The Cold Light of Day (extended version)

I was unsure what time it was when I woke, but as it was still dark outside. I knew it was early. I tried to pretend it was not happening, but all the signs were there.

First, it was my feet. I tensed and released them. Then my legs started the inevitable twitching. My eyes and nose were streaming. The bed felt gritty.

Pulling my legs up to my chest I lay there praying that I could get back to sleep. The creeping coldness felt like it came from inside my bones.

If only I could just sleep until it got light. I surrendered and looked at the clock. Three thirty-eight. Fuck! not even four. Too fucking early to do anything. There was no point in lying there any longer. Flicking on the naked bulb, I stood and looked round the room. It was bare; a mattress on the floor, a chest of drawers with the bottom drawer missing, well, not missing exactly, it was doing duty as a table. There was a clean square on the chest where the TV used to be. Should never have sold that. At least it would have been a distraction.  A plastic food container on the ‘table’ contained syringes, a couple of stained spoons, and a small brown plastic pill bottle.

Cursing myself for not having saved a bit of gear for the morning I went into the kitchen, knowing full well there was nothing there; no tea, no nothing. I rinsed a glass over the stained sink and filled it with water. Taking it back into the other room, I sat on the mattress and reached for the pill bottle. There were four little balls of stained cotton wool in there; filters from other hits, which I tipped into one of the spoons, added some water from the glass with one of the syringes, and heated it with a clipper lighter until it bubbled. There were some needles in the box, I tested them for barbs by stroking them on the back of my hand. Selecting the least offensive, I gave it a quick swipe on a match box to sharpen it. Then I drew the water from the spoon into the barrel of the syringe.

My throat was dry, this ritual always had this effect, despite my knowing there was virtually nothing in this hit. I could almost hear the  crunch as the wall of my vein ruptured under the onslaught of the blunt needle.  Pulling on the plunger a thin red stream joined the almost clear water. The scarf that I had used as a tie slipped to the floor easily as I released my bite on it before pushing the still-warm solution into my bloodstream. I sat waiting for the warmth of heroin to engulf me, but there was so little of it in that hit that all I felt was a vague lessening of discomfort. My mind was now on how I could raise some money to score.

It was still dark outside. Somehow it was always worse when it was dark. Grabbing a book from the floor I hunched up shivering on the mattress and tried to read until it got light.

It was impossible to focus on the book. I found myself reading without remembering a word. After the third attempt at a page, I threw the book at the wall and started to pace around. Opening a drawer at random I rummaged about, looking for anything I could sell, but I knew there was nothing. This place was stripped bare. I had searched every corner, every pocket for a forgotten stash. Addiction leaves nothing out; it’s all-consuming.

Despair hit me like a truck. I felt a cold dark hand close on my gut. Perching on the window ledge I looked down at the street below bathed in the unforgiving orange glow of the streetlamp. I recalled the car that I used to see parked there, my car, the one that I used to drive to work before all this shit stole my life.

When the first glimmer of grey light showed itself, I put on my large black overcoat, drank the rest of the water, grabbed the lighter and some cigarette papers then headed out.

Hoping the movement would alleviate the coldness in my bones and the dull ache in my legs I set off at a good pace. The street was empty and the streetlights went off as I started to look for fag ends on the ground. It took about ten minutes to get enough for a fag. The hot, acrid smoke was some comfort.

I set off on a tour, checking for lights in the windows of anyone who may have some gear. I saw none. Any junkie who was awake at this time was probably clucking like me anyway.

Why I chose to torture myself by walking down Stafford Street confused me. It’s where Janie lives. Beautiful Janie. Janie and I had lived together for two years before she’d discovered my heroin use. For six months I’d made promise after promise to stop and I meant it, really meant it, but somehow I just couldn’t. The lies became a way of life as I tried to hold on to the shreds of our life together. Her flat was in darkness as I walked past. I imagined her asleep in her bed, all curled up the way she did. Then a wave of sadness hit me as I realised there may well be someone else in her bed.

It was just about six o’clock now. I asked a passer-by if she could give me any change. She looked petrified and hurried on. After a few more tries, I managed to get a pound from an earnest-looking teenager.

My options were limited: I could keep begging, probably raise a tenner by about nine. If I could do it by eight, I may be able to score some methadone by hanging out near the chemist. I considered using the pound I had to make phone calls, but all the dealers would still be asleep. Waking them was a bad idea. A hot drink would be welcome, but I didn’t want to waste any money, not until I had a tenner anyway. Anything above that was spendable.

I found a whiskey bottle in a doorway. It had about a half inch of liquid in it, I sniffed it suspiciously. It could be piss though it smelled ok. Wetting my thumb I risked a taste. It was whiskey, so I drank it.

A young couple walked toward me, arm-in-arm. She was very pretty. She had long brown hair like Janie, it was being whipped around by the breeze.

I approached them saying, “Excuse me, I wonder if you could help me? My wallet was stolen at a party and I need to get home and report it. Is there any way you could lend me some money? Say a tenner? As soon as I get home, I’ll post it right back to you.”

“Fuck off,” said the guy, “Get a fucking job.”

He steered the girl around me and hurried away. The girl’s eyes caught mine as he whisked her past me; the briefest moment of human contact. In that millisecond, I saw innocence, beauty, and a kind of sad shock.

