failed. Give London half a chance, give it a few days of
heat and unbroken sunshine and, before you can say walking
on air, everyone everywhere moans about the weather.
Big time. In shops. In pubs. On the bus. Down the tube.
On the radio. Every-fucking-where. Londoners are touchy
like that. And before you know it, the hordes have grown
into a brewing storm. A hot, sweaty, frowning brewing storm.
One mother-ugly face. Blimey. Innit boiling, mate? Absolutely. Dont know if I can take much more of
this. You dont say. And the old folks lucky enough
to still have a few acquaintances, lucky enough to not be
bedridden, nod to each other, like the old foxes they are. Hot, aint it, love? And slags, dogs and joy-riders
begin to smell and bark. Phew! Fuck me! What a scorcher.
Dont know if
Never failed. Poor bastards.
North London. Top of the Hill. Top of the world. One step
removed from Heaven. This was where the big lie was on show,
where the streets were paved with gold. Now, the Hampstead
hordes were not to be caught moaning about the weather.
Not ever. No sir. When the afternoon belonged to yet another
faultless day, and the air was made of crystal water, and
golden threads, so-blue-so-airy-so-crisp, the Hampstead
hordes could be relied upon to act like all was business
as usual. Much too favoured and worldly-wise these hordes
were to be stirred by a mere few gorgeous days in a row.
Much too sophisticated. Rain or shine, the weather was of
no significance up in Hampstead. You could always bet on
that. Hampstead had its own beat, owned the Heath and Mews
and Lanes and words like quaint and cottagey and twee and
olde-worlde and hushed cars that glowed and floated. Hampstead
was Londons place of gardens and lilies, where
fawns and does disported themselves, and everything was
fair. Its hordes were never going to be caught moaning
about the weather. Uh-uh. Rain or shine, the present really
truly always sparkled up in Hampstead. And Hampsteadites knew it. Had taken so-fair so-high a place for themselves.
They had no worries about hungry leopards. Or about anyone
coming up to slay them. Or about doing it before it was
done to them. It wasnt called for. The way it was,
Hampstead hordes had no need to trouble themselves with
such things as fear, wisdom or pre-emptive strikes. They
slew crafty foxes for recreation up in Hampstead. Top of
the fucking world they were. And all the slaying and fucking
and doing had either been done for them already or was being
done on their behalf by others in other places right then
as they purred in their place of gardens and lilies.
Hampstead was where the big lie was exposed, where the true
reward of polite and polished ruthlessness was on show,
where butterflies stunned and stung. Because Hampstead butterflies
had more of everything. More tits. More ass. More leg. More
lips. More eyes. More skin. More lean and mean. More tone.
More colour. More hair. More shoes. And more airs. A lot
more airs. Hampstead butterflies were high-maintenance and
to be caught at your own risk. Hampstead butterflies were
moneyed-honeyed-well-laid slags. In fact, Hampstead butterflies
werent butterflies at all but bees in butterfly clothing.
Mean and lean stinging bees. So loaded and charged they
could kill. Or maybe they were princesses. Al could not
really tell. Didnt really know. This was where the
hordes were made of gold. He didnt belong there.
Swish. A couple of bees buzzed past his call-box,
shamming a flutter. Never saw him. Too busy being lean and
mean and honeyed and moneyed and well-laid to mind some
asshole in a Levi jacket standing at a public call-box,
some asshole who walked on air. Too loaded and charged even
to notice they were being watched really. They didnt
even look hot. Or smell. And, come to think of it, they
didnt even buzz really. They glided. Flowed. Like
molten gold. Liquid heathen idols.
This was how things were up in Hampstead High Street, where
Al for the simple reason that he had no connection
with the area, and so it was safe, even if his call was
traced had decided to come to call the tick from.
Thats how things were up there, on top of the hill
overlooking London. And it was really nothing to find something
pleasant to look at on a pavement by a Hampstead public
call-box. Absolutely nothing. To those that have it shall
be given. Liquid honeyed bees in streets paved with gold.
And that was it. To those that have it shall be given. Life
was cruel. Plain and simple.
The number Al had got from the Old Girl, given its opening
digits, belonged to a mobile phone. Al fed the call-box
a few coins, started dialling, and briefly there, for a
moment there, a shiver ran through his body and burst into
his chest. Pitapat. Just like that! Only this time,
instead of burning itself out, after exploding the shiver
reformed as a quiver and fastened itself to his insides.
And Al sighed. Hell! The feeling was unpleasant but not
all that unexpected. Something like it, something like knots
in the rib cage, was always likely to occur at the time
of throwing the dice. Al had expected it, reminded himself
of this as the first ring filled the handset against his
Calm, boy! Myrtle, bracken and rosemary! Butter me
Al knew of a special place. And it had a pool and a waterfall
and a burro even. Thats right. Even had the fucking burro! Now, if the moneyed-honeyed-well-laid stinging
princesses knew, what would they think, eh?
Six rings. He counted six rings before someone picked up
at the other end. Contact! Piece of cake. It was that easy.
And we had lift-off:
Al didnt even clear his throat, even though it felt
a little tight and dry:
And thats all he said. Al had prepared for this. The
idea was to rattle the other a little, keep him guessing
and get him to talk, partly to make out his accent, partly
to take control, have the upper hand and establish who was
boss. Forewarned is forearmed, right?
It took the other just over a second to hit back, with four
How are you, Alan?
And it took Al no time at all to lose control. Even before
processing what was up, and working out the feasible from
the unfeasible, he did the dumbest thing, one of those things
so dumb you know its dumb even as you are still about
to do it: he spun his head to search the street, probing
right, then left, then behind, and then ahead, beyond the
moving traffic, hearing noise and seeing colours and sparkles
and movements but unable to make precise sounds or shapes
out of it all. Pitapat-pitapat! What do you know?
Even while twisting his neck this way and that, he was conscious
of the unlikelihood of there being anyone or anything for
him to see of his coming across anyone there watching
him but it couldnt be helped. Like a bunny
rabbit caught in headlights, he went through the motions
imposed by reflex. There was something so natural about
it, about him probing the street, it couldnt be helped.
Might as well have had no brain.
How are you, Alan? the voice in his ear said
again. And then, as Al was still trying to reorder his thoughts,
fighting to regain control of himself: Ive been
waiting for your call.
Had he now?
Eric Leclere. All Rights Reserved