Posts Tagged ‘michael keenaghan’


In offbeat on November 6, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Edmonton. The three of them sat parked up by a small estate. Two six-storey blocks.

-Are you sure this is where da fucker lives? Grilla asked.

-I’m sure man, believe me, D nodded. How can you forget a shithole like this…

They stepped out of the car. Up and down, not a soul.

-Look at this place, D said. Shanktown my fuckin arse. Niggas are frightened of their own streets man – He took out his nine, slamming the clip home – But they’re gonna be frightened of something else soon bwai.

-I know they are, Grilla grinned, showing the machete beneath his jacket – Rocks the only one not laughing…

-Yo, Rocks, D said, opening the boot and pulling out a nail-embedded cricket bat. Take this. Now be careful with dat ting, y’hear – sniggering…

They headed across the car park and up the stairwell towards the top floor, D hyping himself up all the way, -I’m gonna do this nigga man… he’s gonna fuckin cry… At the top floor they headed along the balcony to the last flat… Right… D rapping hard on the door, then sure enough the sound of footsteps… -Okay, ssh, someone’s coming…

The door opened a crack, a light-skinned black girl saying, -Yeah, what do you want?

They stormed past her into the flat, D kicking open doors, aiming his nine left and right… But nobody. Only empty rooms… Grilla had the girl in a bear-hug, the girl screaming and cussing. D put the gun in his belt, headed towards her. He grabbed her by the hair. -Listen here, WHERE DA FUCK IS HE! – Ahh, get off my hair, you piece of shit!!! – FUCK YOU, MAN, I’LL PULL YOUR HAIR RIGHT OFF!! – the girl screaming HELP!!! HELP!!! – D fuming, pure vexed now…

-Right, you bitch, I’ll show you… D dragged her into the bedroom, slapped her so she flew onto the bed. Shocked, she clutched her bruise, eyes seething… -When my man gets back you’re gonna die for this, boy, fucking die…

-OH AM I NOW, YOU FUCKIN HO? – he grabbed her by the neck and pressed the gun against her face – Now I’m arxin you one last time, WHERE’S YOUR MAN AT?

-Okay, okay, he’s not here. I don’t know where, but he’s coming back later, midnight maybe, that’s all I know.

He pushed her away and she landed back on her elbows. He was looking down on her, the both of them breathing hard… Suddenly he started unzipping his pants… -You’re gonna suck my dick, bitch…

-No, please… the girl backing away…

-Take it easy man, Grill urged, we’ll come back later, she don’t know where he is.

-I don’t give a shit! D grabbing her by the hair and pulling her towards him, -It’s the principle now innit. I don’t like the attitude of this ho… Gun against her head; girl crying – Now get on dat ting!… And yo, you two! Avert dose eyes man. I want some privacy… I’m getting me some lovin’ here innit…

Grill tutted, walked out of the room; Rocks following. They headed into the kitchen/living room… -He’s going too far in there, Rocks said, this is crazy…

-Nu’in I can fuckin’ do, Grill shrugged. Still thinks he’s fourteen or something, that he can just go round groping whatever he wants… but if the guy gets his kicks that way…

Rocks went to the window, looked out into the night; Grill was rummaging through the fridge and cupboards selecting food. Rocks turned to him: -We’re not gonna come good out of this you know, I’ve got a feeling…

-Chill, Grill laughed, That bitch in there is well used to that kinda shit. Probably fuckin enjoys it. She’s with Shanx, ain’t she? Guy’s been done for all sorts. Ain’t exactly Mr nice in that department, you know what I’m saying… Grilla brought his spoils over to the seat and settled down in front of the TV.

In the background Rocks could hear the girl moaning and pleading. He started pacing up and down. He was thinking of that line-up years back that got them into trouble. It happened in the basement of some flats at Frampton, two girls D had said were up for it, into having it rough and that, but what did D know. It was crazy down there, all dim-lit and about twenty guys and so much noise it was hard to tell if the girls even wanted it or not. A bit of base was going round too, everyone revved up, and Rocks was stupid in those days and with all the madness went with the flow. Next day Rocks, D and a few others were pulled in and didn’t see the street for two months until the girls dropped the charges. Fucked up man. Back in the day there was loads of that shit going on. Still was, but these days Rocks didn’t get involved. But D was different. Didn’t think like that.

Rocks stopped pacing. It sounded like the girl was getting knocked about… -Grill, man, what the fuck’s going on in there?

-Up to him innit, Grill shrugged, chomping away, eyes glued to the screen, then – Rah, look at dis man! – He was watching a documentary on drug-busts: cops ramming a door, flying in… I know dose flats! he pointed, That’s Pembury man, I used to live up dat way!

Rocks wasn’t listening, -I’m going in there. I’m going to pull him off her. We don’t even know who she is…

-Tsss, Grilla tutted, She’s one of Shanx’s bitches innit, chill… then: Whoa, look at this – several men spread up against the wall, sniffer dogs on the prowl, stashes of drugs galore…

A minute later in walks D, tucking himself in… -Right Rocks, he pointed, you’re next, get in there and fuck that bitch – He headed straight for the fridge, pulled out a bottle of Supermalt… -Me, I need some refreshment after dat shit… Bitch gives good, man. Every which way, serious. Then he looked at Rocks, -Go on then, what you waiting for, you big pussy. Get in dere an slam that bitch… and yo, here – tossing him a pack of rubbers – Don’t want to be leaving no mess behind, you get me… He turned to Grill – She fuckin loved it, man, serious. Wants a ballin from da both of you…

-Look D, Rocks said, the guy’s not here okay, let’s just get the fuck out of here.

D put down his drink and slowly walked towards him… -You know, I’m gettin stressed with you man…

Rocks tutted, turned away, but D wasn’t finished… -Nah serious, you’re starting to fuckin vex me for real… D took the gun from his belt, hefting it in his hand… -Now I’m fuckin done wid your shit tonight – He pointed it straight at him… Get da fuck in dere.

