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Authors: R D Ronald

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BOOK: The Elephant Tree
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‘You staying out clubbing after you finish work?’ he asked her as she gave him his change.

‘I got a message off Steph earlier saying she had an unexpected night off. She’s coming in here at some point and we’ll probably head to Blitz after my shift. I haven’t seen her in ages so it’ll be nice to catch up again. You gonna be in there?’

‘Nah, Neil has arranged a last minute party back at mine so we’re gonna head there instead.’

‘Very nice, and am I on the guest list then?’ Angela asked, grinning.

‘Sure, VIP all the way. I’ll inform the staff,’ Scott said and pushed back through the crowd towards their table.

The air thrummed and reverberated with the music from the room above the bar now, drowning out most of the jukebox volume downstairs. He dropped the two bottles onto the table and sat back down. Scott licked his finger and casually dabbed it into a wrap of speed in his pocket he had carefully unfolded. Taking his now white-coated finger back out, he covered his mouth as if stifling a cough and quickly sucked off the bitter powder. His attention drifted around the room, taking in only snatches of everything as he drank his beer. A group of four Chinese men gathered around the fruit machine behind him, talking quickly in their native tongue. The familiar sing-song notes playing out as the reels spun and dropped into place were punctuated by bursts of laughter from the Chinese like machine-gun fire. Neil continued his texted flirtation with the barmaid from Jam and Scott felt his own phone vibrate, glanced down and saw it was a message from Angela. He looked up and saw her give him a little wave from behind the bar.

‘Meet me outside here when I finish my shift, I’ll tell Steph we’re going back to the party instead.’

Chapter 2

he first time Scott met Angela was under very different circumstances, where the last thing on his mind was finding someone he could grow to feel so close to. He was going to meet a contact that he and Neil had been introduced to in a bar by Twinkle. The guy’s name apparently was Putty, and for years he’d been a regular supplier to Twinkle, able to get cannabis deals at a reasonable price, even at times when other suppliers were suffering from a drought. Twinkle told them after Putty left that he always did business at his own place, a bit strange as most preferred to stay off home soil in case the deal went south and everybody had to scatter. Twinkle had also warned them that before discussions took place many joints would be passed around to create
the right mood,
and that this guy could smoke till it came out of his ears without any problem at all. Hearing this, Scott decided that it would be best if he went alone. Neil would likely get carried away by it all and end up agreeing to a terrible rate that they’d be unable to back out of later.

Following the directions he’d been given by Putty, Scott made his way through the run-down estate in the western quarter of Garden Heights. Around a third of the houses had been boarded up and graffiti grew over everything like ivy on an old country cottage. Scott was aware the locals would be suspicious of new faces as they never got any sightseers. If you were there, you were there for a reason, and not knowing what it was could make some of them nervous. Scott avoided any prolonged eye contact and kept to the route he’d been given, ignoring the direct stares from two oil-smeared guys who were either dismantling or reassembling an old Ford, pieces scattered across the road like flotsam on a beach. The three-storey flats came into view at the end of the road, and Scott walked to the far entrance of the middle block. He’d heard that all of the flats and some rows of houses were due to be demolished in the next few years in the name of redevelopment. The whole area reeked of decay and looked to have been given up on by the local council, who were just waiting for the bulldozers to move in and give them a blank canvas to start over.

When Neil had asked at their initial meeting over a few drinks why he was called Putty, he had grinned and replied that it was because he used to have a little motorbike years ago that went put-put-put. Twinkle had further informed them, after Putty’s departure, that it was actually because where women were concerned, he wasn’t particular in the slightest, and had been known to put his cock into pretty much anything.

Scott pushed open the heavy steel door and went into the stairwell. Enveloping him along with the gloom was the smell of stale smoke and urine. He climbed to the middle floor and checked door numbers until he found the one he’d been given, although even without the number it would have been impossible to miss. The other doors on the landing were all painted wood, whereas this one appeared to have been reinforced with a thick steel plate. He banged on it and after a moment a muffled voice asked who was there. He gave his name, heard the rasp of a large bolt being withdrawn and the door swung inward allowing him inside.

