Duggie sat on a high stool and waited for the barman to take his order. He knew the barman had spotted him soon as he came in, but wouldn’t hold his breath for a quick service. Duggie was spotted as soon as he went in any place. He was five foot nine inches tall and as skinny as a rake. His hair was greasy, black, and cut badly. The skin on his face was pocked from a life time of spots and bad diet. On his feet gleamed a set of brand new Nike Airs. He wore a track suite zipped all the way up, despite the heat, and a baseball hat pulled low over his eyes. In short he looked like trouble from the cradle to the grave.
When the barman couldn’t put off serving him any longer, he reluctantly wandered towards Duggie and asked, "What will it be?" his voice dripping suspicion.
"Pint bottle of cider, glass, and ice, bud," Duggie said. Duggie's words were pulled long by his inner city accent, like chewing gum stuck on a shoe. It was a flat, North Dublin, drawl. He got no friendly chit-chat from this barman, who was too long in the business to be innocent. The man would clearly prefer if Duggie were anywhere, other than sitting in his bar. The barman popped the bottle cap and plonked it on the counter before taking the tenner left resting on the counter for him. The barman rang in the sale and dropped the change back on the counter beside the dewing bottle of cider.
Duggie waited a second or two before calling "Hay Bud! That was a twenty spot I gave yea."
The barman glanced over his shoulder and growled "Fuck Off," without even missing a stride. Duggie shrugged to himself, it was always worth a go.
It was early Sunday evening and the bar was busy. There were people all over the place, eating and drinking. Duggie never got the whole gastro pub thing, a pub was for drinking, if you were hungry go to the chipper. Simple pimple. There were all kinds of people here, being in a city centre, you tend to get a real mix of customers. Duggie's eyes flicked over the tables looking out for a soft score. A wallet poking out of a pocket, a jacket left alone, or his favourite, a handbag hung over the back of a chair. Nothing was looking promising at the moment so he decided to sip his drink and wait.
A bellow ripped across the bar "AAAHHH Here, leave it out!" followed by raucous laughter.
The noise was caused by a blond woman who was about five foot two. Her voice so rough, she must gargle with razor blades. She seemed to have only one volume, deafening. Although small in height, she was carrying so much swinging fat, she looked like someone had rammed an air hose inside her tee shirt and inflated several swimming rings. She was waving a pint glass around as she recounted something funny to the rest of her group. There were three couples sitting at the table and they all looked like they had been drinking since breakfast. They were typical Dubs, everything was big, big personality, big hair, big jewellery, you name it. They seemed to be made of too much, far more than could be contained in a human body.
Beside the table was an empty child's buggy. The kid was running around the place without anyone keeping an eye on him. These parents went in for the free range school of child rearing. The floor around the table was littered with new toys and torn cardboard boxes. The little fella looked about four. He began tugging at the blond woman, but she never looked in his direction, she just used her free hand to brush away the annoying distraction around her feet.
"Mom, mom, mom, MOM!" he balled, now annoying everyone else within earshot. In the end, she picked him up and dumped him back in his buggy, before shoving a massive bar of chocolate and a bottle of coke at him. It was clear to anyone the kid was bored, tired, and cranky. The last thing he needed was more junk food. It appeared a four year old had more sense than this mother, as he threw the drink across the floor and roared with frustration while his parents continued to ignore him. In the end, it all got too much for man a few tables away.
"Missus shut that kid up will yea," the man yelled in the direction of the group.
"He is only a kid, what's he doing to you," the mother shouted back, her face scrunched up with indignation.
"He is wrecking my head, that's what he is doing," the man replied. "Flipping do something about it, this is a pub not a crèche."
The blond woman's husband decided it was time to defend his brood, "What are you saying about my young lad?" he growled. His heavily tattooed hands transforming into fists, to highlight his meaning.
"I’m saying nothing about him, you on the other hand, should not be left in charge of a hamster, never mind a child," came the response. You had to admire the bravery of this guy. The kid’s father looked like he ate crushed glass for breakfast. The bar man reached under the counter drawing out a short baton and held it by his leg. None of this was missed by Duggie.