-Don’t point that thing at me man…

D walked closer, -I’ll do more than point it, believe me…

Rocks saw his eyes, that stare…

Fuck it: Tss… he turned and walked towards the bedroom… D starting to snigger behind him… -And yo, Rocks, he said, putting the gun back in his belt, She’s waiting for you blud. Serious, I ain’t jokin. You’re gonna get a shock when you see her, cuz… laughing away.

He walked in and the girl suddenly stood up, awkwardly standing there in stockings and suspenders. Her face was heavily bruised, trembling in fear… -Fucking hell, Rocks said, what’s he done to you?.. God… he sat down on a chair, -Listen, cover all that up, I’m not touching you…

-But he said I’ve got to fuck you or he’ll kill me, she insisted. He said he knows where my mum lives, and my children are round there. He’ll kill them…

-Listen, don’t worry about him… He put his head in his hands… God, this ain’t my beef, man… I don’t even want to be here…


-Look, just cover up. I don’t need to see all that… She put on a bathrobe. Then she started breaking down… -You’re not going to kill him are you?


-Cobra… I know he’s done bad things and that, but he’s the father of my kids. He’s all I got. We’d probably starve without him…

-You mean Shanx? Rocks said confused.

-No. Cobra… Levi Johnson innit…

-Who?.. This is Shanx’s place ain’t it?..

The girl’s face started to change… -Shanx lives at the top of the next block… She was standing up now, eyes pure evil… Are you telling me you got the wrong fucking flat?..

Rocks was on his feet, putting his hands up, -Now whoa, listen, I don’t know shit. This ain’t got nothing to do with me…

-Are you telling me I’ve been put through all this for NOTHING!… She sprang for him.

In the living room D and Grill were smoking rock, laughing at the sound of action from the bedroom… -Listen to dat, D nodding. I’m impressed man. You know, maybe I’m wrong about that dude… Grill taking the pipe, chuckling along…

A few more tokes and suddenly Rocks flew in looking distressed to the max, -You two, let’s get the fuck out of here right now!! – all scratches down his face and a bloody lip… -Look at you man, D whooped, you two been playin tigers in dere or su’in?…

-I’m not fucking about, WE GOTTA GO!

-What you chattin about, dog? Grill’s having his go next innit… and yo listen up, she better be bendin over good, cos if da Grillaman gets on top he’s gonna be fucking a corpse, ain’t dat right Grill! – slapping his own knees guffawing. Then he stopped, slowly turned to Grill… Grill might be all gentle giant watching his back like a brother, but overstep the mark, man, and he can turn… But all was good because the G-man was lost in a TV motorway chase, eyes crack-crazy…

Rocks grabbed him – You’ve brought us to the wrong fucking flat, you prick, the wrong place! – Easy, man! D whacking his arms away, What you chattin about? – This ain’t Shanx’s place. It’s some guy called Cobra’s… Levi Johnson or something…

D froze. -What the fuck you talking about?

-…I’ve just had to tie that crazy bitch up in bedsheets back there, gag her and everything. She flipped…

D looked left and right in a panic… -The fucking Cobra?

Rocks stopped, -What, you know him? Who is this guy?

D ignored him – LET’S GO! – tugging Grill away from the screen… – Hey, I’m watching this, man… FUCK IT, WE’RE MOVIN, NOW! – The three of them hurrying out of the flat.

Down the dim-lit stairwell Rocks was still asking who the fuck the guy was, when D suddenly turned to him, a fear in his eyes Rocks hadn’t seen before… -Are you telling me you never heard of him? – I don’t think so, no – D turned away: -Well I don’t want to talk about it then – They headed across the estate – Let’s just get in the car and fucking move… Rocks got behind the wheel this time, the other two in no fit state; Grilla in his own world, mumbling rhymes, not even knowing what the hell was going on.

Rocks sped towards the gates. Waiting to pull out onto the road, a group of youngers formed out of the dark, scarfed and hooded, staring Rocks in the eye… Rocks pulled away and watched them in the rearview, one of them gunning them down with his hand… watchouts… little snitches that would get them stabbed, shot… the fear coming on strong. He slammed the wheel, turned to D – YOU FUCKIN IDIOT, MAN!

D was rambling to himself, eyes fixed ahead… -I don’t understand it… Cobra?… maybe I got the wrong floor…

-You got the wrong fucking block you prick!

In the back Grill started laughing, -What you two cats fretting about?… yo, bluds, I think we should go for more food you know. I got the munchies big time…


Whoa… D had crossed the line; but Grill was too shocked to register it, just said, almost hurt, -Rah, what’s bugging you, man?

D shook his head, was in a right state… -We fucked up, that’s what… Fucked up fuckin major innit… more than major… That was the Cobra’s place back dere!… one of the Cobra’s bitches innit!… Then he was rambling to himself again… I never knew that face still lived up these ends… I thought he moved away time ago… thought he was maybe dead… He turned to Rocks and G, voice cracking… I don’t think you two realize the kind of damage we’ve done here man…


-That’s true you know, Grill soon added. Fuck with a cat like Cobra and you’re gettin dead.

D was near-blubbing like a pussy… -I didn’t know blud… I didn’t know…

Rocks looked at him in disgust. Guy was fucking pathetic.

For minutes they sat parked by the road in silence, the atmosphere filled with dread…

Then D suddenly put his finger up… -I got a solution to this… he turned to Rocks: There’s only one thing we can do.


-We go back there and finish the bitch.

-What are you talking about?

-Go back and fucking merk her innit – D back in gear now, thinking fast – I should have done it back then. She’s tied up and gagged, yeah? We go back and waste her and no-one will know shit… even the cops will think it’s a burglary gone-wrong or something. We’ll make it look like that.

