Dial 999 Chapter One
When Miranda slumped over onto the floor, I knew it was time to go.
She had been sitting on the chipped tile in the bathroom, using the toilet as a prop for her arm and mumbling incessantly to my shadow as I inspected my bleeding nose. I could see her reflection in the mirror, wiping at the side of her face with her dirty fingers after she sniffled a couple times.
“You’ve got to hit the vein just right,” she said to me, slapping the crease of her inner arm. “And if you don’t know the difference between a vein and an artery, you’re fucked.”
Strands of tousled brown hair clung to her reddened cheeks from perspiration, and her eyes narrowed in concentration on the task at hand.
I stuffed a thin wad of toilet paper up my nose, hoping to absorb some of the blood. “I don’t know why you waste your time with that shit, Miranda.” My teeth clenched for a minute.
Miranda smirked, having found a good vein.
“You could use a right jab yourself, Jon. I mean, it’s a party, innit?”
We were at Bugs’ and Tony’s flat in Clerkenwell, our usual hangout, recuperating from a Teddy Boy run-in. The original plan for the evening was to catch a Buzzcocks show at The Roxy, but the ‘cancelled’ sign on the doors meant that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, we got caught up in the now-traditional Saturday Teds-vs-punks brawl. Boise Lou and his gang were set on roughing us up good, but we only lasted about a half an hour before we got bored and retreated back to our mates’ gaff.
Their flat was part of an old warehouse that they converted into living space. The focal point was the large entry room littered with sofas, card tables, and folding chairs–perfect for drinks and poker games. With such an open area, it was just the right place for parties. We all took advantage of that at any opportunity, much to our mates’ delight as they loved being hosts to chaos. The neighborhood back then was rough, but Bugs and Tony had a safe haven, helped, certainly, by the group of thugs that lived two floors above. “They’re family
,” Tony would remind me after a few drinks, “and my family looks out for you, Jonny boy
Despite his hard exterior, though, Tony was a decent guy. I think his attitude came out of the fact that he was shorter than all the other blokes. Kind of a puffing up of the feathers to show everyone he was on the same level. He had some bollocks, Tony did. He dressed like an early Teddy Boy (in ‘40's style suits), which actually fit him quite well, but he did it just to be a wanker. The Teds knew he was one of us, not one of them, which only served to wind them up.
Bugs thrived on those displays of aggression. The crazy energy that made him so much fun to be around was also the same thing that made you want to keep him within your sight. He was a ticking time-bomb waiting for the right moment to explode. Everything about him was wrong: his hair, a shock of blonde burned white and brittle with peroxide; his face, scratched and pocked from dancing, fighting, or acne–I couldn’t tell which; his clothes, ripped and torn and salvaged.
It didn’t take long for us to raid the flat once we burst through the doors. We adjusted furniture, cleaned out the liquor cabinet, and increased the noise level within minutes. The sound of our voices, Tony’s record player, and police sirens scouring the streets was like static against the metallic interior of the room. Thick dust shrouded the cracked window panes, hiding the glare of the street lamps. Many of the high-hanging light fixtures in the room were either broken or burned-out. To compensate, Bugs wired the perimeter of the room in twisted strings of Christmas (or fairy
, as the Brits corrected me) lights. Garlands of little bulbs, both clear and multi-colored, sparkled against the tinfoil that papered the walls. Some blinked in measured time, others flickered only when you bumped them.
Tony was near the kitchen chatting up Susan, trying to use his infamous skills in persuasion to get a shag. He had been buying her drinks earlier in the evening as a warm-up exercise, and now he was laying the charm on heavy. I could tell by the way his beady brown eyes softened that the magic must be working.
Susan smiled at me as Tony began talking with his hands. She looked out-of-place in her clean, department-store outfit, but she was one of us just the same. My girl Mary met her through a mutual friend and shared a flat with her near King’s Cross station. Despite the fact that she wasn’t a punk, Susan seemed to take to most of us. She was actually a pleasant change of pace in our circle of friends, so when Mary invited her to join us, it didn’t matter that she wasn’t fond of the Sex Pistols; we liked her anyway.
Dancing near the record player were a couple blokes I recognized as Roxy regulars with Susan’s friend Julie in between them. Julie was wriggling around, her blonde hair grazing her cheeks as she moved. She was definitely the popular girl in our group—due in large part to her carefree nature and the fact that she looked like Debbie Harry. Lately I had noticed Bugs taking an interest in her, and I assumed that flirting with these random guys was her way of telling Bugs to move things along a bit faster.
