A Thousand Deaths of a Girl Named Katie

She gave up and sat down on the lower steps of the Methodist Church. The drizzle had washed through her dress and streaks of dirt ran down her calves and into her boots. She crossed her forearms atop her knees and sunk her face in the crevice. Her dreadlocks hung over, an inch off the wet ground. The church bell gave eight solemn rings and some bellow throated bird regurgitated a sound that echoed through the morning mist and terrified the town. Katie sat there like that until all was quiet again and then lifted her head. Her left eye was horrendously swollen and bruised. She forced a smile through the tears, her smoker's teeth matching the colour of her locks. Her bottom lip was split; the bridge of her nose too.

"You go on, I'll be fine," she said.
"You're gonna score from this rabble in the soup kitchen, aint ya?"
"What does it matter? And I can't miss Stuart. It's his rattle days. He'll not even be fit to graft without a morning bag. The poor sod would be in a panic if I'm not here when he arrives."
"Well, make sure he sticks around tonight... just in case that other maniac shows up again."
"He better not! Stew will kill him if he does... I hope the bastard turns up!"
"Hope for nothing. 24 hours without drama and you'll be out of this fucking race for a while... doing your stir in rehab."
"Oh, I need it. I couldn't do even another week of this life. If they buried me now I'd not even try to dig myself free."
"No-one's gonna bury ya. It takes money to bury people. People like us get burned alive.... we have done for hundreds of years."

Katie held her arms out. I reached down and hugged her. As I held her I told her that if she needed a last bag to get her into rehab to call around mine that evening. She made no sound and didn't throb but I knew she was crying. The rain was a light mist which you could barely see. A musky smell rose from Katie, like she had been sleeping with cats. We detached and I left. A little ways down the road I cast a look back. She was 45 but from that distance had the air of a young girl. She gave a slow salute. As I turned around, back into the direction of my way, a tragic still of Katie became fixed in my mind.
Katie did not make a show that evening. When some weeks later I had not seen her return from rehab I took it she had in whatever way made it out. Stuart, her young Liverpudlian boyfriend, had shot through at the same time. I assumed they must have pooled their nothingness and took up a new start some place together, keeping their heads down while trying their best to ignore the lonesome calls released by junk town. I didn't give it much thought. Occasionally another addict would ask about Katie, ask if I had received any news, but for the most part she was forgotten about and the scene turned on. It wasn't that we didn't care, it was that the junk life is a vagrant life and people come and go all the time. Sometimes they are there and sometimes they are not. Every junkie understands that the best way out is to make a clean break and those breaks are often made in an instant and are absolute – there is no leaving party or goodbye. As the months passed all thought of Katie and where she was fell from my mind. I was in the midst of my own life of heroin dependency and that was gruelling enough without the added burden of worrying where everyone else was at.

And so junk addiction ate the time away. I didn't notice the days drawing into night nor the spring disappearing into the blazing mouth of summer, and I didn't notice if Katie was three month missing or four. One week resembled the last and the last resembled the next and like that time moved on but life remained the same and still the next day was no different from the last. And then there I was, passing the old Methodist church on my way to score, a brief thought of Katie coming to me and a weird coincidence waiting in the wings.

I didn't notice him there at first. It was only when I heard the familiar sound of butane gas hissing out its cannister that I turned and looked. There was Stuart, in his old begging spot outside the bank, his hair shaved off and his inside wrist held to his mouth, a tin of lighter gas concealed up his sleeve and the nozzle between his teeth. He took another blast, his eyes widening as he recognized me. When the gas had settled down in his brain he stood up, throwing his blanket off. He gave me a handshake, which fell into a hug, and a pat on the back.

"Alright, lad... been a long fucking time. So what's cooking fella? Ya still running the tracks of the ol' gravy train, like?"
I gave him a show of my needle pocked hands.
"Yer'on da kop now, lad?"
"Yeah, gotta meet at Sunrise. And you? You still using?"
"Fits n starts, lad ... Fits n starts. My fucking devil's this gas. The B I can take or leave... Quit a habit. But not this fuckin' shite!"
"You gonna be around when I pass back?"
"I'll be 'ere till fuckin midnight if it carries on slow like this. The tight-ars'd fucks. At least back home folk have fuck all ta give, know what I mean."
"What you short on?"
" I've made me gas money, so need about another eight quid for a bag."
"Stick a fiver in with me and he'll do us three for 25."
"Yeah? You sure? Sound, lad." And with that Stuart was marching off with me while shovelling his begging blanket into his bag. As we strode on he took regular blasts from his gas can. He sounded like a deflating tyre walking besides me.

