‘Fifty quid? Really?’
‘Best price around.’
‘You sure about that pal?’
‘Do I look like a man who suffers from uncertainty?’ Detch leaned a half step towards the ratty little man addressing him, shadowing the guy with his own quarter-back physique. ‘Do I seem unsure of myself?’
The rat-man seemed to have some sort of twitch about the left eye, which Detch liked to think he himself was causing.
‘No,’ he said , looking each way up the dark street as he spoke. ‘You seem to know what you’re about.’
‘So I don’t strike you as somebody who forgets the price of what he’s selling?’
‘No man, of course…’
‘Do you see any potatoes here? Any organically grown, winter garden essentials? Do you see a fuckin’ courgette?’
‘I just want to make sure you haven’t confused me with the vegetable stand at your yuppie-fuckin farmer’s market.’
‘No man, I… c’mon dude…’
‘So you don’t think I’m likely to haggle?’
‘Oh. No, I guess not.’
‘You guess not? Bitch, this ain’t twenty questions, and you don’t get any guesses. I asked you if you’re at a farmer’s market, and if we’re gonna negotiate a price. Do either of those scenarios seem very likely to you at this juncture?’
Rat-man shrank into himself a little. ‘No.’
‘Then it’s fifty quid in my hand, or walk the fuck away from my block.’
A fumbled wallet materialized and the rat-man counted the notes into Detch’s hand. A figure emerged from the shadows behind Detch and passed a small bag of powder to the rat-man. Deal done, he scurried away with a muttered ‘thanks’ and the dark figure in the shadows chuckled.
‘Detch- question. When did you last watch a Tarantino movie?’
Detch turned around to face his partner and grinned. ‘Movie marathon last night with Amy. That obvious?’
‘You’re speaking like you swallowed half a dictionary and you using the F word as punctuation. Yeah, it’s pretty obvious.’
‘I like it. I think it makes me sound real.’
‘If anything it makes you sound fictional. I don’t know what kind of dope-slingers Tarantino hangs out with, but the real ones don’t jive-talk everyone they meet.’
‘Well I do.’ Detch banged a fist against his chest. ‘It’s life imitating art.’
Detch heard his partner’s laughter from the shadows.
‘You really want to imitate the characters in those movies? It never ends well.’ A match flared briefly, underlighting Jasper’s face as he lit a cigarette. ‘And I don’t want to get shot, or tortured, or raped by hillbillies, or any of the weird shit that goes on in Tarantino’s underworld.’
‘Me neither mate.’ There was a pause, and Detch rubbed his cold hands together, watching out for police or punters. ‘But you hear stuff sometimes.’
‘Yeah. You know, messed up stuff happens in this city man, movie stuff. I heard this one thing… doesn’t matter. Point is, it happens.’
Jasper leaned fractionally from the darkness, only his face visible.
‘Doesn’t matter? Now you’ve got to tell me.’
Detch shifted his weight from one foot to another, and ran a hand over his shaved head.
‘Alright, I’ll tell you a story, but it ain’t my fault if you lose sleep over this.’
Jasper laughed. ‘Let’s see.’
‘Ok. It was August- you know, the riots were going on, the whole city was out looting?’
Jasper grinned and pulled an expensive mobile phone out of his pocket. ‘Yeah, I remember that.’
‘Well there’s this guy I knew, a friend of Amy’s, low-life little shit really, called Dean. So he hears what’s going down, figures he’ll see what he can get. He heads over to Portland Street, where they’ve got all those electrical goods stores, there’s a JVC, and an Argos, erm, a Currys on the corner I think…’
‘It’s a Comet.’
‘Yeah, whatever, so he goes down that way, and that was one of the worst areas. Like, a bunch of the stores are already on fire, and a couple of cars, but the fire engines can’t make it into the city, so they’re burning away- but mainly people aren’t freaking out, except the people in the burning buildings, and it’s more like a carnival atmosphere you know? There’s not even that much violence at first cos’ most of the gangs are working together to haul as much shit out of the shops as they can. So Dean just lights up a joint right there on the street cos’, like, why the hell not, and he wanders into Argos, where the crowds have pulled up the metal shutters, and he starts browsing. And he’s doing that for a while, not even in a hurry cos’ the cops are nowhere to be seen, and he eventually decides that designer watches are his best bet, cos’ they’re small and worth good money. So, Dean’s got a rucksack with him, and he starts stuffing in a whole bunch of watches, when this guy walks up to him.’
‘Dean?’ Dean turns, seeing someone he knows but can’t quite place.
‘Erm, hi buddy. How goes it?’
They shake hands and the new guy takes a look in Dean’s bag.
‘Damn man, nice haul. And you brought a rucksack, holy shit you’re prepared huh?’
They both laugh, and Dean asks the guy if he’s got hold of anything good.
‘Oh man, a whole load of stuff, seriously like five TV’s alone man, flatscreen beauts.’
‘Shit, are you hiding this stuff at your house? What are even gonna do with five TV’s?’
