“There's a problem with the drain.” Lee's words rolled out with purpose and a casual, direct precision as he exited the bathroom. Unfortunately his wide eyes and upside down smile betrayed his deceit.
“We did wonder what that awful smell was. I've never smelt anything like it before. Quite horrendous!” the woman said.
She placed a cupped hand over her nose. Obviously disgruntled, the action accentuated her eyes. They were big and green—like a still, murky, autumn pond. Lee noticed a diamond wedding ring adorning her long, slender finger. Her hands looked like fine porcelain. She's never done a days work in her life, thought Lee. Her feet were petite, perhaps size 4. Lee didn't like girls with big feet; they reminded him of his first proper girlfriend, Rachel. She had bigger feet than he did, even back then, and danced like an idiot. I bet this lady can dance, thought Lee as he envisioned the woman gyrating her hips suggestively to a hard drum beat and throbbing bass line.
The smell had transformed the quaint Swiss apartment into a rotting dungeon of deviance. Lee felt utterly ashamed and embarrassed. If he were an Ostrich, he'd be face down in deep contemplation, his head buried in shame and guilt neatly and deeply entombed in sand.
“I think we should have the meeting in the coffee shop downstairs, no?” Sandrine said with both her hands held out in front of her, palms facing the sky. Lee thought it made her look as if she were praying to a god.
Medusa's feet were slightly bigger than Sandrine's. Possibly size 5? thought Lee. He could imagine them bound tightly, Chinese style. Somewhere deep down within, a welling surge of sexuality percolated.
As the impure thoughts streamed through his consciousness, Medusa turned and faced him. The look on her face made him feel as if she could read his mind. Her hair reminded him of Anna Wintour from Vogue magazine. Neat and severe. Her glance was frightening, vicious even. It penetrated him like a 9mm slug. The impact made Lee's head ping just as the shiny silver bell on a hotel reception desk. For one millisecond he could feel her eyes actually underneath his, scraping the lining out of his iris, stealing his vision, taking his world and making it hers.
Sandrine led with some urgency, ushering the feline Medusa out the door. Her eyes stayed with Lee even after she'd gone.
“I'll be down in two minutes.” Lee's statement was half hearted; he tossed it out like a piece of rubbish.
A muggy pedestal of panic circled its way around his bloodstream, I bet this is what AIDS feels like, he thought. A drip of sweat rolled down his temple. A wooden baseball bat rained down blows of confusion.
Then he remembered the bag of shit. Swiss smack secrets, he thought. He laughed to himself—those words sounded like a fancy box of Swiss chocolate.
He searched through the bag with a pencil with a cute picture of a cow being milked adorning its side. I wonder what it would be like to suck a cows nipple? He shook off the bizarre thought, and felt ashamed for even pondering it.
He opened the bathroom window. The Swiss air was ice cold; his face turned into a stone gargoyle.
After what felt like hours of poking through the stinking bag with the pencil, Lee eventually found his missing balls of heroin. He gave them a quick rinse then put them to his nose and sniffed. You could tell that they'd been through someones stomach. If you bagged the smell it could be sold as 'Essence of Arse.'
Fuck! The meeting. He paused, trapped in the moment, jerky and confused: paralysis analysis.
Fuck it . . . a little liven-er will do me good, he thought as he chopped out a rather large line of cocaine (which was in one of the bags that had only recently been plugged up his arse). He glanced out of the window. The thick powder snow looked like waves of sand wanting to rise and fall like a tempest or a doomed kingdom. Lee thought the snow matched the coke now neatly sorted into a straight line on the counter.
He sprayed more air freshener, opened the windows, looked around nervously, then walked out of the door. He couldn't feel his face.
The coffee shop underneath the apartment was bright and busy. Lee felt like he'd just walked into a Swiss gameshow, it was all shiny lights,white teeth and big hair. Shiny happy people in a shiny happy place. The sparkly image was soon put to bed by the smell. It was worse than the shit bag upstairs, it smelt like a month-old, liquid beef smoothy.
“What the fuck is that smell?” Lee asked a passing waiter.
“Ah, that will be the cheese fondue, sir.”
Lee would've happily retreated back upstairs at that moment, but he was spotted by Medusa and French Sandrine who sat in the corner.