I walked on. Hearing the hurried clicking of heels on the pavement behind me. I turned. It was the girl “Here,” she said, holding out her hand. Offering her my open palm, she dropped some change into it, and smiled at me as she held her hair away from her pretty warm eyes.

“Tessa, for fucks sake, he’s a fucking junkie tosser. What are you doing?”

“Thanks,” I muttered and she was gone. There was two pounds seventy and some coppers in my hand. I decided to invest forty pence in a hot cup of tea in the cafe down the road, that way I could sit for about an hour in the warm.

The owner of the steamy cafe eyed me suspiciously.

“Tea please. Can I use your loo?” I asked

With a grunt, he jerked his head toward a door at the side. On my way in, I caught my reflection in the mirror above the hand basin. A gaunt, ashen face with red-rimmed eyes stared back at me, framed in sticky-looking, longish, greasy dark hair. I splashed some water on my face and tried to tidy my hair, it didn’t work.

The cafe guy grudgingly put another half-teaspoon of sugar in the cup when I asked for more. Taking it to the window I sat thinking about that girl, wondering what she had thought about me.

“Thanks, Tessa,” I muttered as I sipped the hot, weak tea.

With three pounds, thirty-six pence in my pocket, things were looking up. A bus driver at the next table was rolling himself a fag.

“Any chance of a smoke, mate?” I asked him.

He nodded and passed me his tobacco. I rolled myself one.

I finished the tea while it was hot, but nursed the cup for about another forty minutes. My thoughts turned to Janie and my former life. I’d had a good job doing the thing I loved, restoring antiques. I was good at it and I was beginning to get the respect of my boss. Then that fateful day came when he called me into his office and produced a syringe, he had found it in the toilet. I had tried to deny it was anything to do with me, but he had gone in there just after I came out and we were the only people in the building at the time. He fired me then and there, handed me a months wages in cash and asked me to leave.

I had gone straight to my dealers and scored. By the time Janie had got home that evening I was pretty fucked up. For her, it had been the last straw. We’d had a big row and I’d stormed out. When I got back I discovered she’d packed and left.

The cafe guy was giving me looks, he came over and took the now empty cup and asked, “Anything else?”

Shaking my head I stood and headed out. The foyer of the tube station was a good place to look for opportunities, so I hung out there for a bit. Maybe someone would put a case or a bag down and turn their back. Nothing. One of the staff had clocked me anyway, so I left.

The lights of the all-night supermarket beckoned. I went in to try and nick a bottle of spirits or something, but it was way too early and the shutters on the booze shelves were down.

I headed off down the street smoking the roll-up. It was coming up to seven o’clock. I was getting cold again and my nose was beginning to run. The cottons were wearing off. Fuck! I was beginning to feel desperate. I can’t go on like this, I thought, as soon as I’m sorted I’ll make a plan, cut down, taper off. If only I could get enough money together to get a decent amount of gear and go away for a bit.

Just then, a van pulled up outside a tool shop across the road. The neon lights inside the shop started flashing as they came on. Ducking into a doorway I watched as the driver open the side door which was facing the road. He had parked on the wrong side. He grabbed a sack truck and loaded it with boxes. I prayed he would leave the door open. He did. As soon as he headed around the van toward the shop, I swooped, grabbing a random box which I shoved under the copious folds of my coat. Walking briskly away expecting a shout, I was ready to run. Swiftly, I turned a corner and risked a look at the box, a cordless drill. Result!

All I needed to do now was sell it. With the box still tucked under my coat, I went looking for a potential buyer.

There was a house with scaffolding and some vans parked outside. I hung around till someone came out.

“Wanna buy a cheap drill mate?” I held it up. “Twenty quid.”

“Is it nicked?” he asked.

I shrugged and said, “It’s about a hundred and twenty quid’s worth of drill, mate. I’m asking for a score.”

“Go on, then.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a wallet, handed me a twenty, took the box, tossed it into his van, and slammed the door shut.

“Got any fags?” I asked as he turned. He pulled out a packet and gave me two.

“Cheers mate. Thanks.”

I lit one and set off. It was about seven-thirty. Going into into a newsagent I got a Snickers bar and paid with some of the change. I asked the woman if she would give me two tens for a twenty. It was better to have tens, that way I could claim it was all I had. I put them into separate pockets.

I got to the chemist just before eight; there were two people waiting outside. I managed to get one of them to agree to sell me some of his methadone script for a tenner, this would hold me until I could score some smack. It was about eleven before I got a proper hit.

Later that day, I stole two bottles of vodka and some steaks from a supermarket. This earned me another twenty quid. So I headed back to Jerry’s place. As usual, it took about a half hour to get an to his answer to his doorbell. “Oh, Jake it’s you, yeah, come up man” A gruff voice announced. The door buzzed and I yanked it open and headed in. The lift had the default stench of piss and tobacco. Jerry lived on the third floor, but I never took a lift to a dealer’s floor, not since I was yanked out of one by a cop one day.  I pressed the button for four and went down the steps.

Jerry’s place was, as always, a mess. There were about six people lounging about in various states of consciousness. A young girl who I had met earlier, was struggling to get a hit in the kitchen. “Can you help?” she asked holding up a works, as I walked past.

“Give me a minute,” I said,  “just need to see…..” she interrupted me.

“Please; it will clot in a sec, an’ I’ll lose it.”

