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An exclusive extract from Michael Nath’s forthcoming novel, The Treatment.
At The Black Gun, Kim’s boyfriend made a fuss of Claire, which was just to be welcoming, and had Kim pretending to be jealous. The boyfriend was called Marcus. He bossed the bar well: punters he liked, he rewarded with his manner; when he did smile, he was your friend, and meant it. He had chocolatey eyes. On a wooden wall behind the bar were a couple of posters of young men barred from drinking in The Black Gun. Claire didn’t recognize them, but when Marcus clocked her checking, he said they were just Charlton thugs, not consequential. Which got her thinking. And all the time, he was watching like he was waiting for someone in particular. So it wasn’t a surprise that at The Black Gun later that Sunday evening, Claire encountered one of the gang. By then, she’d had a few Pernods, and Kim’d got Marcus to make her a Red Witch. Getting tipsy was part of the cover. And when a young man in mirror shades appeared beside her at the bar (she hadn’t noticed him come in), it all seemed worked out. The DI’d taken her to meet Kim, who’d introduced her to Marcus. They were both agents, and they’d made preliminary connections with L Troop – since Marcus was now greeting Pete de Lacey and introducing Claire. And it was her job to come on to him.
So she came on to him, kept touching his arm, and laughing when he said things. In The Black Gun he was the top boy, and he probably knew it; though he didn’t seem to care all that much; it was like he was after something else, behind those mirror shades. For the time being anyway, he went along with who he was: he took his money out to buy drinks for hangers on and toadies who were hoping to treat him; he banged his bottle down and turned suddenly and now and then he clenched his fist slowly, or made a throat-cutting sign and either he laughed, or shook his head when he did that. With racist remarks, he was sparing, limiting himself to throwaway comments on coons and pakis; laughing once when someone said something in his ear about the taxi-driver who got drowned in Victoria Dock, that that was the best you could expect from West Ham fans, who weren’t even clever enough not to get banged up for it, seeing as they left enough evidence to fill a 16-yard skip, boasted what they’d done, then got turned in by their fucking step-mums. It was old hat anyway, done and dusted, boring, mate. Then someone said, ‘Not like you, Pete’, and he turned to him and said, ‘What did I tell you, Tony?’, and pointed his bottle of Bud and made the throat-cutting sign with the bottle neck, so Tony flushed and crept away down the bar – for all the good it’d do him, if Pete was annoyed. And at last orders, he turned suddenly to Claire: What we doing then?
She said they could go back to hers, she had beer in the fridge and a bottle of Smirnoff. That wasn’t no good. He only drank Absolut. So she said she could get some Absolut, and he said where? Wasn’t nowhere round here sold Absolut this time of night on a Sunday, and he stared at her like she might have blown it, but then he said, Come on, let’s go down Robbie’s – you come too (meaning Claire, along with the hanger-on who’d mildly disgraced himself with the talk of the Victoria-Dock murder, but now seemed in favour again – assuming he had a choice whether or not he came to Robbie’s). So they got in a blue-black Cosworth that Pete de Lacey told Claire he kept for tearing up when he was half-caned, and they went south through roads and woody lanes at high speed with the hanger-on whooping and Claire frightened for her life.
Robbie’s was a big house, set back from the road down a dark drive with an electric gate that Pete de Lacey shouted something at, before they passed stone lions and eagles, Claire trying not to giggle in the back; but now they’d screeched to a halt where the drive curved onto gravel and the front door was open in a blaze of light, and in the door, a young man with a bird’s face and fair hair was bouncing. As Pete de Lacey approached him, he shouted and bounced and leaped at him and began to nuzzle at his face and make pecking gestures that might have been playful; so Pete, he wrestled him and put him in a headlock and pretended to duff him up. Then the young man bit Pete through the sleeve of his shirt, so Pete threw him with his left leg and went down with him and they scuffled and play hit each other in the bright hall, while the hanger-on and Claire stood over them and the hanger-on shouted, ‘Do him, Pete!’
After a while, Pete, now sitting astride the young man, said, ‘You got guests, Robbie, you cunt!’
‘I can’t see no one,’ said Robbie, and as Pete bent back to point at them, Robbie wriggled violently to the side and bit Pete’s calf, whereupon they both rose, red, laughing, tucking in their shirts. Then they went through a big kitchen, and gathered by a black Smeg fridge that looked like a safe, and Pete de Lacey asked where Robbie’s mum was, to which Robbie replied that he didn’t have a fucking clue and scratched his fair hair, and began to stare at Claire as if he only now was noticing her. So Pete said she was a friend of his, and Robbie said, ‘Yeah? You fucked her yet then?’ And Pete laughed and said open the fridge and show his fucking wares.
Behind the black door, bottles glistened and ready meals were stacked. Pete told Robbie he was a greedy cunt with all that stashed in there, but Robbie scratched his head again as if he didn’t care for his own flesh, and said his fucking mum left him that stuff when she went off, handing out bottles of Bud and Stella. Then he remembered where she was, and his face was all nose for a moment, like that’s where he did his concentrating. She’d gone up the West End to see a show with her mates. Wouldn’t see her again till next week. Pete de Lacey asked Robbie if he didn’t have any vodka in there, and Robbie said come in the pool-room, got some there. So they followed him in the pool-room, which was a flash den, and when they saw how Claire shot pool, they thought she was all right, and Pete wanted to play doubles with her against the hanger-on and Robbie, as they chased the Stellas with big vodkas. And when she woke up, Pete de Lacey was beside her.
