Read High society Online

Authors: Ben Elton

Tags: #Mystery, #Mystery & Detective - General, #Crime & mystery, #Mystery & Detective, #Humorous, #Drug traffic, #Drug abuse, #Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945), #Fiction, #Fiction - General, #Humorous stories - gsafd, #Suspense, #General & Literary Fiction, #General, #English Mystery & Suspense Fiction, #Criminal behavior

High society

High Society

by Ben Elton

2002

The war on drugs has been lost. The simple fact is that the whole world is rapidly becoming one vast criminal network. From pop stars and royal princes to crack whores and street kids, from the Groucho Club toilets to the poppy fields of Afghanistan, we are all partners in crime.

High Society is a story about Britain today, a criminal nation in which everybody is either breaking the law or knows people who do. It takes the reader on a hilarious, heartbreaking and terrifying journey through the kaleidoscope world that the law has created and from which the law offers no protection.

ST HILDA’S CHURCH HALL, SOHO

M
y name’s Tommy Hanson and I’m an alcoholic.’

The young man had risen from his place in the circle of grey plastic chairs and now, having thus announced himself, surveyed the ring of expectant faces. The atmosphere in the little church hall, which until then had been quietly respectful, was suddenly electric.

‘But of course you know that.’

That famous smile. Those puppy-dog eyes. That jolly, wise, endearing Accrington accent, still only slightly Americanized.

‘We’re all alcoholics, us. That’s why we’re here. AA — Arseholes Anonymous as I like to call it.

‘Why state the fookin’ obvious? But we have to go through the motions, don’t we? Do it right. That’s the rules, in’t it? Make your confession, pray for serenity, chip in for the biccies and wash up your teacup.’

There wasn’t a woman in the circle who wouldn’t have washed Tommy’s teacup for him and more besides — some of the men, too, but everyone tried to concentrate. This was after all supposed to be anonymous.

‘So, like I say, my name’s Tommy Hanson and I’m an alcoholic. Plus I’m also a cokehead, but that’s me narcotics meeting. Eh, I’ve got a full day ‘aven’t I? All day talking about being a stupid, screwed-up, self-indulgent twat. I’ll be knackered by teatime. I’ll need a drink and a nice line or two of charlie.

‘Don’t get me wrong. I love my meetings, I do. Live for ‘em. We all do, us arseholes. Testifying, emoting, talking about ourselves. That’s all we’ve got left, in’t it?

‘So I’m going to tell you about that night — the famous night of the Brit Awards — because I don’t think it would be possible for a person to be any more drunk than I ended up that night. Well, you’ve seen it all in the papers, anyway, so I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, except that this is what really happened, not what them bastards put in the stories they wrote. As it happens, I’d fallen off the wagon that day, see, so I was a disaster waiting to happen, weren’t I? You know the score, all you repeat offenders. That’s the problem with laying off the beer for a while. You lose your tolerance, so when you do give it a shake, you’re monged on three halves of shandy. I’d been dry for a whole month, which had been a huge effort for me ‘cos I love me pint, I do, but Elton John had said that if he ever saw me with another drink in me ‘and he’d whack me with his tiara. So I was making a special effort. Well, he is rock royalty, so you have to do it, don’t you?

‘God, though, I were sick of being sober and there was just no way I was going to keep it up. You know the rules, you have to want to get clean, don’t you, and I didn’t. Well, come on. It was the Brits! What is the point of being sober at the fookin’ Brit Awards? Believe me, I’ve won a toilet full of them things in my time and that is one crap night if you’re straight. One crap boring night. But if you’re buzzing, if you’re pissed up and mad for it, if you’re Champagne Charlie on a spree, then it’s brilliant. And when I say charlie I think you know what I mean. Because I wasn’t off the charlie, don’t forget. No way. One wagon at a time, I say, so I was wired even before I started drinking, strung out tighter than a duck’s arse. But I wanted to be drunk, see. Some nights you want to do drugs, but some nights you want to get lathered, and the Brits is a booze night for sure, or at least that’s how you want to kick off. If you’re pissed up at the Brits the night’s your oyster. You can fight all the other pop-star lads. You can chuck ice and bread rolls at the pathetic politicians who are sat there pretending to be hip and leering at all the birds. You can pull a couple of the dancers and you can make a speech so dazzlingly shite that it actually sounds ironic and a bit John Lennon-ish. Basically, you can do what you fookin’ well like. You can have it as large as you fancy. But you can’t if you’re sober. Like, if you’re kidding yourself you’re on the wagon.

‘So as I live and breathe, God save me from ever being sober at the Brits. Which is why, as of this moment, seeing as how I’ve definitely gone straight and I’m here talking to you lot at this meeting, I have sworn I will never go to another one. Mind you, I said the same thing last year, didn’t I?’

THE PAGET HOUSEHOLD, DALSTON

P
eter Paget stared at his wife. She stared back at him. In all their years of marriage never had they felt such a bond. Never had they been so alive together, locked in union as a single force. They knew that the decision they had just made would change their lives for ever. Their lives and their daughters’ lives. It would certainly bring down untold anger and contempt upon Peter’s head. It would cost him the party whip and almost inevitably his job come the next election. The path that he had chosen led directly to professional ruin.

‘You have to do it, Pete. I’m proud of you. Really, really proud. The girls will be, too, when we tell them.’

‘Oh sure. Hey, girls, your dad’s going to make himself unemployed and unemployable on a point of hopeless principle.’

‘They won’t see things that way and you know it.’

‘No, I suppose not. They’re good girls. Smartarse little cows, of course, but good deep down.’

‘Smartarse is in the genes, Peter. Your side, of course. It’s why most of the party hates you so much.’