The music playing in the background was Serge Gainsbourg's 'Cargo Culte.' It reminded him of intense, French sex. He looked Sandrine in the eye, he wanted to rip her clothes to shreds, fuck her right there and smother hot, dripping cheese fondue over her body and lick it off.
“'Ello Lee.” Sandrine stood up and kissed him on both cheeks. She smelt of strong French cigarettes and expensive perfume. A dirty-minded sommelier might have called it rustic clitoris.
“Let me introduce you to Bella, She's a director of recovery communities in England and MD of Fluew Communications, one of our partners for tonight's event.” She gestured an open palm towards Bella who made Lee feel uneasy.
Bella was perhaps in her mid forties. She was stunning as a wasp sting. Her pencil skirt and Jimmy Choo heels made her (in Lee's mind) look sexy, but strict and serious.
She glided up as Lee walked over. The way her neck lifted reminded Lee of a cobra, a racing serpent or proud swan. Her head appeared to be reaching for the sky like a yogi doing a sun salutation. He politely kissed her on both cheeks and it left his mouth feeling bitter, as if he'd just tasted an inedible flower. As he was kissing her on the cheeks she put her hands on his waist. Lee could feel a subtle squeeze, neither gentle nor soothing. He thought to himself: She wants to wank me off . . .
You'll be the one wanking me off if I order you to, the strange voice floated into his mind, answering his own delusional inner dialogue.
Fuck me—that coke's pokey, he thought.
“Ok, lets get down to business; we're running late and we have another meeting very soon. Tonight's party is a very important one—we have lots of VIPs coming and want to make it an event to remember. We have a lot of faith in you and TT. Every year you've done a great job," Sandrine said.
How can anyone have faith in me? thought Lee. The inside of his mouth was dry, like an old sock long lost under a bed. He grabbed a glass of water off the table and took a swig.
“Sandrine, I can assure you that TT and I have got something very special prepared for tonight. She'll do three short sets and by the time she's finished the crowd will be ready to dance all night, i've got exactly what they need. I'll keep it funky!” Lee spluttered his thoughts out in one breath. He also knew that when working with a corporate client it was essential to throw in the word 'funky' as it seemed to keep them happy, although they had no fucking idea what it meant.
“Ok! That sounds amazing. I'm really looking forward to the party. If you could get down there about 8pm please. Bella's PA, Matilda, will be at the entrance with your wrist bands and artist passes,” Sandrine said, with clarity and precision.
“I've heard so much about you . . . I'm really looking forward to seeing you perform,” Bella said whilst staring directly into Lee's eyes. It made him shiver. After the fact, he realized she had put a lot of emphasis on the word really. He noticed two tiny snake tattoos upon her wrist; they looked like stone and made him afraid. Somehow, it turned him on too.
“I've got some genuine nuggets in the music bag. I'm really looking forward to tonight. Raring to go.” He lied whilst smiling through clenched teeth. His bottom jaw wobbled slightly.
A tune by Zero 7 was playing in the background. The song invited him to leave everything and go lie down.
He said, “Er—I've just remembered that I promised to wake TT. She's gotta make an important phone call.”
“We've got to go also. Just wanted to touch the base with you. We're all so looking forward to tonight.”
Both women stood and Lee kissed them on the cheek once more. After kissing Bella, she slid him a business card.
I'm going to put my fist up your arse and feel where those bags of heroin came from... a disembodied voice said.
What the fuck?! thought Lee.
“If you need anything, give me a ring.” The vague statement hung in the air like a decapitated ISIS victim.
Lee looked around the busy coffee shop for any clues as to where the words had come from, wondering which were real and which weren't. The world replied with a blank expression.
“Ok bye," he spat the words out with tempo, turned and strutted out of the door at a pace that made him feel like a junkie rushing to meet his dealer. He must've looked it too.
When Lee got back into the flat, TT was still fast asleep.
He pondered the last disturbing 20 minutes—he'd heard voices in his head before, but it was usually when he was on acid or ketamine.
He retrieved the shit bag from the bathroom and threw it out of the lounge window. Its secrets sunk deep into the snow like a heavily weighed anchor sinking to the bottom of the ocean.
He smoked some heroin, then went into the lounge and switched on the television. The sofa absorbed his body, but he still managed to put his feet onto the Italian marble table. He noticed that one of his Pringle socks had a hole in it which made his big toe stick out like a Mexican at a Donald Trump rally. Suddenly an air of misery made him want to disappear into the snow with that bag of shit. The German language radiating from the TV made no sense so he glanced up to look what show was on. It was a program about Hitler. The combination of holey socks and Hitler made him feel pointless, guilty and ashamed.