-Forget it man, Rocks shaking his head. We’ve been spotted by every fucker and his dog back there… there’s no way out of this…

-There is, I’m telling you. Those tinys at the gates were just strangers, man. They don’t know us from shit. We could be anyone…

-D’s right, Grill added, his face hunched between the seats… Let’s do the bitch. It’s the only way. That Cobra guy owns everything, fucking runs the place man. He finds out about this and he’ll hunt us to the ends of the earth. We gotta clean our tracks back there.

Rocks thought about it… He was still trying to recall who exactly the guy was… when suddenly it came to him… -Jesus, are we talking about the guy also known as Satan?

-Dat’s da guy! Grilla said.

Rocks buried his face on the wheel… Jesus man, no… you just didn’t fuck with a face like that. In fact, you prayed you’d never cross his path…

Throughout his presence in the black North London underworld, Levi Johnson had acquired a myriad of street-names with the ability to send the shivers up even the most hardened of gangstas… “Cobra”, “Ju-Ju Man”, “Doctor Death”, “Satan”… the list was endless. So far-fetched were the tales of his exploits that some people refused to believe this bogeyman gangsta even existed. Others said he’d been killed or incarcerated. Those more in the know insisted he was unkillable, a presence who these days operated from the shadows like a don, yet still made regular visits to the rumoured forty or fifty baby-mothers he had scattered around his old stomping grounds of Tottenham, Edmonton and Wood Green…

Rocks was fearing the worst… D, meanwhile, was enduring a mental horror-show of his own. He already had the misfortune of meeting the Cobra in the flesh two years back, and the incident had stayed with him. In fact, so disturbing had it been that sometimes he’d still wake up screaming like a baby. D had once dissed someone who knew someone else and somehow the complaint had led all the way to the fucking Cobra. But D of course didn’t know that. One night walking down Well Street a car pulled up and three niggas jumped him. They worked him severe with baseball bats then bundled him into the boot. Off they went. He’d been on the skunk all day, his mind all over the place, and the whole thing seemed like a bad dream.

They dragged him up to a flat somewhere, told him he’d cussed the Cobra and was going to pay the price. They led him into a room – a coffin laid out like a wake, except there was no body. He prayed it was some kind of joke. Then in walked Cobra, caressing a fucking snake. D was struggling now, the goons holding him tight. Cobra placed the snake inside the coffin. Then begging and pleading D was lifted off his feet. In he went. Down went the lid.

It was the worst experience of his life. He screamed himself hoarse, believed he was visiting hell. When they let him out he was panting and shaking and all he could see was Cobra and his men laughing all around him. Cobra walked up and slapped him round the face, and again they laid into him, and dragged him down to the boot. Later a passing squad car discovered him curled-up and convulsing on a Hackney backstreet, and he ended up in hospital for a while. He even spent a few weeks in the loony bin, but said nothing, told nobody. Back on road he was pretty fucked-up for a while, the flashbacks triggering violence – sometimes to even just strangers who had looked at him.

One guy he even shot in the face. Just saw him looking then, bam, dropped him point-blank with a .38. Good job the guy was still in a coma or maybe he’d be in the pen now doing fucking life… But anyway, along the way he’d heard Cobra was history, not on the scene anymore, maybe dead, maybe retired, but whatever, the guy wasn’t around…


D found himself slamming the dashboard. -What are we doing just sitting here, man! Let’s get the fuck back there and waste that bitch!

Rocks could see no alternative. D was right, they had to do this. He started up the engine, put the car into gear. They were heading back there….


From a distance, they sat staring over at the blocks, no-one having quite the courage to get out of the car; the aura of the Cobra everywhere now…

D suddenly took out the jacked bag of rock from earlier, started preparing himself a pipe… – What the fuck are you doing? Rocks said… – Havin a smoke, what the fuck’s it look like?… – No way, if you’re all fucked-up you’re gonna mess this up further!.. – Listen! I need alertness for this shit okay… – Me too blud, Grill added from the back, This is the fuckin Cobra we’re dealin wid here man…

They got cracking for a while, Rocks shaking his head when offered. The two of them were passing the pipe back and forth, Rocks using all his will not to grab it, take a hit for himself. But no way. Someone had to stay sane for this shit…

-So how we gonna finish this bitch anyway? Grill said after a while.

-Slice her throat, D replied. Do it quickly innit. Only way. Leave it to me. I don’t fucking care.

-But what if she’s not alone now? Rocks added… What if He’s there?

-She said he weren’t comin till midnight, I remember dat… but if anyone else has turned up, lak friends an dat, they’ll have my nine to deal with – D checking the ammo…

They watched a posse of souljas strut by on the street, four or five of them, eyes staring straight in… Rocks breathed deeply, -Shit man…

-Chill blad, D laughed, crack-confident now. Just fucking jokers, man… then he said: I see them ever again though, I’ll cut their fuckin eyes out…

They waited until all was clear. The street silent, dead. Then… Go. They got out of the car, hooded and scarfed. Headed into the estate. No lookouts, nothing. Good. They headed up the stairs towards the flat…

Halfway along the top balcony a figure suddenly stepped out of the flat wielding a Mac-10 – Shit!!! – D raised his nine, tried popping off shots, the guy darting inwards, but the damn thing was jammed… The guy re-emerged and now stood there laughing. In a panic they looked behind them… same shit: three guys, weapons pointing, sneers cracking into smiles. The Cobra’s men.

One of the thugs spoke into an earpiece, -We got ’em, boss. Then he stepped forward, Stay the fuck where you are!

Grill panicked, whipped out his machete and lunged towards him with a growl… BANG! – the blade was shot clean from his grip, flying out into the open air – What da? Grill looking at his empty hand and swallowing… The goon walked toward him and whipped him across the mouth… -Now up against the wall, all three of you! Handcuffs were snapped onto their wrists. They were marched into the flat.

