No fucking milk in the fridge again. Or anything in the fridge. Humanities graduates shouldn't live like this, thought Credence. Or feel like this. Sickness knocking, soon be clucking. Could things be worse?
His phone rang. Dragging it from a charity-shop trench-coat dressing-gown, Crede prayed for a merciful angel.
"Hi darling; Charmian. Feeling yucky? God, I know. Might play hooky from the office. Boss is in Milan and I have his Lexus to play with, tee-hee. Well, I am his P.A... Pretty Arse and all that."
"I get the picture. What's up, Charm?"
"Just wondering, how much would a teenth of each be?"
"Teenth of each? Maybe...could be a hundred-fifty. But Charm..."
"I'm in. Look, I've done some chip-chop with petty cash, so there's a hundred for the kitty. You bell one of your dodgy mates and get us sorted."
"Hum. Might be possible, but..."
"We'll hook up later and have a fucking nice time."
When it came to dodgy mates, Goley's name came to mind. Credence wasn't sure what he thought of Goley. Apart from suspecting he might become Goley in a matter of time.
"Hi Goley. Only Crede. How you doing, mate?"
"Fuck. Just woke up. Er, shit, really."
"Well, me and Charm are hoping you could sort something out again. Square you up, course. Like, teenth of each?"
"Yeah, no doubt. We'll head to Merry. Fucking tasty gear up there."
"Merry? What's that?"
"Merrywell Gardens Housing Estate. Hard Drugs R Us."
"Okay, I'll get the readies sorted and we'll take a wander there."
"Take a wander? Ha-ha, you can't be serious. Very bad idea. No, get some wheels and text back. Merrywell Gardens isn't a place to be strolling about, know what I mean?"
Credence knew. He dialled Charmian to ask about the insurance policy on her boss's Lexus...
Shorty after, Charmian handed Credence car-keys and cash with a shaky, skinny arm.
"Look, I don't have a fucking clue about insurance, but if you prang that car, I'll lose my job. And my home, too. I'm already behind on the mortgage. You will be careful, darling?"
Big shrug from Credence. She didn't ask for the keys back.
Goley was barred from the cafe; he sat outside by a bin until pick-up.
Settling in, he rummaged the owner manual from the glove box to build a joint on, irritating Crede.
"Don't know if we can smoke in this car."
"Don't know if I give a fuck. By the way, we'll need to be on red alert. Merry can be like, mental. Bit random, full-on. Shit happens and it happens there. Let's be on our toes."
Goley assured a nervous Credence that it should be cool, if they were cool. He made calls from Crede's phone, then knuckle-bumped his shoulder.
"Yesss. Game on, son, game on."
By the time they were sitting in a high-rise flat, Credence had completely lost orientation. Many twists and turns, driving and walking, then stairs, all concrete.
A woman of around thirty had let them in, then slumped in a sofa chair. She had matted birds-nest hair and wore a short dressing gown. Patterned tights sheathed her legs, ending in four-inch heels. Patent black with a glittery ankle band, like a posh cat's collar. Following a ladder back up her calf, Credence saw she had clocked his gaze, her mouth twisting with moody calculation.
A man abruptly strode in, ducking the door lintel.
"Raleigh. Alright, Goley?"
Goley hastened to introduce Credence as a good mate, long known and well solid.
Raleigh gave a thumbs-up. He wore Magnum Hi-Tech training boots, black FUBU sweatpants and a gunmetal bomber jacket, XXL. Bumping fists with his guests, he landed in a battered PVC recliner, nodding toward the woman.
"This is Polly. The one and only Polly Jean Harvey."
Interested, Crede turned to greet Polly, who kissed her teeth and sneered at the men.
"Don't be a fucking knob."
Ral laughed and turned his attention to a large TV which sat on it's own box. There were many such boxes around. Apart from the sofa set and recliner, there was no other furniture or décor. Devices were connected to the television, satellites and things. Even the rubbish-strewn coffee table was a packing box, Zanussi.
The TV was showing tennis. They watched the ball thwack around while blue-grey smoke poured off cigarettes. A doorbell ding-donged, ignored in the hall.
Inclining his head to the television, Ral glanced at Credence.
"Bag of sand on Federer, me."
Credence gathered Ral was claiming to have bet £1000 on Federer to win.
"Not really, cunt's losing. So, what can I do for you, mate?"
Relieved to get down to biz, Crede explained he wanted a sixteenth of brown, same of rock. Raleigh laid it out. Yeah, it would be £150 - change goes in the charity box, ha-ha - and it wasn't far away, with an associate who would be available in half an hour. But the bloke doesn't drive, so Ral would take Crede's car and money, then return to supply the guys, right? Sweet as...
Crede's heart sank but no surprise. This was typical. The bullshit hadn't stopped since starting hard drugs.