Mary, in the meantime, was cheering from the poker table. Her Irish accent was telltale in a room full of Cockney blokes, and no matter how many different colors she’d try dyeing her hair, her fair features, sprinkling of freckles, and bright green eyes gave away her true heritage. She was a feisty little thing, which was something that attracted me to her in the first place, but which also got her into trouble. As now, laughing a bit to myself, I could see Bugs drunkenly lecturing her on what it meant to keep a ‘poker face’.
“Okay, mate, what about this one then?
” Paul asked, snapping my attention back to him. We had been comparing bruises between pints, a friendly sort of competition Paul and I started the previous year when I moved to London from the States. Paul had successfully encouraged a long scar on his dark arm from the cut he got at a Johnny Thunders show back in February, and he displayed it proudly. All I could find on myself were a handful of fresh scratches and the feeling of something on my face that might be purple in the morning. Nothing major, especially compared to this bloke Paul knew back in Kingston who would brand himself when he was bored.
Just as Paul started describing to me the branding process, Bugs yelled out “Gangrene!” and we all snapped our heads to look.
, I thought.
Gangrene was Dan Green, a junkie who tended to be nothing but trouble. We called him Gangrene because he never went to the hospital for treatment after fights, which left his body a constant black-and-blue mess. He was a scruffy sort of guy, choosing to be a squatter and making his living peddling highly-addictive substances. We all thought he was a right nasty piece of work, and if questioned we wouldn’t admit to knowing him. But, after all was said and done, he still somehow ended up a mate. (Though an uninvited one at that!)
Gangrene stumbled into the flat, tripping over Tony’s feet and knocking Susan’s drink onto her clothes. Tony shoved Gangrene’s bruised shoulder, drunk and angry.
“Oi! Piss off!” Tony spat, following with a collection of colorful Cockney obscenities.
I cringed slightly, expecting Gangrene to punch back, but he just stumbled further into the room, grabbing hold of Bugs’ shirt sleeve to steady himself. Bugs laughed at Gangrene, spilling his lager on the floor. Gangrene’s feet slipped a bit in the drink, but Bugs was anchored, and they merely wobbled in their drunkenness.
When I got up for another pint a while later, I saw Nigel come out of the bathroom, half-clothed. His tight black jeans were unbuttoned at the fly, and he wandered out shirtless, wiping his sweaty forehead with the back of his hand. He motioned to me for a cigarette.
“She was a good shag, mate,” Nige said when he reached me, smoothing out his shaggy brown hair. He was referring to Miranda, the girl he brought back from outside The Roxy.
“Told her she could leave now?” I teased. Nige wasn’t exactly known for relationships that lasted longer than the time it took to fuck.
Nige chuckled. “Yeah, but she’s in with Gangrene.”
We both shrugged. Heroin.
Nige and I kept away from that shit.
“Junkie tart,” Nige snickered, taking a drag from the cigarette.
He headed towards Bugs and Mary who were falling off their chairs laughing about something. Bugs was reaching for Mary’s arm, but he only connected with the stretchy material of her top. She tumbled onto the floor, giggling. Although she was nearly 18, she had the soft, sweet face of a teen much younger, and that made the scene more perverse than it was. Bugs laid back on the floor, face-up, trying to catch his breath. Mary slowly pulled herself back onto the chair, but by that time the poker game had ended. She glanced over at me, blowing a kiss as she steadied herself against the table.
I just wasn’t feeling like myself tonight. My limbs were heavy, as if I had gained weight, but I was still the same thin bloke. Wiry, even. Was I tired? Bored? Everyone around me was having a grand time; what was my problem?
By then, Julie had joined Bugs on the floor and they were snogging. Someone broke the needle on the record player and Nige was trying to replace it before the flat was destroyed in protest.
As I returned to Paul, Gangrene bumped into me. He could barely stand up, his eyes were struggling to stay open, and he reeked of alcohol and sweat.
“Jon, mate,” he greeted in a complete stupor. He patted me on the back drunkenly and before I could tell him to bugger off, he hobbled off to the door.
Paul shook his head watching Gangrene leave.
“Bloody nose,” he said as he turned back to me.
“Yeah, guess so,” I replied, chuckling. That was a new one to me. These British with their silly insults.
“No, mate, bloody nose!” Paul pointed at my face.
I felt my nose with my fingertips. He was right. A Teddy Boy cracked his fist into my face during our earlier tussle, but I could have sworn the bleeding had stopped before we reached Clerkenwell.
