Barrie Davies’s journey to the Champions League Final takes a turn when he finds a rundown flat, smelly bar, and ‘Magic Messi Milk’ between himself and Paris. Part one of a two-part series.
I can remember the last time I was in Paris like it was only yesterday.
Which is passing strange, for by rights, given the sordid ensemble of mind-altering and memory-blunting things I got up to the last time I was in Paris, I shouldn’t be capable of remembering one man-jack or neon strobed flash of nipple or an absinthe-splashed panty or any passing sliver of it. Not even if a tea-soaked Madeleine passed my lips.
By the mercy of God, my Fixer had performed all the arduous donkey work in advance and secured – or at least he assured me he’d “secured” – not only two tickets for the Champions League Final being played in the City of Light but also a premium set of press credentials that included, as a side perk, entrance to a free pre and post-match bar. I have to tell you now, ladies and gents, that my Fixer – whom we will now henceforth refer to as “My Associate” – has a very elastic and entirely malleable notion of what the conventional meaning of the past tense of the verb “secured” can mean. Let us simply say, at this juncture and at the risk of baiting the hook and indulging in some scene setting and foreshadowing, that my Associate harbours a very elastic understanding of the term “secured” indeed; the elasticity of which stretches patience, credulity and peace of mind. In sum, my Associate errs on the side of a uniquely radical and unconventional regard for what is deemed “secured” in the present context. Or, for that matter, in any conceivable context. But now, your appetite suitably whetted and your trousers saturated by a puddle of drool, I’ll leave the aforementioned hanging tantalisingly and return to the meat of the nub.
My Associate was fond of punctuating every sentence he shared with me in the lead-up to the Fateful Day in Gay Paris with that word, “secured”, as if it was the Abracabra that unveiled all previously hidden mysteries. Another word My Associate liked to bandy around and liberally seasoned every conversation with in the days prior to the Fateful Final was “spectacle”. This was an amorphous word that seemed to cover a multitude of sins when My Associate used it, which was flagrantly and frequently. He never once referred to “the football match” or, simply, for ease of recognition and, perhaps when I glance back nervously and timidly with a profound shudder in retrospect, reassurance, “the match.” Even the starkly obvious, self-evident and stupefyingly blatant word “game” seemed to be prohibited from his vocabulary pertaining to the “game” and the forthcoming “match”. It was always the “spectacle”. If I had been a shrewder judge of character and a less trusting individual, or perhaps my faculties of discernment had not been so bedazzled and seduced, less entranced and drunkenly obsessed by the prospect of going to the Champions League Final, live and in the flesh instead of watching it in mute, vicarious passivity on TV as I had done every other year, I would have scented a terribly foul and suspicious malodour emanating from that simple little word. A stench like rats after a breeding orgy in a den festooned and infested by putrid rotting corpses.
We spent the week before the “spectacle” slumming it in downtown Liverpool. This explained why My Associate had developed a sudden penchant for cultivating his hair slightly longer than was his preferred style and sculpted it into a vague facsimile of a Beatles Mop Top. He had also taken to using the word “sound” as the opening gambit and the closing full stop to punctuate everything he said once we crossed Hadrian’s Wall and sputtered head long South, ever farther away from the Scottish border. We had caught the train from Glasgow Central, which meant we’d have at least one stop and change at Preston before alighting at Liverpool. My Associate was not a native Liverpudlian, as far as I knew. He hailed from Motherwell. He insisted that our tickets had to be collected in Liverpool from some of his “helpers”. They were Liverpool fans who had used some rather labyrinthine and intricately fertile “back door” routes that were unavailable to and couldn’t be availed by the average punter or fan to “secure” the necessary tickets for us. Except, when we arrived in the city, having located the address of the “helpers” in a squalid, dilapidated shack that was held together by Liverpool FC scarves and red and white bunting in Toxteth via a circuitously circumspect tramp from Lime Street station, burning through the frazzled and clogged black back arteries of the city where a Liver Bird would be plucked, roasted and eaten in a Mersey beat, that was drenched and dogged by pickled perspiration and paranoia at every twist and turn, every furtive nod from Scouse Cabbies who seemed, intuitively, to know precisely where we wanted to go without bothering to ask for directions and, moreover, seemed to recognise My Associate by sight alone, the “helpers” immediately began to talk in disarmingly dismissive abstract tones about “the merchandise.” And “the merchandise” had been absolutely “secured.” Our place at the “spectacle” was not in doubt.
