When my manager sidled over to the director and muttered “...and he’s wearing a bra!” I knew I had lost my job. Bare-chested and smeared with blood I reclined in my office chair staring at my inbox as emails filtered through about despatch errors. On my desk besides me was a blackened spoon and a needle...a bra was hanging off my arm which I had used as a tourniquet. In pulling on a classic Burlington sock over a stabbed and needle marked foot I made a small attempt of gaining a modicum of self-respect. For some reason sitting there with only one sock on and a dirty foot was humiliating. GG entered the office with his director, both standing and looking down on me like the twin towers on the verge of collapse.
“We’ll need the keys, please Shane.”
“..and his phone,” said the director, no longer looking at me but out the window at a pile of rotting broken pallets. “We’ll contact you... Oh, and there’s also huge discrepancies in the accounts.”
“Yeah, I see where this is going,” I said, buttoning closed my shirt, “as long as I’m paid I don’t give a fuck. I’m suspended yeah? That’s the procedure, suspended on full pay?”
“Well, yes.. until you hear from us.”
“I’ll be contesting ANY decision, so just as long as I’m paid it’s no problem.”
“You’ll be paid. Now get dressed and leave before we call the police.” Then GG whispered something to the other tower who just shook his head and closed his eyes as if he just wanted that plane to hit him.
“Can I make one call before I leave?” I asked “It’s to my solicitor... I think I’ll be needing him.”
“Yes, but be quick,” GG said bluntly “You shouldn’t be here!”
Of course I had no solicitor, but I needed someone to bail me out and so I dialled one of the 20 or so eleven digit numbers I had relegated to memory.
“Trooper it’s me... are you about? I’ll be around soon... I want 3 and 3*.”
“Um's good. Phone me when you at Allieds. Laters”
“Ok, Laters T!”
And with that I half-slipped into my shoes and left as quickly as possible terrified that I might miss my meet. Well, that meeting with my most ancient heroin dealer led to a separate spate of bizarre happenings, but here I will stick to the former and how on Tuesday 25th January 2005 at 13h36 I was busted shooting heroin in my mothers bra. For that I need to take you back to the start...
The Start: November 2003
“Hmm, LEVENE, so you’re Jewish....one of The Tribe? Hmm. Well I’m not promising anything... I can’t you understand? It’s really not down to me, but I’ve a pretty hefty pull in such things, hmm.” GG said shaking my hand in both of his. “Oh, and could I borrow this?” he asked, holding up a copy of Tony Benn’s latest memoirs.
“Yeah, take it. If you’ll only excuse the cigarette burns in the cover.” I replied, glad he’d seen it as I’d left it laying around specifically for his piggish eyes. Flicking through it at home he’d also discover a book mark from some North London Synagogue or other. Not that I’m Jewish; I’m not. I’m less Jewish than Saddam Hussein, but I needed the job, especially on £30,000 per year, company car and bonus. I escorted GG downstairs and watched him waddle over to his car. He strapped himself in, gave me a wide thin grin and then pulled away the car wobbling off the premises in the same manner as his large fat arse.
One week later, sufficiently doped up and with my sidelocks twisted into ringlets, I signed my new contract in front of GG and his director Mr. West.
“Well Shane, we’ve decided to take a chance and trust you. However, we do have one major reservation: you’ve never been in control of a budget before. So for the first 6 months all expenditure will be passed through GG. He will “Ok” them, and sign off all the invoices before sending them to accounts. But no, erhm yes, I think we’ve put a good man at the helm,” said Mr West, looking at GG for reassurance. And with that and one last “hmm” from GG I left with my new contract, 2 vans, the keys to a London warehouse and an annual budget of £750,000. In effect, I left with a huge amount of trouble. They might as well have given me the keys to the prison... It would have saved time.
