The Way Down

Entry by: percypop

7th May 2015

“Give us a bob or two Guv'nor" the beggar stood in front of me barring my way. "I'll get meself straight in a day or two and pay you back."
It was hard to get past him and angered me that he was so persistent
"I've no change" I said "and you’re in my way."
He was a little man in a crumpled suit and he peered up at me with his rheumy eyes. His weather beaten face and greasy hair made it clear he had not washed for a long time.
"You should give me something" he persisted” after all; we worked together for ten years." He changed his accent at this point and I paused. I did not really examine his face when he confronted me and there was something familiar about his speech. Was he bluffing?
"Where was this?" I asked
"Don't you recall Dubai?" his tone seemed to reproach me. I worked in Dubai for several years but a long time ago.
"Don't you remember the Blue Lagoon Club?" His face puckered into a grimace which he thought was a smile "and Giselle the dancer?"
That stopped me in my tracks. I thought no one knew about Giselle the belly dancer. My life had changed since those far off days. Now I was director of a large company with a family and responsibilities. I made a great new life for myself and I am not so stupid as to risk all that because of things from the distant past.
I ushered him into a pub nearby to avoid prying eyes. "Who are you?" I demanded "what do you know about the Blue Lagoon?"
His expression changed. No longer the whining beggar but a man who had a trump card and he meant to play it.
."I'll have double vodka with ice "he said "and bring over the bottle."
When I returned to the table I scrutinised him. Could this be Tommy Slater? The man I shared a flat with all those years ago? Slater was the best salesman for Argon Shares in the whole of the Trucial States. He taught me my job and shared most things with me including women.
"Slater?" I said "but I was told you died years ago" He smiled genially at me and I began to see the shadow of the gambler who spent most of his time in the casinos and brothels of Dubai.
"It suited me to be dead" he smirked and took a gulp of his drink "if you need to disappear what better way to do it?"
He had left huge debts behind when he "died". I was made to clear up his affairs before I was allowed to leave the Gulf. Now he thought he could bother me again.
"You were supposed to be drowned offshore. How did you arrange it? “He said nothing but he rubbed the side of his nose and winked at me.
“I have been a bit unlucky since then and I could do with a little support"
. I got the message loud and clear.
He went on “It looks like I'm on my way down, doesn't it? But it would be a shame if I had to bring others down with me?" His confidence was growing with every sip. There was no way I could afford to have the facts of my time in Dubai exposed by this dirty tyke. I played for time.
"Look, I have a flat near here and you can stay there till you get on your feet again" I said
“That may be quite some time" he grinned and he bared his yellow teeth like a dog. "But it's a nice offer if it includes a few quid too"
We set out for the flat and I showed him the apartment block beside the Thames near the City. He grinned and walked in as if he was used to the luxury I had paid for. I left him there and I told him I would be back on Monday. Monday came and I went to the flat. It was clear that he despised me and was taking some sort of pleasure in disturbing my life. He had dressed himself in my clothes. The apartment was a complete shambles and all he said was;
"Sorry old pal for the state of things but we had a bit of a knees up on Saturday night and they didn't leave till last night."
I left him and went to work at my desk as usual. I had to think carefully about the next step.
The week passed and I still could not think of how to deal with him. The possibility of discussing it with friends was out of the question but I did talk to my wife Caroline about it.
“Why not call the police?
“He’s not done any crime”
“Get some heavies to rough him up”
“How would I know any heavies?”
“Well do something”
All this time Slater was enjoying my flat and I was commuting home each night. On the train from Waterloo I overheard some conversation about squatters in central London. An idea grew in my mind. Next day I skipped work and went trawling through the darkest parts of Bermondsey looking for squatters, not a difficult task in South London. I spoke to several groups, missing person, drug addicts and homeless refugees until I came across this band of students living on Jamaica Street.
Barney was the leader, a well-built jolly red headed man about thirty years old. His broad grin and Kaftan covered body exuded Karma and his companion called Shelley was a perfect throwback to the Love–In generation. Her long lank hair reached down to her waist and accentuated her bony frame. She wore painted sandals and said she was an artist.
“Great” I said “I want to support art in all its forms. What is your style, your genre? “
She looked vacantly at me
“What yer mean/” she queried “ I paint things”
I decided to get to the point.
“I have a flat on the river not far from here and would enjoy young company. You could stay for a few weeks and share the rooms with me .or a friend of mine ..absolutely free!”
Barney purred. “Just for a few weeks mind” he said. “has it got a bathroom and everything?”
Within minutes I had a group of squatters ready to move in on the double.
Gleefully, the next day, I visited Slater. It was after work at about six o’clock. From the living room the sound of the television blared out at top volume. I stepped over some empty vodka bottles and pushed open the bedroom door. He was dressed in a string vest and a pair of womens’tights and sprawled unconscious across the bed. I grabbed his shoulder and he let out a belch and swore at me from the half world of disturbed sleep.
“Get up –I have some friends coming to stay and I expect them tonight”
He turned a glassy eye upon me “Friends? You? That’s a turn up for the book .Where d’you go?
The Embankment or Sally Ann?” He was nearer the truth than he imagined.
“Never mind that, they will be here for some time I expect.”
He groaned and fell back on the bed turning his face away from me. My spirits rose.
By ten o’clock that night Barney and Shelley arrived with assorted plastic bags and sacks.
They brought Septimus too. “Seppie” was a transvestite who added just that tone I wanted. His black leather biker jacket and long yellow dress made a bright picture against the neutral walls of my designer apartment. His long blonde hair and allure to his image.
I left them there and took the last train to Winchester.
The following days passed and I resisted the desire to visit the menagerie of “guests” in my riverside apartment. When I did I was in for a surprise, Slater was nowhere to be seen.and the rooms were empty. No Barney no artist nor the spectacular Septimus. I waited for an hour and just as I decided my problems were over I heard the key in the lock.
Slater was at the door dressed in a magenta frock low cut which clung to his meagre figure. He stepped unsteadily on high-heeled shoes as he tipp-tapped into the room. His hair was jet black and he wore a small matching hat on the top of his head.
“Oh! Hello old boy lovely to see you “
After him I saw another extravagant figure Blonde hair and yellow dress …Seppie in full gear.
“Missed you Darling”
“Where are Barney and co?”
“Oh! There long gone –not really our type” said Slater and he smoothed his improbable hair with a delicate hand.
“We’ve wonderful news” said Seppie “We’ve just signed a contract to perform on stage”
“Where? “ I dreaded the reply –it might be London.
“We’re going to Beirut and our fares are paid and everything” he seemed entranced with the future in the shell pocked capital of Lebanon.
“We leave tomorrow and we have to pack” .
Who ever said that destiny is blind? My eyes misted over with gratitude.
The stars had shone on me ..just when I thought I was on the way down.