Gavin hasn’t changed a bit. That much is obvious when he comes barrelling over to me.
Other than being more expensively dressed, that is. T-shirt, Westwood, emblazoned with DESTROY, as it shouts out behind the Nike reversible bomber jacket, grey with a black waistband and cuffs. Ripped black jeans, designer cut. Trainers. Reebok Pump, white with black and green stripes. White lacing.
Jeez, I’m thinking, what a stereotype.
He’s as brusque as ever, Stevie my man, he says, pulling me into an embrace, banging my back three or four times before letting go.
It’s Millies on a Saturday night. Millionaires Nightclub, heaving as ever. Stinking of fags and spilt beer. The smell never goes, even during the day when masked by the overpowering stench of bleach. But the odour of fags and beer lingers just below the surface. And the fusty smell of bodies. Bad breath if you get too close to some. A worse reek of bodily parts from others who have already been too long away from a good shower. There is a faint undertone of piss from the urinals, and lingering sex. All those pheromones excreting desire. Etched into the history of the place.
It’s ghastly and intoxicating. Gavin smells of Old Spice.
Hey. What you doing here? I ask, a bit taken aback seeing him.
Open and cheap, man, he says, catty as ever. I ignore him.
His two chums are standing at the pillar that acts as demarcation between standing room and dance floor, scanning the room without so much as a flicker of a smile between them.
One is dressed similar to Gavin, only in a plain t-shirt rather than an emblazoned Vivian Westwood. Short cropped hair. Mean, distrustful face. Black cloud hanging over him and a body to die for. Naturally toned rather than worked at. Mister rough.
The other is in a tight leather jacket zipped closed. Red. A denim skirt that comes to just below her privates and a thigh-length pair of red boots. Topped with blond hair tied back in a ponytail. Severe. I know the look she’s going for. I should be excited.
But my eyes flick back to mister rough.
Lagers and whiskies all round. What else? And one for yourself, Stevie, Gavin shouts.
Stevie. Stevie. Stevie. I wish everyone would stop with all the Stevie stuff and use my real name. Would that be so difficult? Frankie. That’s right. Frankie.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not mad. I’m just a bit confused tonight. A bit cloudy, like the lager when too much of the dregs have been pumped back up to give the pint its head. Too little and it’s flat. Too much and it’s cloudy. I’d got the hang of it quickly enough. Just so and a lovely half inch head.
But I’ve had a few grumbles this evening, so really need to concentrate.
I know it can’t really be Frankie. Can it? Did they not put Frankie away? Some time ago now. I can’t remember when. It was a long time ago now, Stevie.
Stevie. What? Stevie. Oh, right. Yes. Of course. Stevie.
Stevie. Stevie. Stevie. Must remember.
So, you coming with us? Gavin whispers in my ear. We’re off to the Church in Leith.
I know I shouldn’t have. Not in my confused state. A drinking den frequented by sailors, dockers, prostitutes and drunks was the last thing I needed.
Still, the Church in Leith might be rough and ready with its dark varnished wood panelling and open fire blazing in the grate, giving it a heavy air of seriousness, but the hefty stink of cheap perfume around the bar where the ladies drink their earnings lightens the place up a bit.
Gavin, direct as ever, buys the first round, then pulls his chair closer and leans in, saying, You know, man, that was shit, what you did when we lived together.
What could I say? Hiding his hash stash like that. That was mean.
Gavin’s eyes have become beady and I wonder what he’s done with his rat.
I lift my glass and shrug. Cheers, mate.
It’s then mister rough sidles closer, whispering into the other ear. Gav says you’re queer, man.
I wasn’t sure what to say to that. I mean, I suppose I am, but I’m not really. Or at least I’m trying not to be. Although I don’t suppose I’m trying very hard, what with going to … Well, let’s not go there.
What I’m thinking then is, That fire is hot, man. By God, is that fire hot.
So I take another gulp of my pint.
And Gavin’s smiling over at me. He seems a long way off. Like he’s moved to the other end of the bar whilst still seated right next to me. Next thing I remember is mister rough taking hold of me under the arms. I’m, like, why? Lost and found, man. Lost and found.
That’s all I remember until I wake up with Frankie bleating and bellowing in my head.
I told you, Stevie. I told you. You should have let me deal with things. You are so bloody inept. I told you, Stevie. I told you.
And I’m, like, sore all over.
My head, of course, with Frankie’s taunts. My throat feels restricted, like something has been jammed down it and got stuck. It feels raw and burning. My arms are stiff and aching at the shoulders, like they have been stretched on a rack or twisted behind my back. My shoulders ache. But not near as much as my chest. As if someone has been thumping it, giving me CPR.
And that’s when I touch my chest, and I realise two things almost at the same time. First, my eyes are still closed. It takes me some real effort to open them. Even the lids are sore. Secondly, I’m topless. In fact – shit, I’m naked.
Naked and aching.
My chest feels as though it has been battered. My legs feel as painful as my arms, and when I shift to sit up, I recoil as the pain from my anus shoots up my spine.
And I’m, like, shit. No. No. Shit.
Mister rough’s right there, perched at the end of the bed rolling a joint, and I know, I just know Frankie feels feral. I know Frankie’s escaped.