In the living room after taking beats they were tied to chairs. Then suddenly all went silent. Somebody was entering the room. The goons stepped back, soldiers erect to attention. D, Grill and Rocks felt a collective sense of hell. Before them in leather coat and shades was the Cobra.

He looked each up and down, breathing hard through his nose as if to contain his anger. He removed his shades. All three shrank at the sight. Cobra was blind in one eye; in its place was a gleaming sphere of gold; the other adorned in an icy blue lens, staring so hard you could see the whites all round.

It was thought that Cobra lost his eye in a stabbing incident in his youth. Legend had it that the teenage perpetrator disappeared off the streets, his body never found but his severed heart sent gift-wrapped to his stricken mother, a woman who spent the rest of her days in a state of madness; some say literally cursed by demons. D was visibly shaking, scared to make eye contact. Cobra stepped forward, grabbed him by the jaw to face him… -You?… So we meet again, bwai – the grip nearly breaking his face.

D started pleading, but the Cobra put a finger to his lips and told him to hush…

-You come in here… you bone one of my women?

-We never knew she was connected to you, D begged, honest. We got the wrong flat, I swear on God’s life, I swear it…

Cobra nodded to one of his men to go get the girl. Seconds later there she was, restrained in a firm grip… -I’ll kill him!! I’ll kill him!!

-Which one a dem bone you? Cobra asked.

-Him!! That’s the bastard!! she pointed, lunging for D, I’ll tear his fucking eyes out!!

Cobra nodded. The girl was swiftly ejected.

For a full minute he paced to and fro, staring them down in murderous contemplation. Finally his glare settled on D.

-Strip ‘im, he said.

-No Cobe, please – the thugs stepping forward – I never meant it, man, honest. I swear on my mother’s life…

-I’ll kill your fuckin mudda, how bout dat? – The goons tearing the garms off him…

-Get de iron, Cobra said, taking off his coat and rolling his shirtsleeves – Heat it up. I’m gonna teach dis fucker some respect…


COCAINE EYES ~ Michael Keenaghan

In offbeat on September 16, 2009 at 8:36 am

Standing on Kym’s doorstep having delivered my speech, she hands me back the flowers.
“I’m sorry, Michael,” she says. “I’m glad you’re clean now, I really am. But we’ve talked about this before – it’s over. Finished. I’m sorry.”
I hear somebody behind her. A man.
“What’s going on?” he says, standing next to her.
“Michael’s just an old friend,” she says. “He was just going.”
Putting his arm around her, he closes the door.

A week later, standing on my tenth-floor balcony, I feel an actual click inside my skull, and it’s as though I’ve woken out of a bad dream. I walk back inside – the flat an incomprehensible mess. I have flashbacks to how I’ve spent the past seven days and I’m horrified. I frantically tidy the flat, shower, put on clean clothes. Then sitting down I take deep breaths and tell myself: There is absolutely nothing to worry about. So I lapsed. I binged. It was a mistake. I’m clean now.
Up until a few months before, I’d worked for an insurance firm in the City. Unemployment was hard to take. It wasn’t so much the lack of money – I had savings and an inheritance sum – than the sudden lack of structure to my life. I started drinking more, and my coke habit spiralled out of control. I’d been seeing Kym since before being laid off, but suddenly it was all up in the air. I ended up in rehab. But it was the best place for me. During those six weeks away, I met a lot of good people and it changed my outlook. Made me re-evaluate things.
But later as I rack up a line – just the one – I honestly tell myself: So what. It’s a line. One fucking line. I mean, I’ve got to get things into perspective here – the idea of one hundred per cent abstinence just isn’t realistic yet. One step at a time. Besides, I’ve got a lot to think about. Like putting my life back together. Like getting back with Kym. Like this time really giving it a go.
Kym lives in Hackney, near London Fields. I find myself frequenting the pub at the corner of her street – it’s used by the mostly young professionals who have part-gentrified the area. Kym hasn’t returned any of my messages, and I tell myself I’m just trying to build up the courage to once again knock on her door, but more realistically I’m spying. I watch her return from work. Watch the man follow minutes after. Watch them sometimes return together. I sit drinking, sit watching. Why do I torture myself like this?