I groaned and went in. She proffered her bruised and bloodied arm, there were about six fresh marks where she had tried and failed.

“Let’s look at the other one,” I suggested. She held it out. I tied it off around her bicep, bent it at the elbow and found a vein that ran along the back and managed to get her hit into it before the blood in the syringe clotted. I looked at her, her eyelids fluttered and drooped. “Thanks.” She murmured. She could be no more than eighteen years old, maybe twenty, short ginger hair topped a freckled face, her eyes were large and grey. If it weren’t for the junk she would be quite pretty.

“I’m not very good at it.” She informed me.

I just nodded, thinking, Sadly, you’re probably going to get plenty of practice.

Jerry held court in the back bedroom. He rarely left the place. He sat crosslegged in the middle of his raised bed with everything he needed close to hand. He was making up little paper folds of smack on the surface of a mirror.

“What you after Jake?”

“Twenty Gezz, please”

He tossed two of the little packs toward me. I put two tenners on the bed, he tucked them into the little leather pouch he wore round his waist.

As usual, Alex was slumped in the corner, he was Gerry’s joey, basically a servant who was paid in drugs. He was the one who had answered the door.

“Who’s that girl in your kitchen Jezz?”

“Little Elsie, she’s been coming here for a week now, why?”

“Dunno, just seems very young is all.”

“Mattie brought her round. She seems ok, student or something”

“Ok if I do a hit?”

“Sure.”

I went into the kitchen, little Elsie was still there gouching out. Sitting opposite her at the Formica table I pulled out the little wallet I carried, it contained a works and so on.

Elsie stirred and looked at me, noticing that I was preparing a hit she said, “I’ve got some new works, want one?”

“Sure, yeah, great”

She bent to retrieve her bag, as she did so her top drooped open to reveal her small breasts, for a moment I was aroused. She tore off a works from a strip and handed it to me.

“Thanks.”  I looked at her and wondered if I should try to get to know her. It had been a long time since I’d even considered such a thing, but she was kinda cute.

As I pressed the plunger home I felt the wave of narcosis suffuse my mind and body. All thoughts of sex and cute little tits were rinsed from my thoughts as I slipped into semi-consciousness like a ship drifting into the mist.

“See ya.”

The words broke through, I opened my eyes to see Elsie walk out of the kitchen.

Oh well, I thought, maybe next time.

Standing I unbuttoned my jeans and slipped my packet of gear into the little slit I’d cut in the waistband, gave my new works a rinse and headed off.

So, I thought as I walked along, I need a few hundred quid, one fifty for gear and with the rest I could rent a caravan on that site Janie and I went to once when we thought about moving to Brighton.

I treated myself to a small packet of tobacco with my remaining money.

Sitting back in my bare room on the mattress, I used the last of the gear I had scored, carefully saving the cotton filter in the little brown pill bottle along with the two others from earlier.

Hoping that I would not wake up sick like I had this morning, I nodded off and dreamt about a pretty girl with long brown hair and warm eyes.

Chapter 2 The next day

Thankfully I was not awoken by the onset of withdrawals but by the sunlight streaming in. I jumped up angrily to draw the curtain, but oddly, I changed my mind. It was a bright day and for some unknown reason I felt quite upbeat.

I recalled my idea about getting clean, going to that caravan. Fuck it, I thought, couldn’t be worse than this shit. Thinking about ways to get enough money together to out of this trap, I set about getting a hit together from my cottons. I had deliberately left them a bit sodden yesterday, so they should hold me until I score.

Books, today is a books day. It had been at least a month since I had gone up west nicking books. You had to be careful about stealing books, it was very lucrative but rather tricky. For a start books worth nicking were usually heavy and large so you could only get about three from any one shop. I needed to get about a dozen or more.

I had a stash in the toilet of a Mc Donald’s near Tottenham Court Road where I kept a works. A panel in the suspended ceiling could be moved. I would get a few, stash them there, and then go back out for more.  The beauty of using Mc D’s was you could come and go as you pleased, no need to buy a drink or anything.

I needed to smarten up a bit so I washed my hair with the last of my washing up liquid and dug out the cleanest clothes I could find. I had to wear my big coat as it had the big pockets I had sewn into the lining for this very purpose and in this chilly weather it would not look out of place.

On my way past I ducked into Kentish town tube and looked around until I found a discarded ticket.

Mc Donald’s was heaving as usual, I stashed my rucksack in the toilet, the works was untouched.  Heading back out on to the busy street I sought out the first shop. Art books were best. Most who did this tried to slip in and out unseen, my M.O. was rather different. I went to the art department of the first shop and had a quick browse round, checking that there were no staff there that might remember me, as far as I could tell there were none. I went up to the counter.

“I am looking for stuff on surrealist painters, can you help?” I asked the rather nerdy looking girl, I guessed she was an art student from the blue paint under her fingernail.

“Sure,” she said, “any title in particular ?”

“No, it’s a present for my sister she’s at art school.”

“Oh me too, I’m at St Martins, wish my brother was so thoughtful.” Bullseye, I thought. “Over here,” she said, walking across the room. “Where’s your sister studying?”

“She lives in Canada, not sure.”

I stayed right behind her as she let her fingers walk along some shelves and by the time she had selected a book for me to consider, I had already placed two into my coat pockets.

