,” said the psychiatrist. “Have you considered that you feel this way because you use drugs? Drugs are a coping mechanism, but a poor one. They allow a temporary escape from reality, but in the long run, they make things worse.”

Time to change the subject. “You’re right, Joshua. I’ll never touch class A’s again.” And then a flying pig will land on the deck of the SS Great Britain.

“Do you feel suicidal?”

“I’d never kill myself.”

“Are you sleeping okay?”

“Yes,” he said, folding his arms. Since leaving Elixium, he spent most nights watching films, smoking pot and playing Tony Hawk 2 on his Playstation. He only caught a few hours’ sleep during the day, covering the windows with bed sheets to block out the light.

“And have you ever heard voices?”

He remembered the Metanox hallucinations. Maybe it’d do him good to open up; he need not mention Metanox, he could simply say he smoked pot and heard a voice. He ached for comfort, for someone to say ‘everything is going to be alright’. But could he trust this psychiatrist? He’s paid to listen and pretend he understands, but he doesn’t really care. And the first mention of hallucinations would guarantee an anti-psychotic prescription. He didn’t fancy being lobotomised by one of Elixium’s filthy products. “No, never.”

“Are you sure, Tom? I can tell you’re hiding something.” That voice again, calming and reassuring. “This appointment is about you. Whatever’s on your mind. I’m here to help.”

“And not prescribe drugs. Or section me?”

Joshua smiled. “No, you have my word. And whatever you say here remains confidential.”

“Okay. Last night, I heard a voice. But I was stoned.”

“And what did it say?”

“Can’t remember.”

“Has that ever happened before or since?”

“No, never.”

The phone on the psychiatrist’s desk rang.

“Sorry,” said Joshua. The psychiatrist picked up the phone, said thank you, and replaced the receiver. “My secretary.”

Whatever the secretary said seemed to have agitated Joshua. His cheeks flushed, and he fidgeted with his pen, twirling it between his fingers. After collecting the stack of forms together, he finally regained focus. “I believe you’re experiencing drug-induced psychosis. There’s some underlying depression, but I can only help you,” he fixed on Tom’s eyes, “if you stop taking drugs.”

The psychiatrist’s eye contact intimidated him. He broke away, settling on the Elixium coffee mug on the desk. Next he’ll be recommending rehabilitation, thought Tom. A cold, clinical world of straitjackets, injections and anguished screams. His pulse quickened. I shouldn’t have said I’d heard a voice. What if this quack is a member of Venom Empire? He’d lock me away because I know too much. “I promise I’ll stop taking drugs.”

“There’s some good self-help groups, like Narcotics Anonymous. I’ll give you a leaflet. You must contact them, Tom. Detox for two months, then speak to your doctor for a re-referral. How does that sound?”

“Great,” he said, forcing his lips into a smile. He breathed more easily as he realised the psychiatrist was letting him go. “Does this mean I’ve fulfilled the court order?”

“Yes,” said Joshua.

As he left the clinic, he reflected on his paranoia. Imagining the psychiatrist had links to Elixium and Venom Empire gave him a convenient excuse to keep using drugs. Maybe I should quit or cut down, but I’m doing it my own way. I’m not interested in these stupid groups. He dumped the leaflet in the nearest bin.

When he returned home, he realised he’d ran out of weed. Cold turkey would not work for him either, so he rang Hazeem to score a Henry.

*

In the middle of Tom Toombs’s appointment, Joshua’s office phone rang. He picked up the phone and Linda, the receptionist, told him Dimitri had arrived early and was downstairs in the waiting room. His heart fluttered as he contemplated spending time outside the clinic with Dimitri.

They set off walking after he’d wrapped up the appointment with Tom. Joshua had promised spectacular views, but cold mist shrouded the city that morning. He struggled to make out the designer boutiques and trendy coffee shops lining Park Street and the fog thickened with every step they took.

They climbed the steep grassy hills and passed a couple walking hand in hand along the path, young and carefree. Joshua smiled at Dimitri. He looked so beautiful, with his thick sweater and long coat protecting him from the elements. Loneliness, as cold as the mist encircling them, crept into Joshua’s heart. After the walk, he’d return home to his apartment, with only his cat for company.

“How have you been, Dimitri?”

“Not great,” he replied.

“Feeling low?”

Dimitri explained he’d had a panic attack two days ago. “My heart was pounding and everything blurred. I could hardly breathe.”