One afternoon I walk in and a couple are sitting at my table by the window. They’re talking animatedly, and as I stand at the bar drinking pints I’m simply itching for them to piss off and give me my seat back. I start to stare them out, try making them uncomfortable so they might move seats. The girl looks me up and down, whispers something, then the man looks me over and laughs.
Something snaps. I lunge towards them, upturn their table, drinks flying. The woman is screaming and I’m grappling across the floor with the man. Standing up he’s a lot bigger than I realized and suddenly he’s punching me hard in the face. I fall to the floor and he’s shouting at me, but the barman pulls him away. I get up. There’s people around us now, asking what happened, if I’m alright, but I shrug them off. There’s blood pouring from my nose; the man looking embarrassed now, trying to explain what happened; his girlfriend crying in the background. I get out of there. I know I can’t come back.
Back at home I feel completely out of it. With a pack of peas against my face, I phone the dealer. The runner arrives – a friendly black kid – and he’s shocked when he sees me. “Rah, bruv, you okay? What happened to you man?”
I make up some bullshit that I’d been jumped – but guess what, I pulled out a fucking gun on the bastards. You should have seen their faces – scattered like mice the lot of them. I’m re-enacting the scene, really getting into it, and he probably doesn’t believe me, but saying goodbye I don’t really care. I rack up some coke and pull out a pack of Stellas from the fridge. I put on a couple old Oasis albums and swagger about the flat singing and drinking like I don’t give a fuck. Then I go out onto the balcony to cool off. It’s dark now. The whole of London spread out before me.
Suddenly I feel insignificant. So alone. I start to panic. Then I do what I always do. I phone for some company. Next thing I’m sitting on the sofa with my trousers around my ankles and a blonde head going up and down on my lap. Who the fuck is she? I pull her up – her wig coming half-off in my hand; short black hair beneath. She’s Japanese or something. Looks nothing like Kym at all.
“Get out!” I throw her off me. She lands back on the floor shocked. I grab her coat and throw it at her. “Get the fuck out of here, now!” – an unexplained panic coursing through me. By the door she warns me that I won’t get away with this, slamming it behind her. I go out to the balcony for some night air, smoking cigarettes, drinking vodka, not even realizing what I’ve done.
Suddenly the doorbell goes. I freeze. My biggest fear the police; my coffee table covered in coke. “Answer the door now!” Fists are pounding. I’m starting to sweat. “Open up, you cunt, or we’ll kick the fucking door in!” I open it. Two men: black, white. The black one punches me straight in the face and I fly. They charge in – the white one dragging me up onto the sofa.
“I think you owe someone an apology, don’t you?” he says. I look over and see the prostitute right there. They stand back laughing as she grabs me by the hair, punching me in the face. She’s shouting at me, calling me a prick, a bastard, a piece of shit, pounding me as I curl tight into a ball. When she’s finished they pull me up. One holds me while the other beats me with his fists. They take this is turns until I’m semi-conscious. Then they round up all my coke and the cash I keep on the table and warn me next time they’ll throw me off the fucking balcony. The next thing I remember is staggering out into the communal hall in a bloody mess and collapsing on the floor. I wake up in hospital.
After that, I move out of the flat. I can’t live there any more. Too many bad memories. Besides, I need a new environment to clean up in.
I rent a place in Stoke Newington – a mile or so from Kym. The flat is light and spacious and moving in I feel invigorated. It’s a whole new start. One day, on the High Street, a girl hands me a leaflet for a gym. I’ve lost weight and need to build up. I join. The positive vibes of the place are infectious. On my first session I work out so hard I can barely move afterwards. But it’s the beginning of something I desperately need – a routine. From now on, every morning around 10.30, I go there and work myself rigid.
I make a gym buddy in Neil. He uses the weight room daily – first showed me the ropes when he saw me struggling. He’s a good bloke – well-built, but not your typical meathead. He likes to party, enjoys a line here and there, but tells me he keeps it mainly to weekends. I tell him I’m pretty much like that too. I never see him out of the gym, but occasionally we have a drink afterwards. He drives a 7-series BMW, has a black girlfriend and works in music, running a PA hire business – keeps his own hours. Neil seems to have it all worked out, has the balance right. I need to learn from that.
Despite the shakes and the high-protein diet, weight-gain for me is slow. In the mirror doing weights next to Neil I feel a little pathetic. I need to bulk up, fast.
“There’s always things you can take,” he winks. “If you’re desperate like.”
“What, steroids?” I laugh.
“Don’t believe the hype,” he tells me. “I’ve used them myself. Not now, but in the past. Like any drug, there’s dangerous levels and there’s safe. It’s all about common sense really. If you want seriously fast results, it’s a good temporary option. Long term though it’s about putting in the work.”

Looking at his physique I envy him, yet I tell him I’ll stick to the shakes. I’m still on the coke every day but trying to keep the alcohol and binges to a minimum. The last thing I need is a newcomer.

Days later, however, I’m asking about side effects.
He tells me they’re over-hyped and over-reported – some just plain nonsense. “What does the media know? Fuck all. All it’s interested in is horror stories, blowing things out of proportion. The minute GlaxoSmithKline decide to market the stuff for bodybuilding – which eventually they will – it’ll suddenly be all harmless… Listen, if you’re interested I’ve got contacts and can sort you out with some quality stuff. If not, don’t worry about it.”
Every few days he has a package for me.

In the mirror I’m beginning to like what I see. Neil agrees. “Look at me,” he owns up one day, strutting out of the shower. “How the fuck do you think I look like this?”

In the changing room we talk about sex. He tells me about his girlfriend’s insatiable appetite, all the positions they do. Tells me I should come over some time, bring the Mrs for a foursome.
One day, over a post-workout drink, he confides that until a big contract comes up in the Summer things are going to be pretty tight for him – he’s got debts and bills coming out of his ears – roll on Summer hey. I find myself loaning him more and more – sixty here, eighty there. Each time he acts embarrassed, but I tell him it’s okay, no problem. I like Neil. He’s a good bloke. In fact, he’s the only kind of friend I’ve got. I burned all my bridges in that department long ago – pissed off untold people, my behaviour out of control. But looking back, alot of them weren’t real friends anyway. One day I give him £250 quid to pay off some bills. Another time I give him £400 for his car’s MOT.
Some time later, after all of this, I’m knocking on his flat at 11pm, the sweat pouring off me. Minutes later he answers. He’s standing there in a thong, his girlfriend looking on from the background.

“What the fuck do you want?”

“I want my gear,” I tell him. “You haven’t been at the gym for over a week and haven’t answered my calls. I need my roids.”
“How did you get my address?”
I tell him I paid off the gym receptionist, which I did.

He disappears inside, comes back out with my stuff, bangs it into my hand. Looking left and right, he leans into me: “Listen here, you cokehead cunt. You don’t know me, don’t know where I live, don’t know nothing about me. You fucking got that?” Then he slams the door. He’s gone.
Neil doesn’t return to the gym. Then nor do I. One day picking up the Hackney Gazette I see a mugshot of him looking back at me. DRUG DEALER SHOT DEAD. I stare at it in shock. He’d been dealing coke and heroin, crossed people who’d vowed to kill him. They burst into his flat, shot him four times in the head. 
There’d been no friendship there atall. Neil had just been taking the piss. I hated him for that. Couldn’t even understand it. I was glad he was dead. Two men had killed him and good luck to them. You think someone’s your friend and they just use you. Shit on you like that. Just like Kym. You think somebody’s the love of your life and they don’t seem to care if you’re alive or dead.
I’d been texting Kym off and on for months. Not a single reply. I couldn’t work it out any more. Why was she doing this to me?