"So is Katie back with you then?"
" Katie? Dint ya hear? Katie went over, lad. She'urz found dead in her room on the Lime Grove ev'ning 'fore the silly lass was s'posed ter go ta fuckin' rehab."
"No, you gotta be kidding me?"
"Only wish I was. The old girl blew right out."
"Jesus, fuck! I was with her that morning. she was waiting for you outside the church... Copping of Noel and his lot."
"I was in cop shop. Nabbed by the bizzies, like. Almost two days they kept me there. Sicker n' fuckin sick when they turned me out. Crawled 'round tuh Katie's, dead selfish really, like, hoping she'd 'ave skipped on rehab an wuld 'ave a shot or a filter for me. No Katie and that scummy ponce, Ray the Gimp, tells me she'd gone under the previous evening an tuh be careful, like, as the bizzies were sniffin' about. That Nick, young kid she use'ta mother, was with her when it happened. 'Parently she was all busted up an' no-one quite knows why??? I reckon she were likely jumped while grafting or did it t'er self... you know how fuckin' mental she got."
"No, she was busted up when I saw her. Said it was some ex from North London. He'd tracked her down, gotten in past the security desk, forced his way in her door and then went mental on her. I can't fucking believe she's dead. It's dampened the night a bit... I'm wishing I never bumped into you now! And you? where have you been? You left at exactly the same moment so I took it you'd both shot thru together."
"When I heard about Katie it just did my 'ead in, like. I went back home next day. She was all I had down this way. I'd pick'd up a habit, was on the streets, an so I thought 'fuck ya' an took a train home. I did my rattle in muh Ma's an tried tuh get on up there. Was sound for a while... Going on pretty well. My Ma even managed to get custody of me littl'un... then things fell thru. I forgot how fuckin' shite life was."
I didn't reply. I was momentarily displaced into a lonely world of sadness and reflection. I could see Katie sat on the steps of the church, and the staggered last vision I had caught of her was pasted up in my inner mind. Then I thought of the OD? That seemed strange. There was no way a seasoned user like Katie could have gone under on a ten bag... not even two... not even if it were a strong batch, which was impossible if it came from Noel. Maybe she was poisoned by some shit the smack was cut with.
"Don't forget the booze and all the downers she use'ta swallow," said Stuart, when I told him of my fears. "She would go out strange that lass, like. I passed some scary fuckin horror nights with that girl. At least three times she went over on me. I remember walking her corpse around the fuckin' Green one night at gone 2am, all her muscles having given out. She'd fix, be so far out of it that she'd forget she'd already hit home and be cooking up the next shot while nodding out in her spoon. Plenty a time the fuckin gear would end up in the carpet. She had problems, you know."

With the news within me of Katie's passing the night and life didn't fit so comfortably within me. Something now scared me about what we were doing. For the first time since deciding to live by the needle a real fear had crept in and I wasn't looking forward to my shot at all. We scored and Stuart said goodbye and cut off through to where he was staying. Alone, my pace slowed and I wandered home in a kind of reverie. The streets seemed eerie now, the night wavering with sad ghostly frequencies, the Lime Grove swamped in bilious yellow light, and the overground train rocketing over the iron railway bridge and down towards Hammersmith. I looked at my hands and then up into the sky, as deep as I could into the immense purple of space. Katie's dead, I thought, Katie's fucking dead.

*     *     *

Outside the Kentucky on the Uxbridge Road was Sinbad's favourite meeting haunt. It was early afternoon and the sky was the colour of marble. Standing just aways down was a woman, smoking. She held her cigarette awkwardly, like a novice. The way she scrunched her face up as she took each long drag said she had lived a hard life where femininity didn't get you loved but battered. After a moment she came over.
"You're waiting for Sinbad int ya?" she said.
"Yeah. He should be here soon, he's usually pretty good."
"I'm hanging on him too."
"Thought so... Thought I'd seen you around."
"What's he holding, dya know?"
"Not sure. I got off him a few days ago and it wasn't bad, but these smalltime dealers pick-up so often he may have crap now."
"Gawd, don't say that! I need something with a strong kick today... had some bad news this morning."
"Most news that comes in the morning is bad."
"Well today it was double bad. Fuckin found out me best friend Od'd, din I. Dead."
"Fuck. That is bad."
"Always the fucking good ones they take! As they say: only the good die young. Katie she was called. Never harmed or cheated a soul in her life."
" Katie from Lime Grove?"
"Yeah, mate. Did ya now her?"
"Not personally. But I know who you mean."
"Fuck, me and Katie was like that," she said, crossing her fore and middle fingers. "We go back years. I was the last person to see her alive... aside from her boyfriend that is. The poor girl was only hours away from rehab as well. Was her boyfriend who shot her up, killed her. Can you even imagine? He's in a bad fucking way this morning... Just hope he doesn't do anything stupid."
"What she died recently?"
"Last night! I'd been with her all day. She must'ave gone over right after I left her. Weird as well. Not even an hour after I got home I took a real strange turn... went into a kind of trance and just began crying and shaking hysterically. Bob, that's me old man, he said straight off, 'Someone you knows died!' I paid him no mind, don't believe in stuff like that, me. But if he weren't just about fuckin spot on. Weird hey?"
"Very weird," I said.
"Mind you, I wouldn't narf mind knowing who sold her the gear which did it! Ol' Sinbad would be getting the fucking elbow if I did. That's 'arf the problem round 'ere: there's no middle ground. You go from getting utter crap to mind-blowing stuff. You get so used to dropping a full bag in the spoon that when some decent gear comes around everyone gets caught off guard. It's why I never shoot first. Most junkies they wanna be the first to hit home; not me.Ya can't be too careful when ya fuckin' life's at stake. But I've always been shrewd like that. Always watching, I am. As I said, poor old Katie was a luvly girl but not the shrewdest of users I've ever known. Though she din't fuckin' deserve that... no one does."
"As I said, I didn't know the girl personally but had seen her around. Though the last time was months ago."
"Yeah, she kept herself pretty much to herself, not like these younger lot who want everyone to know their business, waving packs a fuckin needles about in the street. A lot of people knew Katie by sight, but only a select few were let in to her private life. I count meself honoured to have been one of 'em, to have been there for her right up until the end. And I won't stop there... won't stop being a friend juss coz she's passed. I've taken it on meself to arrange her funeral... make sure she gets a proper send off an burial, not bunged into a fuckin pauper's grave!"
"Good luck with that. They say the average funeral is two grand or something nowadays."
"Ain't no price you can put on a friend. I'll fuckin' quit my habit if I have to, but that girl's gonna go off in style; She woulda fuckin luved that... white horses and a nice carriage, trotted around the green where she used to score and every junkie this side of the river tooting an' shooting on behind. In death I'm gonna give her what she never 'ad in life."