In the bathroom, Miranda leaned towards my leg, her eyes fogging. She offered me a shot with an unsteady hand. Her cheeks were flushed and her lip quivered–the shit must have been good. I declined and watched the syringe drop into her lap. “Your loss, Jon,” she said softly, trailing off. “Your loss…” Her eyelids closed and she smiled once before hitting her head on the floor.
I nudged her with my boot. She let out a final moan before slipping into her dreamy state.
“You’re pathetic, you know that?” I said to her. “It’s about time someone told you the truth.”
It was so easy to have a captive audience when your audience was blacked-out, drooling on the floor. So I continued with my memorized tirade, having saved this one for such an occasion:
“You call yourself a punk, but for what? You’re not changing the system; you’re lying in a fucking dirty toilet being just what the government wants you to be. Just a fucking slave.”
I shoved my boot into her again, only this time I wasn’t so careful about it. She didn’t make a noise so I stood there wanting to yell at her about something else. But then it seemed irrelevant. Tony was right–when you tell people things they don’t want to hear, they start acting like you don’t even exist.
So this is what it comes down to
, that little nagging voice in my head said to me. There I was, right in the middle of London and bored out of my bloody mind. I had feverishly agreed to move to my aunt’s house in England with the hope that I would be able to be a part of the growing punk scene. A scene I thought held more meaning in the UK than the one that had been spawn in America. But I was discovering that it wasn’t as idyllic as I dreamed; challenging the world was giving way to strung-out complacency. Hell, I could have stayed back home in Cleveland listening to The Dead Boys if I just wanted to call myself ‘punk’. I wanted to be part of a movement, a force of change. The American scene was choked with drugs already, and I thought, naively perhaps, that it would be different here in England. And it was, for a while. But now… I just felt so useless, in the same rut I was back in the States. Something had to happen; something just had to give.
I was still staring at Miranda and getting more disgusted as the moments passed. I wanted to shake her back to reality. Was I on a crusade? Maybe. Anarchy was one thing, but this? What the fuck was she doing?
And Gangrene didn’t help matters any. He supplied Miranda and countless others as the big dealer. It used to just be sulfate, an amphetamine, but now Gangrene seemed to have his hands full with heroin. And everywhere you saw his bruised body, you knew there followed in his wake junkies looking for a fix. People were willing to pay good money for whatever Gangrene had, and it was no secret that he had better drugs than anyone. Gangrene and I had fought over this repeatedly. Fist fights, even. But it came down to him making a living and me making yet another stand. I was clapped out. And so I gave up on him. I folded.
Now here I stood, a junkie at my feet and a wad of tissue stiff with blood in my hand. My nose felt dry, but I stared in the mirror for another few minutes to be sure.
Out in the main room of the flat, Tony was beyond drunk and Bugs had started another poker game. Mary was finishing a pint.
“What’s wrong, luv?” she asked, setting the empty bottle aside. “You’ve been so quiet all night.”
Mary’s lips curled into a sly sort of smile. “I’ve got an idea…”
My eyebrow raised in interest. Mary was a treasure trove of craziness–some of her ideas were insane, some were illegal, but all ended up being fun. Perhaps this would be just what I needed to pull myself out of this funk.
“Come on,” she said, leading me to the door.
Behind us, Susan called out something to Tony from the bathroom.
Tony was laughing and holding onto Bugs in an attempt to stand up, his lager spilling over the poker table. “Suz… Suz…,” he gasped, trying to speak between choking laughter, “just drag her into the hall… and let her sleep it off.”
I lived in a council block on Hardwick Street, north of Clerkenwell in Finsbury. It was a bit of a walk from Bugs’ and Tony’s flat, and not quite a pleasant one, so I traveled briskly in the dark with Mary gathered close.
My flat was on the top floor of a building whose amenities varied daily. Some days we had warm water, other days we traded that for consistent electricity. In the winter we might be surprised with heat every third day, in the summer we might rejoice for the four hours our refrigerators worked. But the rent was cheap, and that’s all that mattered to me. This particular evening the lift was unavailable, so we exercised our way up the stairs.
By the time we reached my flat, we were doubled-over, panting. The door was stuck again, and it took the weight of both of us to push through. Mary fell face-first onto the floor, and I tripped over her shoe, sending myself crashing down alongside her. We coughed as we laughed, the air in the room hot and humid from the radiator.
“All right, luv,” Mary said, her voice fading softly away from me in the darkness, “about my idea…”
I sat up, pulling off my boots and tossing my jacket aside. There were a couple clicks of the lamp in the corner, but no light. No power tonight, apparently.