My Associate and I spent the week preceding the “Spectacle” holed up in a two-bedroom flat. There was barely sufficient room for the two of us, never mind the three other local “helpers” who lodged there. The flat was a tenebrous grotto. The light from the sun didn’t penetrate beyond the windows. Even if the windows had not been, for the most part, boarded up, the panes were submerged beneath a 3 or 4-inch mulch of black detritus which acted as a stubborn and solemn barrier to any joyous ray of sunlight that had inadvertently strayed off course and taken an ill-fated stroll down this particular dark and blind alley.
The general gloom of the flat’s interior was complimented by an all-pervasive musk of mildew and dank depravity, the perfume of decay and neglect, that at least masked the nostril flaying and throat eviscerating aroma of far more disconcertingly alarming and, shall we say, pugnaciously potent bouquets. One of the helpers, the most vibrantly loquacious of the trio, must have peered beyond the grimy pall one afternoon and caught me in the act of wrinkling my nose.
“Yer alrite, pal. No use tryin’ a hide it, like. It fuckin’ stinks of shite to high heaven in this dump, don’t it, la’?” He spoke with a curious splash of ebullience that seemed almost perverse when juxtaposed with the scummy decrepitude of the surroundings.
He introduced himself as Pete. He was the most gregarious of the three helpers. Indeed, Pete cautioned me against trying to engage his two colleagues in any attempt at pleasantries. It wasn’t exactly a threat but I had briefly been afforded a fleeting glimpse of the other two men and the blank slab-like implacable inscrutability of their faces was enough of a deterrent to stop me from having a cosy chat. Pete told me he had supported Liverpool for over 50 years, since his dad had taken him along to Anfield as a nipper. Pete had watched and marvelled at, awestruck, the legendary Liverpool teams of the late 70’s and early 80’s, when the Reds ruled Europe.
“A few of you Jocks helped us out back then, like. Souness. Dalglish. Yates. And, of course, the Grand Daddy of ‘em all: the Gaffer, Shanks.”
All I could do was nod along in solemn and holy agreement, a dumb beatific smile smeared on my face like I was either a foolish saint or a simpleton. I thought it would be inappropriate at this stage to reveal to Pete that I favoured the blue half of the city’s bi-partisan football tribalism. The very pulse of that thought in my brain summoned up a feeling of latent guilt that I almost wanted to openly confess until Pete flexed his bare arms one day and I snatched a glimpse of his biceps in all their rippling tumescence. I had the inexplicable urge to purge myself and expunge my sin by blurting out it wasn’t my fault if my Grandad was an Evertonian. On balance, I decided it was probably prudent if I never thought of this again while in the company of Pete and his cohorts. It didn’t take too much inner reflection on my behalf to come to the very reasonable conclusion that they might find my allegiance, so antithetical to their own, a tad unpalatable. And, as a consequence, a fist might have been rammed down my palate with a force that dispensed with genteel civility. There would be no scarves of solidarity brandished here. Or, if there were any such tokens and bonds of brotherly Inter-City love, they’d be severed in seconds.
In order to evade the putrid recrudescence of the flat, we agreed almost by a process of telepathic osmotic comprehension, to billet ourselves for much of the week at the local pub perched precariously at the end of the street. At least only its urinals leaked an ammonia tang that was far tolerable to the dread miasmic cocktail back at the flat of fear and flatulence. The toilet stink made my eyes water and my throat rasp initially but after the first day, I became immune to the pub’s lavatorial charms. Indeed, all things considered, it even seemed relatively benign. What many may have recoiled from as an atrocity I quickly learned to consider an antiseptic balm.