“Or this,” she said slipping another one out of the shelf. “There are a few here why don’t you help yourself.” She suggested.

“Thanks, I will” I replied, stifling a smile.

I managed to hide another two in my coat before heading back to the counter.

“Wow, I just can’t decide,” I told her, “there are so many to choose from. Look, I’m going to get a coffee and have a think, I’ll come back in a bit, is that ok?”

“Sure, of course it is, you’re welcome.” She said smiling.

Having stashed those four I headed into another shop. I was buzzing and my tail was in the air. I really enjoyed the play acting bit. I worked on the premise that if you charmed the staff first, then they would not pay you the kind of attention that you did not want.

In a couple of hours I had fourteen nice books that should net me about seventy quid. All I needed to do now was get them up to the little shop in Hampstead, where I always sold my books.

The tube station was bustling. I got the cheapest ticket I could and that got me past the barrier.  At Hampstead station, I went up to the station guy and said, “I got a ticket to Kentish town but changed my mind and decided to come straight here instead, can I pay the excess?” I handed him my found ticket

He looked at it, turning it over in his hand. Of course the automatic barrier would have rejected it as it had been used, but other than that, I prayed, it appeared fine.

“Over there,” he said, nodding to the ticket office on the far side of the barrier, “Eighty pence to pay.”

I walked past him and handed over the last of my change.

The little book shop was open, usually was, but hey, you never know.  I breathed a sigh of relief and went in.

“Hi, good to see you, been a while,” said the woman at the back of the shop.

“Yeah it has. Hi Sarah, got some nice books for you.” I smiled the most charming smile I could muster. I had been bringing this woman books for a while now. The story that I made up was that my partner worked for a publisher and every now and then they let the staff pick from the pile of books that accumulated around the office. I was pretty sure that she knew it was a line, but then she did well out of me so she went along with it.

Half an hour later I was heading down to Jerry’s with seventy five quid in my pocket. Just as well as I was beginning to feel a bit shaky and needed a hit.

Jerry’s was a kind of groundhog day experience. Alex, it appeared, had not moved since the day before and the usual suspects were draped around his flat like slugs, hardly moving, their bodies just moulding to whatever shape they were on or against.

“Alright Jake?” Jerry enquired with an upward jerk of his head. “What you after mate?”

“Forty please Jez.”

“Fuck me Jake, you in money, been grafting?”

The buzzer went. “Alex” Gerry barked, “Get the fucking door man.”

“Had a good morning Jez, here have these.”  I handed him a couple of pens. I had swiped a handful of them from a shop earlier.

“Thanks,” he said, as he tossed me four little envelopes. I handed him two twenties in return that, with an almost reflexive swipe, disappeared into his pouch .

The buzzer went again, “Fuck me, I’m giving that cunt too much fucking gear, useless twat. Do us a favour Jake get the fucking door will you?”

“Sure.” I headed down the hall and pressed the button to speak. “Yeah”

The speaker squawked “Elsie.” I pressed the release. Ah ha, I thought.  I squinted through the spy hole in the door and saw a distorted version of Elsie emerge from the lift. I slid the two massive bolts and let her in.

“Hi Elsie.”

“Oh hi, yeah. Sorry, what’s your name?” she squinted at me apologetically.

“I’m Jake, Elsie, pleased to meet you.” I held out my hand in a parody of politeness. She took it and played along with a dip of her head.

“Has he got?” she asked nodding toward Jerry’s throne room.

“Yeah, hey, got any more of those clean works?”

“No, well yeah, but not with me, in the car though. Come down and I’ll give you a couple. Just get sorted first yeah?”

“Ok, I’ll wait in the kitchen.”

I heard Jerry’s voice shouting, “Alex you lazy fucker, if you want another hit today get the fuck up and take care of the fucking door you piece of shit.”

Elsie appeared followed by Alex, who was scratching his head, he looked at me and grinned inanely.

Elsie and I left. We could hear Alex sliding the bolts home behind us as she pressed the button for the lift.

“Let’s use the stairs.” I suggested, “It’s safer.”

“Why?”

“Old bill just has to plot up by the lift door and wait.”

She thought about that for a second, then nodded “Ok”

Jerking my head in an invitation for her to follow, I did my normal routine, up one floor along a balcony and out by a different door.

Elsie’s car was a fairly new Toyota hatch back. She pressed the remote and it beeped and winked at us.

“Know anywhere we can go to do a hit?” she asked

“We could go to my place, about ten minutes by car.” I said, suddenly aware of her again as a woman. That glimpse of her breast’s flashed across my mind’s eye.

“Cool, lets go.” She opened the door and climbed in.

I asked her to stop at the corner shop. I dashed in and got some tea and milk and a packet of chocolate biscuits.

“Breakfast.” I announced, as I remembered what a shit-hole ‘my place’ was.

I hurriedly covered the stained mattress and swept some dirty clothes off the floor and stuffed them into a corner as soon as we walked in.

“Cup of tea?”

Elsie was preoccupied though, already getting out some works.

“Got some water and a spoon?” she asked.

“Yeah hang on.” I scooped up the glass from the table and went into the little kitchen and washed it, having a quick tidy as I did. There were some cleanish spoons in the drawer, I washed one and took it back.

We sat next to each other on my mattress cooking up our hits. I gave her a little ball of cotton for a filter and showed her my little pill bottle.

