BATH SALTS

The True Story

Chapter 1

80%?
FUCK OFF!

This might sound strange, but when you know you have to kill someone, it kind of gives you a buzz.

Kill or be killed, that was actually the scenario. You see this prick I had as a business partner suddenly decided he was going to have all of my business. Well, okay, he was going to let me have 20%, (mighty generous what?) and at first I agreed, because, hey, I may not be quite all right in the head but I still enjoyed the life I had been given, in the main.

But then I thought, fuck it, why should I give in to this slimebag? Why should I let him take control of this multi-million dollar business I had set up from scratch? What gave him the right to walk in and undermine all that work I had put into it from day one? Who was he to make such a claim on my sensationally successful enterprise? Eighty percent? Of my business? Fuck off.

So the decision was easy really, there was no way I was going to allow this fuckhead bikie the satisfaction of making a fortune off the back of my business. Besides I hated bikies, so when I reminded myself of that the decision became a no-brainer.

I had to kill him before he killed me. That’s the way I figured it because Hamish wasn’t stupid. He knew I was bright, despite my mental lapses. He knew I would be thinking the exact same thing – that I would be dead at some point when Hamish felt it was time. It was just a question of when he would bring my life to an impromptu close.

Whether he expected me to pull a fast one I don’t know, probably not, but within a month I had beaten him to it and he was lying on the floor poleaxed by an overdose of axe-07. I had swung by his place to give him some new stash and to give him a gift. He helped himself to a line, as he usually did with a new consignment, and I left wondering if my plan would work.

Two hours later news reached me that Hamish had died. The axe had done its job superbly, fried his brains like scrambled eggs and bacon (with a healthy dollop of ketchup). I almost punched the air with a clenched fist and teeth gritted in triumph. I didn’t, at least not outwardly as I was with friends. It felt like there were party poppers popping around all over the place inside my head and I may have let loose the faintest of smiles.

I hadn’t done a lot of smiling, not openly that is, for many years. When you’re in my line of work the ‘serious face’ helps to maintain appearances of coolness, at least that is what I found. People took me more seriously when I didn’t smile and I wanted very much to be taken seriously.
But the news of Hamish’s demise was reason to celebrate so I lowered my guard just for a moment.

“Hey buddy,” one of my acquaintances said, “what’s with the beam?”
“Oh nothing much, just had a little good news about a pal of mine.”
Yeah, the good news was Hamish was gone and I was back in sole control of my baby. The fucker was dead and from then on no one else was going to stand in my way.
My name is Mark Binsted. I got insanely rich buying and selling legal highs. This is how I did it…

THE INSPIRING WAVE

When the idea came to me to start a business selling legal highs there were two things I wasn’t prepared for – firstly, the staggeringly awesome amounts of money I was going to make. Secondly, that two people were going to die.

But those two events were the furthest thing from my reality when I was 18. I had not long completed my schooling from Barker College. My parents were on my back to take a bit of time off and then return to begin a glorious career in 9-5. I agreed. I needed time off. I had succeeded well at Barker and exceeded everyone’s expectations and my own. It had been tough at times – a lot of the time – and now I needed a break.
Whether I was sure I was going to follow in my illustrious father’s footsteps was another matter altogether. It didn’t seem likely to me, but the folks were hopeful. They knew I had the ability. It was just a matter of whether my mind would actually allow me to function in the same manner as his and in the way that is required of anyone who strives with any seriousness to become a successful career professional. (You see, I can do it, at times. That was a good sentence, wasn’t it?)

We were having a glass of champagne – well, I had a whole magnum to myself – and as we munched on the canapés and other finger foods of the posh and monied in our little family enclave on the lawns of Barker I made my announcement.

“I’ve joined the Maritime Union of Australia,” I said with a big smile on my face. I knew it would rock the boat and it surely did.

Joining the Aussie merchant marine was not the kind of break my folks had in mind, but the idea had been resting with me for some months before my college days came to an end. I hadn’t told anyone but now seemed the perfect time. My docked cargo was dynamite; you could see the explosion of bewilderment going off behind their eyes. This was within minutes of the closing ceremony, as I was hugged by my parents and siblings and grand folks, the mood suddenly changed and a cluster bomb of perplexity reigned supreme. My parents broke away, stepped back, looked at me for a second and then stuttered out into a short blast of hysterical laughter, this was one of those little jokes I was renowned for of course, wasn’t it? I shook my head emphatically.

“No, straight up folks. I took the entrance exam last Monday. Passed with flying colours. I am now officially a member of the cast of seaworthy Integrated Ratings.”

Their faces were worth the effort of passing the exams and the copious amounts of bullshit I had to garner to do so.

My parents blinked their astonishment, glasses half-raised to their lips.

“But…”my mother stammered.
“I know,” I said, “Incredible. How did I pass the medical?” I just winked. “Where there’s a way, there’s a will.”
“But…” my father murmured incredulously…

“I’ve joined the Maritime Union of Australia,” I said with a big smile on my face. I knew it would rock the boat and it surely did.

Joining the Aussie merchant marine was not the kind of break my folks had in mind, but the idea had been resting with me for some months before my college days came to an end. I hadn’t told anyone but now seemed the perfect time. My docked cargo was dynamite; you could see the explosion of bewilderment going off behind their eyes. This was within minutes of the closing ceremony, as I was hugged by my parents and siblings and grand folks, the mood suddenly changed and a cluster bomb of perplexity reigned supreme.

My parents broke away, stepped back, looked at me for a second and then stuttered out into a short blast of hysterical laughter, this was one of those little jokes I was renowned for of course, wasn’t it? I shook my head emphatically.
“No, straight up folks. I took the entrance exam last Monday. Passed with flying colours. I am now officially a member of the cast of seaworthy Integrated Ratings.”

Their faces were worth the effort of passing the exams and the copious amounts of bullshit I had to garner to do so.
My parents blinked their astonishment, glasses half-raised to their lips.
“But…”my mother stammered.
“I know,” I said, “Incredible. How did I pass the medical?” I just winked. “Where there’s a way, there’s a will.”
“But…” my father murmured incredulously.

“What is an integrated rating? Well pa, integrated ratings perform many tasks such as maintaining deck equipment, rigging, cargo gear, firefighting appliances, life-saving gear. They stand lookout at sea and alert deck officers when other vessels or hazards are sighted. They steer the ship under supervision – I know, cool right? – they secure cargoes, handle rope and wire mooring lines, gangways and ladders when the ship is berthing and unberthing and maintain cleanliness of decks and structures, removing rust from the ship’s sides and structures, treat and paint the ship’s sides and structures, assist in maintaining and repairing the ship’s engines and mechanical equipment, clean the cargo compartment and the fresh water, ballast and oil tanks of the ship. Stuff like that. I even get to steer the ship.”

That wasn’t quite true. I was going to be an able seaman, a glorified deck hand in other words, but I wanted to make it sound more stylish. My folks had spent the first seventeen years of my life being pretty much disappointed with me, as well as generally perplexed, bewildered and frustrated, so giving them something to cling onto in the way of pride seemed the least I could do. Besides, I thought they would be pleased with my display of initiative and I am pleased to say that after they had time to get used to the idea they agreed that life aboard a cargo ship could be just the breath of fresh air and fresh new space that I needed.

I smiled. I could be right sometimes. My dad wished me luck. My mum patted my cheek, my sister and brothers similarly were gushing in their enthusiasm (now that my parents had given them the green light to be thus through their own demonstration of support for the black sheep).
And it was I have to say, a good choice. I had a hunch it would be and again, the satisfaction I derived from being right made it all the more worthwhile. Some people know where they are going or where they want to be when they grow up and leave the early years of childhood education behind. Others don’t and are merely glad to get through the day from one to the next with some sense of enjoyment or fulfilment. I had no fucking idea what I wanted to do or where I was going or what the hell would happen to me after leaving Barker’s.

So going to sea, would, I hoped at least make living interesting and give me the chance to think, give me room to breathe and enjoy some space. Room to breathe, space to be myself, that is all I wanted. I craved it. It was a yearning that had been growing steadily throughout my formative years. I couldn’t wait to just have room to breathe. A life time in Sydney. It was time to get away. I had smelt the sea. The harbour had some sea. It smelt good. I wanted more. I wasn’t disappointed.

I had joined the merchant navy because it was a job that took me away from my home and at that point in my life I needed to get away…fast…and badly. I didn’t fancy the marines or any of that military shit, so going to sea as a merchant was just right. But after five years of it I had grown weary of the lifestyle. Actually, there isn’t really any style attached to it all. And it’s not really the ideal life for someone who doesn’t adhere all that well to restrictions. Being at sea is incredibly restricting as you are basically stuck out there at the mercy of the ocean and you are tied to certain rules and regulations, health and safety and all that jizzy jazz.

On the other hand, it takes you away from the everyday norm of life on land. It’s a strange world. There is danger and isolation but you get to see other places you wouldn’t normally unless you went on holiday. The openness, it has to be said, is fucking immense and for the most part I simply enjoyed staring out to sea thinking my thoughts, letting my mind wander, sometimes skimming the waves like a stone, sometimes tip-toeing across like a fairy. Other times I would jump and let myself free-fall into the massive depths and let oblivion take over. The ocean gives you lots of freedom to do things like that. Just be, exist. You can create your own worlds on this watery canvas. That is fun to do.

For five whole years I wasn’t disappointed. I didn’t expect to be at sea that long, but the work suited me. The pay was reasonable. I got to meet some excellent people, had a few laughs and some pretty way out times in lands that some people only ever dream about visiting. But deep down I knew it wouldn’t be enough. I had ambition. I wanted to excel at something, be known for achieving something great.

Becoming notorious wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but hey, it does have a certain ring of glory to it. I’m not sure if I qualify for the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest self-starter millionaire, but I reckon I would be pretty close. One million Australian dollars in a year. It took me five years to notch up 550,000 nautical miles to Singapore and back or twenty thousand containers lashed to the great ships of the sea or six thousand hours spent on watch or ten thousand dollars spent on the terrific girls at Four Floors of Whores.

One million Australian dollars earned in twelve months. I don’t mind telling you, I’m pretty fucking proud of that. Did I “earn” it you say? Of course I did. I’m telling you the hours I put into my business, hell it felt like a million, certainly later on when things got a bit tricky and I was left with four tonnes of herbal incense to shift and eight hundred kilos of synthetic cocaine.