I didn't say a word. This woman was probably here to ask Sinbad for heroin on credit and if she did have two grand there's no way she'd spend it on anyone but herself. Not that I'd blame her. Only someone drugged up to the eyeballs could think it sensible to pay two grand just to bury someone... do the Borough's dirtiest work for them. That Katie was already more than three months dead was a further problem I couldn't quite see being resolved. I listened to the woman's talk and commitment, her absolute determination to get her supposed friend buried. The white horses, the carriage, the hordes of addicts cheering and crying her off. This wasn't Katie's dream funeral it was the woman's, a fantasy of a world that cared, that surely in the gravity of death , at that very extreme point, that surely someone somewhere would love you enough to do something. It was a deep dark lonely sadness she spilt, fears of her own treatment post-mortem when the drugs and cigarettes have finally taken their inevitable toll. I let her have her dream and her fantasy. I let her be the loyal comrade who'll bury her friend no matter at what price or cost. If she believed it, even for a second, then good for her. Sinbad was running late and sobriety was entering me with a creeping sadness too.

*     *     * 

Ray the Gimp was an odious little user with a violently bowed left leg. Stood still he looked like he was falling over. In his fifties he had thick greasy grey hair, speckled with dust and dry scalp and insect eggs. His eyes were deep set and shifty and always seemed to watch you when you wasn't watching him. A man of vile habits he was forever turning around and clearing his nose and throat, bringing up all manner of gunk from his lungs and gobbing it out into the gutter. His thumb and forefingers were stained dark brown. When he talked he fired out specks of frothy saliva, always finishing his discourse by pulling the back of his hand across his mouth. Everyone knew him and everyone despised him a little more than the previous person. Not that it bothered him. Ray the Gimp thrived off such loathing. It allowed him to be ever more treacherous without the unnecessary emotions of guilt or empathy playing on his conscience. He hated the world and the world hated him, an uneasy truce which just about held.

My instinct was to avoid Ray. He was one of the petty bottom feeders which lurked the murky waters of heroin addiction, getting by on turning such lowly tricks that there wasn't even a comeback on him when it was understood what he'd done. This time, however, I let Ray run out his hustle, limping slowly over and lingering besides me like an unwanted shadow. I felt his cunning eyes on me and waited for his raspy, toothless patter.

"Ya waiting for Rico, mate? Shame, you've just missed him. Won't be back for a good half an hour now. Not that cunt. I know his ways better than he fuckin knows 'em his self: 'Be d'ere in five, bro... Be d'ere in five!' An the cunts never there! Fuck 'im... ya just don't need that! Listen I've a few ten bags on me right now if you wanna save yaself the hassle, mate? Top gear as well. Not these fucking footballs which that cunt sells, cut to fuck with manitol, but proper gear, mate... rock. Point two. 'ere, 'av a look?"
From his filthy mouth he spat out a little blue bag into his palm. He showed me it, sitting in a little lake of his thick saliva, before popping it back into his gob.
"Point two bang on, an ya don't need me to tell ya that you'll not get better round 'ere. Well, I'm using it meself in I, so ya know its gonna be a decent bit a kit. Don't put no crap in my body, me."
"I'll pass, Ray. You know how funny these guys get calling them out and then not showing. Next time."
"Your call, mate... it's not me losing out: it's you."

Of course, I wasn't losing out at all. Ray was waiting for Rico himself. Rico sold a gram for 25 and this nauseous little fuck would then divide it into five 10 bags and double his cash each time. Most were wise to his hustle, but there were just enough dope sick punters who would turn up and take the first deal on offer to get themselves back on their feet. Ray would sell his bags off like that and whenever Rico passed by next he would see him for another gram and do the same over again. It never made him a penny but it got him his junk each day and no junkie ever needs more than that.

Ray sat down on the narrow metal bench which ran the width of the bus-stop. He took the weight off his gammy leg and made some monstrous hunking noise in the back of his throat. I thought of the bags of heroin he had in his mouth and wondered how the hell he managed not to swallow them while performing such violent clearances of his airways.

"Ray, what's this about Katie dying?"
"Katie? Don't know no Katies... alive or dead."
"Dreadlocks... small bull-ring through the nose..."
"Ah, yer mean Kate! God, that's goin' back some. Carried out one evening, weren't she... covered up. Caused a lotta fuckin' grief for us wot was left. The management screwed right down tight on drug use... random room inspections, the lot. She dint do noone no favours clocking out like that. No. It was one of my bags which did it as well. Once word got around about that my phone was ringing hot... everyone wanted a bit a the action. And this stuff (opening his mouth and showing two bags under his tongue) is just about even fucking better. Anyway, next day the police cleared her room out and took her belongings away: a single black bin liner. Fuckin' tragic really."
"I heard Nick was with her when it happened?"
"Was him who shot her up! Said she went out in his arms. He was evicted after it came out he was with her. Silly fucka, admitting to that... lucky he dint end up on a fuckin manslaughter charge. He's kipping in with Marge now, back to square one."
"I was with Katie the morning it happened. Found her wandering in a daze down around the station, all beat up. She was waiting for the soup kitchen to open and I told her to come and I'd score for her. As we passed the Methodist Church she suddenly gave up and quit, deciding rather to hang about there and score off Noel and that lot."
"Fuck, everyone was with Kate that morning. You're at least the fifth fuckin person to av told me that. Evryone was wiv her just before she died, and just as many were wiv her when she scored the bags which killed her, and probably there's just as many claiming to have hit her up with the fuckin fatal shot. But it's like I said, she scored off a me that evening and was dead not even an hour later. Just goes to show: no one's immune to good gear... no matter how experienced they think they are."