I first officially opened the warehouse as manager two days later. I travelled in early and read through the company mails detailing my position, the role I was to play and the expectations they had of me. At 7am my colleagues/staff arrived. At 9 the phone was constantly ringing, and by lunchtime I’d received two enquiries about pay increases, had one boy go down with an epileptic fit, had a worker pull a knife on another, and felt the tremors when a 40ft lorry backed into the warehouse knocking all the downstairs windows through. And it never stopped... not for one moment. Whatever force had blown me into the managers chair was also wafting its curse all over the place. It was a strange mix of atrocious bad luck, bizarre occurrences, comical tragedy and shambolic paperwork. But I never lost direction, and my main agenda was to lessen peoples hours and physical exertions while simultaneously cutting costs and reorganising working procedures. “It will be like no other warehouse in the country,” I promised Samir. Then I gave him permission to have each Friday afternoon off to visit the mosque and he realised that I was quite unlike any kind of manager he had ever known.
And Samir wasn’t the only one to benefit; we all would. To most I gave free holidays, another the company car I couldn’t drive, another the van to use as he liked. Iuriy (recently evicted from his home) was given the warehouse keys and so lived there, and I also cut an hour off every working day and extended the breaks. Having stopped the need for most overtime we kept that to ourselves and I still marked down the workers with 20 or 30 supplementary hours per month. I raised as many salaries as I could. But it was all fine, offset by the savings that I made. In the first six months warehouse costs had been cut by £60,000. Everyone was delighted, not least my directors, who celebrated me and started inviting me down to board room meetings and business lunches. I was handed control of the budget and total freedom to negotiate all contracts and employment concerning the warehouse. Other warehouse managers from around the country were sent down to see what I was doing, and though at first slightly dumbfounded because of my appearance and attitude, they all left with a feeling that I was really treading new ground and taking management onto a new level with fresh ideas. I was, and it was a fresh idea that would be the start of the end. An idea that would involve me employing two non-existent South Africans, hiring my AWOL girlfriend as secretary and setting up a company that I subcontracted the toilet cleaning and lightbulb changing out to. It was an idea that at first was to get me through a hard month, and then as I got more and more used to the extra money something which I couldn’t stop and eventually relied upon. And not just me. The money was also keeping my mother and stepfather in a healthy supply of crack cocaine, and when the pyramid of cards eventually fell, my family would split into three.
Of course during this period I was right in the midst of a huge heroin and crack cocaine addiction myself. It had been that way for almost 3 years. I had joined the company as a box-packer after being paid off from my previous company when they found syringes in my bag. It wasn’t easy at first, the days were long and come finishing time I’d be snivelling and in the early stages of withdrawal. But as I gained more responsibility, and with it more freedom, it arrived that I could find reason to disappear for 15 or 20 minutes and slink off to the toilets and fix up. There was no suspicion. I was clean, happy, always first in and last out. I was never absent and always clear minded. I learnt every aspect of the business and took on extra responsibility unpaid. But it wasn’t for fun that I done those things, it was for the freedom. After a year I was promoted to supervisor which gave me the liberty to disappear at will. Being made manager just made life as a working addict even easier. I had the sole key to the spare toilet and would turn off the phones and lock myself in there for 30 minutes at a time, stripped naked and jabbing for working veins in the cubicle. As time passed and my veins began to seriously collapse, fixing became horrendously difficult. By the time I eventually left London it was taking on average two full hours to hit a vein. I would start in the toilets and after 45 mins reallocate to my office where I’d hang a “Do not disturb” sign on the door. Being unsuccessful I’d turn the phones on for five minutes, answer any urgent mails, and show my face in the warehouse. Then it was back to the toilet/office... toilet/office, until I finally managed to hit a vein. Once whilst cooking up a hit in the toilet one of the temporary staff entered shouting my name: “I’ll be with you in a minute!” I cursed.
“Yeah,OK!” He huffed. Two weeks later and after days of him coming in to work at any hour he pleased (if at all) he tried to blackmail me. I had called him upstairs to discipline him with a warning and it was just what he had been waiting for:
“Are you sure you want to give me that?” he asked, throwing the warning letter on the floor. “You was cooking up heroin in the toilets the other week!”
“Heroin? Are you crazy? Heroin??? What are you talking about!”