The day after we had dumped ourselves in Toxteth, My Associate mumbled something about sorting out our charter to get to Paris. He tossed a Herculean volume of Guinness down his gizzard and then vanished. I had been speculating to myself about how we would get over the Channel, because as far as I was aware, we had no tickets booked for any form of commercial passenger transport. Or at least My Associate, if he did have the necessary documents, was keeping such critical items very close to his skin and well and truly out of my sight. My Associate’s abrupt and unceremonious departure set my nerves jangling at a very low frequency hum. I wasn’t vibrating at full throttle, off the scale High Volume yet, but the speakers were starting to just ever so slightly increase in distorted pitch, reverberating at sub-sonic, just barely controlled, seismic levels of tetchiness. I reasoned, somewhat dolefully, that there was nothing else I could now but trust him. My attendance at the Champions League Final was out of my hands and surrendered to his.
We more or less squatted in the little boozer – it went by the jauntily apposite name of The Kop Shop – and was smothered in every shade and hue of red and white, from tea and Bovril starched scarves dangling from the ceiling, to pock-marked and threadbare flags plastered over every inch of available wall space. I got the distinctly uneasy feeling that to saunter into this confessional hymn to Liverpool FC attired in any other colour than red and white was a mortal sin. And to dare to encroach on this citadel of the Kopites in Everton blue was a capital offence. I sat nervously in a dusty corner by the front door and watched gnarled old men spit luxuriantly and un-self-consciously on the well-worn wooden floorboards. I sipped the rim of warm pints of Guinness like a wary bird pecking at a worm. On the first afternoon there, a hump-backed man stooped over our table and tried to sell us a small toy wooden duck. He asked it questions and made it quack in response. He insisted, with a wry grin, that buying the duck was an investment because it would give us luck. “Lucky ducky, la’,” he chirped in a kind of sing-song half-baked, stewed advertising jingle, over and over, his dactyl Scouse accent scraping on the hard consonants. Pete said we didn’t need any luck because Liverpool were going to win, no problem.
“And what about the rest of your life, son?” the old man quacked, momentarily sounding like his pet toy duck in his sandpapery wheeze.
“What about it, la’? I only need The Reds, mate. As long as I’ve got the Reds in me blood and in me soul, I don’t need nuttin’ else, like”, Pete replied, gazing levelly over the top of his pint with unnerving calmness.
“Ach, well then, yer a fuckin’ idiot, that’s all I can say!” the man croaked, turning aside with a flap of an arm.
Once the old codger was safely out of earshot at the bar, Pete shook his head and spat, half under his breath for respect and the sake of decency, “Silly ‘ald bugger.”
A melodious shriek blared out of the fruit machine. The other two Helpers were pressed against it, molesting the living daylights out of the cherries and lemons. Both were squeezed into replica home Liverpool shirts. I could see their nipples screaming for freedom against the stretched nylon material of the shirt. Their heads were shaved right down to the wood and you could see discernible nicks and scars criss-crossed all over their exposed scalps. Neither man had what could be plausibly called a neck. They looked like twin Buddhas who had discovered the excessive pleasures of McDonald’s. The elderly toy duck salesman sidled over towards the vague vicinity of the fruit machine but instantly turned on his heel with a turn of balletic grace that defied his stooped, arthritic frame when one of the Helpers snarled.
“Have they taken a vow of silence?” I asked with careful reserve.
“The twins? Oh, take no notice of them. They just like keepin’ themselves to themselves. Don’t even roar or bawl along at Anfield. The strong silent types down to a tee, those two, like. But with an imposing bulk like they’ve got, you don’t need to speak. You do all your communicating via… other means, you know?”
I tried to stifle a girlish giggle lilting from my throat and failed. “I certainly wouldn’t ask them too many questions.”