“Put the cotton in there when you’re done.”

I did my hit fairly fast and then watched Elsie as she looked for a vein.

“Let me look.” Her arm was thin and soft to the touch. I stroked it looking for a vein. Looking up I caught her eye for a moment, she smiled.

“Here…. try here.”  With two fingers I gently tapped a spot just below her elbow.

The blood gushed into the brownish water and she pressed the plunger home.

“Uh fuck, yeah.” She pulled the spike out, dropped it on the table and lay back, my scarf still loosely draped round her arm.

I stood and looked down at her slim form, those cute tits, narrow waist. Her blouse had risen to reveal her midriff a bit. I went and made some tea.

She had not moved by the time I brought the tea in. I sat and looked at her.  I put the cottons from the spoons into the bottle and capped her works. I looked again, she was cute as hell in those tight jeans. What the hell I thought reaching over and placing my hand on her flat belly, she did not move, I moved it toward her breasts under her blouse, she sighed almost imperceptibly. I continued and felt her move, pushing toward my hand as I discovered her breast fitted it just right. I undid the buttons slowly she looked up at me with her big grey eyes and grinned.

The tea got cold, abandoned in favour of sex. Lithe little Elsie proved to be an enthusiastic lover. She sat up almost as soon as we stopped and started to fumble in her bag, pulling out some more works.

“Wait, pace yourself a bit Elsie.”

“I always do that. I just do it, one hit after another till it’s gone.” She plonked her bag down. “Yeah you’re right. How about that tea?”

I made a fresh cup and we sat cross-legged on the bed, chatted and munched chocolate biscuits.

I learned that she was in fact twenty-two and had been a student nurse, but that had ended when she had been caught stealing drugs. She lived in her parents house in Gospel Oak. They refused to give her any money since she had left nursing under a cloud and her drug habit had been revealed. She worked as a waitress now and just about got enough money to score. She’d had some savings but they had run out now, all spent on smack.

I told her about my plan to clean up, relating the previous day’s events and how fucked off I was with it all.

“Days like that are the norm really, once or twice a month I manage to get enough money to get a decent amount but mostly it’s a fucking grind.”

“So this caravan, where is it?”

“Near Brighton in an old chalk quarry.”

She looked thoughtful. “I tried once, you know, to get off it, did ok for about a week but then I thought I would have one more hit just to prove I didn’t need it anymore you know. I thought I’d got away with it but I just wanted it so bad.”

“Yeah, me to, tried a few times, but I just get bored and drift back.

“Can I come? Could we clean up together, help each other stay clean?”

And so we hatched a plan. I would show her the ropes, we would work as a team, stealing books until we had enough money to score a couple of grams and pay a months rent on the caravan.

We had another hit and intermittently had sex and nodded off ’til about midnight.

In the early hours of the morning we drove up to her parents house and she snuck in and grabbed some of her stuff and came to stay with me. On the way back she suggested we pay Gerry another visit, holding up a fistful of cash she’d nicked from her dad’s wallet.

Gerry raised a knowing eyebrow when we turned up together but said nothing. We spent another forty quid and headed back to my place.

Chapter 3 Grafting

  The library was where we started our campaign to raise the money to get ourselves off the gear. Using one of their computers to get on the internet we pinpointed a number of target shops. They were mostly in big shopping malls in or just around London.  You could only hit each shop about once a month, any more was asking for trouble.

Elsie had some reasonably clean smart-ish clothes, but all mine were stinking dirty, so a trip to the launderette round the corner was in order. We had a laugh there, drinking beer and getting into a mad conversation with an old guy who came in to keep warm. I think us supplying him with Special Brew helped.

Elsie and I made a pretty good team. Working as a pair proved really effective and having her car was an added bonus, it provided a great place to stash stuff as we worked, as well as getting us easily to good spots.

Books were the favourite target, but we found that art supply shops were a doddle and occasionally some gift shops yielded nice little earners.

We would scope out the places first, agreeing escape routes, meeting points and times.

Soon we were netting about two hundred quid a day between us.  We would spend forty with Gerry and stash the rest. It was our plan to take off when we got to a grand.

We did get spotted once and had to run. But we split up at the agreed point, I disappeared into the multi-story car park and Elsie ran through a Marks and Sparks that had about six exits. Ducking in behind a rack of coats, she tugged her hat off and slipped on a red kagool she kept stuffed in her bag. I’d waited at the agreed spot about three hundred yards outside the car park and Elsie, as agreed, walked right past me at a distance, so I could tell if she was being followed or not. She wasn’t, so I went to the meet.    

Elsie’s eyes were sparkling, she was hyped up.

“That was fucking close,” she breathed,  looking excited.

“Yeah, just a bit, let’s get out of here.” We walked the mile or so to where we had parked.

When we were at Jerry’s place later, I told him about my plan and arranged to score an eighth of an ounce from him, three and a half grams. He had agreed reluctantly as this amount opened the door to my going into competition with him, but I had been a solid customer for a long time and he kind of trusted me.

“How much have we got saved then?” Elsie asked as I cooked up our hits that night.

” ‘Bout eight hundred and odd, another two days max, and we can head off.”

“Maybe we should keep at it? We’re doing well.” Her eyes still had a glint in them, it was as if the chase today had really turned her on.