“I know! I know the smell. I’m not stupid. The other day when i came in the toilets I smelled heroin, you was in there cooking up. My brother does the same! Not only do I not want the warning I want a full-time job, AND be made supervisor. If not, well...”
Well, I was knocked off balance for a moment and in one instance I considered admiting it all and trying to come to some arrangement, but I knew it wasn’t possible. I had someone in front of me with a huge chip on his shoulder and who had already tried to use this to get his own way. And so rather than give in I stood tough and bluffed it out to the hilt. I went into managerial mode.
“What you’re saying is very, very serious and if you believe what you say to be true then you have a duty to report that to my superiors. I will give you my managers name and details and also the main directors and you can put an official complaint down. Though the dilemma is this: if you do decide to do that I’ll have no choice but to ask the agency to replace you as we cannot work together with disciplinary action between us. Now what’s it to be?”
“You can’t suspend my contract! It’s illegal... I’ve rights!”
“Yes, you’ve rights with your agency but not here. You’ve no contract with us and I can end your presence here without notice or justification. It is then up to your agency to find you other work.”
“Give me your fucking manager's name and details... I’m telling!I’m not taking this shit!” And with that he left, but not before making a tour of the warehouse screaming: “Shane’s a junkie! I caught him shooting up in the toilets!” Of course it was so unbelievable that no-one took any notice, though it did stick in peoples minds and a year or so later when I was finally booted out it all made a little more sense.
A complaint was duly filed and I responded with utter amazement refuting the accusations and almost laughing with my director as he read it out to me. After I told my director the lorry driver had also been accused of trafficking drugs in from Bulgaria, my director waved him off as some kind of confused and fantastic nut, dreaming up stories of drug traffic and usage. My refutation was passed back to Jamel, and we never heard anything else. But it was out. My life was overflowing into my work and for anyone with a sharp eye towards drug abuse it was evident.
“Where are all the fucking spoons!” I’d here the workers cry at tea-break, “They’ve all gone again!” or “Shane, I think the lorry drivers a junkie... there’s an empty syringe packet out here!”
“Fuck,” I’d say, “keep a good eye on him boys and don’t let him in the warehouse alone!” One evening I left at 6pm and laying in my bed at midnight I suddenly thought: “Did I clear my box of needles away after my ‘leaving fix’?” This was serious. The cleaner came in every morning at 5am and my office was one of the rooms she was contracted to clean. After an hours dilemma I decided I couldn’t risk it and took a 1am taxi ride into work. Lucky I did, as opening my office door the box was sitting opened on my chair with over 200 used and dirty needles poking from and through it. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” It was all getting very lapse, very open and very hot.
More often than not when my colleagues came to see me they’d have to nudge me awake. “Shane, are you ok???”
“Oh, just tired... was burning the midnight oil. We’re very busy at the moment”But no matter what I seemed to do noone ever thought of drugs. Meanwhile the warehouse was still running extremely efficiently and my name was more celebrated than ever.
What were once 45 minute imaginary meetings now escalated into two hour long conferences. I’d open the phone lines so they rung engaged, hang the “Do NOT disturb sign” on the office door and then strip down naked in my office probing for veins. Occasionally, if my director mailed, I’d answer that, just to show I was still there and still alive. But my colleagues were becoming frustrated. They had work to do, and very often they needed my advise. I would hear their footsteps come halfway up the stairs and then hear them descend and blowing to the waiting crowd, “No, he’s still in conference!” Once, my supervisor ignored all warnings and burst in the office anyhow. On two scores I was lucky. Firstly my pants were still on and the syringe was in a small vein in my wrist, and secondly he tried to enter by the locked door first, giving me just enough time to gather my wits and hatch an impulsive plan. .
“Yes, it was confirmed today,” I said tearily into the phone, “Mum’s got bowel cancer.” I lookd up at Marius and when he made to leave I lowered the phone against my chest and said, “There’s no need. What do you want?” He pointed to an old pile of despatch notes on my desk and I nodded him permission to take them. As he walked around to get them I could feel the syringe dangling perilously from my wrist and just prayed that it wouldn’t slide out and fall on the floor. With Marius gone I finished up and then reopened the business. In future I’d have to be more careful, I thought... much more careful.