“Did anything set this off in particular?”

“I saw a locksmiths’ van through my window. They had a ram logo. I saw pora… how do you say?” He made a spinning motion on the side of his head with his finger.

“Horns?”

“Yes, horns. It reminded me of the network.”

Not these delusions again, thought Joshua, reminded that Dimitri was a patient who’d experienced a psychotic episode. Statistically, the prognosis wasn’t great. Roughly a third of patients never have a second episode, another third improve but never fully recover, and the final third develop full-blown schizophrenia. Mental health services would likely never discharge Dimitri if he was in the latter group, snuffing out any chance of romance. Unless, of course, he broke the rules.

“These thoughts are not real. There’re no demons.”

“You’re wrong. Revelations speaks of a beast with horns rising from the earth,” he replied. “The evil men worship these demons.”

“But Dimitri—”

“It’s time I told you my story. When I first came to your good country, the traffickers my parents paid to help me flee Russia betrayed me to the network. They took me to the countryside. To a castle-like mansion the network called their lodge. Here, young men and women worked, cooking, cleaning and preparing rooms for important guests. If I worked, I could stay in England. No payment, but a bed and hot food in the evening. I thought, this is not a bad life. How little I knew! Rich, powerful men and women from all over the world visited the lodge. The wine and food flowed—they ate until they couldn’t move—and while they gorged themselves, they mocked humanity. They detested the ‘little people’. They called themselves the shepherds, because it was their job to herd the dumb stupid animals to the slaughter. At night, the management told us we must perform for the Grandmaster or die. I witnessed many horrible things. Do what thou wilt, the Grandmaster said to the guests. He was an old naked man, wearing only a ram’s mask. The guests carried out a black mass in front of an owl statue they called Moloch. They sacrificed a lamb and daubed themselves in the blood. They raped young men and women in front of me. The more virginal the better, they said. And, yes, Dr Josh, they made me take part in their rituals too. They forced me to do depraved things, many times, until I finally escaped. I walked for miles in the harsh, cold countryside with no food or water. I thought I would never find safety. After days of travelling in the cold, I found a village and a kind woman gave me shelter. But I did not stay long. I fled to the city and I still look over my shoulder, even today.”

From the tears in Dimitri’s eyes, Joshua knew there was an element of truth to the story, even if he’d exaggerated the details. Reaching awareness is a painful process, but one he would help Dimitri complete. This was a positive development, a breakthrough they could build upon. Full recovery might be possible with time. “I’m glad you told me this,” said Joshua.

“I have told nobody else but you, Dr Josh.”

“You shouldn’t call me that.” Red lines needed to be set, for the sake of his career. This is a vulnerable patient and you are his psychiatrist.

“Why not? You can call me Dimi if you like.”

He liked the nickname Dimi. If only they’d met in different circumstances. He’d surely not pass him by. How he longed to hold him close, to feel his body against his. From the look in Dimi’s eyes, the feeling was mutual.

“You’ll keep this a secret?” asked Dimitri.

“Of course… Do you feel better for talking?”

“Yes, very much.”

“I’m glad, Dimi.” The nickname slipped out and before he could correct himself, the young Russian stroked his arm and set his heart racing. It took all his strength not to reciprocate. He’d been so tied up with his work it’d been years since anyone kissed him. He longed to caress Dimi’s lips with his own.

Stop, he told himself. Don’t do this.

Cabot Tower rose from a thick bed of white mist; like the turret of a fairy tale castle in the clouds. “We’ll see nothing up there,” said Dimitri with disappointment.

Blasted weather! He longed to climb the tower with Dimitri. The two of them, side by side, on top of the world.

“Let’s go up anyway,” said Joshua, but he froze on the spot, hesitating as emotions collided within him. Aside from being unethical, acting upon his infatuation would undoubtedly end in tears. Did he really want to lose everything he’d worked so hard for? He weighed up the alternatives. Keeping a lid on things until Dimitri recovered and was no longer a patient would be the safest option, but he risked Dimi’s nascent feelings for him cooling and missing his opportunity. He looked at Dimi’s face and asked himself if he loved him. The answer was yes.

Joshua placed his arm around Dimi’s shoulders and squeezed him. Dimi tensed up, but moments later softened and Joshua felt his embrace. Warmth melted away his loneliness and tears formed in his eyes. He’d forgotten how good it felt to be held. Huddled together, they entered the tower.

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