He realized that If he had a gun in his hand at that moment he would've put it to his temple and pressed play.
A vision of Bella stung his eyes and they started to bleed.
The darkness was fully committed like an armed schizophrenic on a rampage. His mind—on the same wavelength as satanic goat praying to lucifer, twisted, obscene and infected—kept flashing back to a time . . . before drugs. A time when he could feel love. When he could care.
The only person he now loved was his terminally ill grandmother, Oma. Even in the midst of his full-blown addiction, he still managed to visit her at least once per week. He'd cook her dinner, tidy the old lady's house, then sit and listen to her reminisce about happier days. He remembered as a child walking up her stony, garden path, his head hidden in the depths of her apron, safe from the scary bees that buzzed dangerously on the side hedgerow. How he yearned to be taken back to the time when he sat on her knee, feeling lost in the comfort of her smell (Worther's Original Sweets) and protected by her glow. The ability to feel love and give it back seemed long gone. They'd been first to bolt out of the stable. After all, they were wild and untamed.
The thought of losing his grandmother felt like he was standing alone on a dangerous, south-side Chicago avenue corner, all by himself.
He reached for the bottle leaning on the side of the sofa, Grey Goose vodka. He gulped hard.
Perhaps there would be an answer . . . at the bottom.
TT and Lee managed to polish off two bottles of vodka before the gig. Lee had drunk most of it; the lines of coke he'd been hitting had given him superhuman drinking skills.
He thought about weekend cokeheads: pub-people, the mainstream fuckers. Those were types who shopped in Anne Summers or Walmart and wore ties to work. He chuckled at the ridiculousness of drug snobbery. It was perfectly acceptable to do coke, but you were an outcast if you did heroin.
TT looked hot in a black Dolce and Gabbana jumpsuit and black, open-toe Manolo Blahnik killer heels. Lee stared closely at her Mac, ruby red lipstick that coated her thick, ripe lips. For a second he imaged them . . . well, there. He quickly dismissed the thought. It felt wrong. Like the time he had anal sex with Geordie Stef. She had hands like a man!
The party was at a plush, Swiss hotel. Inside, it looked like the set of a Disney movie: optimistic, glittery, fake. There was the obligatory crew of cocktail experts flown out from London. Their bespoke bar was designed in the style of a wooden Hawaiian structure with flames that reached to the ceiling, shooting out at both ends. The cocktail dudes' proper names? Mixologists. They all donned identical matching beards, sleeve tattoos and long hair. Seeing them immediately brought Jesus and his disciples to mind. Only these lot were from Australia rather than the Middle East. The first thing Lee did was get himself a whiskey sour and try his hardest not to look too edgy. He felt a little bit paranoid . . . at least he was aware of his bugged-out eyes. They felt like they were rolling around uncontrollably 360 degrees. At least they had all the angles covered.
There were four beatboxers on stage keeping the audience entertained with what sounded to Lee like a load of noise. They're not a patch on that bloke from Police Academy, he thought, spitting out a little of the whiskey sour, chuckling to himself.
After downing four of the sours, Lee strolled as gracefully as possible into the bathroom and did one line of heroin and one of coke. He drifted up onto stage and got himself ready. The first tune he pulled out was Cheryl Lynn 'To Be Real,' followed by James Brown—'Sex Machine'. Obvious tunes. But with funk. It was Lee's motto for corporate gigs such as this, and they did the job. Two tunes in and the floor was packed. As he looked out onto the dance floor, he spotted an American ex-president playing air guitar with an aging pop star. They both looked drunk. And haggard. Skinny, young Russian hookers danced provocatively around them. Lee half-expected them to drop to their knees there and then. A leading figure from South Africa's ANC danced next to a budget airline tycoon. They both looked like embarrassed uncles dancing at a wedding, awkward in themselves and with those around them. It was surreal; nothing like last week's gig at an East London squat rave.
He'd been in this place a thousand times before: people giving him high fives for a job well done, and pretty girls serving him drinks and tossing out suggestions. It was always a slow journey into a more comfortable high—a high that was home.
It ended up as it always did; it felt like the opposite of rejection.