“Elsie, we’ll get caught eventually, I’ve known a lot of shop-lifters. They always get caught in the end. We started this ‘cos we wanted out. I know it’s a buzz but trust me, cold turkey in a police cell is no fucking joke. Besides our habits are getting bigger. Any bigger and it will take too long to come off.” I placed the two syringes I had prepared for us on the table and said,

“Lets put all this nervous energy of yours to good use.” I reached over and began to undo her jeans, she giggled and helped.

We fell back afterwards breathing heavily. I looked down at her skinny, lithe little body, slick with sweat and ran my forefinger down between her breasts across her belly and down between her legs, she shivered.

“Lets have this hit then,” I said sitting up fully.

We headed out early the next morning to a shopping precinct just north of the city and did our usual walk around. We always carried appropriate carrier bags so we looked like we were on a shopping trip. We had a spot of breakfast and made our plans. We took our time. I wanted to make today count. It took about three hours to get enough stashed. We headed back for one more pass at a fancy stationery shop we had spotted. Some of the leather organisers fetched good money.

I suggested we take a shortcut through a department store.

“Look at that prat.” I nodded toward a guy who was parading a suite he was trying on, to rather glamorous looking woman.

“Try the grey one darling,” She drawled.

I grabbed two pairs of trousers from the rack behind me and whispered to Elsie, “Stay here, I’ve an idea.”

I headed to the changing rooms behind the guy. I held up the trousers and picked up my token as I went.

“Number four.” Said the girl with a bored expression.

Bingo he went into number three right next to it. I waited until I heard him leave, nipped into number three and lifted his wallet from the jacket he had left hanging on the door. I spotted a small carrier bag on the seat, which I stuffed under my coat. I headed out of the changing rooms saying, “Too big,” to the bored looking girl, as I handed her the two pairs of trousers.

I heard the glamorous woman say, “That’s much better darling, much better.” As we walked slowly out of the shop.

“Let’s cut, split, I’ll see you in ten.” Elsie wheeled to her left and I skirted through McDonalds to the exit.

There was three hundred quid in the wallet and two credit cards that were worth maybe fifty each. Better yet, in the little carrier bag was a brand new iPad in it’s box.

“You’re a fucking genius Jake. What made you do that?”

“That woman, I dunno. Money. They just looked like money.”

Elsie had a wide grin on face as she drove us to Gerry’s to score.

“Bet Jerry will want this iPad, may even give us our eighth for it.”

” Eh, eighth, what are you on about?” Elsie demanded.

“Eighth of an ounce, babe. Three and a half grammes.”

“Will that be enough?”

“Fuck yeah, anyway, we can get a bit more now, probably got about fifteen hundred quid in all. I will try to get some sleepers as well, and maybe a bag of grass, fancy that?”

“Brilliant, love spliff, been ages since I had a smoke, can’t wait.” Elsie parked a street away from Gerry’s, she was learning.

After some haggling Gerry agreed to give me four grammes for the iPad and a hundred quid. I would have settled for three, but he was very into the gizmo so I pushed it.

“Where can I get some sleepers or Valium or something like that Gez, any idea?”

“Rose” he stated.

“Rose? Who the fuck is Rose?”

“Lives in the next block. Big valium script. She’ll swap for gear. I used to do it but Alex kept nicking them and falling over.”

“So how do I get to Rose then?”

Gerry picked up his mobile phone and peered at it for a bit muttering, “Rose, where are you Rosie? Ah” he exclaimed and he stabbed a button. “Rosie, babes, Gez, yeah. Got any V?….. Wanna trade?… OK see you in a bit.”

“She’s on her way.”

I nodded “Cool, how much will this cost me?”

“Ten, maybe twenty, depends how many she has.

“How many do you usually get?” asked Elsie

“Fifty-six tens, mostly, unless she’s necked a few”

The buzzer went and Alex shuffled off toward the door, he returned with a short blonde women of about fifty wearing a pink track suit. She was heavily made up and her haggard face looked like she had borrowed it from someone with a bigger head.  She produced a little bottle of pills and shook it like a Maraca, speaking with a strong geordie accent she said, “There’s forty-eight left Jez, twenty ok?”

Gerry looked at me, I nodded, and he handed her two little packs. She put the bottle on the bed next to him.

“Nice one Jez, always a pleasure.” She turned to leave.

“Hey Rosie.” Gerry called her back. “Do you still do cards an’ that ?”

“Aye man, now and again like, why?”

“Show those credit cards to Rosie Jake.” Gerry suggested.

I pulled them out and handed them to her, she gave them a cursory glance focusing on the signature, “How old like?”

“Four hours tops.”

“Sixty for the two, four hours is pushing it, may have another hour or so before they’re dead”

She had a point.

“Ok. Cash now?”

She grinned. “Is there another way?” she said producing a wad of notes from her cleavage, she off peeled three twenties and handed them over. I passed two of them to Gerry for the Valium.

“Looks like our Allen’s working tonight.”

“Who’s Allen?” Elsie asked Gerry, after she’d left.

“Her son, he’ll be in a cab now, on his way to work them. Hey Alex, go and get us some Pizzas will you? Fancy a Pizza you two?” Gerry asked us, adding, “My treat?”  He told Alex to ask around, see who wanted what and handed him some cash.

This was typical of Gerry, he was generous, but a tough dealer. He only ever gave credit once, if you paid on time, in full, then you got it again. If you failed he’d say nothing, but you never asked again. Seemed fair to me. Sadly I’d blown it, so I never asked now.