When Ray stopped talking I checked my phone to see how long Rico had been. I felt Ray scrutinising me and shaking his head. He was about to say something, try to convince me that Rico would be a good while yet and make another offer to sell me his saliva marinated bags. But before he could form a word in his mouth, a new junkie arrived on the scene with a face and posture shot through with suffering. Ray the Gimp noticed the pains of junk sickness immediately. He edged his way across the bench like some kind of a human crab, finishing up staring into the face of the latest length of misery which had arrived. The junkie looked at Ray and winced in pain.
"You waiting for Rico, mate?" Ray asked.
The junkie nodded; he was in too much discomfort to talk.
"You're gonna have a long fuckin' wait, then... he passed not even 5 minutes ago and din't even have enough to serve evryone who was 'ere. Said he's off to reload and will be back in 45 minutes. 45 fuckin hours more like it... you know how long these piss-taking cunts take ta reload."
"Oh, you are joking? He told me he was on his way. I'm dying 'ere!"
"Ya will an all, waiting on that cunt. But if ya that poorly I've a couple a ten bags you can take off ma hands? Will get ya right outta stook? Ere, av a look..." Ray once again spat a bag out his mouth and showed it to the addict. The addict looked it over with a sharp, interested nose. His face didn't look too impressed, but I could see in his eyes he was sold.
"Fuck it, go on," he said. He gave Ray ten quid, took the bag, and shuffled off as fast as he could. Barely had he been gone 30 seconds and Rico came along. He gave Ray the Gimp a searing, suspicious look and made his way past. To me he gave one solemn, almost indistinguishable nod as he carried straight on by. I waited a couple of seconds and then casually followed.

*     *     *

It was on my mind and I had nothing small to say and so I said, "Did ya hear about Katie dying?"
Tracy looked at me with a genuine expression of horror and sadness and said, "Oh no, not Katie... God no. How? When?"
"Few months back. OD. I'd been with her the morning it happened and the real sickener is that she had a two week residential rehab set up for the following day."
"How have you only just found out?"
"Her ex-boyfriend, Stuart. I thought the two of them had gotten clean and shot the scene together, then, fast forward to last week, I'm passing the bank, and who do I see sat sown in his old spot? Stuart. I asked him if Katie was back with him and he said she was dead. Apparently, Nick, young tall kid, shot her up and she went out on him."
"I can't believe this! Only last week I was speaking about her with Mikey. He said she'd not scored off him for weeks and asked if I'd seen her. Of course I hadn't, but never imagined anything untowards had happened... well you don't, do you? People move on and most come back and some don't. I'm in shock... seriously fucking shocked. But you know what we gotta do? We've gotta say a proper goodbye to the poor girl. We gotta have us a nice parting shot for Katie."
"I'm really not into stuff like that, but we can score and share a thought privately. Since I found out last week I've not been able to rid my mind of it. How do these things happen as they do? After 25 years of shooting dope and she dies hours before getting to rehab. It's unbelievable."

Now Tracy was down. She paced about shaking her head and saying Katie's name over, despairingly. Then she said, "We should phone Mikey... Let him know. He'll bump us up a deal for Katie... I'm sure of it."
And so from walking one way, all set to meet a dealer serving up out of Acton, we made a u-turn and I followed Tracy across the road and into a beat up phone box where she fed coins into its slot and tapped out a long series of numbers. I watched her face as she listened anxiously for Mikey to pick up. The moment he did I saw Tracy's face crease up with the ugliness of grief.
"Mikey, it's Trace darlin'. I need to see you... just had some real terrible news. Please say you're holding... please! Yeah... I know it. Back of the flats? Ten mins, tops."
As soon as Tracy put the phone down her tears stopped and she let out a big smile.
"10 mins. WestWay... We're on."

Mikey came wandering out the back of the flats up to where we were waiting alongside the railings. He was a handsome, milk chocolate coloured West-indian, thin and light of gait and in fresh clean woollen sportswear. He had the muscular jowls of a herbavore. His hood was up and under it he wore a red rap bandana. Between his lips was a matchstick. With his head slightly lowered he slid his sober eyes from one side to the other, scanning for any suspicious cars or people hanging about. He touched fists with me.

"What's all da stress for girl?" he asked Tracy.
Tracy was sobbing, albeit with no tears. She remained like that, as though if she were to speak she'd lose the concentration needed to hold herself together. When the tension peaked, she blubbered, " Katie's dead, Mikey... She went over on us! I need some help, darlin'... she was all I had."

Mikey's bottom lip dropped open; the match remained stuck to it. He couldn't find a word.

Through her dry tears Tracy forced a smile and apologised. With her fingers pushed out to full length she presented both her trembling hands to Mikey, to show just how much she had been affected by the news. Mikey removed the match from his lip and stood there thinking. He looked at me and I nodded and then gave a morose look down.

"Mikey, we wanna say a proper goodbye, you know. Katie was our friend and one of your best customers. She was the one who first put me onto you, do you remember that? I need to say a last goodbye and calm myself down... only I don't really have the means for such a gesture right now..."
"Wrong day, Trace," said Mikey, "you caught me on a bad one. I'm almost out. I'll be switching off right after we're done. Not too sure I've even got what you want?"
"We want five brown, Mikey. Two for him and three for me."

Mikey grimaced and shook his head. "Don't think I've got it" he said. He turned around and cowered into his own space, inspecting what he had in his hand. "You know what," he said, turning back, "you got luuh-key, sis. I've exactly five on me."
"Just the five? You've not an extra bag or two... Not even for Katie?"
"Just got the five, Trace, nothing more. If I did I'd be only too happy to give you a touch."

I watched Tracy deflate. Now she really did look like someone had died. "We'll take the five then," she said, disappointed. She nodded for me to give Mikey my cash for two. When he turned back to Tracy he found her patting her way through her pockets and cursing. "Fuck me, Mikey... I've left my purse at home! I've only cash on me for one."
"I am,Yeah. Sorry."

Mikey gave Tracy a bag and put the other two back in his pocket. He hadn't realised what Tracy was up to. Just as he was on the verge of saying goodbye, Tracy suddenly had a thought:

"Fuck," she said, "I've just realised, you've a couple of extra now... you can put them in for Katie."