Looking back on it now, ten years later – life at sea was pretty joyous. I shall never forget that expanse of Indian Ocean to Singapore and I was lucky to sail the Great Barrier Reef, Coral Sea, Arafura Sea and Timor. My time spent on watch was definitely the best. Four hours of sheer pleasure every time. Even when it was rougher than the worst hang-over, witnessing the vastness of the ocean just made me realise my own mortality. That’s not always a bad thing. We can get too wrapped up in our own grandiose sense of importance. We are all pathetic really when faced with the enormity of that great ocean. It made me feel so small. I think it’s the hypnotic effect it has on you. It lulls you, pulls you. You look out many miles into the distance and it seems to be welcoming and gentle, sort of inviting you to join it for a cup of tranquil afternoon tea on its lawn of serenity, parasol at the ready. Then you look down overboard at the hulking hull of the ship as it tears on through the foam at fifty knots, roaring, breaking up the water into choppy shards of icy menace and the ocean suddenly looks a whole lot different. You see it for what it really is – a fucking giant watery death-trap grave.

And when you’re the only ship on the horizon and land is a thing of the distant future or recent past and you’re all alone on watch, you tend to feel the draw of the mighty vastness upon which you are passing over. It pulls you. It really does. It’s kind of scary. Because you know that all you have to do is reach over and let go. It’s a fine line, finer than a line of fishing wire. A hairline. A hair’s width between you and the end. The trick is not to stare for too long at any one time. Blink. Think of the women at the Four Floors of Whores. Or your next meal. Anything to knock you out of that dangerous unearthly reverie.

Of course there was always the dugong to do that. I loved seeing those weird creatures when they decided to bob up. You didn’t often see one out in the blue blankness as they tend to stay close to the coastline. However, now and again a dugong could be seen. These strange elephant-like sea cows always wear a languid smile I found quite fetching. In fact I always thought they looked semi-stoned, like a jazz giant on tenor sax in a smoky spaced out low-ceiling night time bar. The dugong eats sea grass mainly, so there you go. Maybe sea grass will be the new legal high?

THE GONG OF THE BONG

I had grown tired of the sea, I needed a new direction. And I owe it all to Elliott. And to some extent my dad, but I’ll leave him out of it for now. Let me introduce you first to Elliott.

I first met the guy at sea running cargo to Singapore mainly, stuff like platforms for semisubmersible gas rigs and other heavy-duty plant and rigging.
One day Elliot lit a bong right in front of me and began smoking. I was taken aback.
“What if you get piss-tested?” I said. “You could lose your job.”
“Nah,” he replied. “Nothing to worry about. It’s legal weed. It doesn’t show up in piss-tests.”

I was interested right away. I’d never heard of legal weed before, mainly because I didn’t really know anyone that well that was into drugs and I don’t smoke marijuana as it sends me really weird. I get ultra-paranoid thinking people spit in my drinks or that my closest friends are police officers trying to set me up, however I knew plenty of people who do smoke cannabis and immediately I could see this was a honey-pot waiting for me to scrape clean – especially back home in Australia.

BONG! The gong had been struck and I was ready to move to the vibe.

I went to a shop with Elliot and saw the legal weed – also known as ‘herbal incense’ – on the counter. A brand called Kronic. I bought some and tried it. It sent me weird…but I also saw dollar signs floating in the air.

This is it, I said to myself, this is my new vocation.

Legal highs in the form of ‘herbal incense’ and ‘bath salts’ were to be my products. Herbal incense is basically grass sprayed with an artificial chemical that produces the same highs as smoking marijuana. Bath salts is the nickname given to a similar synthesised replica of methamphetamines or cocaine. That was an altogether more deadly affair, as I was later to find out. But I was to become a master of selling and distributing both. I was aware money could be made from selling legal highs, at least that was my vision, but I never in my wildest imagination thought I would become a multi-millionaire – almost overnight. The momentum with which my business took off still knocks me sideways every time I think about it.

After my five-week swing at sea I flew back from Perth to Sydney where I live. I jumped on the internet and did as much research on legal weed as I could. I found a few brands like Kronic and Northern Lights. I ordered some Kronic online. When it arrived I tried it. It worked, it sent me weird. I thought this stuff was so cool. You could just order it on the internet and it was legal. I looked on http://www.alibaba.com and searched herbal incense and legal weed. I found many sources. The one’s from Africa where the cheapest. I talked to them and they said they could supply me.

When giving me their bank account details though it was for an individual not a company so I became dubious and thought it was a rip off. It was I’m convinced, so I didn’t order it. I found a company in America called soldiermafia selling incense for $1000USD per KG. I ordered one kilo. It arrived about 10 days later. I tried it, it worked; it sent me weird. I had to try it every time to make sure I didn’t get ripped off – although I still didn’t know what the chemical was in the legal weed. The whole industry was very hush-hush about it. But the goods passed customs and it was sold in hundreds of shops I visited so I thought it was legal.

Yes, I had tried Kronic, and it sent me weird, but then that is not surprising as my brain is wired in such a way as it becomes susceptible to artificial chemical influences. Whatever was in Kronic made me feel strange, certainly stranger than I was often prone to feeling during any day or night, but I didn’t know for certain whether this stuff really worked or would work on others.

To make sure I was dealing in a product that produced the effects of smoking conventionally-grown marijuana I enlisted the help of an old pal. Junkhead.

Junkhead was a seasoned pot smoker, nay he was the consummate professional weed man. I’d met him a few times at some parties I went to in my college days. He used to supply the kids with some pot and in return he would be invited to stay at the parties. He was about fifty years old, and often added an extra touch of interest as the night wore on with his tales and crazy ramblings that seemed to us like God-like epistles of pure wisdom. He was beautiful to watch, the stoned motherfucker. Now and again he’d get lucky with some of the young girls, though he was always the perfect gentleman (by all accounts) and would never get laid with anyone who was younger than sixteen. Some of the chicks went with him just so they could brag about being one Junkhead’s girls because he was quite particular who he slept with. There had to be some connection between them that wasn’t just potinduced otherwise he didn’t want to know. Of course it was the pot that helped Junkhead weed out the gems from the chaff and sometimes it took all night until he would finally agree to take so-and-so to bed. Other times it was all a matter of who was left standing, the girl with the most stamina to fight off the marijuana pass-over would be the winner. Sometimes when that happened Junkhead wasn’t as choosy as he might usually be and he would just bed the young maiden, connection or no connection.

So, if there were a job going testing pot he would be the main man; I can just see him sitting in there in his executive office, in a big cream leather swivel chair a desk lined up with packets of weed to trial, his long hippy hair cascading around his shoulders as he lit up cone after cone, the room becoming a dense swirl of heady aromas and weed waftings, the smoke billowing out down the corridors of the office skyrise and out through the windows.

“Tis good.” That is all he would say if a batch tickled his very particular weed-o-metre into the higher echelons of the pleasure dome. Those cones that didn’t pass the Junkhead test were consigned to the waste bin with a dismissive, but deft toss of his tanned musky hand and casual shrug of the shoulders.

Junkhead instantly accepted my invitation to test some trial packets of Kronic with a gleeful glint in his eye as legal weed was relatively new to him and he was keen to try out the various strengths and potencies.
We used a rating scale for this trial that went thus:
1/5 = No effect
2/5 = Slight euphoria (duration 25-40 mins)
3/5 = Slightly more euphoric (duration 40- 60 mins)
4/5 = Very euphoric (duration 60-105 mins)
5/5 = Most Euphoric (duration 105 mins+)
The Kronic range Junkhead tested was as follows:

KRONIC WICKED SMOKE
Junkhead’s verdict – 2.5/5
“An enjoyable smoke. Puff merrily and not get too wasted. Two minutes for the high. Slight euphoria. Light duration. Down buzz kicks in prompt, but gradual. Normality fully restored on the chimes of the hour.”

KRONIC PURPLE HAZE
Junkhead’s verdict – 3.5/5

“Nice little smoke for social gatherings and soiree’s. Pleasant aroma and taste. High in sixty seconds. Satisfying duration. Bearable down buzz. Excellent party smoke enabling a rewarding balance between good conversation and steady high. Decent.”

KRONIC SKUNK BLEND
Junkhead’s verdict – 4/5

“A good diverse-occasion smoke. Spoilt by foul taste. Stood up well during the completion of everyday chores. An hour-long high. Got used to the taste. Has become my pet. Recommended.”

KRONIC TROPICAL EXPLOSION
Junkhead’s verdict – 4.5/5

“Horrible aroma, but thrilling high. Very reminiscent effects to actual pot. Munchies were mean, man. Duration admirable and sustained. Downward run smooth enough. Definitely a hit to remember. Double-recommend.”

KRONIC PINEAPPLE EXPRESS
Junkhead’s verdict – 5/5

“Ah. Total high perfection. Two hour duration! Intense, hectic. Rollercoaster down buzz, make sure you’re in the safe zone. Kronic Pineapple Express does not disappoint. I repeat…does not disappoint! Five star and you can add a plus on the end.”

There. Sorted. Kronic Pineapple Express was the one. With the first kilogram I bought I designed some packages using a simple graphics programme on my computer and gave my product the name Hektic Herbal (in honour of Junkhead’s appraisal). I bagged up the kilo into 1 gram pouches and was ready to roll excited to see what would happen with my 1000 bags of legal weed.

I then went to tobacconists (shops selling tobacco and accessories) and sold the lot. I had identified 12 outlets in and around the Sydney area and went in with the strict proviso that each store had to buy a minimum of 25 bags from me at $5 a go. Some store owners and managers were a little dubious at first. I was after all a complete stranger to them, a random dude working alone trying to off-load some dope on them. But once they had tried a couple of tokes (or got their staff to try it) they were soon convinced. Some stores bought 50 bags and were pretty sure they would be back for more very quickly.

I remember the first guy I sold a batch to. He was a balding squat man of English descendants and very reticent in that awfully reserved way they have. He wanted to know all the details about the weed, where it came from, how it was made, how high you could get, who I was working for, were there any mob ties to the product. I told him all I could and made up some extra stuff for authenticity sake (that was a purely spur of the moment thing, but it seemed to go down well so I kept that as part of my sales performance from then on).

When it came to the test, he didn’t want to do it and at the time of my visit his staff were not present (one was sick, the other on vacation) so the guy called up his teenage nephew.