We ate pizza while Gerry messed about with his new toy. “How do I get on the internet then?”

Elsie piped up. “Here,” she held out her hand and Gerry handed the tablet to her. “Have you got wireless?” she asked.

“Nah.”

Elsie fiddled with it for a bit and held it up for him to look at saying, “Any of these make any sense to you?”

She was showing him all the wireless networks within range.

“That one, ‘7GunnersAndy7’ that’s that wanker upstairs. Arsenal supporter., must be.”

“Any idea what his password might be?” She asked.

“Fuck me, give it here.” He tapped away, “Yess! Fucking idiot, it’s only the number seven shirt. Does this mean I can use his internet connection?”

“It does Gerry, that’s exactly what it means.” Elsie assured him.

“Excellent, you’re a smart girl. Leave that wanker.” He said nodding toward me, “and hop up here.” He patted the bed next to him. He grinned at us and the turned the screen toward us, he’d found his way to a hard porn site.

On our way back to my flat we made a stop where I scored some grass and a half gram of coke. We shot up most of the coke as soon as we got back and spent the night making plans, smoking grass and fucking.

Chapter 4  Exodus

It was another bright cold morning, the sun streamed in and woke me at about eight o’clock, but today I was not angry at it.

Elsie lay next to me snoring softly. I was beginning to get used to her being here.  She lay on her back, her pale thin body looked fragile, like a bird. Her face, framed in a boyish crop of ginger hair, was rather childlike with a rounded jaw and a pretty mouth, her top lip shaped like cupids bow.  I had to climb over her to get out of the bed, she stirred, I covered her and placed a kiss on her freckled forehead.  She released her startling grey eyes from captivity, grinned up at me mischievously and pulled me back into bed.

We shot up the last of the coke with our morning hit and set off in her little Toyota at about ten.  The caravan site was in a place called Roehaven, just about ten miles along the coast from Brighton. We drove through the heart of London crossing the Thames at Vauxhall and headed south on the A23.

“What will happen to your flat while we’re gone?” Elsie asked.

“It’s covered by housing benefit,” I told her. “I get a sick note from my  GP. He’s very understanding. Not so understanding that he gives me a script though, but he does cover the sick note. I sent one in last week.”

“Cool. How do you know about this caravan site then?”

“I stayed there once.

“What a holiday?”

“I was with someone, a girl, we were thinking about moving to Brighton.”

“What happened?”

“It was connected to a job she was considering, but she decided against it so we stayed in London.”

“No, to the girl, who was she?”

“You’re fucking nosey all of a sudden!” I snapped. “We broke up ages ago, we were together for about two years, just didn’t work out”

I stared out of the window as the miles rushed past in a green blur. Why did she have to ask that for fuck sake. Suddenly we were slowing down I looked up. Elsie was pulling into a services.

“I’m hungry and I could use a hit,” She said looking at me, her eyes seemed to search mine.

“Look. I’m sorry,  I’ll tell you all about her if you want.”

“Are you still in love with her.”

” No, not any more. I was, for ages, but now it’s a bit like a bad back, it hurts every now and then if it gets strained.”

I was lying, it hurt like fuck, but this answer seemed to satisfy Elsie, I saw her eyes soften. “Yeah let’s get some breakfast, you go and order while I go and cook us up a couple of hits,” I suggested. “I’ll have a breakfast” I said, pointing to a faded picture above the counter.

Awkwardly there was someone washing their hands when I went into the gents. I needed to get some water for the hits.  Standing at the urinal, I pretended to piss ’til he left. As soon as he did I filled a syringe with water from the tap, grabbed a paper towel and headed into a cubicle. Shutting the lid on the bowl and laying the towel on the cistern top, I proceeded to make up two hits. I unbuttoned my shirt cuff pushed it up my arm and twisted it to form a tie, clamped it to my side and shot one of the hits up. As I started to put away the gear I separated a couple of hits just in case, and stashed them in my waistband.

Elsie had ordered my fry up, and was eating some sort of chicken burger thing.

“In there,” I said, slipping a folded napkin, that concealed the loaded works, across the table to her.

We pulled into the site at about four that afternoon. The site office was a large sagging green painted shed, large planters made from lorry tires stood guard either side of the door. All that grew in them were weeds.

The owner was sitting in an old reclining armchair watching a talent show on a tv set that was mounted high on the wall. The place smelt of sweat and tobacco.  A rack of leaflets on the counter looked like a plant that needed watering.

“Yes mate?” he asked without looking away from the tv.

“I want to rent a caravan for a couple weeks.”

“Don’t rent vans no more mate, they’re all owned nowadays” he took a pull from a can of beer.

His attention remained firmly on the tv, he chuckled as a contestant was humiliated in front of a live audience. My heart sank, this had not even occurred to me. Fuck! I thought. I was just about to ask if he knew anywhere I could rent something when he stood up and came over to the counter saying, “Some of the owners do though, how long for mate?” He opened a notebook he’d retrieved from below the counter.

“A month, I can pay cash up front.” This got his attention. He shut the book and looked at a map of the site on the wall. I could almost hear his thoughts. He was trying to figure out who’s van he could rent to me and pocket the cash.

