Book Excerpts

[opening of Dial 999:]

    When Miranda slumped over onto the floor, I knew it was time to go.

    She had been sitting on the chipped tile in the bathroom, using the toilet as a prop for her arm and mumbling incessantly to my shadow as I inspected my bleeding nose.  I could see her reflection in the mirror, wiping at the side of her face with her dirty fingers after she sniffled a couple times.
    “You’ve got to hit the vein just right,” she said to me, slapping the crease of her inner arm.  “And if you don’t know the difference between a vein and an artery, you’re fucked.”
    Strands of tousled brown hair clung to her reddened cheeks from perspiration, and her eyes narrowed in concentration on the task at hand.
    I stuffed a thin wad of toilet paper up my nose, hoping to absorb some of the blood.  “I don’t know why you waste your time with that shit, Miranda.”  My teeth clenched for a minute.
    Miranda smirked, having found a good vein.
    “You could use a right jab yourself, Jon.  I mean, it’s a party, innit?”

   We were at Bugs’ and Tony’s flat in Clerkenwell, our usual hangout, recuperating from a Teddy Boy run-in.  The original plan for the evening was to catch a Buzzcocks show at The Roxy, but the ‘cancelled’ sign on the doors meant that wasn’t going to happen.  Instead, we got caught up in the now-traditional Saturday Teds-vs-punks brawl.  Boise Lou and his gang were set on roughing us up good, but we only lasted about a half an hour before we got bored and retreated back to our mates’ gaff.
    Their flat was part of an old warehouse that they converted into living space.  The focal point was the large entry room littered with sofas, card tables, and folding chairs–perfect for drinks and poker games. With such an open area, it was just the right place for parties.  We all took advantage of that at any opportunity, much to our mates’ delight as they loved being hosts to chaos. The neighborhood back then was rough, but Bugs and Tony had a safe haven, helped, certainly, by the group of thugs that lived two floors above.  “They’re family,” Tony would remind me after a few drinks, “and my family looks out for you, Jonny boy.”
    Despite his hard exterior, though, Tony was a decent guy.  I think his attitude came out of the fact that he was shorter than all the other blokes.  Kind of a puffing up of the feathers to show everyone he was on the same level.  He had some bollocks, Tony did.  He dressed like an early Teddy Boy (in ‘40's style suits), which actually fit him quite well, but he did it just to be a wanker.  The Teds knew he was one of us, not one of them, which only served to wind them up.  
   Bugs thrived on those displays of aggression.  The crazy energy that made him so much fun to be around was also the same thing that made you want to keep him within your sight.  He was a ticking time-bomb waiting for the right moment to explode.  Everything about him was wrong: his hair, a shock of blonde burned white and brittle with peroxide; his face, scratched and pocked from dancing, fighting, or acne–I couldn’t tell which; his clothes, ripped and torn and salvaged.

    It didn’t take long for us to raid the flat once we burst through the doors.  We adjusted furniture, cleaned out the liquor cabinet, and increased the noise level within minutes. The sound of our voices, Tony’s record player, and police sirens scouring the streets was like static against the metallic interior of the room.  Thick dust shrouded the cracked window panes, hiding the glare of the street lamps.  Many of the high-hanging light fixtures in the room were either broken or burned-out.  To compensate, Bugs wired the perimeter of the room in twisted strings of Christmas (or fairy, as the Brits corrected me) lights.  Garlands of little bulbs, both clear and multi-colored, sparkled against the tinfoil that papered the walls.  Some blinked in measured time, others flickered only when you bumped them.
    Tony was near the kitchen chatting up Susan, trying to use his infamous skills in persuasion to get a shag.  He had been buying her drinks earlier in the evening as a warm-up exercise, and now he was laying the charm on heavy.  I could tell by the way his beady brown eyes softened that the magic must be working.
    Susan smiled at me as Tony began talking with his hands.  She looked out-of-place in her clean, department-store outfit, but she was one of us just the same.  My girl Mary met her through a mutual friend and shared a flat with her near King’s Cross station.  Despite the fact that she wasn’t a punk, Susan seemed to take to most of us.  She was actually a pleasant change of pace in our circle of friends, so when Mary invited her to join us, it didn’t matter that she wasn’t fond of the Sex Pistols; we liked her anyway.
    Dancing near the record player were a couple blokes I recognized as Roxy regulars with Susan’s friend Julie in between them.  Julie was wriggling around, her blonde hair grazing her cheeks as she moved.  She was definitely the popular girl in our group—due in large part to her carefree nature and the fact that she looked like Debbie Harry.  Lately I had noticed Bugs taking an interest in her, and I assumed that flirting with these random guys was her way of telling Bugs to move things along a bit faster.
    Mary, in the meantime, was cheering from the poker table.  Her Irish accent was telltale in a room full of Cockney blokes, and no matter how many different colors she’d try dyeing her hair, her fair features, sprinkling of freckles, and bright green eyes gave away her true heritage.  She was a feisty little thing, which was something that attracted me to her in the first place, but which also got her into trouble.  As now, laughing a bit to myself, I could see Bugs drunkenly lecturing her on what it meant to keep a ‘poker face’.

    “Okay, mate, what about this one then?” Paul asked, snapping my attention back to him.  We had been comparing bruises between pints, a friendly sort of competition Paul and I started the previous year when I moved to London from the States.  Paul had successfully encouraged a long scar on his dark arm from the cut he got at a Johnny Thunders show back in February, and he displayed it proudly.  All I could find on myself were a handful of fresh scratches and the feeling of something on my face that might be purple in the morning.  Nothing major, especially compared to this bloke Paul knew back in Kingston who would brand himself when he was bored.  
    Just as Paul started describing to me the branding process, Bugs yelled out “Gangrene!” and we all snapped our heads to look.
    Shit, I thought.
    Gangrene was Dan Green, a junkie who tended to be nothing but trouble.  We called him Gangrene because he never went to the hospital for treatment after fights, which left his body a constant black-and-blue mess.  He was a scruffy sort of guy, choosing to be a squatter and making his living peddling highly-addictive substances.  We all thought he was a right nasty piece of work, and if questioned we wouldn’t admit to knowing him.  But, after all was said and done, he still somehow ended up a mate.  (Though an uninvited one at that!)