“Hey,” he said on the phone, “it’s your uncle Steve. You smoke pot don’t you Paul?”
I could hear Paul deny it vehemently.
“Don’t give me that son, I know you do. I’ve seen you, remember?”
Paul evidently did but said vehemently again that it was only the once.
“Look,” said Uncle Steve. “I need a favour. Can you get here right away? I’ll make it worth your while.”
Paul wanted to know why the rush.
“It’s urgent, that’s all you need to know. You’ll like the surprise, I assure you…if it’s as good as I’m being told it is.”
Paul’s curiosity was now adequately aroused; he’d be there in fifteen minutes.
“Paul’s nineteen. Smokes loads of the stuff, I know for a fact, so if anyone can vouch for its potency he can,” Uncle Steve relayed to me as he switched off his mobile.
“That’s perfect,” I said with a smile that must have conveyed total confidence for Uncle Steve went on to ask more questions but in a more friendly tone, as if he had already made up his mind that he was going to be purchasing my product. He could also see the dollar signs like I had.
“If this stuff really works, I’ll take two hundred grams a week.”

My first customer and he was already talking about buying enough to cover my costs. I did my best to remain cool with a nod of the head and half-smile, when really I was pissing myself with elation.

Paul arrived dead on fifteen minutes all out of breath, his curiosity piqued in sweat and teenage body odour. A couple of tokes of my Hektic Herbal and he was peaked in a different way, but one that said it all for Uncle Steve. To impress him further I even gave him the choice of which packet to open from my retro green zip-up Adidas hold-all stuffed with five hundred bags of heady loveliness. Uncle Steve rummaged around for a few seconds and made a selection. This would be proof to him that every single pack would be exactly the same gear and give him a clear indication that I was a dealer to be trusted, confident in his product and able to guarantee the quality of what I was selling.

As Paul began to giggle and sing stupidly from his half-stoned place in his head, his uncle shook my hand and gave me a hearty slap on the back. The deal was done; he took fifty bags as a trial run, told Paul to tell all his friends and spread the word that legal weed was here (“but don’t tell your mother, she’d kill me for breakfast!”) and I moved on with my first $250 in my pocket.

The next five stores on my rounds were equally impressed with both my sales pitch and sample bags. The first in Randwick bought 25, the second in Casula 50, the third in Potts Point 50, the fourth in Liverpool 25 and the last in Bondi another 50 giving me a whopping $1000 to add to my $250. And that was all in just one morning.

Fucking Wowza!

But who needs fucking legal weed or any weed for that matter. I was totally buzzing on this success alone. The sweet smell of success, every bit as heady as narcotics legal or illegal. I breathed it in all in one delicious hit. Six outlets, $1250. Pinch myself. I damn well bit myself.

I then felt strangely giddy and had to go and sit down. I was going to order a beer, but checked myself. No, I said. Not yet. Finish your assignment. Then toast yourself. If you can shift your first half-kilo to all of the shops you visit on your first day out with no refusals, then that is the time to raise a little glass or open a bottle of Moet and shower yourself like an F1 star.

Now, how clear-headed is that? I knew a beer would throw me off my game even if ever so slightly. Any slip-up in delivery could hamper the exchange. What I’m saying is, I was professional from the word go and that is the way I was going to keep it. And keep it I did, never once did I waver until the time was right to let down my hair and don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of that to come later.

I decided to go home at that point, the thought of being mugged of my new found wealth got the better of me in a mild panic attack of paranoia (something of which I am prone at times of high anxiety or excitement). It’s like an adrenaline rush or first zap of weed, it hits you, you feel elation but then you drop quickly and a sort of fear takes over. Carrying $1250 in cash in my bag didn’t seem like such a good idea at that precise moment. I needed to get that cash under my mattress! Quick.

And without my mum noticing. I was living at home at this point. Luckily, it was a big house. Getting the kilo of weed in wasn’t a problem. It came in a pretty big box (a kilo of weed is quite light so takes up some space) and the only person to see it was my sister. She did enquire as to its contents, but I simply passed it off as Aussie Rules football memorabilia.

“Since when did you like Aussie Rules?” she asked.
“Since yesterday,” I replied.

She shrugged and moved on. I was known for my sudden fetishes and new-fangled obsessions. The week before I had expressed a craving for candy floss and couldn’t stop making the stuff. Then I got bored and gave all my candy making equipment away to the Red Cross. Another time I had this strange feeling that I was James Dean reincarnated. It was weird. I was convinced I was him. I watched all his movies and began mimicking his actions and way of speaking, like in Rebel Without A Cause where he’s all kind of teenage soppy and gangly and stroppy. I even bought a retro James Dean Harrington jacket and had that white T and jeans combo going on. Slicked back hair. I dyed it blond even (mine’s black). I went around telling everyone I was James Dean and I was back to continue my Hollywood acting career, though I had ended up in Australia (“must have taken a wrong turn out the gates,” I said to people). I really thought I was. Then it goes. I wake up one morning thinking, why the fuck is my hair this colour?

But given my propensity for such sways of fickle affiliation no one took a blind bit of notice. I had a kilo of weed in my room (legal weed remember) but the fact escaped everyone. As is often the norm in a big family house, everyone goes about their business pretty much unhindered and unimpeded. Dad was up to his eyeballs in financial affairs, mum was a fullon teacher, my sister was busy with her business management Uni studies, my youngest brother was paving a steady career in financial journalism and my eldest bro was a goingplaces funds manager for a notable institution.

The only time we ever all got together was at the dinner table, and that wasn’t always the full complement of family members; there would always be someone missing. Dinner was quick, bustling, filled to the brim with the clink and clunk of cutlery on crockery, the guzzle of wine and beer or coke and a quick-fire catch-up of gossip and news and updates on personal hygiene or health matters or love issues.

I would be included, but it was all very perfunctory. As long as the cops didn’t turn up at the door all my family knew I was okay and that’s all they cared about.

My dad had been away for three days, an urgent business trip to New York. He hadn’t been back long when my sister broke the news.
“Hey dad, Markie’s got a new craze – Aussie Rules memorabilia. You were into that as a kid, weren’t you?”

He was indeed. I’d forgotten. In fact I don’t even know if I knew. Or if I had been informed in my childhood I obviously wasn’t paying any attention.

“Yeah, that’s right, I was. What era we talking about Mark?”
Fucked if I know.
“Oh, all sorts dad. Right across the board.” Eyes down, fingering the food.
“Like when? Gimme an example.”
“Forties, fifties, way before your time dad…”
Dad laughed, mum smiled sweetly, she liked me when I was at my playful best.
“The great Ron then?”
“Come again?”
“Ron Barassi. Played between nineteen fifty-six and sixty-four. One of the all time greats.”
“Uhm…hmmm…yeh…now you mention it, the great Ron. Yeh, got some playing cards, couple of mags with him in…”
“Yeah? Wow, that’s awesome…let me see, he was my favourite player. A legend.”
Damn it.
“Aww what? You’re kidding me? Sorry dad, but I sold them on eBay this morning.”
“Aww man, that’s too bad. I had loads of his stuff when I was a kid. There was even a Ron Barassi action man doll. Had hours of fun making him kick imaginary balls into the yonder. What else ya got?”

I’d had enough by now, the Aussie fucking Rules was beginning to piss me off. I felt a headache clamouring to get out.

“All gone pa,” I said ever so slowly and dismissively and that was the end of that. Everyone could see that was end of that. They knew when to draw the line. The next person to speak had better watch what they said. The next word uttered could tip me over. It was like Russian roulette. But a well-practised sport. You have to admire my folks for that, they worked in unison and had got it down to a fine art after ten years of dedicated drilling.

They’d glance quickly at one another and then one would steer the conversation onto a new and neutral path and one that, importantly, didn’t feature me.
“Hey, I hear Peter Jackson is thinking of making his latest mega-movie over here in Oz,” my eldest brother quipped.
“Oh yes, they were talking about that in the staff room,” my mum countered. “Apparently Jackson is under diplomatic pressure to redress the Kiwi-Aussie divide.”
“No way?” said my dad.

And the next fifteen minutes was spent in idle reflection on the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Hobbits and whether anything as grand and dazzling could ever be made in Australia…apart from ‘Australia’ the movie of course.

I had bowed out by now, the conversation a mere dull cacophony between my ears as I zoned out and into thoughts of my next day’s activity on the streets of Sydney with my little green pal Adidas and a wad more dope. Would I have as much success? Were the takings of the other day a flash in the pan? Was my legal weed the new fool’s gold?

It didn’t take me long to find out. The answer was no. Another six stores, another full-house of sales. I returned home with every single gram moved, the packets in my hold-all replaced by another cool $3000.

I had made about $4000 on that first kilo (minus a few preliminary set-up costs). Nevertheless, a fucking handsome profit if I do say so myself. It was that easy. I ordered four more kilos.

But where to store it? Getting one kilo in virtually undetected was okay and I had ridden my luck a little there. Four kilos would be a lot harder to conceal, even in our big house. I didn’t want to run the risk of the folks finding out what I was doing. It was time to up the ante. I needed a new strategy, and quick. The obvious solution? A lock-up. It wasn’t hard to organise. The small ads in the local newspaper saw to that. I had the cash for a down payment on a modest rental about half a mile from where we lived. It belonged to an elderly couple who lived in a small apartment over the road from it. The lock-up was theirs and they were renting it out as times were hard and they needed the cash.
Cash? I said. I have cash. I can give you six months up front, I said.
They loved that. They loved me.

I went round there dressed in my best togs and gave them a hard luck story, one I borrowed from my good mate Elliot (he was full of hard luck stories, hence he smoked dope). I told Mr and Mrs Hernandez that I was an orphan and was staying with friends while I found myself a job. I told them about my life at sea, the best bits of course, the endearing bits of magical sunsets and dolphins on the waves. Then I hit them with the nugget:
“But my best pal died at sea and ever since then I could never go back. He was trying to rescue an injured dugong. Went out in the inflatable. Inflatable got tipped by an awesome wave. That was it, gone forever.”

The Hernandez’s were suitably moved. Mrs Hernandez sobbed. Mr Hernandez said they had a similar tale – their son had passed away a few years ago in tragic circumstances trying to save a neighbour’s dog. Mrs Hernandez said I reminded her of their boy. Mr Hernandez scrunched his eyes up as he stared at my face. He couldn’t see it, but he went along with it anyway for his wife’s sake.

