And you’re back in the room.
I don’t know what had lulled me into this false sense of security. Probably the rhythm of the thing, the same business, night after night, week after week, everything just rolling on unchecked. Maybe it was the run of good luck we’d had, punctuated by the odd threat or the even rarer straightener dealt out by Knud or one of the boys, true, but mainly good luck and good news, and good money.
Maybe I’d just gotten lazy.
I’d forgotten that life had given me the gift of fear, and I’d forgotten to carry it with me. I‘d messed up. And now there was a smackhead with stinking breath and mottled skin and a knife to my throat.
And you’re back in the room.
Or in this case, a rainswept, cobbled alley behind Oddies, a pub in Millfield whose bright lights brought out the grime and the filth of the empty streets. I was standing next to Oscar congratulating myself on doing well, and the smackhead had emerged out of the shadows, asking for smack, obviously, and I’d told him the party line that I didn’t hold that stuff, but I could pass him on. I did the recreational stuff: cocaine, ecstasy, E, roids, poppers, that sort of thing. Smack was Andy’s. He told me that every smackhead earned him three or four hundred a week, and they were his customers, not mine. Loyal customers. They were his for life. Every one an earner. So I told the smackhead I’d pass him on. And then, like someone flicked a switch, the smackhead was in my face.
He was not there, and then, click, he was there. I felt the cold sharp steel at my throat and he whispered, ‘Call in your little gang, and tell them to bring everything, all the drugs, and all the money, or I’ll cut you ’til I hit bone.’
‘Mickey.’ Oscar said.
‘Shut it, Doctor Logic,’ the smackhead jeered, or your friend here is going to bleed out all over this lane. ‘Maybe we’ll film it,’ he added. By we he meant the other two who’d drifted out of the shadows. He too had a crew.
‘It’s ok, Oscar,’ I said.
My heart was hammering and my throat was dry, but I felt strangely calm, detached, and I felt that detachment growing with each moment. Slowly I lifted my phone to shoulder height, so he could see it, I said, ‘I’ll need to look, to text the right people,’ and maybe he’d made a mistake too, maybe when I switched it on the light from the phone blinded him from seeing into darkness for a moment, because I could hear the intake of breath from his partners, and he turned to look at them and instead he looked straight down the barrel of my gun, the one I was holding in my other hand. Pointed at his head.
I leaned in, against the blade. ‘I. Don’t. Care,’ I said, very slowly.
‘I. Don’t Care.’ I repeated, almost pushing against his blade. I could feel a trickle of blood running down my neck. ‘We can both die now. Or we can both live. And if we live,’ I said, ‘then we’ll do a deal, because I’m in the business of doing deals. But either way is good. Because,’ and I eyeballed him now to show I was sincere, ‘seriously? I don’t care.’
‘Uh huh,’ he said.
And I could smell the piss he’d unloaded onto the cobbles.
I felt completely detached. I was watching a movie. ‘Step back,’ I said, leaning further in, feeling the blade against my neck quivering in his hand.
See, the thing is, in business you don’t ask someone to do what they won’t or can’t do. That makes you look weak. So I didn’t say Drop The Blade, cos he might not have, and then I’d have lost my power over him and he might have began thinking I didn’t mean it and done something stupid.
And the thing is, I did mean it. At that point, I really didn’t care.
But equally, I don’t like stupid.
‘Step back,’ I said again, and he did, slowly, knife still at my throat, but the pressure easing, my gun tracking him until it was at arms length, then the knife was away from me and he stepped back enough so I could put the stare on him. I don’t know where it came from, but I knew how to do it. It felt natural. I said, ‘You want to do a deal, we’ll deal,’ and my voice was dead calm. ‘You want to come back another time, give it some thought before you do, that’s cool. But if you bring a knife to a gunfight, next time, I’ll leave your brainpan on the cobbles.’
One of his friends said, ‘Come on Hoops, we’ll come back later.’
Hoops nodded, said, ‘No harm intended.’
‘God loves a tryer,’ I said.
He gave a weak grin. ‘No hard feelings?’
And they were gone.
I watched them ghost down the alley, their feet almost silent in their tattered sneidy Converse, and I felt the adrenaline dump, my legs went heavy, my hands shook, the thunder of my pulse bouncing round my head.
I let out a long slow breath, then I began to laugh.
Maybe I laughed for the joy of being alive, for having took a risk and having it pay off. Maybe I laughed because, for those few moments, all the worries and cares in the world hadn’t mattered. All that had existed in my world was the smackhead, his blade and me. And it was like a relief from pain, a relief from care, from duty and obligation, a relief from love.
Maybe I laughed because if I hadn’t I too would have wet my pants. I dunno, I just kept on laughing. I laughed so hard it doubled me over. I laughed so much it took a long while before I realized that Oscar was standing in the darkness, crying.
From Dealer No. 1