The trouble is that once you acquire the confidence of getting away with something you eventually forget you are getting away with anything. And no matter how hard you try, you become more cocksure and ever more lax. And each time you bluff it out, it just makes you think how easy it is... how stupid people are, and that makes you go even further. And like many an idiot before me that is what I done. I thought I was invincible and at the point where I should have quit and left with my winnings I stayed and tripled the stakes.
I was now 10 months into my job and apart from a few minor hiccups was still flying high. The third quarterly budget showed savings in excess of £80,000, overtime had been cut by two thirds and morale was high. However, there was one concern: the burgeoning petrol costs for the vans. This I explained away by saying we had begun running our own deliveries and pick-ups rather than using expensive courier services. We had, but it was not account books or exam results that the vans were picking up and delivering: it was heroin and crack cocaine. In order to get gear into work I had friends and family score for me and when they phoned to say “all’s good” I’d send one of the drivers down to collect it. In a book sized box would be heroin and crack, clean needles and vitamin C. It would carry some phoney address and ‘IMPORTANT’ scrawled across it. Sometimes both drivers would be off at the same time collecting these boxes and then jumping red lights to be back in the warehouse before the post left. Very often when friends had trouble scoring I’d have to leave work and go to buy myself. In these instances I’d have a driver take me to Shepherds Bush and then park up while I disappeared. If they were suspicious they kept it to themselves, but I sincerely do not think they were suspicious... it was a world too far, yet so close to their existence for them to ever entertain such an idea.
It was immediately after the 2004 audit that I first got a whiff that certain persons in the company were beginning to scrutinize warehouse operations. The audit was all in order, but the final quarterly budget, although confirming huge savings also showed up some abnormal expenditure and rising costs... especially in “temporary staff”. According to the books I had employed three agency staff for 11 months solid. That wasn’t the problem though, the question first raised was: “Why employ three agency staff for a year when you could have employed five permanent staff for the same amount?” Still, I talked my way out of that one and was just relieved that no-one asked to actually see these “temps” as only one existed, and she was in France, suicidal and not talking to me. That was January and as I faxed the time sheets through to the agency I promised myself: “This is the LAST time... it really has to stop.”
I remember the day well. It had been snowing and the 15 minute walk from the underground to the warehouse was an arduous journey. London whistled out a barrier of wind that froze through the cold and penetrated the bones. The gale was so ferocious that walking up hill it was almost impossible to breath and one had to turn around to catch ones breath. The freeze stung the face and ears and then ran cold out the eyes. Though the weather records don’t support this, it was the coldest day there had ever been. My fingers were so frozen that I had trouble opening the padlock to the large galvanized security gate and even more trouble fingring the code for the alarm. After warming myself up I turned on the computer, opened my mail and began running orders off the printer. One email was from the director of accounts and was red-flagged with importance.
Subject: Budget Analysis/Query
There are some abnormalities with certain warehouse expenditure and we would like to meet and clear this matter up as soon as possible. Therefore we request your attendance in a fourway meeting to discuss this. Besides myself, GG & Mr Pennington will be in attendance. Please confirm that you are available and will be attending.
“Fuck, that sounds serious!” I thought. And though a thousand things crossed my mind, and though I knew I had been busted, I convinced myself otherwise, reckoning: “no, if it was that they’d sack me immediately... they certainly wouldn’t warn me and leave me still sitting in charge of operations”. One other final thing that convinced me otherwise was a second mail that I opened from the main shareholder of the business. It was a company wide mail raving on about the wonderful work I had been doing and how I should serve as an inspiration to all. That mail would be one of his last, as in response to the stupidity he felt when I was finally revealed he had no option but to swallow the cum and resign.