I said I needed the lock-up to store some of my stuff. I didn’t have a lot, but what I did have was of sentimental value and there was no room in my friends’ house for any of it. They bought it, bless ‘em, and I had them eating out of my hand.

The lock-up was ideal. It even had a small window at the back which was nice. I need to see the light; I can’t stand to be closed in, by four walls. I need to see the outside and see some light coming in. This window overlooked some derelict land, but that was okay. I wasn’t there for the view. There was even room for a sofa, table and chair. I procured one of each over the next few days, making out they were my pride and joy. Mr Hernandez even helped me transport the furniture in his pick-up. I’d found all three in a junk store. I told Mr Hernandez they were originally mine, but I had sold it to the bric-a-brac guy. However, I couldn’t bear to be without them (the chair I told him was my best pal’s, it was a kind of Van Gogh chair which helped the image of nostalgia) and had bought them back for slightly more than I sold them. Mr Hernandez was very understanding. Mrs Hernandez sobbed again when her husband told him the significance.

I needed the table and chair for obvious reasons, the sofa I decided to get because as my business took off I found myself working long hours and sometimes round the clock. The sofa was useful for napping on.

Befriending the Hernandez’s was also beneficial in that I had a bona fide address to have my herbal incense shipped to. My next four kilo’s arrived without question. Mrs Hernandez signed for the two boxes and her husband carefully placed them in their hallway ready for collection. The boxes were unmarked, except for the name of the supplier.

I could tell my adopted ‘parents’ were curious to know what was in the boxes, perhaps more sentimental trinkets of my dear friend? But they never asked and I never divulged. I just kind of looked a little sombre, an expression that told them all they needed to know. Creating an impression, making expressions, I had become quite good at that suddenly. Sometimes you don’t need to say anything to convey how you’re feeling, I learned, silence speaks more powerfully.

I took the stash over to the lock-up and set it on the table. I opened the boxes and peered excitedly in at the next harbingers of my wealth creation scheme. Ah, sweet potpourri! The grass is greener on the other side, so they say. No it ain’t my friend, it’s right here. I had also ordered a box of pre-labelled weed bags and got the company to use my Hektic Herbal design. These had also arrived with the four kilos.

Four thousand bags of weed to create. I had better get to work. At least it was easy work. Weigh out a gram of grass. Fill a small bag with the grass. Seal the bag. Put the bag in a box. At tops I was doing 30 bags an hour, sometimes 40 during my manic stages. When you know each bag is making you money it really spurs you on. It gets fascinatingly addictive. Plus I loved the fact that I was doing it all on my own. From start to finish, I was producing quality merchandise and making a fantastic profit. I didn’t need anyone’s help.

The six stores I went to on my first visit out all wanted more. They had shifted their stock within a week. Half of these doubled their purchase from last time making a total of 300 bags sold to them. It was the same story with the other six. Four of them had taken 50 bags, the others 25 bags. This time around four took 100 bags each and the others 50 each. I even added a handful more shops to my clientele list to round off the kilo.

It’s amazing how quickly the word spread. The news went viral, it seemed as if everyone was ready for legal weed. They couldn’t get enough and I had trouble keeping up with demand. Working round the clock, I was sometimes in the lock-up for three, four days at a time, bagging the weed, catching sleep on the sofa, going out on the rounds. By the fourth week of knocking out four kilos I could afford to buy a mode of transportation. I chose a tuk-tuk. Don’t ask me why. I just fancied one. I used to like travelling around in them when we were kids. After a night out with the folks, dad would hire one to take us home. It was a great laugh. Transporting my wares in a tuk-tuk seemed the perfect way to go.

That was pretty much my routine and I kept right on going until I was selling about 10 kilos a week. It was long hours and repetitive, but well worth it. Every day, with another kilo despatched, I would return to the lock-up with a big smile on my face and another $4000 richer. I couldn’t believe my luck! In just under eight weeks I had made $320,000 clear profit.

Fuck. Was I dreaming? No, it was real. I had the cash in my hand. Piles of it. It felt so fucking good. When you hold cash in your hand, it’s like holding your life in your palms. It was a big pile of fucking cash, bank notes of various denominations, different colours, sat there in a lovely neat pile. I sat looking at the pile in my hands one day. The edges were so neatly pressed together, it was a work of art. I can’t remember how long I sat there staring at this pile of paper that was worth $50,000.

But I do remember thinking:
“This pile of cash means you can do anything in the world you want.”

Plain and simple. You don’t often get that chance. But here it was right now, in the palm of my hands. It was kind of vibrating, you know? With potential. Masses of potential. It was only paper, yet it was worth so much. It seemed insane to me. People say I’m insane, but no, this is insane. Having that much money in your hands all in one go.

I know it’s old hat, but yes I did it, I threw that pile of notes up into the air and for a split second I saw a rainbow. The sunlight caught the colours and lit up the room around me with a halo of translucent beauty.

I opened three bank accounts, all with different banks. One as my business account where I would deposit one-third of my income. The second account was for personal use into which I would place one-thirds of the takings and the third account was a high-interest one. I opened this with $100,000 to get me going. I had to be careful of course. Depositing huge amounts of cash all at once can raise eyebrows, so I used to do my banking once a day and spread it out evenly so as not to raise suspicion. Pretty soon I was getting to know the staff behind the counters at the banks and soon on first name terms with most of them. Dressed smartly and wearing a winning smile, I was the epitome of the up-and-coming young entrepreneur with his flourishing potpourri import/export business. Naturally the managers of all three were quick to seize upon me as a prime candidate to pitch their various investment schemes at. I listened with interest most of the time as a show of professionalism, but there was no way I was buying into any of that. I wanted to keep everything nice and simple and straight forward.

But this was only the beginning. When you make $320,000 in eight weeks, you suddenly think, hold on a minute…this is just a drop in the ocean. This was a rainbow with a pot of gold at the end of it every week. I had to milk it for all it was worth and for as long as I could. It was the only sensible thing I could do. Don’t you think? What would you have done in my position? Exactly, when you have an opportunity like this staring you in the face, shit, you’re not going to ignore it. You embrace it, fully. With both hands…and these hands of mine had certainly got used to holding vast sums of cash, they were liking that experience. I didn’t need to throw the notes into the air again, because I saw rainbows every time I looked at these wads of cash now. Sometimes I would see myself sliding down the rainbow and whizzing off the end into this ocean of bank notes. It was like a theme park ride, but I owned it. This was my ride, no one else’s.

Of course by now, with all these boxes arriving virtually every other day for Mrs Hernandez to sign for, questions needed to be asked and answers given.

The inevitable question –

“Mark dear, all these boxes, what is inside them? There’s so many.”
I had been anticipating this. I held out my hand and pressed a bag into hers.
“Potpourri,” I said with a childlike smile. “I’ve started a business.”

The bag of course didn’t contain Hektic Herbal. Instead I had bagged up some real potpourri of geranium and rose petals that I nicked from my mum’s ample supply in her boudoir. Mrs Hernandez was overjoyed, happy to see that I had found a niche in life. She was happy to see me happy, because I had never been happier and it was obviously showing for all the world to see.

That, also inevitably, raised a few eyebrows back home. It’s not that I never smiled, but whenever I did it was always fleeting to suit the moment. Generally, the moment never lasted for very long. I had been smiling virtually all the time. My folks had never seen me this happy, ever, certainly not consistently happy for days in a row. Something was wrong.

Again, there was going to be questions.

No police had come to the door, so that ruled out criminal activity (a major plus). So what else could it be? Love? Had I fallen in love? Well yes, I had. And that was the line I chose to take as I had not devised any other plausible reason for my abundant joy other than regurgitating my potpourri business success (though that would have led to all sorts of tricky lines of investigation and questioning from my ever diligent father and brothers and mother with the background in Law). I can thank my sister for giving me that prompt.

Her name was July, I told them, and she was from Mauritius, a beautiful creature who seemed to like me as much as I liked her. My folks pulled mock-serious faces as if to say, “Yeah, why would anyone like you?” as I continued to weave my web of love for a woman I didn’t really know. The woman I based my fictitious July on was actually a girl I fancied at The Four Floors of Whores. She was petite, pert ass, bright black eyes, a cherub face with fantastic lips that were truly mind-blowing in all the talents they possessed. I mentioned some of those attributes when describing July and added a soufflé of extras such as July was kind-hearted, caring, was a student of zoology, could tap dance and yodel at the same time and worked part-time in a veterinary practise.
Did I have photo?
No. I didn’t. Damn. I will get one, I tell them.
How long had we known each other? A couple of weeks, I said. We met by chance in the mall buying ices. I thought she was someone I had met when in Singapore and kept staring at her. She blushed when she saw me staring but wasn’t offended. I apologised for staring and said, “Do I know you?” Oddly enough, she was wondering the same thing. It turns out we didn’t but that strange recognition started a conversation and we went from there. I told her my problems and she was fine with that. She had a sister, she said, who was just like me so she was used to mood swings and tempers. She knew we weren’t really to blame. It’s just God’s given you a different brain to others. That makes you special, she said.
“Ahh, isn’t that sweet?” said my mother. “
“So that explains where you have been hiding these past few days,” said my dad with a playful nudge in the ribs.
“Aww pa, you got me…”
Everyone laughed, including me. Naturally, everyone wanted to meet her. I said it was early days, but if things continued to go well I would bring her round and introduce them to her.
“She is very shy,” I added. “It may be a while before she feels ready to ‘meet the folks’.” Everyone understood and I began to understand the power I had over my own life and destiny. Weaving such tales was alien to me, but I obviously had a knack for it. Everything I told everyone was believed without a shred of doubt. At least that’s the way t seemed to me and it felt empowering. It gave me confidence. Of course my family are pretty shrewd and they may all have been acting from the same theatre script. If that were the case, they too were equally convincing and I applaud their temerity. On the other hand seeing a “happy Mark” might have been purely such a wonderful relief that they were only too glad to believe I had genuinely found love.
I have been a burden to my family since being diagnosed with serious mental issues. I know that. It hasn’t been easy for them and they have done their best to put up with my moods and antics. They have developed methods to cope individually as well as a unit and they have done it very well. They should write a book on it, it may help others with my problems. I don’t however recommend doing what I did, though the chances of that happening again are pretty slim I would say.