“Besides, pal, I do all the thinking they’ll ever need for them.” Pete slugged the rest of his Guinness and motioned with a tipping gesture of his hand. “ Another?”
Pete doesn’t hang around for my reply and ambles over to the bar to get another round in. While he’s doing that I catch sight of a local paper – it must’ve been a free sheet they distribute round these parts because it sure as hell wasn’t the Echo – and I scoop it up. It’s like a wet rag, saturated in spilled beer. The soggy paper is discoloured brown and is falling apart in big wads and clumps in my hand as I turn it around on the table to read the front page. There’s a headline story blaring a local resident’s fight to get the lines on the parking area in front of her house re-painted by the council. ‘Yeah, love, good luck with that,’ I think and my eyes scan over to a story that winds down the left-hand side of the page:
LOCAL MAN SAYS HE’LL SELL WIFE AND KIDS TO GET HIS HANDS ON A CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL TICKET.
Pete returns with two more pints of Guinness before I can read the full story. But, Jesus, the headline is enough: it tells you everything you need to know about Liverpool Man’s relationship with football in general and Liverpool Football Club in particular in one lurid and preposterous sound byte. It’s kind of awe-inspiring, almost admirable and yet scary as all hell in one awfully sublime go; deeply unhealthy and mad and yet, somehow, paradoxically moving and the devotion of it, the intensity of the faith, falling just this side of being praiseworthy even though you know you shouldn’t in any way, shape or form be remotely encouraging or condoning such impetuous, irresponsibly gratuitous, unhinged lunacy.
“Oh, yeah. That bloke’s fucking nuts, ain’t he?” Pete snorts when he spots the story. “I’ll bet every man in this pub would buy him a pint if he walked in through the door right now. Hell, man, I’d probably get him a pint.” I said.
“Eh, and they say you Jocks are mean bastards!”
I found myself mumbling something that would have no doubt been lamely inane about stereotypes but Pete had already glugged half his Guinness in one long swallow that reminded me of a maternal gannet regurgitating fish to feed her chicks and was talking as if he’d either already anticipated my turn of thought or had read my mind.
“Aye, it’s a bit of a stereotype – a well-worn cliché, you know? – to prattle on about folk from Liverpool having football as religion. It’s not just used as a crutch or a proxy for organised piety, either – I know many a devout Catholic who follows the football as… well, as religiously as their religious faith. It’s all of a piece. There’s no real distinction. It’s the worship of a way of living, pal. Football is both a religion and much more than that. It’s a way of being. It’s intuitive and ingrained. You don’t question it, right? You just know, deep in yer bones and in yer soul, that is the right way to be. The right thing to do. Aye, it’s in the bread and milk round here, la’.” Pete paused and took a ruminative swig of Guinness. His eyes were half closed.
“You know, football and religion is all bound up with ghosts. The dead. But the dead as not just banished and forgotten about, hidden away in a hole in the ground. But the dead as still living. Still having a presence here with the living. Ancient cultures used to call them, with no shame or nowt, the Ancestors. And people would talk, like, to the Ancestors. Just as clear and easy as you and I talking right here and now. No boundaries or nuttin’, like. And the football and way of life was a rite of passage. A sacred thing, you know? But nowadays that connection is weakening. Ever since Thatcher and her concerted attempt to disengage people from their families. From the protection of society. Ever since she vomited on about the survival of the fittest and the supremacy of the individual. Well, that sort of crap talk didn’t get very far ‘round these parts. But the legacy of it – the sheer economic consequence of that philosophy, so at odds with our way of life round here – did have a devastating impact. And it all culminated in The Sun blaming the Hillsborough deaths on Liverpool fans. I hope you don’t buy or read that Satanic abomination of fucking arse paper rag, d’ye? Or supported Thatcher? Or suck the Tory cock? Christ, ye’d get away with supportin’ Everton in this joint before you’d get off with being a Tory cunt. Na, you Jocks are in solidarity with us Scouse la’s there, like. You maybe even fuckin’ hate those cunts more than we do ‘ere.” Pete polished off his pint and I, without being asked, went to the bar on automatic pilot to fetch us another couple of drinks.