"Hey you lot, cut out the shouting," he called, but far too late.
The blond woman's husband launched himself at the group of men that were complaining. Soon both tables were trading punches, the women pulled hair, none of them giving a shit about the kid. Duggie saw his opportunity and walked by a table lifting a handbag, while the owner was watching the commotion. He shoved it under his top and strode for the door.
On the way out, he took a look back at the scene that was unfolding. Duggie saw the kid crawl under a table while it rained smashed glass, spilled beer, and blood, all around him. It was as if he were looking at himself twenty years ago. He knew the loneliness of a life begun under the shadow of drink and stupidity. Deep down he hoped this little lad wouldn’t end up like him, but didn’t like his odds. Time to scarper, the coppers would land soon.
Duggie walked casually to next laneway, where stripped the cash from the bag and dumped the rest in a wheelie bin. There was an I-phone in the bag worth a bob or two, but they are all tracked these days, not worth the hassle. Duggie ended up clearing nearly two hundred quid from the bag, not a bad result. The driving force behind everything Duggie did was not greed, it was Heroin, Horse, Smack, Gear, whatever you like to call it. Without it, Duggie descended into the seventh circle of hell. He did not like steeling but it was the only way he could survive. When Junk had a hold of you, you did anything you had too, without a second thought for the consequences.
Today was a good day, he’d shot up the last of his gear when he woke up this morning. Duggie had floated through the first few hours without even noticing he was awake. Now, he was on the way back down. He was still feeling okay for now, even so, he was already getting anxious about what was coming, and where he would get the cash for his next fix. He would do anything necessary to feed the monster, what’s a handbag or two to the likes of those people, he thought.
Getting gear was always a problem but it wasn’t his biggest problem today. His big problem was Rob. He had been dealing weed for Robbie for a few months now, it was a handy way to make a bit of money, but the problem was, when Duggie had money, it seemed to just vanish from his hands. The last few times he was due to meet Robbie, he had no money at all left, so he just dodged him. Word was out, Rob had enough of Duggie and was looking to collect, one way or the other. It was a threat looming huge in his mind. Robbie was not the kind of guy a right minded person would mess around.
Duggie spent the next few hours drifting around the city streets. He managed to dip a few more bags in the ILAC Centre and he broke open a cigarette machine in the back room of a bar while the staff were occupied in the lounge. He took as many packs of smokes as he could, as well as filling his pockets with change. He flogged the cigs to people on St Stephens green. By the end of the day he had just shy of four hundred Euro. He was starting to feel sick, his skin was beginning to itch, and the shakes were coming back. It was time for his next hit. Duggie scurried off to James's street flats, were his dealer lived.
When he reached the flats, Duggie went under the brick arch into the inner court yard. Court yard was a very fancy term for a laundry strewn pit of discarded rubbish. Shopping trolleys, old tyres, and a burnt out car were a few of the artefacts to be found littering the area.
"Oh Douglas," called a deep male voice from just behind him.
Duggie spun on his heels, two very large men, also in track suits, were blocking the arch he just come through. Behind them Duggie could see the doors of a black BMW standing open. They must have been watching the entrance, waiting for him to turn up. Duggie knew these guys, they were leg busters for Robbie, and they loved their work. The Golden rule of live as a druggie is simple, it’s ‘Run!’ The problem was too where? There is only one other exit from the courtyard and it was at the far end of the complex. Duggie vaulted a toppled shopping cart and ducked under a washing line, dragging sheets off it as he passed. The bruisers were right on his heels, but Duggie was built like a greyhound and nearly as fast. He getting away from them as he reached other archway. From the shadows, a figure emerged to block his escape. Duggie had no choice but to stop, it was Robbie, who wasn’t as big as the two behind him, but much more dangerous.
"Rob. I did not know it was you," Duggie panted, jerking his thumb over at the two men who were now directly behind him. "I thought these two were Blanket Bacon," which was slang for undercover cops.
"Never doubted it for a moment Duggie," he said with a smile. "Just step into my office for a minute," he said holding out his arm indicating the darkness of the archway. Duggie guts knotted and he realised his time was up.