I started my business with a flash-in-the-pan notion and somehow I ended up becoming the biggest distributer of legal highs in Australia. That is, by any stretch of the imagination, quite a feat, even if I say so myself. I got lucky to some extent in that no one else was doing what I was doing at the time. I had stumbled upon a niche and that after all is the core to becoming rich. Having that killer business idea. Everything had come together at the same time. The idea, my seizing the opportunity, my zeal for making it work. The circumstances were perfect in other words and I was having a total ball.
How long that would last I did not know. But I did know it wouldn’t be forever. This was going to be a get-rich-quick scheme I came to realise very early on and that is mainly why I put everything I had into it. It was inevitable someone else would come along at some point and try and have a piece of the action. I was convinced of that. And I had a feeling I knew who might do that.

It was about six month down the road. I had blitzed Sydney and extended my circle of operation to the immediate vicinity. I had some twenty-five outlets, most of them taking 400 grams a week off me. Some took more, some took less. But in general I was still making $4000 per kilo and shifting 10 kilos a week. I was making a cool $40,000 every seven days. Fucking crazy, but it was real. It was happening, I had the cash in my hands. Even after six month I still had trouble believing it was real. But it was. It was there in black and white on my bank statements. It was there in the papery flesh in my hands every day. This fucking money was real all right.

The almost permanent smile on my face that my darling family put down to me being in love with a young woman from Mauritius called July, was in fact a bemused look of incredulity that I was making all this money. I know I couldn’t stop smiling because I could see it in the mirror every time I woke up in the morning and every time I brushed my teeth at night before going to bed.

However, one morning, I did wake up with a sudden dread sweeping all over me. What if all this money could be confiscated, taken away from me? What if the government could do that if they somehow believed my money had been illegally obtained? I knew I was dealing in a legal product because it was readily available on the Internet. There was no regulations anywhere that I could see. But what if there was something I didn’t know? I was not a financial expert. My father was. And to some extent my two brothers were. But I didn’t have a clue about money matters and the law.
The more I thought about it, the greater my concern grew until I began to feel quite paranoid about it and I became convinced the spooks were out there waiting for me. The Aussie feds would be watching my every move from now on…and maybe they had been all along. Maybe this whole thing had been an elaborate sting. It was a trap, the whole legal on the Internet thing was one big hoax to catch people like me out.

I needed to find out more before it was too late. I couldn’t ask my father or my brothers so I rushed down to the nearest financial consultancy.
“Hi,” I said to the receptionist. “I need to speak to someone urgently about some money I have.”
The receptionist smiled nicely and asked me to be more specific.
“I have a large amount of money in a bank…well three banks actually…and I just want to know if it’s safe, that no one else can lay their hands on it.”
The middle-aged woman could obviously sense I was in a state of some distress as I mopped my sweating brow and wiped the moisture on my T shirt. My left leg was twitching and I could feel my eyelids blinking rapidly.
“Take a seat Mr…?”
“Mark,” I said quickly.
“Take a seat Mr Mark and I’ll just go and see who is available. I’ll be right back.”

There was something in the way the receptionist said that which made feel queasy and added to the unease I was already experiencing. Where had she gone? Who was back there? Was there in fact anyone back there? I glanced around the office, my eye roving across the whole layout and decor and furnishings. That’s when I noticed the couple seated by the window. When did they come in? Had they been there all this time? Fuck, why hadn’t I seen them? They were both staring at me as I turned and saw them and they both quickly looked away, then down at their shoes, then up at each other locking their eyes, the one waiting for the other to say something.

“It’s warm in here,” the woman said.
“Yes,” said the man.
He reached out and took her hand. She smiled furtively. “I think I fancy spaghetti tonight.”
“Me too,” said the man.

What the fuck? Who talks about dinner at 9.30 in the morning? No fucker does. And where was that receptionist. She’s gone a long time. And there was thing on the wall up above the door to an office. What was that? It was flashing red every twenty seconds. I counted it. Red….one, two, three…twenty…red…I didn’t like it. It wasn’t a cool thing to have in an office. But the lady was right, it was warm in here. I was sweating more than ever. I began to feel faint. I needed some air, not that there would be much outside, but it would be better than the oven I was in right now. I strode over to the door and opened it and left, just as the receptionist came back to her desk and called my name. But it was too late, I was in no fit state to see anyone let alone take on board anything they might say to me. I rushed home and jumped in the shower to cool down and lay on my bed taking deep breaths.

Feeling better, I searched online for another financial advisor. One firm offered half-hour consultations. That’s all I needed. I had just the one question. I rang them up and booked an appointment for later that afternoon. The firm was called Dobbins and Dickshaft. What a name. It made me laugh and I felt more at ease. The two partners had a bunch of qualifications to their names. I decided to look them up to see what they meant. The qualifications were all legit. I then Googled the guys. Richard Dobbins existed. Had verifiable credentials, went to Uni and management school. Ian Dickshaft was also a real person. (I pitied his time in high school). He too was legit, from Perth. A good history of experience in finance.

My appointment was confirmed. It was going to be with Mr Dickshaft. Excellent. Psychologically it was good too. For me. Because I knew I might burst out laughing come the handshakes and introductions at his desk. The thought of laughing made me laugh. But I knew that would be rude. So going there knowing I mustn’t laugh gave me something to concentrate on. It didn’t always work, but it was a ploy that sometimes came off in times of high anxiety. Anticipating eventualities and outcomes gives me something to focus my mind on. Be one step ahead. It’s not something anyone taught me, I just came across the method myself by accident. But it takes a lot of effort, that’s why I don’t use it all the time. It’s quite restricting and uncomfortable when doing it.

But on this occasion I needed to know something urgently so it was worth the hassle of deploying some mental alacrity. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night or continue with my business without answering my question of security.

Thankfully they had air conditioning at Dobbins and Dickshaft’s office which made things a little more pleasant for me. Ian Dickshaft was also a very pleasant man and my fears of collapsing in a heap when he introduced himself never materialised. A small, bright-eyed man of 66 years with a sprout of white fluffy hair reminded me of my grandfather and that immediately took laughter from my soul. I loved my grandfather very much and if anything I had to stop myself from shedding a tear of remembrance when he stuck out his wrinkly hand across his walnut desk.

“Ian Dickshaft, what can I do you for?” he said with a gaiety that sprang forth from yesteryear. I took his soft warm hand and held it for a few seconds and stared at his sparkly blue eyes that were destined to shine for eternity.
He seemed to know what I was feeling.
“Ah,” he said, “don’t tell me, I remind you of your grandpappy, eh?”
I smiled and nodded my head.
“Don’t worry, I get that all the time. Makes up for the fact that I’m nobody’s grandpappy. My only daughter never married. Then she died.”
“Oh,” I said. “That’s too bad.” I was genuinely mortified.
“Yeah, way of the world, can’t be helped. So, I’m very pleased to be your grandpappy for the day Mark…well half an hour at least. What is it that you need?”
I sat down opposite this bright jolly orb of a fellow and sighed with relief. Grandpappy Dickshaft was going to be okay.
“It’s like this,” I said. “If I make a pile of money very quickly and put it in the bank, can it all be taken away from me by anyone?”
“Depends on whether it’s yours legally,” said Grandpappy.
“Oh it’s legal all right. I started a business and it started making money, large sums of money, very quickly. It just doesn’t seem real and I was worried someone might take it away.”
“Ah,” said Grandpappy Ian. “Cash, I take it?”
I nodded.
“Don’t worry. That’s a common concern with sudden wealth accumulation. Happens all the time. The only people who will want some is the tax man. As long as you play ball with him, then you have nothing to worry about. And of course the bank will take their cut as part of their services to you. The tax man and the bank. They are the only people who will be after some of your wealth by law. The rest is all down to you and what you do with it. As I say, as long as the money is yours by right and has not been stolen and likely to be subject to any future court proceedings or confiscation by law, then no one can touch it. No one at all. It is completely, one hundred percent yours.”

Music to my ears. The Beach Boys in fact, Good Vibrations. Grandpappy’s news surfed on my mind waves glistening in the sun like a thing beautific. It was then I really felt like I had a Julie to go home to. It felt like love. I was in love with my money. With white-haired Grandpappy Ian Dickshaft. With all the happy trippy punters who were buying Hektic Herbal. With all the store owners and staff who were selling it so magnificently. With whoever invented legal weed in the first place. With Elliott for showing me his bong. With my folks for leaving me to it. With myself for being such a genius. I was in love with everyone and everything at that particular moment. I was in love with that moment in time. But mostly I was in love with the cash I was making. And the knowledge that I had the potential to make a whole pile more.

This money was mine for as long as I was alive to use it and enjoy it. I suppose the feeling is akin to what it must be like winning the lottery all of a sudden. Coming into possession of vast wealth, it’s instantly life changing and it takes a while to get used to that fact. With money and lots of it you can do anything you want more or less.

In just eight months I had made one million dollars.
One million.
I was a millionaire.

I WANTED MORE

It wasn’t greed that spurred me on to up the ante and make more money; it was curiosity. I wanted to see just how far I could go with this. I had made a million dollars. That was enough to live on for the rest of my life. I’m not a greedy person. I’m more interested in boundaries and how they can be tested, expanded, explored. Life to me is a challenge. Every day I am never the same as the day before. I am different people at different times.

Sometimes I’m calm and lucid, other times I am a tightly wound coil of energy about to explode. Some days I don’t give a fuck about anything, other days I fret and agitate about the most stupidest things. But it’s all a part of me and I have got used to that. So greed is not part of my make-up. I haven’t got time to be greedy because that desire doesn’t hang around long enough for me to act upon it. I’m just as likely to give my money away on a whim, than go around obsessing about making more. But I do have time for exploration. I value my curiosity above all else. It’s what keeps me interested in life I think. That is why going to sea excited me at first and that allure was certainly sustained for some time over the five years.

I knew I had been lucky to some degree (although sometimes I did wonder whether it was God guiding me on this path?) and that fortune had favoured this particular being, but how long would that luck last (or God’s divination)? The answer came pretty soon after my latest bank statement dropped on the doormat confirming my new-found millionaire status. I spent a few minutes just looking at that statement, taking it all in. That sum on that piece of paper stating the fact, the very real, unassailable fact, that there was one million dollars sitting in my bank account in my name and it could only be touched by me (and the tax man and bank services guy).

What happened next was certainly to test my resolve.