He glanced over at the girl asleep next to his naked body. He could just about remember that she was Bella's PA. Her name was Matilda. Right?
Although successful with woman, Lee was also easily hopeless with them. His heart often became intoxicated with potent pheromones, entangled with invisible sex-scene signals. He felt sensitive to each and every one. He struggled with the concept of love; the slightest bit of affection shown would have him falling head over heels. It was therefore easier to keep himself intoxicated all the time rather than be pussy-whipped into a flurry of vulnerability. He knew that as long as he was high before, during, and after sex, then he'd be ok. Plus the cocaine made him horny as hell and enabled him to push his sexual imagination to the limit without feeling like a pervert.
As he lay on the bed with Matilda, who laid very still, Lee's thoughts drifted to a simpler time. He remembered a time without the raw lust of coke and the blissful Nirvana of heroin, without the rich sting of alcohol trickling down his throat to tickle his brain into a numb nothingness. He remembered because he wanted to remember . . . when he was just . . . Lee.
The first girl that broke his heart was Christabel. She had long, dark, beautiful, Italian-princess hair. He met Christabel on his first day at school. He had forgotten his sandwiches (or rather his mother had been too drunk to make them for him) and ended up sitting alone at lunch with nothing to eat, feeling like the biggest loser in the world. She came over and sat opposite him, her eyes as wide as the most optimistic mind imaginable. And eyelashes almost swooping down to his hands. She had on shiny, patent shoes, which made Lee feel strange. She didn't even speak as she handed over a limp cheese and tomato sandwich. The gesture Lee took as pure, unadulterated kindness. He felt as if he was going to cry. He was only five years old. From that moment, he'd follow her around like a lost puppy. She could see the sadness in his eyes and filled him with moments of clarity, smiles, kindness, and laughter. He thought that she was an angel; she certainly looked like one, and treated him how he thought angels might, and should.
Because angels were meant to be kind. They were kindness, incarnate.
One day they had an argument, as children do. It was over a pencil case. It was the first and only time they'd ever argue. The next day Christabel was missing from school. She always sat next to Lee during morning assembly. That morning Lee had to sit next to fat Rob, the kid who always smelt of piss. The headmistress announced that she had some very sad news. Christabel had been run over on the way home from school and killed.
Lee had stopped eating for a few weeks. He finally ended up in hospital. It felt safer than home, the place where the heartache lived. Home was filled with a pain that he didn't understand. As he lay in the hard hospital bed surrounded by dinosaur wallpaper, he suddenly realised how a small action could have a massive effect. If he'd not argued with Christabel, maybe she wouldn't have got run over. He came to the decision that it might not be such as bad idea if he never went home again. He decided that he'd never eat again then he could join Christabel in heaven. In the end, the doctors decided to force-fed him. Slowly, he improved. Eventually went back to whence he came.
The rest of his school life progressed at a painful pace. Although he had friends, he felt alone in his torment and would keep people at a distance by a system of touch or giving lip service so that everyone thought he was cool.
Eventually, he did allow himself to fall in love. The girl that he adored ended up cheating on him with some prick who had a long, blonde ponytail. It was a perfect excuse for him to try heroin. He vowed never again would he melt, or be mugged off by feelings such as love. Any mugging off was now done on his own terms; at least this is what he thought. In actuality, heroin did exactly the same thing to him. It was both comforting and rejecting.
It felt perfect.
Lee got out of the bed and stood in front of a body-length mirror. The sheepskin rug below felt soft on his naked feet. He squeezed his toes together to somehow achieve the maximum pleasure from the silky furriness between his toes. The temperature outside must have been many degrees below freezing, he thought. Then he glanced out the window at the thick snow covering the Swiss semblance-of-perfection outdoors. He was glad to be inside; the room was lovely and warm.
The pleasant smell of scented candles and stale sex intermixed and he inhaled deeply.
Glancing at his reflection, he noticed strange bruises around his neck. He walked closer to the mirror and rubbed gently.
A slight taste of panic arose from within his guts. Instinctively, he casually walked over to Matilda as she lie on the bed. She reminded him of a sleeping lamb. He noticed a black thingy around her neck, which he had assumed was a silk scarf, was actually a leather strap. Next to her soft, white skin, the black leather strap looked ugly, abrasive . . . rude somehow.
He bent over to place his face to hers. She wasn't breathing.
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