One day, trying to fend off my craving, I tidy the flat. Rooting through some stuff I find the number of a man I met at rehab. He’d worked in finance, but dropped out to travel the world. He ended up bumming around Goa and came back a heroin addict. We got on well and we’d talk for hours. He told me to promise that I’d phone him some time and we’d meet. There’d been a bond there, and right now I needed that bond – somebody to talk to, who understood what I was going through. I phone the number. A woman answers. She’s tells me she’s his mother. Tells me that he relapsed, overdosed and died. I sit staring at the wall for an hour. Then I phone the dealer.
Since stopping training and coming off the roids I feel drained, physically weak. Walking the streets after dark I feel vulnerable. Police witness boards line the pavements, and the stories in the local papers are always the same. Muggings, stabbings, unprovoked attacks. Perversely, I find myself reading them more and more. One day I read a story about a gang of Hackney teenagers jailed for approximately 150 vicious muggings over the space of six months. Their targets lone professionals returning from work. They’d batter their victims ferociously with chains and bats before robbing them. One man was blinded. A woman raped. One man suffered brain damage and later committed suicide.
I dream of violence. Burglars enter my flat and I crucify them against my living room wall. I stand throwing acid at them, laughing at their screams as their bodies melt. I dream of running through the streets, a gun in each hand, firing randomly. I dream of avenging all the bad luck I’ve been bestowed – ex-bosses, work colleagues, old friends – making them pay. And Kym – I dream I knock on her front door and her boyfriend answers. I blast him back in a hail of bullets and he dances to his death in front of her.
Kym runs to me, thanks me. We hold each other tight. I kiss her face, close my eyes. When I open them she has turned into an insect, arms and legs growing around me. I wake up in a pounding sweat. My coke consumption is hitting the roof. 
I buy a dartboard. I hang it up in the flat. Instead of using darts I use knives. I never leave the house without one. I’ve started screwing more blacks girls. Just like Neil. I have them up on the table, doing them from behind. Standing there I imagine what Neil’s head must have looked like, blown away at point blank. I see my wall covered in brain tissue and blood. I imagine that I am him, that I’ve transformed into his body, fucking the prostitute below me.
“Doing well, Mick,” a voice says to my left. I turn. There he is, standing in the doorway. “Get in there, my son.”
I turn back to the whore and thrust myself harder. Then I turn back to Neil. This time he has his cock out. He’s weighing it in his hand, laughing at me. I pump harder, giving it my all. When I turn back to him his face is deadly serious. Slowly he reaches into his leather. Pulls out a revolver. Points it at me.

I scream and push the girl away. I’m shaking in shock.
The girl turns around. “What’s wrong, darling?” she says in a West Indian accent. I see her face, notice she’s well into middle-age, possibly in her fifties. “Come on,” she coos, coming off the table, her huge breasts moving beneath her. “I’ll take you in my mouth. You’ll like that.”
“Leave,” I tell her. “Please.”
“But I want you to come inside me,” she smiles. She reaches for me but I push her hand away.
“Tsss!!” she kisses, walking to her clothes and eyeing me evilly as she dresses.
“I’m sorry,” I tell her. “I really am. It’s not your fault…” I’m pulling notes out of my wallet, telling her she’s beautiful, she’s lovely…
A minute later she’s holding me with two arms as I break down.
“You need to go more easy on the coke, darling. Trust me on that. You need to get some help…”
The next day, after the worst nightmares of my life, I check myself into rehab.
Two weeks later I check out. I’m clean. Clean at last. I get off the train at Dalston and with the sun shining on the streets, walk back to the flat feeling happier than I’ve felt in months, possibly years. I get in and sit on my seat. Everything is exactly as I left it. I look around at the blank walls, blank windows, blank TV screen. The euphoria slowly drains. Eventually the emptiness inside me becomes unbearable. Instinctively I rummage through the mess on the coffee table – then realize I’m not supposed to do that any more, I’ve put it all behind me. But suddenly the idea of living day-to-day without drugs scares me to the core.
Three days later I wake from my binge. The flat is a mess, but it doesn’t shock me any more. I feel numb. Mail has been building up by the door for weeks and I work through some of the letters. I read one from the bank. I’ve spent all my savings, all my inheritance; I’ve overdrafted and loaned as far as I can go. I am broke.
I tear open more mail. I owe money on another account, and money to credit card companies. I owe three months rent to the landlord, and several letters are from bailiffs. I’ve broken out in a sweat. Where’s my coke money going to come from? Suddenly I remember I have a bag of cash stashed in the cupboard. I rummage for it, pull it out, three or four grand at least spilling across the floor. Thank fucking Christ.
I needed a gun. There was no other way. With a gun you can do anything. I could do betting shops, post offices, newsagents – the options were endless. People get away with it all the time. And who would suspect me? This was it. The answer to all my money problems. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of this before.
Buying drugs on the street or in shady pubs, I started asking around. Most people laughed, thought I was joking. Others taxed me for phone numbers or info that led nowhere. I was sent to a pub in Bermondsey that was boarded up; another in Canning Town that didn’t exist. But I was relentless. I wouldn’t stop. I needed this.
A dealer puts me on to a black bloke that I meet in a Dalston cafe. He’s friendly enough and seems genuine. I pass him £80 (“for his services”) and he makes a call right there in front of me.