The interior was dark and pungent but otherwise nondescript. Small chinks of light snuck through gaps in closed curtains in the dimly lit corridor. He was led into the living room. Most of the light was supplied by a large screen plasma TV that was currently hooked up to a games console. Three tracksuit-clad males in their late teens or early twenties were sat on an old couch against the right-hand wall. They were holding controllers and jostling for superiority on a racing game that Scott didn’t recognise. The air was thick with the scent of cannabis resin. The smell made Scott think of black coffee and old cupboards. He greeted them briefly, before turning to Putty who sat pride of place in front of the giant TV. He was reclining in a big black vinyl chair, an ashtray perched on one arm and a tall glass of Coke on the other.

Putty looked reasonably in shape for someone who, Scott had been told, would only get out of his chair, or throne as Twinkle had called it, in the face of a dire emergency. He looked to be mid to late forties, with thinning slicked back brown hair, and a face that looked as if something was missing, as if he’d recently shaved off a lifelong moustache.

The other chair was now occupied by the heavy set black guy with close cropped hair and a goatee beard who had let him in at the front door. Putty took one last slow drag from a joint, leaned towards the black man and said
, although it was in more of a grunt so as not to let any smoke out of his lungs. Scott didn’t know if this was an indication that the joint was now his, or if Keep was actually his name. Putty slowly eased back into the chair and turned towards Scott, exhaling a thick stream of smoke.

‘Greetings Scott, welcome to my humble home,’ he said with a grin that reminded Scott of the cat in Alice in Wonderland. The man Putty had identified as Keep stood up and went to the couch, taking the joint with him. One of its current occupants moved to sit on the floor without taking his eyes from the screen, and Keep sat in the spot he’d vacated. Putty motioned to the now empty chair and Scott sat down. Leaning forward Putty picked up the tray covered with joint making paraphernalia and began to roll up. ‘You like to have a bit of a smoke then Scott?’

‘Yeah I’m partial, but usually just in the evenings. Slows me down a bit much during the day, you know?’

‘I like the pace,’ Putty replied, ‘like those darkies in the adverts for the Caribbean or wherever ‘we likes to taake it eeaaasssyyyy’ he said in a badly imitated West Indian accent and cackled. Scott glanced over at the room’s only black occupant but the remark elicited nothing but a casual grin. Brief sniggers from the other three showed that they were at least half conscious of the conversation, and that such comments were not out of the ordinary.

Scott figured he had his bearings here, pretty much as Twinkle had indicated. Putty would keep smoking and delaying talking about the deals Scott was here to discuss. Putty obviously figured that either peer pressure or passive smoke inhalation from the lack of ventilation would have Scott pretty much wiped before long and then talk would turn to business. The guy was obviously just a low level dealer and this was his domain, but according to Twinkle he did have useful connections, so Scott planned to just wait it out and get the best price he could. He could see Putty was an old hand at this kind of situation. A set-up like this tended to be a young man’s game so either he was bad at plying his trade and therefore unable to move up into middle management, or he was good at what he did but with no ambition and happy to stay a big fish in a very small pond. Scott watched as Keep passed what was left of the joint he had to the guy who had given up his seat. Putty nudged Scott’s arm with his elbow, holding out the joint he had just lit. Scott took it with a smile and a nod, which obviously pleased the host, his smile turning feline again. As Scott took his first drag there was a knock on the front door. Keep stood up and went to check it as Putty reached down to retrieve the tray and again began rolling another.

A moment later Keep returned, followed by a pretty young woman that Scott at first assumed must be here to score a deal. She looked to be about 21 with the figure of someone who either regularly works out or is naturally blessed with an athletic frame. She wore a tight white t-shirt with a baby blue cardigan over the top, washed out green army fatigues and Nike trainers. Her hair was long and mostly blonde with a few blue streaks running through it, but looked brittle like it had been bleached too many times. She said ‘hi’ in no particular direction as she entered the room, walked over and kissed Putty on the cheek. As she bent down, Scott noticed that she wore little if any make-up and no jewellery other than a small silver hoop in her right ear. Her presence in the room was also the only thing that had distracted the three gamers’ attention from the screen since Scott had entered, although a steady gaze from Putty refocused them back onto their racing. She walked out into the kitchen.