It was a lovely morning. The sun was shining in through the little window in the Hernandez lock-up as I finished bagging a kilo of Hektic and I was even singing to myself such was my state of happiness. All of a sudden the space around me caved in, a dark grey cloud drowning my senses and a smack of foreboding struck me between the eyes like a bolt from a crossbow.

I decided to walk to the rendezvous I had planned that morning with one of my regulars – Havana Heaven – so as to ease my unease. The clouds were everywhere and I just knew something was going to go wrong that day, even at that very moment.
“Hi Jeff,” I said as cheerily as I could as I walked into the store. “How you doing?”
Jeff, in his gaudy Hawaiian shirt, came out a fake smile on his face.
“Hey, Mark, just the man I needed to see.”

He took my hand and shook it. I only half-heartedly repaid the gesture as handshakes were not part of my usual greeting process. I’m not keen on that familiarity or formality. It’s not needed and often it is misleading. Handshakes confuse me in truth. I don’t trust them. They can have the hiss of the snake about them. And some palms are awfully clammy. For fuck sake, you just don’t know where that hand has been just prior to it touching yours.
Jeff’s hand was a bit sweaty actually and I politely let go virtually on contact. My withdrawal seemed to put him instantly on edge too and he stepped back slightly flapping his arms around and clapping them together awkwardly.

“Heeeyyy, sooooo, what’s new then Mark?”
I eyed him unsteadily.
“Perhaps you should tell me?” I said quietly.
“Yes,” said Jeff, “perhaps I should. I do have news…and it’s not particularly good.”
Jeff scratched his forehead and shifted his stance.
“It’s like this Mark. Basically. Well. Uhm…how can I put it…?”
“You want out?”
“Yes…well no…but I have to, yes. It’s not my decision Mark, don’t get me wrong. I love dealing you, you’re product is a big hit and I’ve done well off it. I’ve had some very happy customers….but…”
“But what?”
“I had a visit from someone.”
“Cops?” I said a little too quickly.
“No, no,” said Jeff. “Nothing like that. It was The Finks.”

Now, when he said that, well I just knew this was the moment; the moment when everything was going to change for definite. New boundaries about to be placed, new challenges to be set-up, new avenues of business to explore. And The Finks no less. The fucking Finks. I had a feeling these guys would show up sooner or later. The famous, infamous, fucking Finks.

“So what did they want?” I said calmly but with a tinge of disappointment.
“They want me to stop selling your legal gear. It’s affecting their marijuana sales.”
“Ah. That figures. So what did you tell them?”
Jeff stammered out a throaty nervous giggle.
“I didn’t tell them anything. They demanded I stop.”
“So you won’t be wanting this kilo then?” I said raising my green Adidas hold-all.
Jeff pursed his lips together and stretched his arms out wide.
“What can I do Mark? I don’t have a choice. You know I don’t have a choice.”

He was right. I did know that. You don’t make enemies with any of the guys from the 1% Outlaw Motorcycle Club if you want to keep your body intact or remain breathing God’s clean air.

Even though I suspected something like this could happen – I had after all gone through various scenarios at times of levity when stood bagging up by Hektic – I wasn’t really prepared for it to become a reality.

“The fuckers,” I muttered coldly.
Jeff said nothing. Then as an after-thought. “I’m sorry, Mark. But you do understand, right?”
I didn’t say anything. I simply turned around and left the store.
“Hey,” said Jeff. “We’re still friends, right?”

I don’t know why but he acted as if he was as scared of me as he was The Finks. That’s the trouble when your reputation goes before you. I wouldn’t call myself scary, but some people do find me hard to interact with. Tales of my fearsome temper have often done the rounds and to be honest I was arrested and charged with assault on three occasions, though never found guilty but was convicted of an armed break and enter when I was 20. When you have that kind of past to your name it can make some people edgy.

I’m 28 years of age now. I went to Barker College, that private school, that fine upstanding establishment for education you need rich parents to get you in to. But no matter how fine the establishment it can’t do anything about your psychological make-up and mental health. I have always been subject to major depression and I have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I am a recovering alcoholic and have attempted suicide numerous times. I am incredibly bright but my mental illness gets in the way of me having a ‘normal’ life. I’ve spent about two years in mental health hospitals. I have a son who is three years old a partner who also has problems (massive anger issues and insecurities). We do not live together because we can’t live together.

I come from a very well off and successful family. My father is a financial Guru and advises federal treasury and is on the board of several companies. My mother is an ex lawyer now teacher. I have two brothers. One is two years older than me and works as a fund’s Manager. The other is two years younger than me and is a financial journalist. I have a sister who is 6 years younger than me; she’s at university. My whole family is Christian and attends church weekly. They are heavily involved in the church. All of them do readings and prayers in church. Some of them even play in the band. Safe to say, I do not.

The whole Christianity thing is not my bag at all. It’s not that I’m not religious or think it is rubbish or anything like that; I just don’t subscribe to that following. I don’t need it. Much the same as I don’t need recreational highs like marijuana. I get enough trips on my own without that shit. My mind takes care of that all by itself.

I love all my family to bits, it’s just that I don’t always get on with them that well at times. That is most of the time. I suffer bouts of high anger and become confrontational over the smallest matter. I make trouble out of nothing, for some reason. I don’t know why, it just happens. It’s been happening ever since I was quite small. No one has yet managed to tell me why it happens or how it can be stopped. The psychiatrists and psychologists are good at probing but all they offer are pills to curb the onslaught of my mania. That’s not much help really. If the brain doesn’t want to work properly then it won’t, that’s my deduction.

I was five years-old when my parents first became aware of just how demonic I could be. It was like that, shades of the devil’s rage popping up out of nowhere, but emanating from the fires of inner hell. I could be incredibly violent and show no restraint whatsoever. My younger brother felt it a few times. The first few times no one else was there to witness the attacks – only my younger brother who would have a cut on his head or bad bruises to his arms or legs or stomach or horrible scathing scratch marks to his back.

Then one day it happened when my mother walked into the room to check on us. I was throwing toy bricks at my kid brother, but not just throwing them, I was chucking them as hard as I could. I was a premier league baseball pitcher. My brother was screaming in pain and had nowhere to turn to as he was backed up into a corner. I think I had even told him to go and stand there. I ordered him to. I demanded it. He went and stood in the corner. I showered him with bullets of hard wood. I think I was enjoying the pain he was feeling. That was the point of it. I wanted to make him hurt because the pain he felt cut into me with each slam of a brick. I was eating it up. I was enjoying causing the pain, having the power to make him pained and I wanted to feel it and feed off it. It was something I needed. I had to have it. Not all the time. They call me the black sheep of the family, but I prefer the black panther. My deadliness is sleek. Uncompromising.

I think I get that from my parents, especially my father. It is his uncompromising stance that has got him to where he is today, flying high in business, mixing with the good ol’ boys in various rooms of financial affairs along government corridors, welcoming party bigwigs to the home for lavish $10,000 a head soirees (no, not the Hamish variety, there were never any legal highs going around at these fund-raising jamborees as far as I was aware) and generally making a name for himself and piles of cash to boot. Well, maybe not cash exactly, the sums he makes are all digitally enhanced from one bank to another to another to another ad infinitum. I can’t recall the last time I saw dad with a dollar bill in his hand or heard a hard as nickel coin jangling in his blazer pocket. His loot was all transmitted by plastic.

ZING! ZING! ZING!

He had been singing for a long time; his own number one mega hit tune all of his own devising. Listen to those chord changes. Sweet music, eh pops? Oh to be like you dad. In fact, that really was my main motivation in life – to make more money than my dad. That may sound a bit puerile, but I think that, deep down, that has been my driving force through this episode. To get richer than my father. And do it quicker. He had done it the hard way, years of academy training, financial learning, trial and error, junior posts, internships, part time work, self-employment, until finally he managed to get a serious foothold on the goldrung ladder and move his way up through stealth, hard-hard work, insanely bonkers long hours of sweaty-office toil and shit, until his name now became synonymous with the pinnacle of high flying achievement.

Until discovering the wealth potential from the supply and distribution of legal weed I was very much all at sea.

After those largely unprovoked attacks on my little brother when I was 5 years-old, my parents began to keep a closer eye on me and I was never left alone with him or my sister when she came on the scene a few years later or if I was through sheer necessity if mother or father were unavoidably detained or called away, it was never for very long and my older brother would be called in to act as chief warder.
I didn’t tend to explode with my older brother as he was usually occupying himself with his friends, so we were hardly ever alone together. The odd time when I did flare up with him I usually came off worse. He was a lot stronger than me and could put me down without too much bother.
The black panther in me was still there.

The panther analogy by the way is largely apt. The black panther is a solitary, opportunistic, stalk-and-ambush predator at the top of the food chain. It has an exceptionally powerful bite. It can pierce the shells of armoured reptiles and it possesses an unusual killing method: it bites directly through the skull between the ears to deliver a fatal bite to the brain. The black panther is threatened by extinction. Threats include loss and fragmentation of habitat. The black panther is a solitary creature outside mother–cub groups. It is usually referred to as nocturnal, but peak activity typically takes place around dawn and dusk (when I am at my best). Its’ elusive nature make it a difficult animal to sight, let alone study.

I am the black panther, man, oh yeah.

That’s not why I ended up in a mental hospital for two years, I hasten to add. I did not go around on all fours blacked-up to the hilt roaring at people and sinking my teeth into the tops of heads of random strangers. No that would be truly mad and I am not that kind of loon.
My lunacy is more of the internalised personal kind. In a way I am metaphorically prone to sinking my teeth into my own skull and piercing my own brain with my own bites of anger, though an anger that is largely phantasmagorical. I roar at myself from within and the roar echoes through my head, at times perpetually, for hours and hours at a time. This is when it really drags. I know the roaring will cease, eventually, until next time, but the period of waiting for it to go feels a lifetime in duration.

