This Charming Man

By u v ray, Jun 16 2016 09:15PM

Lot of peope been asking me how true the new novel Black Cradle is. Did such and such a character really exist? Was such and such a real bar? I usually say all my books so far have been 80% autobiographical. In cases where the bars are no longer in existence I use their real names but otherwise I change the names and sometimes the locations too so I don’t get sued when I document them with complete transparency as the drug dens I knew them as in 1986 Birmingham. In Black Cradle Pop Gun is one of those basement bars where you look around for a fire-exit because you sense if there was a fire you’d be incinerated alive down there. In the book it’s located up Needless Alley just off New Street. The bar it’s based on is in reality still there, a different name, a few streets away. I don’t know what that bar is like now – probably like most of the city, more gentrified than it all was in the mid to late 80s. For all I know it’s some whitewashed cosmopolitan bistro type place these days. But I knew it somewhat differently. I’ll tell you another story about Pop Gun... This was the last time I went there, probably sometime in the late 90s.


Pop Gun was where Kid Cola and me used to go to score sometimes. Kid Cola styled his hair in a little dyed blonde quiff and always wore these red patent leather winkle-picker shoes with his black drain-pipe jeans. The Smiths tattooed down his forearm, spider-web on his elbow.


The Kid had got all manner of shit wrong with him. His shrink had said the Kid had got some kind of socopathic personality disorder. But Kid Cola disagreed. As far as he was concerned, he said he simply saw things as they really are. And when it came to his behaviour the Kid was merely an instrument of the universe, a natural element, a force of nature, he said. And for that reason he could not feel remorse for his actions any more than a hurricane could. Or a lightning strike. So if we were to say he caused people heartache then we’d have to ask ourselves why indeed does life itself cause people pain? That’s pretty much how the Kid saw himself – a whirlwind of natural elements. But in truth he spent most of his time holed up in his flat alone eating pizza and watching porn, while zonked out on barbs.


So this one time there’s Kid Cola and me sitting at the bar in Pop Gun and there had actually been a small fire down the back of the place recently and the place stank of burned bacon, or burned human flesh or burned something or other. Or maybe it was just the normal stench ingrained into Kid Cola’s clothes from his job at the meat factory. The barman was the ugliest looking fucker you’ve ever seen He was kind of short-legged and fat-bodied – tuna fish shaped - but with this long skinny neck bent in the middle where his adam’s apple stuck out and a too-small bald head and everyone knew him as Goose cuz he looked and sounded like a goose with his little buzzy voice.


More money for drugs passed over the bar in Pop Gun than it ever did for drink. “So what you got for me?” Kid Cola enquired of Goose. Goose checked over his shoulders to make sure there were no unfamiliar faces lurking about and leaned his long neck across the bar towards us and said quietly, “How about a bitta Lois Lane? Would that do you? Kid Cola nodded and said, “Yeah yeah, sweet. You got an eightball?”

“I got anything you like providing you got the dosh, bro.”

“Ah, well the thing is, Goose... We can’t pay you till next week, man.” Goose shook his head emphatically and said, “No can do then, hombre. I’m a cash-based business, my friend, and that means I want the dosh like... right now. This is primo gear, what you think I am?” Kid Cola rolled his eyes and said, “Come on, you piece of shit, pay you next week, honest.” Goose shook his head. “No way, José,” he went. “I know you and your next weeks. No cash. No gear. End of.” And with that Goose trundled off down the other end of the bar to serve a group of lank haired student kids hanging about the juke box pumping in coins and putting some Faith No More crap on.

The Kid shrugged and said, “Probably wise, to be fair. He had about as much chance of me coughing up the dough as he has winning a fucking beauty contest.” He nudged me in the ribs, smiled a twisted smile and added, “but I have gotta little something for him.” And with that the Kid slides off his bar stool and walks off to the toilets.


And so I’m left sitting there, sparking up a cigarette, staring into the glistening optics at the back of the bar and thinking about where else we might score some coke from. I sit smoking for what seems like a long time and then the toilet door slams shut and Kid Cola emerges navigating his way through the maze of tables and chairs jerking his head back towards the toilets and grinning manically as he walks briskly towards me. “What the fuck you done, man?” I said. And the Kid leaned close and said in a low voice out the corner of his mouth, “Let’s get the fuck outta here, man. I done a shit in the hand basin.”

“You dirty bastard,” I go, finishing up my drink. “All right, let’s get gone before the big gorilla on the door finds out.”


A few months later the Kid went to prison for kicking the shit out of a pizza delivery driver after he forgot his chilli sauce. I visited him in there once. But I never saw him again after that.

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