How did he start hard drugs, again? Must have been, what, years ago. Second year at uni, bunch of them went for parachute jumps. Lot of fun, but the euphoria wore off and the pub vibe later was depressing. Credence noticed a curly-haired dude looking pretty washed-out, too. This person was so excited earlier, before the jump. Like a kid at Christmas, almost delirious. Credence started chatting.
"Quite a buzz, eh?"
"What? Oh, the jump."
The guy smiled with wry nostalgia, as though the jump happened in a misspent youth, not that morning.
"Yeah, I was well tuned up. Coke. Hey, still got some left. Fancy a charge in the bogs?"
Why not? Crede imagined a line of Charlie on porcelain. In the cubicle though, Curly leveled a citreous glass pipe at his new friend's jaw. Eyes big with conspiracy and mischief, he poised a tiny blowtorch at the bowl.
"Suck 'till I pull away."
Credence did, heart skittering with trepidation, then braced back against the wall. His mind suddenly went to four, five, nearly six dimensions, jaw locked so tight he couldn't voice a Holy Fuck, cheeks aching from maniacal grinning.
Curly readied a pipe for himself. Glanced at Crede and chuckled.
"Ha-ha, your face! Cheshire Cat, man. Classic. No worries...got some gear we can toot for the comedown."
From there to here. Credence stuttered a formal protest. Of course he knew it would be sweet and didn't mean offence, but it wasn't his car to lend, wasn't even all his money, and...
Raleigh endured this stoically, one eye on Federer as Credence rambled on. Which was pretty decent, really. He could have acted outraged, complained that whoever Credence was, he'd come to Raleigh's flat with the loser Goley, expecting Ral to do favours and run around for them, his slut and gadgets left at their mercy, and now this shit?
Instead, he waited for Crede to trickle out. Then reached over, palm up.
"Keys and dough."
Resigned, Credence tried not to get tense, think negative. Before Raleigh could depart on his mission, the doorbell began ding-donging like crazy. Then a steady thwack thwack on the door.
Swearing, Ral told Polly to see to it. She tutted and tottered into the hall.
Before Raleigh finished shouting to not let that cunt in, a little man entered the room to stare at Raleigh, who lumbered up frowning and growly.
No response. Credence didn't know what to make of Tane. This un-remarkable runt wore old clothes, not middle-class charity-shop discards but the cheapest mismatched sportswear. Typical inconspicuous marginal type, Crede reckoned. But there was a strange vibe to this one...
Tane noticed Credence too, advanced a measured step with gaze held steady. A twitch of a smile...and what's with those eyes? Not 'hard' like Raleigh's, whose visage now wilted anyway. No, in droopy lids Tane's black eyes seemed burnt. Or burning. The goblin drawled a challenge.
"Yeah, mate? Yeah?"
Credence sat transfixed. He felt giddy, gooey with butterflies, almost giggling. Mastering reaction, forcing his feet to not flee, Credence found himself full of fear. He'd been on edge already, but this creature was another level.
Raleigh recovered some poise and stepped between them fast. Tane didn't flinch, just spacey-stared through Ral's chest.
"Fuck's sake, Tane. Look, all that shit before...not my fault, man. I'll see you right. Going to pick up in a bit. Drop by later for a burn. It's cool."
Ten seconds passed. Tane turned to leave with a chilly smirk.
"Take a fuck to yourself."
The front door slammed. Once Goley had been sent to ensure Tane wasn't lurking, everyone breathed out. Raleigh shook his head and turned to leave.
"Fucking psycho, that kid. Back in a bit."
Kid? Credence wouldn't have taken Tane for a youth. True, he looked under-formed, skin pale and tight. Bad diet or something.
Everyone settled in to wait and pass dead time. Federer lost. The door chimed constantly, maddeningly. People began whistling and warbling through the letter box. Sounded like sunrise in the bloody Amazon. Occasionally, Polly poked her head in the hall, shouting to return in an hour.
Two hours passed. Polly had an idea.
"Something to eat, boys?"
They shrugged, and she used Crede's phone to order pizzas. Her monologue got ever more bizarre, one pump jiggling as she warmed to her role. Eventually, everyone realised she was only pretending. Not that anyone cared. They knew her drama was just anxiety. Raleigh shouldn't have been away this long. Credence focused on not going mad. Eventually, unlikely messengers arrived to cut his sinking heart from it's last moorings. End his misery with a mercy shot, the coup-de-grace.
Two teenage girls managed to gain entry, beside themselves with excitement. Polly nodded permission to speak and the news burst out.
"Wow. Tane got Ral! Opened the car and stabbed his neck with a bottle. Pulled him out, went through his pockets. Then drove away!"
The other girl nodded agreement, scrunchied ponytail swishing against pink plastic puffa-jacket, squealing as she mimed a jugular gusher.
Polly and Goley didn't seem to believe it. Crede did. He'd known all along something like this would happen. All along.