“Ta. Yeah, it all comes together. It coalesces, like. Ghosts. Religion. The Ancestors. Football. Lookin’ out for one another. Death. Death and, ultimately, politics. It’s all inseparable round ‘ere. Not so much death and taxes – Christ, no bugger pays their taxes round ‘ere if they can get away with it – but more like death and politics. They merge into each other, like. That whole Thatcherite death of society schtick has dissolved the solvent that bonded us together up here. It’s made family and community ties a bit less secure. A bit less trustworthy. Oh, we’re still united and in solidarity, but the ethos – like I said, the legacy and all its poison – has had some negative effects. You only have to glance around Liverpool to see that. We were not immune to the pervasive culture of grasping greed here. But we resisted more forcefully and for far longer than others. Like you Jocks. We’re tenacious bastards like that. Aye, but the legacy. It brought politics and death into sharper relief. More of clarity. In some ways, that bastard Tory regime and their toadying hirelings in The Sun did us all a favour. We realised then who our enemies were. Who our real enemies were. We kind of knew, intuitively, before. But now it was spelled out. The dead cried out for vengeance. Their blood demanded to be cleansed of the evil allegations that had tainted it. Make no mistake, la’ it was the dead who stimulated a political campaign, a crusade, that never stopped until each and every one of those 96 souls were vindicated and avenged. Restored. It was the dead who breathed life into a political act. The justice of death condemned and triumphed over the injustice of life. Politics and Death, la’- the Liverpool way. The Ancestors could be heard again. And folk were prepared to open their ears and their hearts to hear them. Like in the old days, eons ago, back in the tribe. Thatcher and her vicious ideology had made people embarrassed to be in touch with the Ancestors. If you communed with the dead, you were a crank. You were doing a frivolous thing, a thing that had no economic use value. A dead weight on society. Something that evaded quantification. That produced no money. That transcended all the mundane and petty measurements of Capitalism. Something that stunted economic growth. A useless fiction that was better off left in the past while you concentrated on taking your allotted place in the dole queue or working a humiliating job that paid a pittance and eroded all hope of dignity. You were already dead; a dead unit of production. If you revered the dead, you were to be ostracised. Only fools and deviants do that sort of thing. The mad get locked away, out of sight, discarded in institutions and the dead get hurriedly disposed of lest they frighten the living. They become statistics. And only Holy Fools have any truck with them. They are not allowed to be spectres who can haunt us. They’ve had their time. They are not permitted to transcend time and interact with us left on this side of the veil.”
Pete finished off his pint. He placed the glass carefully on the tabletop. He shook his head and I could discern the twitching of a rueful little smile on his lips.
“Jesus, man. Where the fuck did all that come from, eh? You’ll be thinking I’m cracked. Out me mind. Must still be some acid floating about me skull. All that stuff about the dead and the Ancestors …”
Pete got another round. As soon as he sat down, half the creamy black liquid had vanished from his glass, as if it had been sucked up by nothing more than thin air. Or by a poltergeist. Perhaps the Ancestors were thirsty.