So. Back at Jeff’s Havana Heaven. I didn’t reply to Jeff’s question as I left his shop and maybe closed the door too vociferously. I was too disappointed with the fucking bikies to be bothered with Jeff’s insecurity. My mind was already working away on what to do next. Remember, I wasn’t being greedy when I set out to make more money from selling legal highs. My motivation was to see how far I could go. Well now, things had changed again with Jeff telling me about The Finks and a new determination took hold of me. Protection of my business. I hated bikies and I didn’t like the way they ran around thinking they could do anything they liked, using intimidation as a tool. It’s not cricket, is it? Having them come on the scene like that, threatening poor Jeff, an honest businessman like myself, well I kind of felt aggrieved. I wasn’t going to let these fucker Finks piss all over me. I was going to stand my ground. I wanted my business to grow so they would lose money from selling their illegal drugs. This, if it succeeded, would be a great way to prove a point. To beat the bikies and their illegal game with a legal one of my own would be absolute bliss. So good I’d be pissing bliss.
I know I just said I hated all bikies, but there was a time when I used to be friends with one. He was a member of a 1% outlaw motor cycle club. Jason. I set off to find him because I thought he might want to help. I knew that once word got out that I wasn’t backing down, that I was not scared of them, that would annoy them and they would target me and maybe try and kill me. I needed back up and Jason would be ideal.

I was going to go home and stash my wares, but then changed my mind. Instead I went to the Ace of Spades tattoo shop. It was run by an outlaw motorcycle club, The Rebels. The same club that Jason belonged to.

I walked in and saw three hairy bikies sitting in a row reading books. They turned as one to watch me walk in. They looked the spitting image of ZZ Top. Long beards, shades. Big. I didn’t stare at them for too long, not from fear of upsetting them but fear of bursting out laughing. I turned my attention to the tattooed woman behind the counter flipping a magazine, her ample cleavage sat across the bottom of the pages almost spilling out. She was chewing gum like a cow. She looked up from the magazine.
“G’day,” she said.
“Hi,” I replied.
“What would ya like handsome?”
“Huh? Oh, nothing. I was just looking for someone. An old friend.”
I turned quickly to find the hairy bikies staring at me, then look down at the green Adidas hold-all. I glanced down too.
“Bowling,” I said matter of factly.
Not interested in that, the bikies went on reading their books. I think one of them was Cinderella (the book that is), but that couldn’t possibly be right, unless it was some sort of mad fiction about a pryromaniac chick who goes around burning all kindsa shit wherever she may be.
“What’s their name?” the gum lady said.
“Jason. He’s one of you.”
She was perplexed. “Huh?”
“A Rebel.”
“Oh. Right.”
“Is there anyone here who could tell me where to find him? I haven’t seen him for some time, not sure where he hangs out these days.”
“Yeah, maybe, I’ll go have a look,” said the chewing cow lady. She left her daytime reading and went through a door, the sound of a television suddenly blasting in as she went out. It was something grungy.

A few seconds later the woman came back followed by a big man in a cut-off denim jacket and bulging biceps, tats all up both arms, long hair in a pony tail, stubble on his chin, a bruise covering most of his left eye.
He nodded a brief cursory greeting.
“Hi. I’m looking for Jason. Jason Parker? I’m an old pal,” I said. “From school days.”
“Jason never went to school,” the bruiser bikie muttered instantly in a tone that reeked of suspicion.
“I meant college. Barker’s.”
“Oh yeah, right. Parker the Barker we used to call him. He was barking too. Nothing but trouble. Couldn’t stop getting into fights, even with his own patch. Sad, very sad. We had to kick him out. He was just too much hassle. You know what I mean? You’re trying to have a friendly game of cards or pool or fool around with the babes and he’s always kicking off about something. Always got something to moan about. It was getting on everybody’s nerves. So one day we’d all had enough and tossed him out on his ear. He tried to get back in steaming and thumping everything and everyone in sight we had no choice but to duff him up pretty bad. I think that message got through to him. No idea what happened to him, though we did have to keep watch on the club house for the next year in case he tried to trash the place. He was a bit feisty to say the least.”

“Ah,” I said flatly, but I knew what he meant. I think was that shared abruptness of rage that we had in common. “That’s a shame,” I continued. “I was hoping he could help me. I’m having trouble with some friends of yours – The Finks.”

That got his interest and he ushered me to continue.

“Can we go somewhere quieter? It’s kind of a private matter.”

The bruiser bikie led me out to the backyard. In the shade of a cherry blossom I recounted my story, well an edited version, I didn’t tell him how much I was making. I made out I hadn’t long started but that there was good profit in it already. I told him I had shifted fifty kilos in two months and how much I was making per kilo (with a bit shaved off). I told him The Finks were muscling in on my business and were threatening my contacts, that they were rattled because my sales of legal highs were cutting in on their sales of illegal weed.

“That’s very interesting,” said the bruiser bikie. “Legal weed huh? How does that work then?”
I opened my hold-all and pulled out a bag.
“Try it for yourself.”
He undid the seal, took a sniff, seemed to think that was okay, then touched it with his fingers and rubbed it and that too seemed okay. Then he rolled a joint using some papers from his denim jacket and lit up. The hit was instant, just as ol’ Junkhead had proclaimed it could be and the bruiser bikie was sold.
“Whooah, that’s wicked.”
“No,” I corrected him. “It’s Hektic.”

The bikie bruiser guffawed loudly and slapped me on the back. “I like your style. So what are you after?”
“I’m after a partner. I’m not going to let the Finks do me over. I need back-up.”
The bikie beamed. “I’m just the guy,” he said. He wanted in.
“Cool,” I said without trepidation. “My name’s Mark.”
“Hamish.”

We shook on the partnership (for once I was happy to put up with clamminess or piss or whatever else was on Hamish’s hand) and we were all set to roll, though little did we know what would be our fates just a few months later. I mentioned greed earlier. Hamish became greedy. If he hadn’t he might still be here making a decent income from his 10%. It’s not as if he did that much. He was mainly muscle and messenger, helping to keep things smooth with The Rebels. I was still the main importer and chief-bagger-upper of the hash. It was even harder work than when I began, but I just couldn’t bear letting go of any aspect of the business. I didn’t want to involve any more people. Hamish was a necessity that could not be overlooked. Cheap labour I could not trust. No thank you. I would put in the hours and reap all the rewards, well 90% of them, which was fine by me.

Besides, I reckoned that coming against The Finks could be problematic and possibly dangerous (to put it mildly) so involving any innocent bystanders didn’t seem very fair to me. I wouldn’t want the deaths of a dozen Phillipino’s on my hands. Imagine the scene, it would be like a set from Apocalypse Now, twelve screaming migrants fleeing from Mr and Mrs Hernandez’s blazing fire-bombed lock-up their hair and clothes a mass of flames, me pulling up in my tuk-tuk trying to douse everyone with my tiny hand-held fire extinguisher!

No, The Finks in their distinctive black leather waistcoats, crew cut hair and jeans were not to be taken lightly so keeping the business a one-man (and fractional partner) operation was the best course of action. The Finks, by the way, were founded in 1969, so they were no laughing matter, even though their name emanates from the Wizard of Id cartoon and their logo depicts Bung, the king’s jester and their motto is ‘Attitude Violence.’ It was a running gag of the Wizard of Id cartoon that the peasants would often exclaim, “The King is a fink!” Oddly though the word ‘fink’ means ‘someone who betrays his or her associates, as an informer.’ Unusual name then for a motorcycle club. But they’ve been around for the best part of 45 years, so I guess you could say they have had the last laugh – though their levels of violence is nothing to joke about.

They can certainly be intimidating…

**

The Gallery
By
Mitch Wicking

His name was Thor Ruefmeck. You’re thinking Norwegian right? Maybe Swedish? Sounds like it, but no. Scottish. Through and through. I only found that out right near the end, though I was quick to realise his name spelt ‘Motherfucker’ if you played around a bit with the letters. The one thing I did know about him for sure, straight away, was that he was coming for me. That was understandable.

When you wake up one morning and find a young woman in your bed, a sheet covering her lithe nubile body mottled in red splodges like a Jackson Pollock abstract, and then discover she has been stabbed repeatedly with a fork probably in some mad blind frenzy, that you appear to have her blood on your hand, you kind of feel that you deserve to be found.

If it was me, fair enough.

The trouble is I don’t remember doing it. I don’t do drugs and I usually stay the right side of inebriated to remember most things. But I do tend to faint a lot. I get SAD quite bad. I get immensely moody and then it makes me feel slightly aggressive. Then I faint. And wake up next to dead bodies.
So as you can see, it looks like I’m guilty, and I would gladly make that plea, but I can’t confess because it doesn’t quite seem right to do so. Not yet.
But here once more is another one.

I wake up lying next to her. And I do remember going to bed with her. And I remember the sex; that she was good at it, for one so young. Was she 15? I don’t recall, but she looked it now, her face that is. So very young. But age takes a back seat sometimes when the urge arises, no matter who is doing the arousing.

I remember a lot about that night actually. It had been raining continually for three days, that incessant pounding on the streets, like artillery, relentlessly drubbing the pavement with its repetitive rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat, all day long, a morbid grey tattoo of military style heaviness, dour, turgid and laden with doom. There’s no glory here. Just grey water running everywhere turning the landscape dishwater brown.

The three days leading up to the thundering downpour were bad enough, black and sullen, the impending assault on my senses lining up from above waiting to piss on me from this great height with something I discerned as glee. It’s like a bully, the way it comes for me, the way it lies in wait. It knows you’re on the way down. You know it is coming. There’s nothing you can do about it.
(Except move to Spain of course. It’s what I was planning to do. I’m saving up.)

What normally happens is this: the odour of the huge black sky of soot gradually seeps into me the longer it hangs around, drifting towards me like I’m some sort of magnet it can’t avoid. Then it seeps under my skin like a festering sore, this cloud of deathness beginning to take hold of me from inside, burrowing ever deeper, gripping all my sinews with malicious greed and my mood begins to swollen up like the thickest rope man has ever made with his bare hands.

Then I usually hit the bottle. But I’m not fussy, whatever comes to hand will do. It doesn’t help much of course, but it makes everything seem a little warmer in a fuzzy kind of way. I keep drinking steadily, matching the black clouds for time, they swirl around, I take a gulp, it’s a drinking contest with only one winner but I play every time. It’s not about losing. It’s about surviving, maybe.

I took to the streets on this particular evening. I’d been drinking all day and not been outside yet. I needed some air and by then I didn’t care about the rain anymore because I was pretty certain how the night was going to end – no not me killing a girl – that I would fall into my spiral of imminent unconsciousness and be saved for the time being from this strange sun-less hell. And hopefully the rain will have dissipated and some semblance of normality would return to me.

