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Authors: R D Ronald

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BOOK: The Elephant Tree
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‘Yeah with the sulky face. The other kid with the cheesy grin is my big brother.’

‘You may look sulky there but you seem nice now.’

‘Thanks, although you kind of sound like that wasn’t what you’d have expected.’

‘No, I wouldn’t say that. Just most of the guys dad deals with tend to be pretty mean types. Not with me of course, just their general attitude towards life, I suppose.’

‘So I don’t fit the bill?’ Scott asked, putting away his wallet.

‘I don’t know yet,’ she said, looking at Scott appraisingly, like an old woman eyeing a chipped vase in an antiques shop. ‘I haven’t made up my mind on you. Anyway, here’s my bus coming so I have to go.’

Angela ran a few steps before she turned back towards him.

‘You want to have a drink tomorrow night at Jam?’ she said, seemingly as an afterthought.

‘Yeah, sure,’ he answered without thinking.

‘Right, see you at eight then,’ she said, then ran the last twenty yards and jumped onto the bus as it wheezed to a halt at the stop.

Scott watched as she took a seat and waited until the bus had vanished around the corner before walking back to Putty’s flat.

Keep was waiting at the door as Scott came back up the stairs. He nodded at Scott, waited until he went inside and then pulled the door closed, remaining outside in the corridor.

In the living room Scott saw the curtains had been opened slightly to let more light into the room. The three youths who’d previously been playing on the games console were gone now as well, leaving Putty alone in his chair watching horse racing on the TV.

‘You want a drink of anything Scott?’ he asked, as Scott returned to the seat he’d occupied before leaving.

‘No thanks, to be honest time’s getting on. What do you say we sort out an arrangement and then I’ll take off?’

Putty nodded, took a piece of folded white paper from under the ashtray on the arm of his chair and put it down on the table in front of Scott.

‘You seem like a decent lad, and Twinkle vouches for you as well so I’m happy to be able to work with you. However some things fall outside of a working relationship, but can still muddy the waters.’

Putty’s previous pomp and bravado had now been replaced by a level of decorum that he wouldn’t have imagined possible from their meeting twenty minutes earlier.

‘Open it,’ Putty said, and nodded towards the folded paper he’d placed on the table.

Scott obliged. On the paper were incremental prices for weights of cannabis. Prices Scott wouldn’t have even have hoped to achieve when he’d left the house that morning.

‘So long as our business is conducted in an orderly fashion without any complications, I’ll be happy to abide by what’s on the there. You happy with that Scott?’

‘Yeah,’ Scott said, ‘I’m happy.’

‘So we have an understanding?’

‘Yes,’ Scott nodded, ‘we do.’

Chapter 3

A
t closing time the rain had stopped but the temperature outside had dropped below freezing. Scott, Neil and Gemma met Angela outside the Highlander but Stephanie hadn’t showed. The neon lights of the bar fronts opposite were mirrored on the wet streets, as if they walked along the edge of a lake on the way to where Neil had parked the car.

‘Watch out for patches of ice on the way back,’ Scott warned. ‘We don’t want to crash when we have all these drugs on us.’

Neil waved away his concerns and took a drag on the joint Angela had fished out of her handbag. Unsurprisingly his driving was a little erratic, and Scott had to remind him a few more times to slow down and pay more attention.

It was still freezing in the car so Scott reached forward to turn up the heating, which resulted in a blast of cold air through the vents.

‘Takes a while to warm up before the heating will work’, Neil said, and turned it back off again.

His eleven year old Hyundai still performed admirably considering the starship mileage it had accumulated, but these days some sacrifices had to be made from the old girl, one of which was apparently interior warmth.

Before long the brightly lit main streets of the suburbs were behind them and the poorly maintained, sparsely lit country roads made the journey back feel a little perilous. Especially, Scott felt, as Neil was spending more time looking at Gemma and Angela as he chatted with them in the rear-view mirror than looking at the road.

Scott glanced out of the side window. It was pitch black now that they’d passed the city limits. Neil failed to spot a pot hole in time and the car bounced and lurched toward the grass verge. He glanced quickly at Scott but neither said anything. Neil lowered his speed anyway.

