194. The Gear Hunter

It is midday and I want a cigarette.
I don’t smoke cigarettes.
I might have mentioned it before, how I sometimes crave things I’ve not had in a long time, things like Walker’s Spicy Tomato flavour Snaps, Ice Pops, anal sex, good hair, a hot August, gratitude, cigarettes.
It’s probably just nostalgia.
I love and loathe nostalgia in equal measure.
I loathe shiny faced ‘B’ list comedians blithering inanely about Raleigh Choppers and The Bay City Rollers and Space Hoppers and other such vapid consumerist bullshit on BBC4 shows titled ‘We *heart* the 70’s’, but at the same time the smell of melting tarmac makes my chest ache for childhood days spent wandering alone in the merciless sun through empty streets, or petrol fumes, or the sound of the sea through an open caravan window.
Simple things.
Like cigarettes.
On a whim I decide to get hidden somewhere, tap a fag off someone and get tucked away behind a skip or a compactor unit and just smoke. I don’t tap smokes off people as a rule, but desperate times and all that…
I look around, between machines and sound for a bloke with a cough or a wheeze, someone chewing gum and checking their watch. Typically it looks like the factory is running itself again, presses and finishing lines and mystery machines clattering away in busy conversation with one another without the input of the semi-humans who turn them off.
I see human movement.
I squeeze between two units, under whirring miles of printed paper on it’s way to being spliced.
I see the figure walking hurriedly, carrying a bin over one shoulder.
I recognise the jittery walk, head meerkating around for signs of management.
He speeds up, taking a left into the warehouse to duck amongst the towering labyrinth of gloomy racking.
I follow him, listen to his footsteps skitter across gritty concrete that has never been swept, looking from aisle to aisle of paper pallets until I see him, two aisles up, hurrying, hurrying.
He pauses, sees me.
Then moves on.
“Cheeky fucker…” I mutter, running now.
I don’t want to hound Fucking Amazing Dave but I really want a smoke and, as usual, he owes me twenty quid. I’m not fussed for the money but I don’t like lending if the borrower blanks me. That’s just rude. Besides, Dave rolls a great roll up so the least he can do is send one of those my way.
I catch him by a side door of the warehouse, looking rattled. He’s fumbling with his baccy and has a filter gripped between his lips. He raises his eyebrows in greeting and says, “Hmmnnm.”
I say, “Now then Dave. You avoiding me?”
He shakes his head, loads a paper with Amber Leaf and snuggles the filter from his mouth in next to it. He rolls.
“Nah, man! I’d never dodge you! Yer like a bruvva, yeah? I just had to get clear, y’know. Get out of sight. Had a bit of a scare a bit back, truth be told. I’m feelin’ rather out o’ sorts.”
He passes me the first roll up without asking if I want one then he makes his own.
I say, “Are we off behind the skips?”
He says, “No way. I’m staying in here, out o’ the way.”
I frown. “Out of the way of what?”
Fucking Amazing Dave looks furtive. He opens the fire escape a crack and looks out, then lights his fag. He blows his smoke at the open gap but the cold breeze just blows it back in his face.
He says, “I just nipped out earlier, to Frank’s Hardware. We needed a couple of bins and some dust sheets.”
I look around. The factory is unusual in that we have a huge amount of bins all over the place and dust sheets can be found stacked in many random locations. Until recently I was convinced the fucking things were breeding, that bins were male and dust sheets were female and that litters of tiny bins and dust sheets were nesting out of sight in the dark shadows of the warehouse.
It turns out that all that was really happening was that people were buying a lot of bins and dust sheets.
You wouldn’t think that a print works would need an unusual amount of bins and dust sheets, but there’s method in the madness.
I say, “What did you get then?”
Dave grins. He pulls the bin over, lifts the dust sheet crammed inside. Underneath there are screwdrivers, jigsaw blades, boxes of screws, sandpaper and some dust masks.
He says, “I’m doing a bit of work at home. Needed a few bits.”
This is how it always goes. If you can’t nick it from the factory, you go to Frank’s Hardware and buy a couple of dust sheets and a bin. You pay for the dust sheets and bin on the company account, about fifteen quid, then you shoplift the stuff you really want by hiding it in the bin, under the dust sheet, roughly fifty quids worth of gear. The factory gets bins and dust sheets, you get some shiny stuff for nowt.
I say, “I don’t know how Frank’s Hardware stays open with you lot.”
Dave takes a drag on his fag. “They’re closing down next month. Shame really.”
I shake my head. “Yeah, shame.”
Dave says, “So anyways, I got my stuff and was riding Dorothy back to work, but it were a nice day and…”
“Dorothy?” I say.
“Yeah, Dorothy. My Nissan Micra. It’s a Micra Dot, Dot is short for Dorothy, so thats’ it’s name.”
I say, “Is it the one painted with flowers, got bit of plastic instead of a passenger window?”
Dave grins. “Yeah, that’s her. Great little motor, when I get to drive her.”
I say, “Does your lass get first dibs usually?”
Dave takes a pull on his roll up. “Nah. She can’t drive. It’s the local kids keep nicking her. That’s why the plastic on the window. Sick of paying for new glass. We come to an arrangement. They can borrow her if they promise not to burn her out or shit on the seats. I leave the keys under the sun visor so’s they don’t smash up the steering column. I left ‘em a note, setting out the rules. So they nicked her, but brought her back in the condition I left her in. Even left me half a tank of petrol, bless ‘em! So sometimes I come out the house an’ Dorothy is there, sometimes she’s not. That’s just how it is.”
