Saturday night, quarter to twelve, last stop The Rat’s Haven at the top of Market Street opposite the sandstone obelisk. That’s what it’s known as locally. Not it’s real name, obviously. Not rat as in James Cagney either. Rat as in filthy sewer dweller with a tail. A proper dive. The kind of place you bang condoms on your fingers just to pick up your jar. The kind of place you aren’t ashamed to be carried out of so you don’t need to touch the floor. Love it.
Nod to the doorman, Hairband, who isn’t bald, he’s just more evolved than the rest of us. I’ll take his word for it. Swing open the pea green chipped wooden doors and float through the blue grey plume of tobacco and ganja smoke that’s providing the interior’s incense.
Squeeze through the swaying leather and linen to the bar, the frost glass of Black Label tingles my fingers. The Amaretto hits my stomach with a sweet burn. The melody strokes my ears tenderly, a haunting lullaby from the stage. Ford and the Shouts. Manchester blues. She swirls serene euphony even the walls can’t resist moving to. He strums the acoustic’s wires as deft as a pervert on a nympho’s g-string, reverberating nerve endings.
The staring eyeball scorches my awareness, slashing through the honeyed ambience like a vindictive switchblade. Benny Big Bollock. That’s right, Bollock. Singular. Sat in the corner with a peroxide blonde perched on each knee like they’re guarding the crown jewel. Bold as brass right there in the boozer, the swollen extremity bulging over the unzipped flies makes a certainty of his sobriquet as they take turns stroking his cock in time with the music. On the wrinkly scrotum is the tattoo of a wide eye, squinting like a smoking gypsy fortune teller in the dim lighting. Hoping I’m imagining it following me I head to Dom by the fruit machine.
“Took your time. Where’s Finkell ended up then?” He mumbles with the lit Embassy bobbing between his lips.
“The Valley Lodge. Straight from court.”
“The Valley? What the mental hospital?”
“Yes. Not just a mental hospital. A medium secure mental hospital. Fences like a Redwood forest with razor wire as sharp as your shirt collar.”
“For attempted robbery and unlawful imprisonment? Bit strange ain’t it?”
“Not the only thing that was a bit strange. Just as the judge sentences him to a year in Strangeways, Ronnie shrugs off his suit jacket and rips his shirt wide open up to the collar, fashioning a cape. Jumps out the dock and starts screaming about being Captain Council Estate, ridding the working classes of criminals and con men. Orders the judge to lash himself in shame with his wig for daring to criminalize a modern day super hero. Takes about ten bailiffs to pin him to the deck and drag him out as he’s hollering righteous indignations. The judge reconsiders jail and orders a full psychiatric assesssment at the Valley. By the time I get there to see him, he’s been chemically coshed and staring at me like a zombie through safety glass in a paper gown. Blinked a bit and dribbled a lot.”
“Thought it was odd him trying to rob the gas man. Lost the plot then I take it?”
“Well this is where it gets even more strange. His version wasn’t robbery. Apparently there’s a dodgy scammer on the prowl who’s turned up at an old dear’s just down the road from his gaff. Claiming to be from British Gas, goes in and cleans her out. Frightens her to death. Was in the paper. So Ronnie, still wired from clubbing the night before, spies a van pull up outside and out jumps a gas man. Very convincing uniform he’s thinking. No wonder the old mare let him in. Ronnie answers the door wearing nothing but a smile and boxer shorts with his balls hanging out.”
“His balls out?”
“Yes, to disorientate the conman apparently.”
“He has lost the plot. Thought he was off the marching powder?”
“I’ll get to that in a minute. According to the gas man he’s twigged that the guy’s unstable but figuring it’s only a quick boiler clean he’ll just get it over with and against his better judgment goes in. As he’s doing the mending, Ronnie jumps him from behind, hog ties him and drags him in the living room. The gas man, fearing he’s going to get sodomized or worse, is pleading for Ronnie to check his identification and phone British Gas to confirm his identity, but he’s having none of it. Apparently, because the gas man hasn’t checked in with his dispatcher after such a small job, they give it twenty and alert the cops as a precaution. Meanwhile Ronnie’s on the phone to one of the tabloids jabbering a hundred miles an hour with this Captain Council Estate malarkey and claiming he’s nabbed the fake. As he’s negotiating an exclusive with a photo shoot, the police kick the door in and survey the scene. Ronnie’s babbling that fast they can’t tell a word he’s saying as they’re struggling to cuff him. In walks his mother with some shopping and Ronnie can’t grasp why she goes ballistic on him, even when she’s waving the note she left on the mantelpiece asking him to stay in because the gas man’s due. No one’s buying his story, taking him as gone loopy on the sniff.”
“What a scene. Shouldn’t laugh but it is funny. So why’s he back on the drugs?”
“He wasn’t. Been clean for a while and holding down a job. He was however still in debt for them. A minor disagreement about accrued interest, and a certain exhibitionist and his pals pin him down and mainline this new super powder fresh from Columbia in his arm, completely uncut. To teach him a lesson. They were probably expecting it to kill him but this boy has handled more chemicals than Pfizer. Rides it well at first, but as it’s played out it was clearly too much for his pickle.”
“Exactly. Speaking of bastards, that’s my cue. Thanks for tracking him Dom. I owe you one.”
“Not at all. My pleasure. Give Ronnie my best.”
“Will do. Least he’ll be off the drugs. Well, the street drugs anyway.”
I finish my pint with a long swallow as Benny walks across the dance floor with his shameless appendage bobbing around in front of him, leading the way like a divining rod heading to the toilets. Count to ten and follow him in, Ford and the Shouts cruise to a mellifluent whisper as the door closes slowly behind me. He’s at the middle urinal with his trousers round his ankles, grunting with strain to force piss through the erection. I wade up behind him as my boots slosh atop the sodden floor. Jab the gun to the base of his bald skull gleaming with the fluorescent light.
“If that’s what I think it is I suggest you remove it from the back of my head before I take it off you and make you eat it.”
“You haven’t got the bollocks.”
“Very original. Faggot are you?”
I take the hypodermic needle out of my pocket and push off the cap with the tip of my thumb. Lower the plunger shooting a small spurt of cloudy liquid.
“Let me put it this way. Brace yourself, you’re about to feel a sharp hard prick. Uncut.”