You do some stupid things when you’re young.
Unfortunately, I have no such excuse.
I was probably 30 when the following story happened. It has only a tangential connection to music, in that you do all sorts to feed your creativity – including trying out various illegal substances. I had a short acquaintance with speed, which I found to be a lot of fun, until I realised I wasn’t sleeping for days on end, was talking at about 100 miles an hour, and grinding my teeth to the point of migraine.
Still, any experience in life that produces a good story is worth having (as long as it doesn’t ruin your life). So here goes, with a story I need to tell you up front is absolutely true. Nothing here is made up, or exaggerated.
I’m in my second day of an amphetamine binge and not yet ready to stop. But the supply has run out. So my friend Pat takes me to her dealer’s house, which is in the bowels of Plumstead, South London.
The guy’s front room is like a sweet shop. Literally. All around the room are confectioner’s sweet jars on shelves, full of black pills, blue pills, red pills, yellow pills, all the colours of the rainbow.
The man himself is seated in a Captain’s chair, in the middle of the room, talking very fast. As he talks, he’s spinning around in the chair – talking to us, talking to the wall, talking to us again, now the wall again.
Which is pretty disturbing in itself. But what makes it really scary is that he’s brandishing a crossbow. And it’s loaded. We know it’s loaded, because he’s shown us how it’s done, by doing it. Loaded, ready for action.
“So what’s with the crossbow?” asks Pat, keen to distract him from the mechanics of the trigger. He taps his nose. “A job,” he confides. The ‘job’ requires a weapon, and he’s always fancied owning a crossbow. So the crossbow is his fee for ‘the job’.
Then his head comes up, like he’s emerging from a reverie. “Want some shoes?” he asks, apropos of apparently nothing.
I’m still speeding, but I’m coming down. The combination and the situation is really messing with my head. I don’t know what’s going on. Shoes? What’s that about? I’m still glued to the crossbow – back and forth, up and down.
“Upstairs. Front bedroom,” he says.
I’m losing the plot, but Pat leads me up the stairs, and there in the front bedroom is a mountain of shoes. No bed, of course.
“Back of a lorry,” says Pat. They’re not even in pairs. And they’re all children’s sizes. So she starts hunting for shoes for her two nephews, first finding the style they’ll want, in the size they need. And then searching for the matching shoe. It’s not a short process.
There’s a knock at the front door. No concern of ours. But then there’s a commotion downstairs and the house is plunged into darkness.
Suddenly, it is our concern.
I look over the banister. Our dealer is creeping down the unlit hallway towards the door, crossbow still in hand. “Who’s there?” he rasps, whispering and shouting at the same time.
“It’s me,” comes the answer.
“Who the fuck’s ‘me’?” In the circumstances, it seems a reasonable question.
“Me, you stupid fuck. Open the door, quick.”
Caution to the wind, the dealer opens the door, and a guy rushes in with a pile of boxes, followed by two more guys with more boxes. Back out they go, back in they come with more boxes.
“Just turned over a delivery van,” says one of them. The lights go back on. Now we can see clearly. These desperadoes have turned over a delivery van full of – Wrigleys chewing gum. Boxes and boxes of it. Even in my muddled state, I know this is not the best-planned heist in history.
The dealer is incandescent. Now he has a house full of drugs and children’s footwear. And chewing gum.
Pat’s given up on finding matching shoes. All shoes in the mountain of leather appear to be for left feet. So we go back down, me hoping for a fast getaway, but Pat still remembering we haven’t got what we came for.
The dealer is really agitated. His movements, and his control of the crossbow, are looking even more erratic. He’s shouting at the Great Train Robbers, and they’re shouting back. Something about how it was supposed to be cigarettes. How were they supposed to know it was chewing gum?
I’m standing partially shielded by the door frame, eyes fixed on the crossbow. But Pat marches through, takes one of the sweet jars off its shelf and pours pills straight into her jacket pocket. In the middle of the room, she hands the dealer fifteen quid. He doesn’t question it. “Yeah. Cool.” And then carries on berating the Great Train Robbers. We leave, supply renewed, limbs intact.
Three weeks later a news story in the local paper catches my eye. A car abandoned near Crystal Palace has caught the attention of the police. Having attracted a small blizzard of parking fines, it’s eventually been clamped and finally booked to be removed.
But the removal guy smells something funny. So the police attend. They agree with him. That’s not a normal stale kind of smell. It’s something more pungent and unpleasant.
They force open the boot. Inside they find the body of a man, clearly dead for some time.
And there’s a crossbow bolt between his eyes.