I shake my head. “Fucking amazing.”
Dave shrugs. “It’s a system. Everyone’s happy! So It were a nice day, I had Dorothy, an’ it seemed a shame not to nip over to Spliffy Pete’s for a bit o’ the good stuff, y’ know? So I scores, takes the gear back to work.”
I say, “You intend to smoke it now? Bit risky, no? I mean, on a night, sure, but it’s what… just past twelve!”
“Nah, man!” says Dave. “This industrial estate is bigger than you think! You get tucked away, down amongst the weird little units off the main drag. That’s the trick. Out o’ the way. Park up, roll up, get a bit fucked up! Ha ha! It were cushty, until…”
“I say, “Until what?”
“Until today, man! So I do the usual. Get myself parked, put a bit o’ The Doors on Dorothy’s cassette deck, roll meself a chubby blunt. Fire it up, all good. Now, I reckoned it were a good spot ‘cause I smelled a bit o’ ganj on the air round that place, y’know? If one brother be smokin’ then it’s cool if I do. Kinda the rules, as I see it. So I’m kickin’ back, chillin’ when all shit breaks loose!”
I say, “Shit? What kind of shit?”
“ALL THE SHIT!” says Dave, wide eyed. “I was all alone one minute, then suddenly I got a fuckin’ SWAT Team climbin’ all over me!! There’s ninja coppers all in black wi’ fuckin’ machine guns, there’s coppers wi’ dogs, coppers in riot clobber. Vans, cars, Flyin’ Squad, the lot. There were even a fuckin’ helicopter! COPPERS IN A CHOPPER!! It were the Heinz fuckin’ Beans o’ coppers, dude! Fifty seven varieties o’ the fuckers! But I’d had a few decent pulls by then an’ I were gettin’ a decent buzz on, but this really ruined the mood, y’ know? I’m IMMEDIATELY paranoid as fuck, thinkin’ ‘I’m dead I’m dead I’m dead’. I reckoned they’d been stakin’ out Spliffy Pete’s gaff an’ tailed me to catch me red handed, then I thought that Frank’s Hardware had fingered me for nickin’ stuff, then I thought it were for both an’ that I were gonna spend the next two years gettin’ bummed in Armley nick by a load of fuckin’ lifers. But THEN I realised the fuckin’ rozzers were streamin’ right past me an’ Dorothy, an’ they were smashin’ in the doors o’ one o’ those units!! An’ fuck me, if dozens o’ fuckin’ Vietnamese dudes don’t come streamin’ out, screamin’ their ruddy heads off!! Runnin’ all over the place, climbing’ chain link fences, leapin’ over hedges, wavin’ there hands in the air screamin’ “NO SHOOTEE!! NO SHOOTEE!!”
I say, “Bit racist.”
Dave says, “Fair point, but they were! No lie! It were fuckin’ amazin! I’m sat in the middle o’ this shit goin’ down wi’ Jim fuckin’ Morrison singin’ ‘This is The End’ on the Blaupunkt an’ this fucking great helicopter thwoppin’ about over ‘ead and all these Vietnamese dudes scrabblin’ about an there’s guns an’ vans an’ I’d wound up the windows to keep the rozzers from smellin’ the weed so Dorothy were like a fuckin’ bong at this point so I’m off me tits, an’ I suddenly had a flash back. A full on flash back.”
I say, “A flash back? When did you flash back to??”
Fucking Amazing Dave narrows his eyes, smokes his cigarette, stares into the distance.
He says, “Nam.”
I try not to snort.
I say, “What, Cheltenham?”
Dave blinks at me. “What?”
I say, “Nothing. You weren’t in Nam, Dave. You weren’t even born then.”
He says, “Course not! What you reckon I am, some kind of fuckin’ fantasist? Buys a Land Rover and a khaki jumper, reckons he were in t’SAS? Not me! Nah, I mean the movies! It were just like Apocalypse Now! Deer Hunter! Full Metal Jacket! All of ‘em! I seen ‘em all so many times it feels like I were there, so when all these Vitenamese guys start leapin’ around an’ the chopper starts circlin’ I totally shat meself! Felt like I was ‘In Country’, y’know!!”
I say, “What did you do? Return fire?”
Dave ignores me. “I knocked Dorthy into first an’ rolled out o’ there, real slow. Went past the open shutters o’ that warehouse. Coppers were raggin’ down all this foil an’ shit an’ I saw these bright lights, an’ a fuckin’ field…”
“A field? In a warehouse?”
“Yeah, man. A weed field. Those Vietnamese dudes, they were growing a fuckin’ field o’ weed right there, in a warehouse, not fifty yards from our own back door. I were gutted. All that bush, goin’ to waste. If only I’d known…”
Fucking Amazing Dave stares, unblinking, seeing things I can’t imagine, horrors I’ll never see.
I finished my roll up, stubbed it out on the floor.
I say, “At least you got out of there alive Dave.”
He turns and stares at me. “No-one gets out alive, dude.”
I say, “Yeah. Whatever. Remember to give me back that twenty before you die.”
I go back to work.

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