Arriving back at the house Scott quickly realised that the invites had gone a little further than he’d anticipated. Within minutes about a half dozen taxis had pulled up and started emptying out and there were probably more on the way. Nothing he could do about it now though. Scott opened the door and led the way through to the living room, indicating towards the chairs and sofa for people to make themselves at home. Boris, his uncle’s soot black cocker spaniel seemed a little perturbed by the number of new faces invading his space, but Angela soon eased his anxiety with plenty of ear scratching and belly rubs. Scott didn’t have too much in the way of alcohol to offer around, but Neil said he’d told people not to turn up empty handed. As the guests filed through the front door most were laden down with bags full of various types of liquor.

‘We stopped off at a 24-hour place on the way,’ Putty said, grinning as he and a few friends carried in full bags and Keep struggled in after them with a big box. ‘We were out anyway and Angela told us of your little soirée, hope you don’t mind us crashing.’

Back in the living room, Scott turned on the stereo and plugged in his iPod. Larrs, one of Putty’s friends who had bleached blonde hair spiked up into tufts and an accent that sounded Scandinavian, immediately showed an interest and came over to act as digital deejay.

Angela slid an arm around Scott’s waist and handed him a beer she’d taken from the growing mountain in the kitchen. ‘Not a bad turn-out for such short notice.’

‘Yeah but when a drug dealer throws a party, you tend to not get many no shows,’ he replied with a sly smile. ‘Come on let’s go find somewhere to sit.’

Angela picked up a CD case and ashtray from the coffee table and followed Scott. Four reasonably well dressed people that Scott didn’t recognise were just vacating a spot in the hallway so they quickly sat down and claimed it before anyone else could. Putty saw them as he walked back out from the kitchen with an armload of bottles.

‘Saves getting back up every few minutes,’ Putty explained as he eased down onto the floor beside them.

Angela put the ashtray in between them, and the CD case in front of her which she used to chop out three substantial lines from a wrap she’d taken out of her pocket, placed her credit card back into her purse, and took out a twenty. Rolling in into a tight tube she snorted the first line and passed the case and rolled note to Scott.

‘You’re getting pretty professional at all this Scott. Anyone would think dealing was a career choice for you and not just a short term thing,’ Angela said, sounding playful; yet when Scott looked up at her he could see a shadow of concern in her eyes.

Scott took his line and placed the CD case in front of Putty.

‘It’s been a few years now,’ Scott said with a shrug and breathed out slowly through his mouth. ‘I suppose whatever you do, you either just get older or you get better.’

‘And this is what you want to get better at?’

He hadn’t wanted to think about his future any more that night, and discussing it all with Angela hadn’t been something he’d considered until then.

Putty lit a joint and took a few hits until the tip glowed orange before passing it over to Scott. He exhaled a column of blue smoke that pooled around their feet.

‘This was only ever gonna be a short term thing. I just need to get enough money together for a fresh start. All the time growing up uncle Bob was always going on about his Buddhism stuff, and how one day he would go and live out in the Far East, go touring through the countries which gave birth to all that philosophical stuff he loved.’

‘So you want to go out there and do it instead now cause he can’t?’ Angela asked.

‘No I don’t give a shit about all that, but I do want to get away though. The point is, he had his dream, his light at the end of the tunnel, and now he’s dead and it’s gone. From what Jack and my uncle have said, it was always the same with Mum and Dad too. That they were never happy, Dad worked such long hours, Mum was always miserable. It just seems like everyone either gives up on their dreams and accepts mediocrity, or they wait so long to do what it is they want to do that they can’t even remember why they wanted it in the first place.’

Angela smiled but slowly shook her head and looked a little puzzled. ‘So what is it that you want Scott? What’s your dream that you can’t wait any longer for?’

‘You know that my family originally emigrated here from overseas, right?’

Angela nodded so he continued.

‘I want to go back. There’s nothing left for me over here now, both my parents and my uncle are dead, and it’s hardly like me and Jack are or have ever been close.’

‘So that’s why you’re dealing now, to save up enough to begin a new life where your parents came from?’ Putty said.

‘Is that so surprising?’ Scott asked.