Mikey stammered. For a moment he was looking to try and worm his way out the situation before finally acknowledging he had been done. Reluctantly, he dipped his hand in his deep tracksuit pocket, the gold chain on his wrist rising as he searched around. Tracy held her hand out. Mikey unpinched his thumb and forefinger and let a bag fall in her palm. Tracy kept her hand open. He deliberated, sucked his bottom lip and then dropped the second bag in her palm too.

"She would have been proud of you, Mikey," she said.

Mikey gave an all-knowing look, like now he even doubted if Katie was really dead. He tossed the wet match he was holding away, lowered his head and left, returning to the same place he had came from.

Tracy was ecstatically happy. She noticed me looking at her and fell back into a more sombre mood. "These are for Katie!" she said. "How she hated that tight-fisted fucker Mikey. I remember he refused her a bag on tick once and left her fucking sick and crying in the street!" As we walked on in silence a car hooted its horn and then pulled in at the curb a little way down. It was some acquaintance of Tracy's. She rushed over. I lingered behind. Tracy was bent down leaning in the passenger window like a hooker. I couldn't make out what she was saying but all became clear when she straightened up and then held out her trembling hands to the driver. The driver took something out from his inside jacket pocket and squeezed it into Tracy's hand. He held the squeeze for a prolonged moment. Tracy closed her eyes as if his human contact was relieving her of her suffering on the spot. It was a miracle cure alright, and it had the Queens ugly face printed all over it.

*     *     *

"Shane, did you ever know that tall dreadlocked woman who used to beg outside the bank... always with the Liverpudlian fella?"
"Lovely girl she was. Crazy as batshit, but a good'un.... Well, was a good'un. Heard this morning she bailed on us. Only 40 odd. Dead."
"Fuck. Who was she? Your best friend?"
"I wouldn't go that far, not my best BEST friend, but we got on pretty close for a while back there. I introduced her to that artist guy who rides about on that fucking silly painted tricycle. She wern't doing too well and he paid her a few quid twice a week to sit for him."
"Well, she's not really missing too much, is she? I don't get how everyone cries about how shit and sadistic life is and then when someone actually makes it out everyone is all cut up about it. What happened to her anyway?"
"God, was fucking horrible from what I can make out. Lonely, found a week later when she didn't sign on and her hostel fees weren't paid. Half her face eaten away by flies when they finally got in. Needle in her neck too. Suicide. It turned out it happened just a few hours after she'd been beaten half to death by her latest fella. He's in nick now. What a fucking life, hey? Can you believe half the crazy shit that happens the moment heroin is poured into the stir? They want a good film alls they need to do is pin a fucking camera to a junkies head for a week and tell him to do nothing but breathe. Chances are the last hours of film will be the fucking camera recording the ceiling until the battery dies... or some paramedic kneeling into shot and pronouncing him dead."
"That all seems like bullshit to me. If everyone died like everyone says there'd be none of us left."
"Eh? This shit is dangerous fucking business, man. No junkie is anymore than a shot away from death and don't ever forget it. That was the fourth friend who's toppled on me this year alone... Two right in front of me."
"I'm not saying people don't die, I'm just saying that one death turns into a hundred. It seems there's a few staple stories that every junkie has to have or somehow they've not really experienced the cinematic 'junkie' horror story - a dead best friend is one of them. Go along to any NA meeting, read any addicts journals or poetry and not one of them doesn't have their own personal take on the dead best friend theme. A lot of people just make shit up to give some drama to their lives. The truth is that someone dies every now and again and all deaths are put down to OD and every junkie who had even a passing acquaintance with that person was suddenly their best friend and was there. You could be sure, if my heart were to give out this evening and I were found dead tomorrow, I'd straight away be given a cause of death as 'Heroin OD' and instantly, post-mortem, become the most popular guy around. And everyone is happy to oblige the myth because it sounds much more personally tragic that a friend died from an OD rather than a heart attack. But really, when you think of it and what is going on, it is really someone not caring too much about the person who supposedly passed but rather wanting to put over just how recklessly dangerous their own life is. In any walk of life it's mostly bullshit what goes on and the heroin scene is no different... it's probably even worse."
"Well, ya may have a point there mate, but I really have seen more deaths than I care to remember. Sure, there's bullshit too but not from my mouth."
"Forget it. I wasn't having a go at you. Just sick of all the crap that goes around. It just seems that every addicts feels obliged to have stories of all kinds of crazy shit when the truth is many live holed up with their nan or mother and the most exciting thing which happens is news of a new colostomy bag or something... an amputation or DVT if they're really lucky."
"Fuck me, where does the cynicism come from, man? Remind me not to tell you next time some poor cunt goes under!"
"Next time some poor cunt goes over don't tell me: I DON'T CARE!"
"Fair enough. Now, do you wanna take this methadone offa me or not?"
"I do if it's not watered down."
"I don't fucking water my methadone down. No cunt would buy off me if I did. And there's one fool proof way to know if the juice is watered or not: shake it. If it bubbles at the top there's water in it. Proper juice is too thick to pick up a surf."
"Nah, you're OK. I trust you... just. Give us it here then."
"I've another 250ml if you need any more. Buzz me."
"Er, Steve?"
"What the fuck's this? I've just shaken it like you said and its got a head on it like a fucking pint of Guiness!"
"Fuck off! Let me see that. Hmmm... yeah, it's deffo got a bit of an afro. Probably the chemist over did it with the mix."
"Well give it back to the chemist then. I don't want this shit."
"Nah, don't do this to me mate, please. Can't get meself a a couple of baggies if not. D'ya think I'd tell ya about how to check it if I had watered the shit down?"
"Yes... you probably would. How much is in there? I need to know? Be honest or I'll leave it completely."
"Ok, I took a gulp this morning. But seriously I just added water to cover what I took and it weren't much."
"But I thought you had plenty? Another 250ml? Why would you need to take a gulp of this?"
"Well, I took a gulp of the other too. Just incase I sold it and then couldn't score or something. It's not quite 250ml... maybe 220 or so."
"You sure you didn't only have 250ml and topped it up to 500 with water?"
"Naaaaah, mate," he said laughing, in a way that let me know I was either spot on or very near to the truth. "Taste it. Go ahead."
"You've probably added a shitload of sugar to it to, so there's no point. I'll take it, but I'll know exactly what you've done to it by how long 90 will hold me. It better not be what I think."
"You're para, mate. Pure para."
"I'm not para, Steve, though if I were, I've good reason to be: it's shit trickery like yours which really kills people... Probably the same kind of trickery which killed Katie. Maybe deep down you even know it. Maybe that is why such a death cuts you up so much. Maybe it's a guilty conscience?”
Steve gave me a curious look, like how one would look at an insane person.
Guilty conscience? What the fuck are trippin' on? It was suicide, you nutter... she fucking killed herself!”