“Number twenty-eight” he declared. Nice clean van, tv, everything. Five hundred, for the month mate. He grinned at me with nicotine stained teeth.

I smiled, pulled out a wad of cash. “Four, and I want a bottle of gas.”

“Can’t do it mate, should be six really.” He was shaking his head.

“Shame, oh well never mind.” I turned to leave. This guy was not going to say no to money for nothing.

“Tell you what then, four for the van, but you have to pay for the gas on top. Twenty six quid it is. Not mine the gas, I make nothing on it.”

“Ok, can I see it?” I nodded.

“Sure.” He grabbed a set of keys from a rack.

I followed him into the site. Elsie jumped out of the car and joined us. Most of the vans had drawn curtains; a few had cars parked outside.

We got to number twenty eight and he unlocked the door. It was a festival of nylon lace curtains and scatter cushions. Gilt framed pictures of wide-eyed kittens adorned the walls and the gas fire was surrounded by fake horse brasses. I hated it.

“Great” I announced, “we’ll take it, can we park next to it?”

“Sure, come to the office and I’ll sort the gas out and give you a card for the barrier.”  He noticed Elsie and threw me a knowing grin. I winked, hoping that this would somehow fool him into thinking we had some sort of camaraderie. It appeared to work.

“Call me George mate,” he said offering his hand.

“Jake, this is Elsie.”

She smiled at him, he leered back.

Having settled in we went to the local supermarket and stocked up. That evening we divided up our stash of smack into smaller and smaller doses. We agreed that we would be strict about only two hits a day, one mid-morning and one late evening. For the last few days we would go down to one hit a day and just leave it as late in the day as we could tolerate.

The first two weeks were fun, with no real adverse effects from cutting down We were a bit like a young couple on holiday and spent time exploring the local beaches and countryside in Elsie’s little car.

In week three we begun to feel it a bit. We would wake really early and it was a struggle not to have a hit right away.

Then we began to have trouble getting to sleep. A combination of valium and lots of sex helped.

By the end of that week we rarely left the van. We had started to drink a fair bit to knock ourselves out. It was getting very uncomfortable by the time we took our last fix. All we had left was about half the valium.

“Jake can you go and get some more booze this is all we have.” Elsie held up a vodka bottle with about a third left.

“Sure,” I said not wanting to move, but the booze helped. There was a little shop about ten minutes walk away.

As I walked slowly along I began to think about what we would do when our month ran out. We had enough cash to stay another week or so. Elsie and I had talked about trying to move down here. I feared going back to London and my flat.

Elsie was crashed out on the couch when I got back.  I’d got some Snickers bars and some a couple of bottles of chocolate milk which I was putting in the fridge when I spotted the works on the floor next to her.

FUCK! I realised what had happened in one horrible cascade of thoughts. I lurched toward her, her lips were blue.  Blood had trickled down her arm. I dragged her onto the floor and listened for breathing, nothing. Desperately trying to remember what to do I tried to revive her without success. I stood and looked down at her still form. How the fuck?

I noticed the spoon on the table, she must have hidden a hit at some point. Of course she did, she was a junkie. I’d done the same.

My head was spinning, I reached for the vodka bottle, she’d drained it. I was unsure how many valium should be left but it looked like she had taken a few of those as well. FUCK! we were so close; another week and we would have been the other side of it.

Addiction is like that. It is a bit like trying to drive a dual control car with addiction in the passenger seat, one minute you’re in control, but if your direction threatens your passenger they wrench the controls away from you.

I went to see if she had found my secret stash but no. She’d done the same as me – stashed a bit ‘just in case,’ only she had used hers in combination with valium and vodka and now she was dead.  I’d decided to get rid of that secret stash several times, but somehow just kept putting it off.

I grabbed her car keys and went to the car. There were a few clean works left. I was on auto-pilot. I cooked up a hit and twisted my cuff, the vein bulged and my mouth went dry. I hesitated and looked down at Elsie’s still form on the floor, her top had ridden up to reveal her belly and tears just started to pour from my eyes,  Fuck this shit. I dug the needle into my vein and as I pulled back on it blood gushed into the barrel and swirled. But something held my hand. Looking again at Elsie lying there something inside me snapped. I jerked the needle out and fired a jet of my blood and heroin into the lit gas fire. It hissed and spat in fury at having been denied.

In that moment I knew I was done. I knew that if I had taken that hit I was dead, maybe not right then but dead nevertheless. I knew that with a certainty I had never experienced before.

I tidied up a few things, gathered all the old works together, the bag the grass had been in, the few remaining valium and put them in a carrier bag and, adding a house brick from under the step of the caravan, I threw it into the little fishing pond around the back of the site.

I went to the site office and used the pay phone. I called the police and told them what had happened.  George, who had overheard, was staring his mouth open.

“What the fuck, you are fucking kidding me, what am I going to tell the owners, for fucks sake?”

“Fuck should I know. She’s dead George, dead. Fuck the owners. Right now, I’ve other things on my mind.”

The rest of that day passed in a blur, I was questioned at the police station but released without charge. I even managed to get the sympathy of one of the old bill who dropped me back at the site.

George made me sign a backdated rental agreement to cover his arse.

I grabbed a couple of things, threw them into the back of Elsie’s little car and drove off. I had no idea where I was going, but I knew one thing for certain, I was done with using. There was no one in the passenger seat.   

 The End

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