“Okay,” he says, clicking off his phone. “These men are the real deal. They’ll get you whatever you want.” He tells me to meet them tomorrow 2pm at a pub in Dagenham. Two white blokes, Darren and Steve. He guarantees he’s not fucking me about – tells me these guys supply half of Hackney. We tap fists and bid each other a good day. 
The next day I meet them. Any reservations I have about being set up by police vanish. These two are hardcore. I start talking but they nod me out to the car. “Not here.”
Wordlessly they drive me out to a derelict dock by the Thames. With the vast murky water and nobody around for miles, I’m almost beginning to regret the whole thing.
We get out of the car. They stand in front of me. “So, Sammy sent you up from Hackney yeah. Who the fuck are you?”
I show them some ID. “I’m genuine, guys, don’t worry about it.”
They look at it. Hand it back. “Right, take your fucking clothes off.” 
“What are you talking about?”
“You might be Old Bill. Might be fucking wired. What are we, cunts? Get ’em off.”
They check me out. Once they’re satisfied we get down to business. They’re talking handguns, Glocks and Berettas, but I tell them I want something bigger. Something visual.

“How about a sawn-off?” the main man suggests. “We’ve got one brand new as it goes, freshly sawn. 12 bore, pump action. Powerful bit of kit. I reckon that’s exactly what you’re looking for.”
“Is it scary looking?”
“It would frighten the knickers off your granny, mate.”
I start to laugh but both of them are dead serious.
“I want it.”
“It’ll cost you.”
“How much?”
“Two and a half grand.”
“Where do I sign?”

The transaction is on for noon tomorrow. Parsloes Park, north side of the lake. A man in hat and glasses will be on a bench reading the Racing Post. I’ll sit next to him with the cash in a bag. He’ll walk, leave his holdall. I’ll remain seated for fifteen minutes, then take my goods and go. It’s all agreed. They drop me off at Rainham station. I train it back.
The next day coming out of Becontree tube it’s raining hard. I head into the large empty park, nobody around, but when I reach the lake, sure enough, there’s my man – hat, shades, paper falling apart in the rain. I see the holdall next to his feet. No sooner do I sit down, he takes the cash and walks. I sit out the fifteen minutes hardly able to contain myself, then I grab the holdall and run over to the nearest tree.
I zip it open, rummage through the mounds of paper wadding. At the bottom I find various lumps of scrap metal. Attached to one is a note. NICE DOING BUSINESS WITH YOU CUNT.
No!!! I throw the bag across the green. Roar until I’m hoarse. I’ve just blown the last of my cash.
That night in Hackney, balaclavad and knife in hand, I hold someone up by a cash machine. I get him to withdraw the maximum his card allows then tell him to walk away without turning or I’ll fucking kill him. Then I run. I don’t like it, don’t enjoy it, but from then on that’s pretty much how I’m living from day to day.

One afternoon I decide to go back to the pub on the corner of Kym’s road. The fight was ages ago and the barman probably won’t recognize me. These days I can hardly recognize myself. Somewhere along the way I’d got out of the habit of shaving, and looking in the mirror one morning at the face staring back at me I thought I was hallucinating. I walk into the pub. The second I get to the bar the barman recognizes me. “Out,” he says. “Out now or I’ll call the police!”
I head into an off-licence. Then I walk. I walk up and down the street past Kym’s house. Finally I think, fuck it, and head straight up her path and sit on the steps waiting for her to return from work. At one stage the gay couple who live upstairs walk around me to get in. I raise my can of Special Brew, say hello; they politely ignore me.
Half five comes and goes. I’m getting worried now. I need to see her. I’ve suffered enough. Then I see the both of them coming along the street with their shopping bags. When they open the gate and see me, they stop. Kym looks shocked. The man continues towards me. “Greg, no,” I hear her say.
I’m standing on the steps, looking down on him. “This has got nothing to do with you,” I warn him. “I’m here to speak to Kym.”
“You’re the bastard who’s been sending her threatening messages, aren’t you?”
“I’ve never threatened Kym in my life, you lying cunt.” Then I call out to Kym, “Tell him. Tell him who you really love. You don’t love him atall, do you? It’s me you really want. Tell him.”
Kym stands there frozen. Greg turns back to me and laughs. “If I’m correct, you went out with Kym for a few months, then that was that. You hardly even know her. You’re deluded. A pure pest. Now if you don’t get away from here I’m going to call the police.” Kym is standing behind him now.
I walk towards him. He’s taller than me, in better shape, but I don’t care. I hate him. Hate everything about him. He shades Kym from me as I walk past. Then suddenly I turn and swing a blow towards his face.
In a flash he’s grabbed my arm, twisted it behind my back and I’m locked on my knees. He breathes into my ear: “Come around here again and I’ll break every bone in your body.” He twists my arm a little harder. “Have you fucking got that?”
The pain is excruciating. “…Yes.”
“Now piss off,” he says, pushing me down the path.
By the gate I stop and look at him. Under my jacket I’m carrying a blade. For a second I think about reaching for it and taking a run for him. But the men upstairs are at their window now, asking Greg if everything’s okay. 

“You’re not going to get away with this,” I point.
Heading off I’m so fuelled-up with hate I feel like I’m going to explode. I buy some brown off a street dealer and sit smoking it on a bench in London Fields. I need to chill the fuck out. Groups of trendies are dotted about the grass; some estate kids letting their bull-terriers rip the bark from trees. The H mellows me so much I fall asleep for a while.
I wake up to the sound of voices. It’s dark now, night, and for a second I don’t even know where I am. Figures are in front me; one of them up close fiddling with my jacket. I throw his hand away and he jumps back. I’m on my feet now. There’s five of them – teenagers – four black, one white.
“What the fuck do you want?” I demand. The white one who’d tried to check my pockets comes forward again. He pushes me back down onto the bench. “Gimme your money or I’ll kick your fuckin arse innit!” He has a stick in his hand and he’s raising it at me. He turns his head back to the others for approval – all of them laughing and whooping.
I reach for my tool and spring at him, the machete connecting hard across his face as he turns back to me. Blood flies; I hear a collective gasp, and again I bring it down, chopping into him. I’m screaming at them, “You want some! You fucking want some!” They’re scattering, dragging the boy away, his body like a rag doll, half-running, half-falling, and I’m yelling after them, blade swinging.