*     *     *

Nick was a tall lanky user with unwashed black hair down to the end of his neck. He had large, far set, slightly bulged eyes, pinky red boils all over his face and a greenish tint to his skin. He had shot himself down to clothes from charity shops: huge misshapen woollen jumpers atop trousers he was forever hitching up at the waist. He never wore any socks and had black ankles. I happened upon him and Portuguese Joe pushing a shopping trolley down the high street with a large-backed TV sat in it.

"What trouble you pushing around there?" I asked.
"TV. Dual DVD," Nick said. "You can have it for 25 squid?"
"No thanks."
"Well, it was worth a try. It's a decent bit of mediaware tho, innit? We're gonna see if Trooper will take it for a 40's worth a B. Wotcha think? He'll take it, won't he?"
"God Knows. Not if he's on foot he won't."
"Fuck, Joe, did you hear that: what if T comes on foot?"
"He won't be on foot! We already told him we've something for him to look at."
"O yeah."
"Where you meeting him?"
"Wood Lane."
"I'll tag along with ya, should be interesting."

To get off the main road with their hot goods Nick and Portuguese Joe turned and cut through the smaller side streets. Joe pushed the trolley, limping while crashing recklessly over the uneven paving.

"Nick, what's all this about Katie? What happened?" Nick pulled a kinda blank expression, as if finding his thoughts. He nodded gently.
"Yeah, she went over. Out just like that. She was already wasted and when her boyfriend never put in a show she went psycho and turned her attentions to his gear. She was in some state though... Physically. She'd been drinking all day and had taken a beating from someone or other. Not sure who she wouldn't talk of it."
"I heard it was you who shot her up?"
"Wot? Where jya hear that?"
"Gimpy Ray. He was boasting about how it was his gear that took her out."
"I never fucking shot her up! Is he trying to have me nabbed or what! And it werent his shitty little bags a gear either. His stuff wouldn't knock out a fucking dwarf."
"But you was there? "
"I was there, but had fuck all to do with it and dint stick around. When I saw she'd gone over I gave her a quick check, took the half bag a gear she had left and scrammed. I phoned the ambulance though and most wouldn't."
"You're probably right there."
"The next day they cleared her room out. I took her gear as I figured she'd not need it where she was and she wouldn't have wanted it to end up in the police incinerator. "
"You don't need to explain. I'd have done the same... we all would. Gimpy Ray also said you got evicted for being there."
"O don't listen to that cunt! I wasn't even a resident at the hostel so how the fuck could I be evicted? I stayed over a few nights here and there. Sometimes with Katie and sometimes with Peter below. When that all blew over with Katie they got so strict with room checks that no-one could risk having me there. It was fuck all to do with being with Katie though. These fucking people, Jesus."

Nick now took the shopping trolley from Portuguese Joe and began pushing it himself. Joe said his leg hurt. He lit a cigarette and followed on behind. At the first turning on Wood Lane Nick stopped and rested with the trolley on the corner. He mentioned something about standing in the middle of the road with a stolen TV and laughed. Joe was laughing too. He was also asking passers by if they were interested in the TV. Trooper would be having a look at it but all the better if they could sell it before. A few people looked in at it, examined the plug, but no-one would risk buying it without being able to plug it in and test that it worked. Not long after a small blue car flew by with the passenger window down, music blaring and a big black happy head nodding away and singing out the window. He let out a special sound for Nick and Joe, a high-pitched animalistic scream/laugh as the car flew by. It was Trooper.

"He can't be holding gear," I said to Nick, "he wouldn't be carrying on with that lark if he were."
"He's always holding. He wouldn't turn up empty."

A minute later and the same black guy who had been been hanging out the car window came strolling down the road. He had a weird way of rolling his shoulders as he walked.

"Fuck, bro!" he said to Nick, "You couldn't be any more blatant?"
"Too heavy to carry; too big to hide, " said Nick.

Trooper cast his eye over the TV. It looked new and was top of the range. Without saying whether he wanted it or not he made a call and said:
"It's cool. Come and get me." Nick held his dirty fist out for Trooper to bump.
"Get away wid dhat nonsense, bro! Wot you take me for?" Trooper said. "I'll give you a gram for your goods... no more."

Nick looked at Joe. Joe pulled a discrete, inert face, his eyes widening a touch like he was trying to breathe through them. He gave a very subtle shake of his head.
"Come on T," said Nick, "don't do us on a couple of bags?"
"Listen, bro, I said a gram. I'm not paying more for dhem tings. I'll drop a white in too. Yes or no bro? Comes on. I'm a busy man."
"You're killing us T," said Nick. "It's the B we need. But if that's what you're offering then that's it... we gotta accept, int we?"
"Dis ain't no charity, bro. An not one other man round d'is manor would even trade for anything but pure dollar."
The blue car arrived. Trooper told Nick and Joe to load the TV in the back. As they did Trooper got in the passenger seat and said, "10 mins, bro. Me gonna sort ya tings. An lose the fuckin trolley, bro."

