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He had to get rid of this deeply settled sensation of poison and incipient death, get clear-headed, get on top of the situation. He did this by making another pint of black coffee and pacing round his flat drinking, smoking and retching.

He reasoned his next job was to find out whether the call from Justin Lastname was straight up. With this new task he took his pacing into the spare room of his spare, lopsided flat.

The spare room was unused except by himself. He would sleep there once or twice a week when that Lucien Savage squatted Billy’s own bedroom, overriding Billy’s own squatter’s rights in order to do sex in Billy’s bed to whomever. That whomever was invariably a very recent whomever whom Savage had just met — perhaps just minutes before — in Billy’s neighbourhood, from whom he wished to keep his own proper location a secret and/or whom he couldn’t wait the length of time it took to get across town from Stoke Newington to do sex to.

Savage hated Billy because Billy had a two-bedroom squat which he refused to share with anyone, because it was the only squat in the world with a telephone, and because Billy’s universally connected parents had found the gaff for him and sent round a council workman with keys and a claw-hammer to open it for him. Billy’s parents had done this in the hope of keeping him off their backs and out of their pockets. Indeed, with Billy safely stowed away down here in Hackney they might be able to make that move to Richmond without him finding out where they had gone or even noticing.

Savage would usually show up between one and six in the morning and put upon Billy’s sleepy-stoned-drunk head while propping the unconscious whomever against the doorframe. Billy would put his foot down: not this time. Invariably the argument would get round to the flat theme and Savage’s line would go like this:?‘Listen, man, you’ve got all this space here which you jealously guard, which you— which you squat like a Tory. You’ve even got a telephone which you never use, for Christ’s sake — I mean what’s the point of having a telephone if you never talk to anyone? You’re a bloody hermit, Billy, you don’t deserve friends. Look, if you won’t let anyone live here, why not just be a human being once in a while and let your mates dip a finger in your manna?'

Savage was not rankled because he was without adequate accommodation, having talked himself into an overly generous share of someone else’s squat in Kentish Town, and neither did he believe that Billy was taking space that could be better used by any of London’s tens of thousands of more deserving people. Savage was rankled simply because he was that kind of guy.

‘I’ll tell everyone in the Kropotkin that Mummy had your squat cracked for you,’ Savage would threaten. Savage knew a lot of things. He was a stockbroker and in order to trade his shares — his cathode blips, his abstracts, his non-products; like an air traffic controller trading radar contacts — it was imperative that he knew an awful lot about different things. Dragnetting for knowledge, he ended up knowing a lot of things that were not strictly relevant to his trade. Thus, for example, he knew that Billy had not come by his squat by the usual ritual of crowbars, Loony Brew, sweats, and cold nights on raw floors. In fact, he knew a lot else about Billy, almost everything in fact. He knew so much about Billy partly because they had grown up together, and partly because he was secretly shagging Billy’s mother.

With this Kropotkin threat Billy always gave up arguing. Of course, Savage could simply have said ‘Mummy, Kropotkin’ as soon as Billy opened the door, sending him to the greasy, malodorous sleeping bag in the spare room without debate, saving everyone a lot of time and precious calories, but that would have been no fun. It was no victory unless you rubbed your opponent’s nose in the futility of opposition.

For his part, Billy could have surrendered the moment Savage rang the doorbell. However, he was strongly possessed by an optimism derived from an over-active compensatory fantasy function, and this optimism consistently told him, adamantly, without any apparent irony, and without any obvious reference to the unencouraging mountain of precedents, that this time he would fend Savage off.
It was this same mechanism that allowed him to believe that his outward lack of activity was in fact tightly-coiled potential.

Billy could call Savage, find out by oblique means whether he had made the Lastname call. He could address Savage as Lucien. Savage hated the name Lucien, and insisted that people call him Savage or, better, Sav, because Sav was reminiscent of savvy which kind of means suss. However, this plan was fraught with danger and required some careful thought. Hell, he could just call Justin Lastname at The Enemy. That was the only sure way to find out. Yes, that was what he would do. With that, his nausea intensified, and without thinking he fled the flat.

A little later, bolstered by a very rapid can of Stupor Brew and wearing a second in his hand, he made the call expecting to be greeted with indignation and outrage. Billy was risking his life with this manoeuvre: one harsh word could be the end of him and nearly had been on many occasions. A less than doting word or look from the staff at the local burger joint where he went for the free smiles could condemn him to bed on a vodka drip for a whole week. Instead, after a suitably important time on hold, he found himself talking to the same Justin Lastname.

‘What’s up, Billy?’

Once Billy had laboriously explained that the cat he did not have had mistaken the big dog-eared memo pad on which he had not written the name and address of the place they were to meet for the big dog-eared Persian that had never lived next door — on which Billy’s cat would have certainly had a crush had they both existed — and had raped the note into illegibility, they reconfirmed the time and place of their meeting.

‘Cheers Billy. Thanks for calling,’ said Justin.

Now Billy’s elation was unrestrained. He drained his can in one, and while he waited beerily by the phone for a whole two minutes for Savage to call so he could say ‘Sorry Lucien, can’t make the pub for lunch, I’ve got to see Justin Lastname about the band,’ he reflected that The Enemy could not have called at a better time. Yesterday was Giro day and he still had nearly twenty pounds left, and he was at a relative peak both mentally and physically. Then he stumbled into the toilet, threw up and fainted when he tried to stand.

 

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