!” Mary grumbled in Irish.
Then I heard the clinking of jewelry against glass and a dull thud as an empty pint bottle fell to the carpet. I crawled toward the noise, taking down a kneeling Mary. She struggled a bit, gasping as I nipped at any skin within mouth’s reach.
“I’ve got matches in my pocket,” I mumbled between mouthfuls of soft flesh.
Mary said nothing, just let out a low moan of approval. Her small hands felt around at my waist. To help matters, I leaned forward a little, holding her close to me as I traced circles into the taught skin of her neck with my tongue. Mary’s hands slipped into my front pockets, and she searched thoroughly for the matches, minutes even, before giving up to search behind. Half a pack of matches was in my back pocket, and there Mary’s fingers went, removing the flattened box (though not before giving my bum a little squeeze).
She handed me the box, and I tried showing off by lighting a match with my front teeth. It didn’t quite work that way, and while I was gagging on the residue, Mary struck one and held it up, looking around quickly for something to ignite so that we could see. An old newspaper was on the floor, so she crumpled up a page over my ashtray, flicked the flame into it, and watched the pile light up. I climbed off of her and hurriedly unearthed some candle nubs which we fitted into empty pint bottles as make-shift lamps.
“Now then, what’s this new plot, Maire?”
I pulled out two bottles of still-cool beer from the refrigerator and handed her one.
Mary was being swallowed into the old couch, her feet dangling over the edge. “You Americans and your cold ale!” she grimaced.
I chuckled and raised my bottle to her in a casual toast.
She smiled wide, like she had an uncontainable secret. Her red lipstick was smeared on her thin lips, giving off the look of a deranged starlet.
“Well, I was chatting with Caoilinn yesterday and we thought maybe we could start our own fanzine.”
Her kohl eyes were eager, and she continued quickly before I got the chance to dismiss the idea. “I mean, Mark’s got one, Shane’s got one… And I know a bloke who can run off copies for us. Want to? Please?”
If Caoilinn (or Keely, as I called her) suggested it, there was no stopping Mary. She and Mary had been lovers and were still so, despite the fact that Keely stayed behind in Ireland. That didn’t bother me–the rule among us punks was that nobody was really anybody’s. In fact, Keely and I got along quite well. And we had more than just Mary in common—a love of political debate and philosophical literature, a desire to be in the center of a revolution, a need to create a destiny for our own selves… “Why don’t you shag her already, then, if you love her so much,”
Bugs chided me once. But that’s not how it was with us. She had Mary and I had Mary and Mary had both of us and that’s how it worked. Nothing more, nothing less.
Keely was incredibly creative, so it was no surprise to me that she might have come up with this idea. I took a swig of my beer and considered. There were a few guys I knew back in the States who had their own fanzines—quirky, do-it-yourself publications. Scrubs in Cincinnati printed a zine called Spazilytic Converter
where he basically discussed all the ways you could make piercings and jewelry from old car parts. And a buddy of mine back in home in Cleveland ran Still Dead
, a Dead Boys fanzine. He even gave out badges to the person who could send in the most “Spot Stiv Bators” photos. Mary could be on to something here. Something fun.
“Yeah, I’m up for it.”
Mary clapped excitedly, fully chuffed.
“Do you think Mr. White will let us set out copies?” she asked. Mr. White owned the tiny record shop where Paul and I worked.
“I don’t see why not. When should we start?”
Mary insisted that it be as soon as possible. I insisted that she head to my bedroom and fast. All this talk of having fun led my mind to other avenues.
I blew out the candles while Mary pulled herself out of the couch. Then, on all-fours, I crawled after her, tugging various pieces of her clothing off before we reached my bed. She draped herself across my crumpled sheets. Her white skin absorbed the moonlight that refracted and filtered through my broken window, making her glow a bit against the shadows in the room. I couldn’t seem to get rid of my clothes quickly enough. Mary extended one of her legs to rub against me, curling her toes into my thigh like a kneading kitten. My pulse thumped so loudly that I almost couldn’t hear her urging me on. I felt starved, and I preyed upon her savagely. My neighbor in the next flat pounded on the wall, so I knew I was doing something right.
The blaring ring-ring of the phone startled me out of my sleep in the morning. At first it didn’t register with me, and I knocked my alarm clock onto the floor. When I realized what the noise was, I felt around to see if Mary was awake. Aside from myself and a pile of linens that now needed washing, the bed was empty. It must have been at least the tenth set of rings before I picked up the receiver.
It was Bugs.
And he was screaming.