The car pulled off. Nick took the trolley and pushed it and let go. It freewheeled into the curb on the far side and fell over with a discordant rattling crash. When he turned back around he looked almighty pleased with himself.

"Told you he wouldn't have gear on him, " I said. Nick just nodded. The same nod he had made when thinking about Katie.

*     *     *

Fellow Edwards was working over already tilled ground. He told so many lies that he appeared to have a bad memory. He wasted no time in breaking down and sobbing out my memories to me. I watched him curiously as he told me how he had been with Katie at the Methodist Church the morning before she had died, how he hugged her goodbye and had told her that if she needed anything she was just to call around. He even went so far as to describe how young and tragic she seemed to him on his last look back "as if the sprite of youth had appeared in her for one last beautiful moment before the end of all suffering". He had mastered his art so well that his version was better than the original. And neither did it end there.

Coming back from a few seconds of deep, faraway thoughts, Fellow Edwards sighed. Then he looked up and stared straight at me, through me. From somewhere he had mustered up real tears. They did not break and roll but sat against the lip of his bottom eyelid like a clear ripple of shoreline. He did look incensed by grief.

Fellow Edwards explained how Katie had indeed called around his that evening and how he had scored of Ray the Gimp and had given Katie two bags. He said that it was his good will that had killed her. He spoke as if there were a great moral to be had from his story. He took all the tragedy away from Katie and filled his own soul with it. And yet, unlike Tracy, he had not done so to gain in any material way. It seemed his sole reward was in reinforcing the idea of just how hexed and luckless his existence was. I let him continue, let him tell me of the troubled evening he had passed the night Katie had died, how he was overcome with a strange urge to go back and see her, an urge he had ignored with the gravest of consequences. When he was quite finished, I said:

"You've not a very good memory, have you?" He gave me a 'Huh?' like look. He must have discerned something in my voice as he was on the defensive, ready to defend the bullshit he had just told me with a passion.
"Don't you remember meeting me the other week? You was with that mate of yours... he had his foot in plaster?"
"Er... yeah... and???"
"Well, it was me who told you about Katie dying and how that morning I'd left her at the church. You've just told me the story I told you... And a whole lot more besides."
Fellow Edwards kinda leaned back with a horrified look on his face, his regard was suddenly one of hostile distrust. His brain was working away furiously, searching for an out. Instinctive guilt reaction took over.

"Fuck off, mate... Fuck right off! You told me this story? You're fucking aving a laugh, int ya? How the fuck could you tell me anything when it was me who was with her? A short memory! What the fuck do you take me for? A cunt?"
"Just telling you what happened. It was even you who asked me about her."
"BullSHIT! You've got ya fucking wires crossed somewhere. You may have told someone but it wasn't fucking me!"
"Then I couldn't have told anyone... I would have only just now found out about it."
"You taking me for a fucking mug? You're sick. You need to cut the drugs out if they're doing that to you. My fucking friend and you're shitting on her memory? Is that what you're doing? Shitting on her fucking memory? Come on, Muppet ... speak up!"

Fellow Edwards had found his angle. Like many a liar before him, thinking it would be the reaction of an honest man, he first set about in a blaze of anger and indignation and then took it to its absolute extreme, threatening violence. But an honest man would never react like that; an honest man would do the opposite; an honest man would do absolutely nothing at all. Getting violent was Fellow Edwards' way of discharging his humiliation - a way to regain his lost pride. It was a contrived, dominating behaviour, one designed to make amends, no different from the man who loses at chess only to want to settle it with a boxing match. And if, at the very least, all that happens is that the other fellow quits his boastful actions and retracts his accusations, then the threat of violence has served good purpose. Under the dishonourable mask of defending his friend's honour Fellow Edwards was all het up and gunning for me. The last thing I was going to do was fight over what I knew to be the truth, and so, I backed down and said that I was sorry and must have been mistaken. It was a fairly ridiculous situation, one of reversed roles, though entirely possible, that by this time, Fellow Edwards had convinced himself that he really had lived through what he recounted. With my recantation of events the situation calmed to an uneasy truce. Fellow Edwards withdrew into himself, a sulky look of coiled anger retracting into his face. He refused to speak another word, took to pacing around like an embittered convict, mentally muttering and cursing to himself, working himself up afresh then calming himself down with measured steps and deep, slow intakes of air through his nostril. With a downcast sadness I watched him out the corner of my eye, sometimes just his lower legs and shoes, wondering what in the hell was wrong with this world.

Over the course of a month, since Stuart's return, every other junkie I met had some story about Katie. Either they were there, had crossed her path that day, had scored the drugs which killed her, or, had intimate details of her death. Others said that they had heard and it was a shame, though what they had heard was often no more than pure fantasy. Some renderings of the death held that Katie had died months ago and others that it happened just days ago. There were those who said she was carried out still alive only to die in hospital; those who said she was found after some weeks, half decomposed; and some still who claimed her body was put in the lift of the hostel building and found by staff when the doors opened up on the ground floor. There were even a minority who looked at me aghast when I told of her death and said it was impossible because they had seen her only last week. One junkie, by the name of Grace, even went so far as saying she had Katie's new telephone number, yet, quite predictably, couldn't find it when asked for it.