"Have you got something for me Douglas?" Rob asked, backing Duggie up against the curved wall, the top of his head making contact with the rough brickwork. Duggie pulled the wad of notes he had accumulated during the day from his pocket and handed it to Rob. Sweat was streaming down his face, partly due to the possibility of death and partly due the cravings starting to rage through his body.
"Your light," said Rob, after a quick count. "Where’s the rest?"
"That is all I have, I swear to God. Give me a few days, I'm good for it."
"This will just about cover the petrol I spent looking for you. Are you trying to screw me over? Do I look like a bitch to you?" Rob said, slapping Duggie hard for emphases. The back of his head bounced off the brickwork.
"I’d never do that Rob, I’d be mental to try anything like that," he pleaded. "Things just got away from me."
"More like you shoved it in your arm, you junkie piece of shit," one of the men chipped in from the side. He had lit up a cigarette and was blowing smoke rings.
"We could drop him out to Wicklow for you, boss?" said the thug with a diamond stud in his ear. The Wicklow Mountains were littered with shallow graves, filled with sad cases just like him and Duggie knew it.
"Jesus there is no need for that, I’m just a bit light," Duggie cried.
"You made me run Douglas and I hate fucking running," said Mr Diamond.
"Now, now, boys. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Douglas here still owes me money. If he’s fertilising a bog, how is he ever going to pay me back? Business first, then pleasure," Robbie said, addressing his hired help, but the message was for Duggie.
"Thanks Rob, I swear I’ll get you every shilling," he said, with relief in his voice.
"You've not heard the terms yet Douglas, don't go thanking me too soon. This-" Rob said, flapping the folded notes, "is a fine for making me come looking for you. I want two thousand more before Friday."
"Two grand. It’s never that much," Duggie said. Rob's free hand shot out and crushed Duggie's face. He slammed the back of Duggie’s head against the arch again, and again, this time the blood flowed down his neck.
"Interest Douglas, Interest. You have till Friday, then it’ll be three grand. You got that?" Rob said, bashing the back of Duggie's head against the rough stone one more time.
"I got it," he mumbled, through crushed lips.
Rob let go of his face and Duggie recoiled expecting to take a dig, but it did not come. The two brutes moved in, but Rob stopped them.
"I think he has the point," Rob said. The look of disappointment on the face of Mr Diamond and Smoke Ring, was comical. Robbie walked away a few paces before turning with a big smile. "Only messing lads, work away."
The first punch caught Duggie high in the stomach, knocking the air out of his lungs. Duggie curled into a ball trying to absorb as much of the beating as he could. It still hurt like hell. He got another good punch under his left eye and could feel it swell instantly. They took turns in pounding on him for a few minutes before Mr Diamond said, "Mat how about doing an O'Gara?"
"Sound," said Smoke Ring, and hauled Duggie to his feet. He grabbed the tracksuit top and pulled it over Duggie's head, so that it trapping his arms, which he followed up with a punch in the solar plexus. Behind Duggie, Mr Diamond was waiting his turn. Duggie's feet were spread wide, trying to keep his balance. They made a perfect target. Mr Diamond drove his foot high and hard between Duggie's legs, smack into the family jewels. The pain was unnatural.
"Right between the posts," laughed Mr Diamond, as Duggie's knees buckled and he collapsed onto the pavement. He vomited anything that was in his stomach, mostly liquid.
"Look at the state of him," said Smoke Ring, backing up from the expanding puddle of puke.
"Let’s go," said Mr Diamond. "Next time Douglas, don't make me run after you." They walked away, confident that no one would say anything, not if they knew what was good for them. The kids in the court yard kept playing, paying no attention at all to the men leaving. To them, this was part and parcel of life. Just another scumbag getting what was coming to him.
Duggie lay in a ball of pain, wallowing in his own puke. At last, the need for a fix got greater than his pain. He slowly, very slowly, got to his feet. Duggie slipped a hand inside his tracksuit bottoms and had a rummage around. Everything was still were it should be, and when he took his hand out, there wasn’t too much blood. He knew he would live. He hobbled back towards town, holding the wall as he went. The search for money had to start again, the search for the next fix. Always searching.