Chapter 4 – All smoke and no mirrors
Danny was feeling good. He had a place to stay. All the worries in the world had dropped off his shoulders. He had a few weeks of grace at least. That was how long Suzie had paid up. At least he had an address now. He could sign on. When the cheques came in he could pay Suzie back. He had three weeks to chill out and get his head sorted out.
He didn’t dare start thinking permanent yet. He had three weeks of grace, that was all. Then it was down to Mr Rose.
Venturing out of his world on the fourth floor the first person he bumped into was John. John was making his way back from the bathroom and came to a dead stop when confronted with Danny. At that point in time Danny had no way of knowing what a rarity this was. John never ventured out. He was never seen around the house. No-one knew how he got his shopping or paid his rent even. John was a total recluse. For a moment the two of them eyed each other up like prize fighters. Danny noted the suspicion in John’s eyes. The man looked to be around thirty, rather flabby and paunchy, with skin so white that it was almost transparent. His long hair was dishevelled, straggly and decidedly greasy. He looked like a down and out.
‘Hi,’ Danny said, breaking the deadlock, ‘I’m Danny. I’m new here.’
He held out his hand. John frowned at it suspiciously but took it. His limp grip was clammy and he quickly dropped the contact.
‘Do you fancy coming up for a coffee?’ Danny asked in a friendly manner, nodding up the stairs towards the flat.
John seemed to consider this for an age, studying Danny carefully before coming to a decision. He finally seemed to make up his mind.
‘No,’ he said. ‘But why don’t you drop in for a smoke?’
Now that seemed highly preferable to Danny. He nodded assent. Danny was not averse to a gentle mind alteration.
John’s living room was the strangest Danny had ever seen. The walls were lined with books. There were heaps of tomes all over the place.
‘Wow,’ Dany exclaimed, ‘I’ve never seen so many books.’
‘I studied literature,’ John explained succinctly. It later turned out that John had a first from Cambridge and a PhD. But he did not talk about it. He spent his life sitting in an armchair reading and smoking dope.
The evidence of the dope was there for all to see. The room was dominated by a large, square oak table. On that table was the biggest collection of roaches anybody could ever have imagined. It rose up feet into the air like a peaked volcano. Danny was fascinated. Why would anyone want to do that? Apart from anything else it elicited a musty aroma of full ashtrays that insidiously pervaded the room in an altogether unpleasant way.
Danny sat himself down while John began to expertly construct a three skinner, carefully burning and crumbling the dark black resin on to the tobacco, rolling the papers in one hand, licking the gum and inserting the rolled cardboard roach. He twiddled the end, rolled the joint between his palms and inspected it carefully before applying the flame from his lighter to the end and sucking it into life.
‘Have you read all these?’ Danny asked, watching him perform the ritual, and nodding towards the heaps of literature all around them..
‘Most of them,’ John said, inhaling a lungful of smoke, without looking up and avoiding making eye contact.
‘Who’s your favourite author?’ Danny asked, as he tilted his head to read the names on the spines of the books.
‘I don’t have one,’ John replied exhaling a big blast of smoke and passing the spliff across.
Danny could see that John might be a man of words but not a man of many words, and certainly not a great conversationalist. He accepted the spliff and took a toke, sitting back in the chair and studying the titles of the books in the heap nearest to him. There didn’t seem to be any order to them. There were three volumes of Trotsky, together with a DH Lawrence and a book about Africa. How would anyone find the title they wanted in amongst all these if there was no order to them? It was contrary to the way Danny’s mind worked. All his books and albums were carefully alphabetically catalogued. He enjoyed doing it.
They smoked the joint, in silence, and Danny was consumed with a beautiful buzz. There was nothing corporeal or heavy about it. The dope, despite looked dark and resinous, had a light heady quality that was vibrant and exhilarating. Danny was no big connoisseur of hash but he could tell straight away that this was premium gear.
When they had finished the joint John threw the roach on to the huge pile on the table and set about rolling another.