I didn’t know where I was going come to think of it. I just left my ground floor flat and headed off up the road where the street lights were vanishing into the black night, disappearing as if into a black hole. I was the only soul out as far as I could see. The rain was all over the place doing a kind of manic breakdance spitting its wetness in every direction as its good pal the Wind joined in for an impromptu ballroom blitz, taking the rain by the hand, throwing its gleeful partner this way and then that, a Danse Macabre Saint Saens would be proud of.

Head bowed, bent forward, I stumbled through the stinging slanting rain as each drop arrowed down on me as if shot from a thousand archers on the ramparts. It’s only then I realised I wasn’t wearing a coat. Nor trousers. No wonder the rain was stinging. But I had remembered to put my Hush Puppies on, though there wasn’t much point to that as my feet soon became encased in their own private indoor swimming pools. I remember laughing to myself as I squelched my way into the black hole that lay outstretched before me. It was like walking into Narnia’s wardrobe, only there were no coats or closet warmth.

And then there it was emerging through the cold ink like some homage to a seedy British horror flick, The Pigeon’s Arms, the ghastliest pub in town and probably anywhere in the world. It appeared through the gloom in all its pebble-dashed tattiness as if just for me and that seemed so very apt. I scoffed as I glanced up at the sign swinging haphazardly in the windy rain, the rough hand-painted sign of a whistling pigeon with its cheeks puffed out adding to the air of personal malevolence.

Stood there sopping wet in my white T shirt, white boxer’s and Hush Puppies I became fascinated by the erratic pendulum precision of the sign as it squeaked and squawked on its one bolt holding it to the nobbly grey wall about to come crashing down at any second. And I was convinced I could hear the tune the pigeon was whistling. It had to be Good King Wenceslas, it just had to be. I so hoped it was, and of course there was no one to say it wasn’t, so I howled as I confirmed the title of the song to myself and gave myself a million dollars for getting it right.

But that reward was quickly snatched back as a car races through a puddle splashing me up the legs. Enraged I snarl and shake my fist at the car as it fades into the blackness and a dozen people seem to be laughing at me but I can’t see a soul anywhere.

Still snarling I seek solace in The Pigeon’s Arms and am immediately blinded by the hideous brightness of the interior lighting. Rubbing my eyesight back into focus with my palms it becomes quickly apparent this is one of those pub’s the big brewers left behind. It’s an absolutely soulless shit hole, with all the charm and personality of a disused army barracks, this place surely didn’t have long to live.

“Who are you?” I said as I approach the bar maid.
“Phyliss,” she says. “Phyliss Glassup.”
I snort.
“You’re having me on.”
“You’ve not got much on,” says Phyliss looking me up and down. “Stag do?”
“I prefer venison, is that on the menu.”
Phyliss laughs.
“What is your pleasure?”
“That would be telling. But I’ll have a San Miguel please Phyliss.”
Phyliss opens a bottle and passes it to me. I take a sip.
“Ah, the best beer in Spain.”
“It’s actually brewed in Dagenham,” says Phyliss.

Talk about deflating. I must have looked surly then because Phyliss pulls a mock-sorry face and I go and sit as far away from her as possible with my two friends San Miguel and Melancholy Mood.

I find a half-eaten fake-wood vinyl-topped table on rusty metal legs and ease myself onto the long black plastic-covered seat that runs across the entire length of the pock-marked white wall. The seat is really sticky. I start to wonder how many sweaty bums have sat here, seeping sweat from the underpants of blokes through their jeans and slacks, the clammy wetness of panties from young girls in short skirts; of what else might this tackiness consist of.

I can see Phyliss trying to stare at me furtively.
“I can see you!” I shout suddenly making her look away quickly. The cheeks on my face begin to twitch. They like doing that, the cha-cha-cha, when other parts of my body are feeling stressed and distressed. Bit like this pub, it has the distressed look but not in that poncey Katy Allsop make-over way. This is genuine distress, this furniture, these walls, the whole pub is crying out to be put to sleep for good. For fuck sake, knock us down, put us out of our misery, build an Asda!

I look down at the seat that spreads around me like it has the plague. Tufts of yellow foam sprout everywhere from a variety of different sized splits in the plastic, in fact this plastic is so cheap it’s as if it isn’t plastic at all, it’s just pretending to be. In fact things seem to be sprouting all over the place like old potatoes; where the walls have been kicked from countless brawls there’s tufts of sprouting cladding; the dartboard of a trillion games since 1930 is sprouting tufts of fibre in the numbers 2, 8, 12, and 18 (a pattern perhaps?); the ceiling panels of black-holed asbestos are dropping here and there with bits of dated wiring sprouting out; and the pool table is sprouting tufts of underlayer through the ripped green baise as if has a team of moles acting as ball boys. But these sprouts are not a sign of selfreproduction; these are not darling buds of May. These sprouts are going nowhere, they lead to nothing, they are a symbol of unrepentant decay.

I look around and half expect tumbleweed to come rolling through the toilet doors. But it doesn’t of course, that would be silly. I look down at the seat I am sat on and realise what the yellow sprouting foam reminds me of:

“Hey, Phyliss,” I yell, did you know your seats are oozing pus?!”

Phyliss smiles weakly and pours herself a stiff drink just as the young girl comes falling in through the main entrance. She’s as pissed as Keith Floyd, but Phyliss doesn’t mind, she is glad to have more company.

“Bacardi breezer, please luv. Make it two,” says Cindy.
Phyliss hands Cindy the bottles. Cindy downs the first in one go and nearly keels over from the impact.
“Easy dear.”
“Who told you I was easy? Well I don’t care. What else is there?”

Cindy glances my way and smiles in mock-coy fashion. Phyliss becomes nervous but Cindy is already hooked by my mania and I find her kind of pretty in her chubby-puppy formation.

Phyliss did her best to make Cindy stay at the bar, bless her.

“Do you like my beer mats and coloured straws?” she says. “What about my cheese, does it smell all right?”
But Cindy wants to meet the odd-looking guy in the corner. With Bacardi Breezer in hand, Cindy moves on.
“No, wait…” Phyliss mutters. “Stay…”

But Cindy is gone. She staggers over and sits opposite me. From out of nowhere the disco classic The Birdie Song starts to play (it must have been the house theme tune) but instead of cheering me up it further adds to my gloom.
“Who the b’Jesus put this fucking shite on?!”

It’s the worst fucking song (if that is the right word) man, woman and child has ever had to endure in two thousand years of living, best suited to cave men in its puerile simplistic idiocy, in fact I can just see cave men coming up with it one night around the camp fire after a good helping of woolly mammoth and whatever they got pissed on, stupid grins on their faces as they created the actions and arm movements and arse wiggles.
Arse.

I get up and stagger to the wall-mounted jukebox and try to kick it but it is too high. I give up after one attempt and slump back to my seat. Cindy studies my face and seems to like what she sees even more. I catch a glimpse of myself in the large wall mirror opposite but struggle to recognise the face looking back.

“Do you think I look like Norman Tebbit?”
“Who’s he play for?”
“The devil. But if ever there was a man who looked like he’d had his soul sucked from his body with a high-powered Dyson, Tebbit’s yer man.”
“Yer what?”
“A right fucking ball-bag!”

Cindy is puzzled, she laughs. I look her up and down. I give her a wink. Cindy repays the compliment – only she doesn’t do it very well and winks with both eyes at once.

“Hey, you know what?” she says.
“What?”
“I like doing it best in the shower.”
“Really?”

I stare at Cindy with twisted smile and bulging eyeballs and it seems to excite her even more. She pouts amateurishly and leans towards me. I lean toward her.

“Prooove it,” I say.

Cindy downs her drink and heads for the door. She stops and strikes a saucy pose, pointing her bum at me, raising her impossibly short skirt even higher to reveal she is not wearing any pants. She wiggles her ample arse like Marilyn Monroe.

My eyes widen and I don’t bother finishing my drink. I rise from the table, my leery gaze fixed on the girl’s enticing posterior.

“Jesus Christ, what a derriere! I’m going to make that my first port of call!”
Cindy giggles and I put my hand to my mouth in mock embarrassment.

It all gets a bit hazy now. Somehow we made it back to my place through the incessant rain after picking up a Chinese takeaway and some more beers en route. We ate the food, drank the booze, Cindy stripped off so I could paint her picture, she making all sorts of erotic poses. Then there’s the steam and clothes on the floor in the bathroom, Cindy proving she was good in the shower, Cindy’s enticing ass then we fall naked into bed together, the sex is wild, I climax twice, maybe three times.

And then come the sounds. It is these that start to worry me. Grotesque noises that don’t seem right for normal love-making, sounds like a wild animal, a wailing, grunting, alien pig and is that a howl, like some crazy Somerset werewolf? That’s all I have, these ghastly, horrible sounds in my head, no pictures. Nothing at all.

Until that is, the fork. An ordinary kitchen fork. It’s in one hand. The other is over the girl’s mouth. Fork in left hand. Right hand over mouth. Hand with fork coming down…

And there it is, the murder weapon – the dinner fork. It has landed in the tin foil debris of the Chinese meal. I feel sick. The bloodied fork has merged with the leftovers of sweet and sour pork. Another plate beside it has another fork on it, licked clean.

Suddenly I am blinded. A blast of sunlight comes scorching through the top of the threadbare curtains and gleams off the metal fork right in to my eyes.

On feeling the sun on my skin, my eyes pop open and I spring off the bed like a startled kitten.

“About bloody time too!”

I scamper to the bedroom window, tripping over my shoes and underwear, and grab the curtains, flinging them aside – but too forcefully. The drapes, rails and bits of wall come crashing to the floor.

Do I care, do I fuck. I just want to see and feel that sunlight. It hits me in the face like a hot brick and sucks my breath away.

“Yes, yes, come to me, come to me, you rays of delicious joy!”

I throw my head back joyously as the sun bathes my body and it tingles with glowing health – but the ecstasy is quickly shattered by a hideous scream that erupts outside.

And there she is, the extremely white-haired and haughty-looking Lady Philomena Prunedshrub with mouth agape, staring at my nakedness. By her side, on the end of a lead, is a gaggle of wriggling ferrets.

As I open my eyes I see Lady Prunedshrub staring back at me, eyeball to bollock-ball. I jump with horror and bounce to the left out of view. But my joy at seeing the sun again can not be diminished; it is like the return of loved one who has gone missing for 10 days, kidnapped by some heinous scumbag.

“Oh sweet sunshine, where have you been?”

I bite my lip, ponder my next move…