There’s an explosion outside and Dean ducks, covering his head with his arms, watches spilling out across the floor. The nameless friend is laughing as he drags Dean back up off the ground. ‘Don’t worry about it man, after the first hour you get used to the explosions.’
Wide-eyed, Dean blinks, tries to focus on the guy’s face.
‘You cool? Dean, you’re alright man, just breathe yeah?’
Unable to hear clearly through the ringing in his ears, Dean is nonetheless consoled, glad that he has a friend here.
‘You wanna get out of here, Dean? Maybe stash the loot somewhere?’ Dean nods and is led through the store by his elbow. They climb through the smashed window and, once outside, breathing evening-cool, petrol fumed air, his head feels a little clearer. He looks up into the concerned face of his anonymous friend.
‘What’s your name?’
The friend barks a laugh. ‘I’m Jez. From school yeah? You hit your head or something?’
‘I’m fine. Where shall we go?’
‘Wanna see how I got rid of all the stuff I grabbed tonight?’
Dean does want to see, and they’re moving fast through the streets, almost jogging, as Jez explains his scheme.
‘So there’s these guys, and they don’t want to get their hands dirty or something, so they’re not out tonight. But if you take them what you’ve got, it’s cash in hand.’
Dean likes the sound of this. He’s been having some trouble recently, and he knows he’s made some dumb mistakes; a little money in his pocket could only be a good thing, might be enough enough to make amends with his mother, and he doesn’t really have a plan for selling fifty or sixty watches. He follows Jez, who he still can’t really place, through the city and away from the riot zones.
‘It’s down here,’ Jez is saying, as the two of them turn down a blind alley. At the far end is a garage, just a regular single car garage set off the street. When they reach it, Jez taps lightly on the metal door, and the whole thing reverberates like a gong.
‘Yeah?’ The voice on the other side is deep, neutral.
‘It’s Jez- I’ve got one hot to trot.’
The two boys back away from the door as it opens slowly upwards and outwards, harsh halogen light casting long shadows behind them. They are ushered in and the door closes quietly behind them. Jez is immediately at the desk in the middle of the floor, speaking in hushed tones to an ashen forty-something who’s casually studying diamond bracelets, price tags still attached. Dean takes a moment to eye up the stacked televisions, stereos, electric razors, ipods, something for everyone, and carefully avoids making eye contact with the looming troll who guards the entrance.
Jez seems to have concluded whatever business he had with the man at the desk and is waving Dean over. Taking the rucksack from him, he empties the watches out.
‘Well?’ he says.
The man picks up a watch, stares intently at its face.
‘Time.’ His voice is hollow.
‘Yep. That’s what watches are for,’ says Dean, grinning at Jez. Jez doesn’t look at him.
‘Time. That’s what you’ve brought me. Not watches, which are the physical manifestation of time, time incarnate. People think that watches are just an observational tool, a measurement of time as it passes, but without measurement, without observation, is there any movement of time at all? How could we tell?’
His level stare brings a few beads of prespiration to Dean’s forehead.
‘No, watches don’t display time, they measure and create time, the accumulation of it or, as you might see it, its escape from you.’ He makes a small gesture and the door troll is at Dean’s back, locking his arms in a crushing embrace around his torso.
‘I hope you enjoyed the bit you were given, friend.’
Jez was already looking away, always looking away, but he is bending over the table now, stooping to collect the money for the watches, for his time.
Dean’s legs thrash impotently and knock aside some premium Japanese electronic goods, before he is thrown into an adjoining room, a very different room with a a wrong smell about it. The troll is entering too, and closing the door behind them.
‘Can I get a couple of grams lads?’
Detch flinched slightly; he didn’t see the punter approach, and his surprise manifested in the squeaky pitch of his voice.
The punter was leather bound, relaxed, but a slight frown passed over his face.
‘I hope I haven’t misread the situation but…’
‘Look, can I just…’
‘…But you want some gear right? Sure, sorry, I was chatting away, erm…Two grams?’
Detch collected the cash and Jasper leaned out of the shadows, slipping two bags into the punters breast pocket. ‘Thanks very much boys,’ he said over his shoulder as he left.
‘Any time,’ said Detch.
They watched him disappear around the corner.
‘What’s the name of that smooth-talking Pulp Fiction character you like so much?’ asked Jasper.
‘Vincent something, wasn’t it? Vincent Vegas?’
‘Vega. Vincent Vega.’
‘Well Vincent, I thought that was a very sharp exchange.’
‘Shut up man.’
‘Life imitating art,’ murmured Jasper, leaning back into the shadows. ‘Or are you taking your cues from the “yuppie-fuckin farmers market” now?’
Detch was silent.
‘You gonna finish your story then? I think you were getting to the bit I would lose sleep over.’ Silence. ‘Or are you gonna sulk?’
‘Cool. I am glad.’
Jasper’s expensive mobile phone buzzed and he flipped it open.
‘We’re nearly done; Jamal and Nathan will be here in five minutes to take over. Got plans for this evening?’
‘Probably gonna go to Amy’s. She said she might cook. You?’
‘Takeaway and some TV I guess. It’s a Monday.’