“Death and politics. Two topics to bore the shite outta some poor, unsuspecting chap in a boozer, eh? You go out for a quiet, relaxing pint and some wild-eyed zealot who spouts intensely warped claptrap about fuck all has you in his hot, sweaty grasp. And ye can’t escape.” Pete sniffed. “But that’s what it’s all about in Liverpool. They can deny it all they like. But sooner or later, you’ll be accosted by one or the other. Or both at the same fucking time. A double whammy. That’s why there’s such a long-standing tradition of working-class political activism here. Left-wing radicalism. And I don’t mean just Labour. Far too fucking ineffective and Tory milksops that they are. Blair nailed that. No, I’m not even talking Socialism, either. Maybe not even Communism. The spirit of Left Wing agitation can’t be safely classified under those terms, like. It goes way beyond them. That’s why guys like Derek Hatton were lionised back in the day. The people of Liverpool saw themselves, their character, their way of life, reflected in him. Shame he was a Blue, though. But ye can’t be perfect.” He cackled and swirled the embers of his pint. “The Liverpool fans knew exactly what Shankley was on about when he said a well-oiled and run football team depended on Socialist principles. If any other football manager had carried on like that to any other class of people, he would have been considered a pretentious prick. But in Liverpool, Shanks was just articulating what everyone felt and knew, deep down, was true. And, my God, Shanks had the right and the authority to say these things, what with his hardscrabble mining background up the road in old Jockland! Shanks wasn’t just talking to the living, the punters who turned up week in and week out on the terraces of the Kop. He wasn’t just talking to Liverpool fans alone. He was speaking to the whole city. We all understood what Shanks was saying. It was a universal scripture. Shanks was talking to the living and the dead. The quick and the dead. He was communing with the Ancestors. And it wasn’t some two-bit act of an end-of-the-pier vaudeville ham actor. He was no two-penny huckster. Naw. Shanks was sincere. So sincere it hurt. It hurt even as the ecstasy flowed through your veins.”
Pete paused and I thought I could see a glistening mist in his eyes. But it could have been merely a faulty apparition on my behalf because the sub-standard, low wattage lighting in the Kop Out really did play havoc with my eyesight. The flashing icons on the fruit machine provided more illumination than the tired old fly-bespattered bulbs that swayed precariously above my head.
“Shanks was a shaman. Not just to Liverpool fans, la’. Shanks was a shaman to all of us. A shaman for all of us. He loved the people of Liverpool and we loved him. I’ll tell you somethin’ for nuttin, Shanks was no sectarian. He was no man of division. No. Shanks was a unifier. A healer. It didn’t matter to him what side of the fence you hailed from in this city. Red or blue, it made no odds to Shanks, I’ll tell ye. And I know I’m prattling on about the man as if he’s still here but … but, well, he is. Shanks told Jock Stein after Big Jock had became the first manager of a British team to win the European Cup with Celtic, that he was immortal. Well, Shanks is immortal in the hearts of the people of Liverpool. He lives on in death with the Ancestors. Oh, and by the way – when it came to Shanks’ socialism, it wasn’t some airy-fairy, distant ineffable Utopia that could never and will never exist. It was practical. It was a socialism that was designed to work with reality, not banish it or minimise it. It was a pragmatic socialism that, in the same way Shanks’ teams won football matches through methodical hard work and few beautiful flourishes, was an ideal that had to earn its keep in the real world. The real world didn’t cease to exist in a better society; the real world became a better society despite of the real world. The real world can always be refashioned and re-made as a better society. Shanks had that unquenchable optimism and he felt and expressed that optimism in his football and in his whole way of life in the world. No man can ask for any more from his Creator, la’”.
Maybe the guy in the paper blamed his excessive and niche attitude to family life on the Ancestors. Who knows, maybe the Ancestors did tell him to do it. But I couldn’t shake off the lingering and persistently nagging suspicion that the dude had transgressed beyond some fantastical and Last Great Sacred Taboo. I also wondered if anyone had called Social Services, just in case.
This day of bog standard Bacchanalia concluded with a melee of some chaotic description at the fruit machine. The superannuated toy duck impresario was kneeling in front of the machine, one hand twisted up behind his back while the other was rammed inside the tray at the foot of the machine, where it was trapped, plunged and entangled in the electronic viscera of the thing. The old man was squealing, repetitively, “Fuck! Me duck!”. I found out later that he had annoyed the twin helpers once too often and they had inserted his arm up inside the fruit machine. I have no idea what laws of Physics they violated to achieve such a savagely miraculous curio but I do know it took 3 hours for a combined paramedic and fire crew to surgically extricate the unfortunate old timer from the fruit machine. I am oblivious as to the fate of the toy duck.