They disappear into the dark. I’m alone now, breathing hard, the whole thing a mad dream. I look at the machete and the path around me smeared in blood. I put the weapon away. Think of cut-open cows being dragged half-dead across abattoir floors as I make my way to the opposite side of the park. Sirens sounding their nightly wail as I walk the fifteen minutes home.
I dream of hell. I am Jesus on the day of his crucifixion. Whips lash my back as I bear my cross through the Hackney streets, the hill of Springfield Park my Calvary. Demons flit in and out of the fiery darkness as crowds heave and buildings burn. I reach the gates of the park, local Hasids screaming psalms, gang kids firing guns. I climb the mount. I am nailed to the wood, risen high on my cross. The rabble frenzied in celebration. I spot the faces of Kym and Greg; then they are lost in the swell. Slowly I pan from the scene. See myself revolving on a swastika cross. Hackney raging in a furnace. I long to die, for the pain to end. But it never will. My pain is eternal.

I sit reading the local paper. Page 7 displays a heartbroken mother holding a picture of a shaven-headed white youth. PLEASE FIND THE MONSTER WHO KILLED MY SON. I scan the article with fascination, half expecting to see my name somewhere, my picture: This is the man we are looking for. But no. This is Hackney. One of the great murder capitals of Great Britain. A part-gentrified but council-estate ridden mess that the police have no hold over. I’ve killed and I’m going to kill again. One more piece of dead meat on the Hackney streets. Who cares? Nobody gives a shit.
I dream of the past. I work, I come home, I am contented. I have found love. She is beautiful, caring, kind – everything I have ever wished for. In the evening we’re drinking wine, cuddling close in front of the television. The door swings open. We turn. It’s Greg. He’s naked. Erect. Kym slips from my arms and slowly walks to him. I try to move, try to shout, but I can’t. Kym looks at me, then gets to her knees and begins to suck… Then I dream I am falling downwards through space. Tossing and turning for hours, sweating, screaming, plunging to hell. I land. I am on a butcher’s table. My arms and legs have been severed. I can’t move. The butcher pulls down his mask. It is Greg. Kym is standing by him. Greg smiles. Then he lifts the cleaver high in the air, brings it down towards my face. I wake up screaming. I feel like I’ve been tortured. Feel like I’m sweating blood.
My floor is littered with wraps, bottles, newspapers… newspapers everywhere… police are urging members of the public in Hackney to beware after a string of violent cashpoint robberies… Broadway Market gun chase horror… boy shot in gangfight… crack-addict’s year-long mugging spree… picnic couple slashed… pregnant woman stabbed… cyclist battered with iron bar… estate residents ‘living in hell’… girl, 13, gang-raped in flat… machete mugger on the loose… axe gang in rampage… body parts in bin… man stabbed after leaving pub… man tortured in flat… man shot in the head.
Saturday evening. It’s all worked out. I stand in front of the mirror – the right jeans, right trainers, hood, scarf, jacket padded for bulk. I stare at my face in awe: bright eyes shining out of blacked-up skin. The plan: Kym and Greg head out into the dim-lit night to socialize; I attack fast, demand cash, then run. A botched mugging. Mugger panicked and fled – Greg on the floor with fatal wounds. I stand hefting the machete, snarling into the glass. Will I be recognized? Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. Maybe I don’t care any more.    
In the mirror Neil stands behind me. “You look just like one of those cunts that killed me,” he says, adjusting my clothes.

“I know I do, Neil. I know I do.”

Nightfall. I’m hiding in a front garden across from Kym’s flat. I’m tucked among the bins. 
“Okay,” Neil instructs from his vantage point. “Get ready.”
Kym’s lights have gone out. The door opens; they step out of the flat. As they head along the street I follow them. They’re talking, hand in hand. I hear them laughing together, feel the hate swell. I up my pace. I’m running now.
“You fucking bastard.” I bring the machete down. Greg turns; it catches him deep in the shoulder. He staggers sideways; Kym screaming. My mugging plan forgotten now I go for him again. Headfirst he runs at me, but I slash at him wildly and he falls back against the wall covered in blood. Kym is struggling, screaming at me. I push her away. Greg on the floor – I’m ready to kill him now. 
“Please,” he says.

Suddenly Kym flies at me, scratching my eyes. I knock her back with force, feel the rage explode inside me – and something happens. She’s down on her knees, clutching the side of her neck. Her eyes are shocked, blood gushing through her fingers. She crumples downwards next to Greg.

“What have you done!” Greg’s screaming. “What have you fucking done!” He’s struggling to cradle her in his arms, Kym lifeless, head at an angle, the whole scene drenched in blood. Figures emerge at the sidelines. Voices scream.
I run. I tear through the streets. I don’t stop until I reach the flat, and then inside I’m frantically snorting up coke trying to stop the screaming hounds of hell from bursting through my door… I’m slamming the table in front of me, fists dried in blood. What have I done? What have I done?
Neil sits opposite, laughing through the chaos.
“Come on, Mick. You wanted to do her anyway. You hated the bitch.”
“I didn’t, you bastard! I fucking didn’t!” 
I pick up a full bottle of vodka, throw it at him.  
“Oh yes you did, Mick. Oh yes you fucking did.”
I toss back the table. Tear the place apart. The sound of Neil’s laughter echoing in my head.
Next thing I’m in the kitchen. I’m slashing my wrists.

Suddenly all hell breaks through my front door. Police telling me to drop the knife, drop the fucking knife…
“Don’t come near me!.. I’ll kill you!… kill the fucking lot of you!”
I kill none of them.
But part of me dies that day.