Still, regardless of all the hearsay, for the most part I was able to unravel myth from truth. I was with her that morning and had gotten the initial story of her death from Stuart. Stuart's account matched up with Nick's and in part with Gimpy Ray's. Aside from certain obvious embellishments, Ray's rendition was quite an accurate telling of events. It was a telling which put him in the vortex of the drama, but the basic facts seemed reliable enough. Everyone else's tales were borrowed from other people and slightly or highly adapted, each person inserting themselves into a prominent place in history, turning a second or third hand story into a first person perspective. For some months Katie's death was the hot topic of conversation amongst the community's junkies: on the day she died she must have crossed the path of just about every addict in the borough, of which, at least ten of them must have fixed her up with the fatal shot.
Katie's death was only finally dethroned by the tragic news of Dumfries Billy, a middle-aged beggar who was hosed down out the doorway of Boots one morning only to be flooded out his flimsy cardboard abode stiff dead with a terribly dislocated jaw. Rumour was that his begging bowl had taken a bumper haul that night, that by some freak of chance death had deprived him of a once in a lifetime take. Even in death people were mythologizing the poor fellas awful luck. Whether Dumfries Billy ever existed or not I've no idea. All I know is that I had the good fortune never to have crossed his unlucky, dislocated path.

*     *     *

It was a good year after Katie's death that the truth of what happened was finally revealed. It came via the most unlikeliest of sources, sat out on the steps of the West London magistrates Court during the afternoon recess.

"Hey hey, stranger!" she said, as I happened by. I looked down at the woman sat out on the steps, whiling her time away making little sketches of the coming and going court clerks and lawyers. I gave her a queer look, not able to quite place her face to a name. And then she smiled and I saw them long smoker's teeth and the sculpted lips which must have served her well in younger days. Her dreadlocks were tied back and grown out in the front, and for the day she had replaced her hippy wear for smart and honest, black and white. I almost swallowed my tongue and the roof of my mouth. It was Katie.

"Well ain't ya gonna say hello!" she said, standing up. For 12 months dead she was pretty steady on her feet and had a solid enough hold. Breaking out the clinch I said, "I heard you was …."
"...dead," she finished. "I know. You're not the first. OD'd just prior to rehab and baa blah blah! Well, do I look too dead from where you're standing?"

It turned out that Katie had mildly OD'd the night she was with Nick and he had made off with two and a half bags of her gear and her purse before phoning the emergency services. Unconscious, she was taken to hospital and released into her residential rehab the next day, where she stayed for two weeks before being reallocated to new digs in South east London. She told me how she had waited everyday in rehab for Stuart to arrive and when he never did she blew him out as just another heroin hanger on who didn't give a fuck about anything but gear. That may have been true, but we were all like that in the midst of hardcore addiction. I told her that Stuart had been arrested and on his release had gone around to see her only to be told by a handful of people that she was dead. Depressed, he'd returned home. She pulled a face as if she didn't believe that; maybe she was right. Regarding the police cleaning out her hostel room, Katie said it wasn't the police but a couple of rehab personnel who had passsed by to pick up some personal belongings for her stay. After we had gone through all the details of her apparent death I then recovered my senses and realised I was talking to her outside a courthouse.
"What are you doing here?"
"Heroin traffic and possession," she said. She had been busted for some very small time dealing, just enough to supply her own habit. She had been released on bail leading up to the case and so she was pretty confident she'd get off with a suspended sentence or maybe an imposed rehab or detox. As we were speaking her solicitor came down the courthouse steps and said they needed to get inside as theirs was the second hearing of the afternoon. Katie asked me if I'd stay and watch the hearing but I said I couldn't as I had somewhere to be. She smiled that smile one last time and understood and accepted that one thing in our lives came before most other things. I asked her for her phone number but she didn't have a phone and so I took the number of her solicitor and hugged her good luck.

 On leaving Katie I imagined all the stories that had been circulating since her disappearance, all the repercussions her supposed death had had on people, all the extra bags the addicts had secured on the back of her demise and all the new stories of a best friend having gone under. Just because Katie had washed up alive and well wouldn't kill peoples stories. Noone is going to relinquish their tales of personal tragedy and horror for something as fickle as the truth. Everyone retains their stories and will cry over them as genuinely as if they really happened. It seems that often people just want an excuse to cry about their own lives, to somehow have a genuine second hand reason to break down and sob without being told to stop the self-pitying bullshit.

The next day after seeing Katie I wondered how her court case had gone. I fetched out the piece of paper the solicitor had jotted his number down on and called. I introduced myself and asked how Katie had gotten on.

"Yes, we met yesterday on the steps... you gave me your number. The woman with the dreadlocks."
"You mean Miranda?"
"No, I mean Katie."
"Maybe she goes by Katie on the street, but the girl I defended yesterday was called Miranda... Ms Miranda Braithwaite."
"Well, whatever her real name is, how did she get on?"
"Not too well, I'm afraid. She received a two year custodial sentence, Holloway. Was a pretty harsh verdict, but was always a possibility, what with her having such a sour history of failed and abandoned rehabs. Her initial plea of 'not guilty' didn't help her case."
"Two years? Fuck."
" Maybe it'll do her good? A blessing in disguise?"
" Maybe."
I put the phone down. Miranda Braithwaite, I thought, how apt. For all the years I knew Katie, it turned out that she wasn't Katie at all; she was always someone else. I suppose I could have felt deceived, but I never did. It just made the last year of rumours and hearsay even more ridiculous. There never was no Katie and yet she died a thousand deaths.
And so it is, the junk scene lurches on, a world of stories and rumour, ghosts and shadows, scheming and deceit, comings and goings with the ever eternal promise that the real good gear is on its way. It turns in circles, just like the habit itself. Real friendship and intimacy are rare, as an arm that can go around your shoulder can so all too easily snake its way into your pocket; and a real name, a full legal name, can have you stalked and beaten up by a violent ex lover or tracked down by that dealer you ripped off years ago when you quit town. Katie was just another name on the scene, another rehab check in, another cheap trick, another statistic, another forgotten life on the junk road. She was a story for everyone and a tragedy for all. Two years, her solicitor said, maybe a blessing in disguise? For a 46 year old addict who had been on the needle for nearly 30 years, I doubt it. Stories like hers do not have happy endings. As for the ending she did have, well, that was it, for I never saw nor heard of her again.

-    -    -

My predictions of Joe M's best lines (no cheating!) - LINES FOR JOE M