Maybe Scott hadn’t given Putty enough credit, he thought. This girl was way above the level of any part-time pussy he’d been led to believe Putty would have snagged. From her entrance and carefree attitude around the place, she was obviously afforded a certain level of respect too. He continued smoking the joint and listened as sounds from the kitchen echoed along the hallway. Running water – the kettle being filled and then switched on – drawers opening and closing – then the fridge – a clink of crockery. The only noise in the living room now was from the TV, and the slight rustle of the latest joint Putty was intently focused on applying the finishing touches to.

Scott took another drag from the joint, enjoying the unexpected twist in his afternoon. He relaxed back into the chair and slowly let out a stream of blue smoke in the manner he’d seen Putty do following his arrival. The young woman came back out of the kitchen, walked up to him and plucked the joint from between his fingers.

‘Thank you kindly,’ she said, and flashed Scott the same grin that he’d already seen twice on the face of his host.

‘My pleasure,’ he replied with a laugh, now realising what the relationship between her and Putty must be.

She walked back into the kitchen with the joint, as the bubbling kettle reached its peak and clicked off. Putty finished his careful rolling procedure and lit up, took two quick drags without exhaling in between and handed it straight to Scott.

‘You staying for long?’ Putty yelled, without looking away from the TV.

‘Why, aren’t you glad to see me?’ came the reply from the kitchen.

‘Of course, it’s just we’re talking business in here.’

‘OK Mr. Chairman of the board, I’ll check with your secretary next time before I drop in,’ she said, walking back into the room.

‘Alright Princess, always great to see you but duty calls.’

‘OK, I’ll call back in later on.’

‘That would be great, Keep will walk you to the bus stop.’

‘No, I’d like him to do it,’ she said looking at Scott.

‘It can be rough out there, sweetheart. I’d feel better if Keep did it. No offence Scott.’

‘I still want him to.’

‘I don’t mind, I can come back right after and we can get this tied up,’ Scott said, getting up out of the chair. Putty looked nonplussed but waved his hand as if to indicate he was fine with that, not taking his eyes from the TV.

Angela winked at Scott and walked to the door.

‘What was that about then?’ he asked, as they went down the acrid stairwell.

‘I just like to wind the old man up. He’s pretty overprotective sometimes so I just like to remind him who’s in charge every once in a while,’ she said, grinning, and pulled open the doorway out of the flats.

‘I don’t even know your name,’ Scott said, following her back out into daylight. ‘I take it you weren’t christened Princess or Sweetheart, but I’m taking nothing for granted what with Putty and Keep in there.’

She laughed and formally held out her hand for him to shake. ‘My name is Angela, pleased to meet you.’

‘Hi Angela, I guess you already know I’m Scott,’ he said, feeling slightly embarrassed, and shook her hand.

She released his hand after firmly shaking it twice, then linked her arm through his and continued to walk.

‘Yeah I knew who you were before I saw you in there.’

‘You did?’ Scott said, a little surprised. He was sure if he’d seen Angela before he would have remembered.

‘I’ve seen you out around town a few times. My mate bought some speed off your friend with the blonde hair. He had no change so you took some cash out of your wallet and gave it to her. I remember ‘cause you had that photo in there. It looked old so I guessed it was from when you were a kid. I thought it was cute,’ she said, and shrugged.

Scott pulled out his wallet and flipped it open. ‘It’s me and my brother at a fairground years ago,’ he said, showing her the dog-eared picture. ‘Sorry, I don’t remember you.’

The picture showed Scott wearing a sour expression, his brother with an arm wrapped around his shoulder, beaming at the camera. They both wore bright blue matching rain hats and grey coats that each looked a size too large.

‘I can be pretty shy sometimes,’ she said, but he found that difficult to believe. ‘You’re the little one, right?’ She pointed to the picture.

BOOK: The Elephant Tree
12.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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