Lucky’s a hard man.
You can tell immediately – not so much from the ruin of his body, his arms and shoulders the texture of old stilton, veined and nicked and scabbed from years of drug abuse; not from his ill-fitting false teeth, his gold chains or his blurry tattoos – hula hula girl, flaming skull, Ace of Spades; nor from the casually terrible things he says, stories of violence, vendettas, feuds, armed robberies and the like. And it’s not something you’d simply extrapolate from the block-cap note in the front of his folder: DOUBLE-UP VISITS IN THE PRESENCE OF SUPPORT WORKERS ONLY. No. Without any of these things you’d still be able to tell. He carries it deep in his eyes – an unsettling, milky blue, as if the poison of all that hostility rose up over the years and tainted the purer colour. I can imagine him turning those eyes on the face of enemy, warden or wall with the same languorously hostile expression. For now, though, he seems to have accepted my role in this particular scenario, and offers out his paw for the SATS probe with the weighty insouciance of a tiger, claws retracted.
‘The doctor? Nah mate! They don’t send doctors out to me no more. The last one, he said Your old man’s very ill. Oh yes? I said. What the fack’s wrong with the ol’ cant now? I’m afraid he’s got cancer he said. He’s not got long to live much longer. Is that right? I said. So I knocked him out…’
‘The hardest thing about doing time’s the first week. Once you done that it’s easy. Piece of piss. You get in the routine, know what I mean? I’ve done plenty. Most of my life I’ve been one place or the other. You name it, I’ll tell you the crack. I could write a book. Anyway, where I come from, half of us end up inside. Walking round the block was like walking round the old manor…’
‘I think the worst thing they ever did was cut down on the heroin. They jes’ went an made a whole lot of work for themselves. No-one’s going to make any trouble smacked out of their heads, are they? Now they got all this other gear going in, fake stuff that winds you up and makes you punchy. You don’t want that when you’re all banged up, d’you? Stands to reason. But they don’t think like that, do they?’
‘I been in trouble since I was a kid. I got sent to borstal for stabbing-up me eldest brother. I was ready to go and stab him up good n’proper when I got out, ‘cept I was on a bank job and got sent down for a stretch before I got the chance. I haven’t forgotten him though. Once these legs are better I’ll be payin’ the cant a little visit…’
– o O o –
Back in the support workers’ office for the debrief, a mad looking labradoodle is wandering round with a green and yellow plastic turtle. He goes from person to person, squeaking the toy a couple of times, dropping it at our feet, and then backing away with his mouth open and his tail wagging, looking up at our faces and then back down at the toy , as if he can’t believe we’re not as mad for it as he is.
Buddy! Don’t be such a pain!’ says one of the support workers, but she throws the toy for him anyway, and he races after it. After a while he brings it over to me, watching me with an insane expression as I pick it up and turn it over and over in my hands.
I have an image of Buddy behind bars, lights out, squeaking the turtle mournfully, like a harmonica.
I’m glad he’s here, though. Buddy’s like me. I don’t think he’d cope all that well in prison, turtle or otherwise.
‘There you go, Buddy!’ I say, lobbing his toy back over the other side of the office.
We laugh as he crashes after it.