January was always a traditionally slow period for the company so we were working lates. At 9 am staff arrived as usual. Iuriy, our main driver came straight to the office and closed the door behind him. This was the same Iuriy who I had let live in the warehouse for three months and had also illegally employed his son for a small period when he had first moved to England from Bulgaria.
“Shane... there was yesterday a big meeting talking about the warehouse. Did you know about that? GG asked me some questions yesterday afternoon and asked me not to let you know, but what to do? What to do??? I’m telling you... don’t forget that.”
“A meeting???” I repeated agape, “no, I didn’t know. Thanks for telling me. I won’t forget, you know that. Oh, and here...” I sat down at my computer and quickly typed of a letter giving Iuriy a £1000 annual payrise. “And you, don’t forget that,” I said, signing and giving him the letter. As Iuriy skipped down the stairs his keys jangling and whistling, I looked around the office and cried. The place had became corrupted, and the saddest song in the world was drifting up the stairs.
It was during lunchtime that I closed my office door, unwrapped my dope and cooked up a fix in my office draw. Outside the winds had calmed but the snow was still petalling down and staring out for long enough it seemed almost like an hallucination. Sucking up a needle full of smack I rolled up my trouser legs, removed my shoes and sock and started jabbing for veins. With no luck I took off my jumper and shirt, feeling softly all over my arms for any springy tissue that often means a concealed vein. As the time passed and as each attempt proved fruitless I became bloodier and bloodier. I would try wiping it away but it just smeared and bled more and so I just left it. At some point I went into my bag and removed my tourniquet. It was actually one of my mother's old bras which she had given me because she was tired of me using her scarfs and tights and towels. The bra with it’s elasticated band worked pretty well and I strapped it around my left bicep and began tensing and flexing my hand in an attempt to raise the dead.
I did not hear the car pull into the forecourt, nor the footsteps coming up the stairs. I do not remember what vein I eventually hit, but I did hit one as when the door opened I was in heroin slumber with the very top of my head almost flush on top of my keyboard. At first I saw just a pair of polished shoes and black trousers and thought it was the police, but as I jolted to a start and reclined back into full vision it was the cold rubberish face of GG that I saw. He was peering in at me like a doctor announcing the time of death.
“Err Gabriel...” I said. That’s all I said... nothing else would come and I suppose there was really nothing more to say. Sometimes the situation says it all. Caught in the toilets with a porn mag and your dick in your hand... what more can words explain? And when the eye sees the truth, not even a conniving junkie can wriggle his way free. And that was my situation.... worse, because although being caught wanking is very embarrassing it does not amount to gross misconduct and so theoretically once you’ve pulled your pants up you can go back to work. That option wasn’t available to me... or was it??? Ok, I’d been caught half naked and fixing up heroin, but this was Gabriel, ...alone. Fellow Jew... always supported me... gave me the job and wouldn’t want this embarrassment leaking out??? Hmm, my thoughts started to clear. That’s when Mr Pennington stepped in holding my ‘Do NOT disturb sign’ up to GG before balling and dropping it into the bin. “A word please Gabriel... outside.” was all he said.
Sitting alone I was mortified. And though a million thoughts and worries should have been passing through my head they didn’t, I was almost completely blank. Instead I laid back in my chair and stared at my inbox withholding a sad impulse to open and respond to my new mails: ‘Despatch error 069875’... ‘Despatch error 102875... Despatch error...
And that as it, and I knew it. There was no escape, no worming my way out. These were serious people with serious glares and even if sometimes their hardness crumpled in the face of historic blood ties, they didn’t get to be driving Mercedes and wearing solid gold watches for nothing. Their hearts cannot be melted with doe eyes or sob stories... they cannot be penetrated by everyday emotions. They only card I had left to play was of no use. And it was in that thought that I looked down at my bare and stabbed and dirty foot and felt myself shrinking in humiliation. Not only was I only half their size sitting in my chair, but I was totally exposed. Because that foot, the marks and the tracks down it’s inner and across it’s upper. The jammy dirt that covered and blackened my sole, the picked and cut skin on the heel, and the weeks old blood dry and flaky on my ankle, it revealed another soul.... gave away the secrets of a life that I was covering with clean ironed shirts and sleek Burlington socks.