Just as a collective and creeping ambience of panic was beginning to seize us to the effect that My Associate might not ever re-appear, he did. At 12pm on Friday, the day before we had to be in Paris. And he was bearing gifts. And news about chartered transportation. He didn’t divulge where he had been and nor has he ever felt it necessary to enlighten me of the location(s) of his merry little surreptitious jaunt. When the nature of chartered transportation becomes apparent, however, it’s perhaps best if I remain in a state of blissful ignorance about this. But before we get locked into that hazardous and humiliating caper, may I first present to you, dear reader, the gifts he bore.
Oh, sweet mother of God, the Gifts. Which I now know, tragically, can only be “enjoyed” through bared teeth.
My Associate delved his muscular, meat slab red hand into a capacious Stena Sea-Link tote bag. The canvas material was smudged and splashed by dubious stains of various hues and complexions yet unknown provenance. At least I could hazard an educated guess that he’s been away at sea for the few days he had departed from the bosom of our little church. His hand emerged from the bag and brandished four small objects, about 3 or 4 inches in height, that resembled toy action figures you’d give to kids. On closer inspection, the figurines resembled nothing so much as Russian Dolls. Their faces were hastily and non too artistically applied with a blob of some cheap substance and reminded me of disfigured Orthodox icons. My Associate cackled and reached for one of the figurines. With a vigorous twist of his hand, as if he was wringing a chicken’s scrawny neck, he twisted off the figure’s head and held it up. It was only then that I realised the doll was a miniature replica of Lionel Messi, all decked out in his Barcelona kit. Except it looked like Lionel Messi after 30 years abusing dangerous, hardcore and illicit drugs, or if the famed Football Fantasia had suddenly developed a taste for sitting too close to searingly hot flames. I half expected to see another simulacrum of Messi within the first doll. But instead, I caught the whiff of a violent sweetness undercut with a pungent scream of what smelled like pure alcohol.
“What the fuck?” Pete barked.
“Here, chaps. Don’t be afraid. Drink. Enjoy. I present to you the Magic Messi Milk,” My Associate almost whispered, his eyes blazing with some insane and unfathomable zeal. He found a fingerprint-dappled glass from somewhere and tipped the decapitated Mini Messi’s towards the rim. It looked like Messi was sprawling full length for a spectacular diving header. A slightly viscous, white liquid oozed from the Messi figurine’s neck and spluttered and splashed into the bottom of the glass.
Pete reached out a hand that was initially tentative. His hand was suspended in mid-air while he came to a decision. Suddenly, it seemed to be convulsed and was propelled towards the glass, fingers snaking round it. He held the glass and its ominous white liquid before his face for a moment before winking, raising the glass and, with a snarled “your health!”, tossed the Magic Messi Milk down his throat.
Before I could register Pete’s response to the victual, My Associate had poured me a slug. He pressed it into my hands and, with only token resistance, I surrendered as he practically forced the stuff into my mouth. My first reaction was to gag. The liquid tasted of overwhelming sweetness, a mixture of astringent glucose and musky over-ripeness, as if a cluster of out-of-season berries were exploding their juices all over the interior of my mouth. This cheek-puckering punch was then leavened by an extraordinary tartness that made me feel instantaneously thirsty, like a rabid man craving water but unable to consume its life-giving solace. And then, the last sensation I remember before I lost all my moorings in what is optimistically called “ Reality” was an all-pervasive wash of abundantly ferocious and over-powering alcohol. It was so phenomenally overpowering and all-pervasive that I felt it scourge and burn every neuron, every nerve ending, every synapse and cell in my body. My flesh, blood and spirit felt like it was being flayed by one of those farming implements I’d seen in illustrated accounts of the Black Death in the 14th century.
I couldn’t escape the terrible epiphany, as the world dissolved into a fuzzy and indistinct undulation of fraying wool all around and within me, that I was being purged.
TO BE CONTINUED …