For a long time after, he was beside her. She was his bitch – that’s what it came down to. She was his, he wasn’t hers. Understood. He was a player, had to be, with his rep. He enjoyed collecting people; it was a power thing. Or semi-enjoyed it, like it was a substitute for something bigger he wanted. Sex itself, he didn’t much enjoy; it took too long. He wouldn’t let go; he was thinking of what he’d do next, hurrying there. He didn’t like her letting go (whether or not she was putting it on). No need for that. He didn’t do it, shutting his eyes and howling; why should she? But what did he have against it? It was when you let yourself go that you was vulnerable, weak, that was what. And anyway, it was just a plunge, that’s all, nothing more than a plunge. Why make a big show of it? Claire told him you might because you loved someone, that’s why. He shook his head and laughed. As she watched him, she reckoned she’d found a weak spot – but it would only have been the weak spot she needed if she were genuinely interested, as opposed to working on him; in that respect, he was giving away nothing. And this put her under a pressure of a kind untouched on in her briefing – which went like this. Since he was notoriously associated with a particular crime, any girlfriend was likely to mention it, sooner rather than later. You couldn’t not know what Pete de Lacey was supposed to have got away with, could you? Not if you were an English girl who purported to be from around these parts. Therefore, you’d be curious. You’d want to hear him deny it outright, wouldn’t you? Unless you were a starfucker that got kicks from race crimes. And when he denied it, either you’d dig him the more for getting on with his life after the false accusations and bad publicity had made it impossible to find a job, and so forth; either that, or you’d push it under the carpet: you’d asked what had to be asked, and you’d heard denied what had to be denied; now you could help him ‘move on’. But that Claire hadn’t once mentioned it – well that must seem odd, and as it got odder with time, it would begin to seem suspicious, like she was playing some game, and knew already. And this was one of the ways in which she began to lose control: she was meant to be investigating, or entrapping, him, but it felt it was turning the other way round. She needed to act fast.
To encourage him to give himself away, she began dropping certain remarks herself (hoping he’d take her as a starfucker). But when she came out with stuff about immigrants taking our jobs, he said a lot of them weren’t immigrants – they were born here. She asked him, What’s the difference? He didn’t answer; then he said they could have our jobs for all he cared; he just wasn’t bothered; the jobs were basically shit anyway. He wouldn’t be drawn on this. It was like he was a thought ahead of her. So that bookshop she’d passed with Kim and Frankie, she went down there and bought some papers and pamphlets, Blood & Honour, British Nationalist, Redwatch, Totenkopf. She came out with positions and slogans she’d picked up. He watched her and shook his head. Sounded like she’d been reading that stuff just to impress him; wasn’t her. ‘You don’t really mean it,’ he said. ‘That ain’t you, babe, ain’t you one bit!’ Did he want her to mean it? It wasn’t possible he could want a racially-tolerant girlfriend, was it? No. But he didn’t want her putting him on; and he was too quick at sussing when she was. One time, she started about the Lübeck hostel fire, how the suspects got police alibis, even though they’d scorched their own faces. He asked her what was funny about that. He asked her again. Nothing really.
A thing that interested him was how she felt about the others (these being his other girls). Wasn’t she up for cutting their throats? They were for hers! She was well alarmed, but he was like, ‘Don’t worry, babe. I ain’t letting them at you!’ They wanted to cut each other’s throats too. When Claire heard that, she calmed down; though there was still the problem of her lack of jealousy. Could he see under that as well? She wasn’t jealous because she was just doing her job? Fucking frightening! She told him she was above all that throat-cutting stuff. It had no class, being like that. This seemed to impress him. He stood with his hands in his pockets watching her, then he looked down at the floor. He was thinking. To consolidate, Claire said, ‘If you love someone, you’ve got to be ready to let them go. My mum taught me that.’ He seemed to nod his head, and asked her where she fancied going. She said take me somewhere cool.
The night was a disaster. They went to the Rack Club in Greenwich, and Pete was being quite sweet to her, trying to make her laugh; then his brother Mick appeared with Robbie, and Pete suddenly turned. An Asian guy was dancing with a blonde girl, pulling some wild moves on the floor; so these three started hooting. At first, it was like they were admiring the Asian, but then their sounds became mocking; a few couples left the floor and went to lurk by the bar, looking on, but the Asian and the blonde kept dancing. The track was a metal cover of ‘You Spin Me Round’. A bouncer appeared, but when he saw who it was kicking off, he shook his head and grinned, like Boys will be boys!, and went away again. Then Pete put his fingers in her drink and pulled out two ice cubes and threw them; and when she put her hand over the glass to stop him taking another, he stared at her and Mick said, ‘Fuck me! You ain’t letting her pussy-whip you, are you, Pete?’ So Pete snatched her glass and threw the G&T over the couple, while Robbie and Mick grinned like they were coming, and that horrible beak of Robbie’s – ah, he was an animal, that one! Well the DJ stopped the music and the lights came on, and the blonde partner of the Asian, she comes running over to where they’re all sitting though the Asian guy’s trying to hold her back, and she starts screaming at them, and the more she screams, the more Pete and Robbie and Mick laugh, and mock her voice. Then she turns on Claire, and says she should be ashamed, to be sitting with three toerags like this, and the three lads watch to see how Claire responds, and what she comes out with, it has them cheering. This is what she said: ‘Ashamed? Well at least I ain’t a fucking race traitor!’
She didn’t mean it – couldn’t have. But out it came. And it protected her cover. Yet she had no one there to tell she didn’t mean it. And without anyone to tell what’s behind them, your acts might be just what they seem. What was worse, the gang rated her for it. With them, she was almost a made woman. Pete put his arm round her: ‘Didn’t think you had it in you, babe. That’s why we was testing you like. Proud of you.’ By that time, the blonde and the Asian guy were leaving, but at the exit, the blonde turned and stared at Claire, then shook her head; and it chilled Claire, what she seemed to mean by it.