Of course, that humiliation didn’t last long, something more pressing entered the agenda: my need to score, and how to arrange that with no phone and two ‘would-be’ policemen towering above me. Well, once again addiction has no shame or face and when desperation stakes are low you fall with it and abandon yourself to that level. And so I made some pleading excuse to get the company phone in my hands and with no care if GG or Mr. Pennington understood what I was really doing or not I openly arranged to score. Then I felt better and looking up from the wreckage I suddenly saw the light and had my own good reason to leave. “Well if we’re done here I’ll be going?” I motioned.
And like many a junkie before me I left hurriedly dressing on the move. I was still trying to tuck my shirt in and fit into my shoes as I hit the air and snow and was buttoning up my jacket and pulling the collar around my neck as I walked at double pace out the industrial estate and towards the underground station. And every twenty strides or so, or when the vile winds let up enough I’d slip my wrist an inch out my pocket and eye my watch. “Fuck, I'll never make it!” I cursed “unless the tube is straight there and then I get a bus immediately. Yeah, that could work... or a cab. Could be... could very well be. Straight down the A40 and I’m there ...20 mins max. Just hope the snow hasn’t blocked the route!” And I passed the walk like that, making rash and improbable calculations on how I could possibly get back home to score quicker than was physically possible.
And as the cab pulled out and cut across three lanes of beeping traffic and then passed through one red light then another, I knew I had the correct driver... that hell was postponed for at least another day. And as I gave him a 20 pound note for a £12 fare I made my way hurriedly down the road and of to the phone box across from Allieds. And as I dialled the number and waited anxiously through each ring I looked up at the falling snow and started reciting the Junkies Prayer: “Answer the phone T... just please, please, PLEASE answer the fucking phone! ”
Take Care Everyone & I hope you enjoyed...
Until next time, All My Best Thoughts...
Labels: Joseph Mills - Writer
Lately I’ve been having that reoccurring dream. The one where I am shot in the head after witnessing a bank robbery, and for a few seconds, just before my eyes close to the big blackout, life suddenly seems worth living and fighting for.
Lately I’ve been having that reoccurring dream. The one where a gun is pressed so hard between my eyes that even firing a bullet now seems horrendously cruel. The one where I see the joint of the forefinger turn white as it pulls back on the trigger and then two men running off into the distance. The one where ambulance sirens are too far away.
Lately I’ve been having that reoccurring dream again. That one where I am fighting with all my might to survive each second. Where any bit of strength I have is taken away with the knowledge that a bullet has been shot at point blank range into my skull and that I cannot possibly survive. That dream where I had stared a millisecond too long at one of the gunmen and had turned from a shell shocked onlooker into a prospective witness.
Lately I’ve been having that reoccurring dream again. The one where I want to say: “I won’t tell a soul! Can’t you tell that from my eyes? I’m on your side!” The one where thick blood already congealed oozes from a hole between my eyes. The one where I leave my being, watch my own dying and then reunite for death. That dream where fear and panic are paralyzed and silent in a tormented body.
Lately I’ve been having that reoccurring dream. The one where my mother looks in horror at her executed and dying son and then shouts “You’ve ruined my fucking day!” The one where I become a dead witness to two crimes. The one where I am cordoned off by the crowd who stand in for blue and white police tape.
Lately I’ve been having that reoccurring dream again. The one where I am helpless and in my final moments noone still moves in to offer up help or comfort. The one where I end like a beggar laying spent upon the sidewalk. The one where fate and instinct turns a stroll up the Highstreet into something very ominous and sinister. That dream which seems so real and so realisable.
Lately I’ve been having that reoccurring dream. The one where I am turned into The Cyclops. The one where I realise you can smell in dreams. The one where the cries of seagulls carry me free from the pain.
Last night I had that reoccurring dream... tonight I will dream that dream again....
Hope you’re all well... My apologies for the wait and a proper HH post will follow very shortly...
My Thoughts & Wishes to All,