‘It’s a pretty drastic step,’ Angela said, ‘what about your friends here? Don’t you think you’re underestimating what they mean to you with you not really having any family?’

Scott took another hit from the joint and passed it on. Angela’s words were no big revelation; he’d thought this stuff through himself a thousand times. But her empathetic look made them seem a lot more poignant. ‘Maybe you’re right Angela, but this has been my dream for a long time now and if I don’t at least try then I’ll be living the rest of my life with the
what if
always in the back of my mind.’

‘What about the
what ifs
if you get caught and end up in jail for years? What if you hadn’t got caught, just lived your life here and made the best of the situation you have?’

‘You’ve done pretty well for yourself, Scotty,’ Putty said. ‘Business looks to be good, I know you’re buying plenty of weed off me and these folks in here tonight seem to be doing a lot more than just smoking. This cottage must be worth a decent amount anyway. If you wanted to go so much can’t you just sell it and use that money to start over?’

Scott shook his head. ‘Bob left us with a huge mortgage on this place after he died, and the insurance wouldn’t pay out with it being suicide. Jack paid the interest while he was here and now I can barely cover it myself.’

‘Doesn’t seem to make much sense wanting to throw it all away to go back to a country you’ve never even been to, to start with?’ Putty said, and reached down for the CD case with his line of cocaine on it. Part of it had become dislodged a little, giving the straight, white line the appearance of an exclamation mark. He snorted it, punctuating his sentence aptly, Scott thought. Putty breathed out and sniffed, wiping his nose on a forefinger. Unconsciously Scott mimicked the movement himself.

‘How much do you reckon you need to have to get your cabin and whatever else out there for your Grizzly Adams existence?’

‘A lot.’

Putty chuckled. ‘You think you’ll hit the kind of bankroll you need doing this?’

‘I know I won’t, that’s why I need a change,’ Scott said. ‘I may have a project for you in the new year Scotty,’ Putty said, making sure no-one else in the hallway was close enough to hear their conversation.

‘That seems to be something I’m hearing a lot these days,’ Scott replied, eyes narrowing slightly as he levelled a cynical gaze at Putty.

‘Some propositions are better than others though,’ Angela added, straightening up from the CD case, three new lines laid out, like snow drifts beside freshly shovelled paths. She handed him the case and note for Scott to select his line first. Angela continued to look at him for a moment before she spoke. ‘ To be honest, Scott, it doesn’t seem like you know what you want.’

Scott finished the last of his beer in a long slow swallow, feeling the cool liquid calm his thoughts. ‘I know you said that because you care, but let’s just drop it and enjoy the rest of the night.’

‘OK,’ she said with a little shake of her head. ‘Just promise you’ll talk to me before you go and do anything rash.’

They each did their line of coke and sat back drinking for a while, just listening to the background noise of the party. Angela moved up beside Scott with her back against the wall. Her arm felt soft and warm against his. Some voices from the living room argued over song selection. A couple crept guiltily out of a bedroom and snuck into the kitchen. The crash of a broken glass came from somewhere, followed by a muffled apology. Scott felt the warm flow of the cocaine and alcohol coursing through his veins. His heart rate had accelerated, seeming to keep pace with the music booming out from his stereo; he closed his eyes and relaxed into it.

‘Gonna make another ATM run’, Neil bellowed.

Scott opened his eyes and saw Neil surrounded by a cluster of partygoers in the hallway, apparently with cash cards burning holes in their pockets.

‘OK man, keep your speed down though, don’t get pulled over,’ he said to Neil, and then to the waiting passengers, ‘take your coats, it’ll be colder in his car than it is outside.’

Neil gave a falsetto laugh and clutched his stomach before ushering the group out to the car.

Neil’s girlfriend, Gemma or Emma, Scott had drunk too much to come close to remembering now, hovered around the hallway for a moment undecidedly after Neil and the group left, before finally going back into the living room.

‘More happy customers then,’ Putty said, watching her go. ‘I’m gonna go find that lot and see what time they want to head off later. You coming back with us Angela, or you just gonna hang out here?’

‘I’m gonna stay a while longer, I’ll just get a cab myself, don’t worry.’

BOOK: The Elephant Tree
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