My landlord doesn’t tend to knock. He says it’s because he has no knuckles on his right (knocking) hand, but I see no reason why he can’t use his elbow (if not his left hand).
What followed was his usual abrasive words-as-weapons monthly tirade.
I started with my usual, sunny, “Ah, Mr. Dragoon, why don’t you come in,” as he was already in the kitchen and looking in my fridge (he never takes anything, just looks in it. I’ve never known what for). He is not the sort to recognise sarcasm.
He said, “What you doin’ in here, Mr Jones?”
“In the flat, or the fridge specifically?”
“I don’t want drugs in my building.”
Then no one would live in your building. I didn’t say it.
“Well you won’t find any in here,” I said. Then I added: “Mr Dragoon,” out of the deference being about to fork over four hundred quid to someone gives me to them.
“You,” he said, stabbing a finger that he no longer had at me, “can call me Michael. Or Mike. No, Michael.”
“Fine, Michael. And you can call me Ellroy.”
“No, I’ll call you Pal. And you’ll listen. Who when I say listen, Pal, you’ll pay attention.” He looked at where his fingers used to be to compose himself. “Listen, Pal, you and I are men of the world. Me, I’ve been running blocks like this since I had fingers and you had smooth balls. You, you’ve been doing your music thing—“
“Listen, Pal. When I’m talking, you’re not…talking. You get me?”
He raised his eyebrows too indicate it was more than just a rhetorical questions and I was actually expected to fill this silence, so I nodded.
“Good,” he said. “We know the way things go, you just gotta put up with them, nothing you can do. You just go along with them. Like the weather and restraining orders. You follow me?”
I didn’t. “Yes.”
“Good. Now listen, blinky. You know what I think there is in this building?”
Was it a yes/no question or an actual answer-required situation? His eyebrows told me I was taking too long so I put on a serious face and half nodded, which seemed to do.
“Drugs,” he said.
“I told you I don’t have any.”
“And I told you to listen, chin-arse. See people I do, at night usually. Day time too though. Acting weird, hoods up, hands in their pockets, stopping and talking on the stairs maybe, too close to each other like.”
“They could be flirting I said.”
His eyes narrowed. “They were both blokes.”
“It’s 2012,” I said and knew it was the wrong thing to say only once the words were out there, strung between us like razor wire.
“Must be drugs,” I said quickly and took him back off on his tirade.
What followed was a long and moist barrage of words forming his vitriol about narcotics.
I didn’t want to say so? Because that would have seemed dismissive and antagonistic, so I raised one eyebrow and cocked my head to the side.
“I want to know what’s going on,” he said. “And I think you’re the man to help me.”
“We’ve been around the world. We know people, what goes on here—“ he banged his stub between his eyes. “We know the sort. It’s like us and them, like a game. Like chess.”
“Ah, chess.” A pause as I floundered desperately for something to deflect his narrowing lazer-gaze. “Do you play?”
“Did I say Chess? I meant Subbuteo.”
“Still a fine game. Would you like a drink?”
“You’ll be my eyes, my ears, my nose.”
“I think I’ll have a drink.”
By the time I was actually drunk he had left. I sat in the chair I keep next to the window and looked down on the street, two storeys below, and asked myself things:
1. If the girl that had walked past three times was actually the same girl at all, or three different girls-of-the-day and I was now so removed from the culture of the world I was once so deeply embedded in that I hadn’t even noticed it had left me behind, alone and insular and looking at it without knowing it was its back I was gazing to; and,
2. How could I, if I were to at all, carry out Dragoon’s request; and,
3. If I called one of my ex-wives would any one of them actually take my call; and,
4. What had happened to the town I had grown up in? Why had I returned to it of all places, and how had it faded? Were the people of the town blindly walking through it, swallowed up so deeply that its rot had blinded them to its very existence as it gorged on the walls and streets;
5. Would Backspace return my Email and give me a shot;
6. If I could sleep with any woman who passed the window, which would it be? An Asian girl in a tweed skirt took top place and after thirty minutes no one had toppled her.
And so, with the alcohol-mirror placed firmly and uncomfortably in front of me, the loathing only interrupted by the hazy sexual mores of boredom which sent wisps of anaesthetic to my mind, I drank some more and fell asleep.