This was true. Peter was too clever to succeed within the party, or at least too clever but without the essential ability to disguise the fact. Clever is fine in politics as long as you know how to act stupid. Peter never had. He believed passionately in his political ideals and argued them with a strength and intelligence that were bound to alienate less gifted and less principled colleagues in the lacklustre world of parliamentary politics. He had entered parliament as a twenty-six-year-old bright spark, a spark that had grown steadily duller over the years until he had become what he was now: a forty-something ‘didn’t quite’. Despite his skills and his firm belief in the principles for which he stood (or perhaps because of them), he had failed to circumnavigate the Labour Party machine. The greasy pole had proved too slippery and his irritatingly well-cut trousers had remained firmly glued to the back benches.

Angela crossed the room and sat beside Peter on the couch. She put her arm around him and he rested his head on her shoulder. ‘To be honest,’ she said, ‘I think they’ll withdraw the whip simply for what you’ve done already. I heard there’s a book in the tearoom on how many days you’ve got left in the party.’

‘Well, for God’s sake! If ever there was a wrong-headed, half arsed, bound-to-fail, pointless bit of bad law-making it’s this drugs initiative. Decriminalizing pot is never going to work, it just makes the police look like headless chickens and gives the gangsters more room to manoeuvre. The Home Secretary is being pathetic. So is the PM.’

‘Yes, so you’ve said. Astonishing that they don’t like you, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, well, they don’t represent the people of Dalston, do they? The whole bloody borough of Hackney is collapsing under the strain of the drug culture, a drug culture the law has created!’

‘I know, darling, I know.’

Like many a person of principle, Peter was as happy to preach to the converted as to the sceptical. He had been making the same point all evening and Angela agreed with him absolutely. She shared his anger at the utter failure of drug policy to protect communities from becoming criminalized ghettoes. She supported him in his lone voice objections to the decriminalization of cannabis, not because it went too far but because it did not go far enough, and she supported him completely in the decision that they had made together regarding the opportunity that fate had placed in their hands.

Each year Parliament allows a single backbench MP to introduce a Private Member’s Bill on a subject of their own choosing. A small sop to those who believe the two-andahalf-party machine is designed to strangle initiative and crush the spirit of the creative individual. The lucky recipient of this honour is chosen by lottery, and normally the spotlight falls upon a nonentity who makes an idiot of himself and little or no career glory follows. This year, however, Lady Luck had chosen well. Or at least so Peter and Angela Paget felt, for she had chosen Peter and they were certain that he had the talent to use this once-in-a lifetime opportunity to propel the greatest issue of the age to the very forefront of public consciousness.

Peter and Angela Paget had that evening decided that Peter’s Private Member’s Bill would propose that Parliament immediately legalize all recreational drug use. Not just decriminalizing pot, not just downgrading E. But legalizing everything. Cocaine. Heroin. Even crack. The lot.

Peter jumped up from the couch, too excited to sit still.

‘Yes, even crack. I’ll call for the legalization of crack cocaine!’

‘You do realize they’ll crucify you, don’t you?’

‘I know, I know. But by then I’ll have made the point that crack is just too dangerous to be left in the hands of criminals. Nobody likes the fact that some people choose to smoke such horrifying poisons, but they do it nonetheless, and we have to bring it under proper control. License it, make it available only through a doctor, tax it and put all the profits into rehabilitation. We have to do something other than bury our heads in the sand until the whole country goes to hell in a basket!’

Angela smiled. It was good to see her husband filled once more with such passion and conviction. This was the man she had married, a man fired with a burning desire to do good. To make a difference. He looked young again, as if this one idea had washed away the frustrations and disappointments of all the dreary years of constituency infighting and parliamentary compromise. It would be worth the pain that she knew must inevitably follow such a radical and unpopular stance. Not just because of the undoubted importance of the debate it would provoke, but also for what it would mean for Peter as a man. He was a politician born to fight, and now he had his chance. He would lose, of course, and no doubt be cast out, but for a man like Peter it was better to have fought and lost than never to have fought at all.

It had been ten days since Peter and Angela Paget had made love, a fact of which she was uncomfortably aware. She wanted to make love to him now. Would he want to too? She hoped so. Turning him towards her, she took him in her arms and pressed her lips upon his.

Within moments they had tumbled together to the floor. They had not had sex on the carpet for years.

AN AMUSEMENT ARCADE, PICCADILLY, LONDON

H
e had been watching the skinny girl with the full breasts and the big dark eyes for nearly an hour, following her from one tawdry arcade to another. In all that hour she had bought nothing, nor had she fed any machine. Destitution was written large upon her as surely as the tattooed dove that flew upon her shoulder. But she was pretty, very pretty. The greasy hair and grimy skin could not disguise that.

‘Hullo, baby, what’s your name?’

She told him, but she did not look up from the dancing ninja on the screen in front of her, endlessly repeating its single violent kick, inviting her to pay and play.

‘Jessie? That’s nice. Cute. You look real messed up, Jessie baby. Want a coffee? A drink, maybe? We could play the video games for a while. I got plenty of cash, that’s for sure. Where you been sleeping?’

Still she did not look up at him, but none the less the conversation had begun.

‘Oh, man, that’s bad. Baby, you don’t wanna be hanging out that place. No wonder you messed up. That ain’t safe for no young girls, no way. Not pretty ones like you. You gotta get your ass right out of that area. Girls like you get bad stuff done to them if they ain’t got no one to look after them and see them right, OK? What’s that accent, girP You weirding me out, you sound like you got a knot in your tongue or something.’

The skinny girl was Scottish.

‘Oh, baby, you’re a long way from home now. Me too, OK? We both foreigners, outsiders, right? I’m from Marseilles, but I ain’t like you, I got connections in this town, I got it all sorted out, right, that’s for sure. Down and dirty, oh yeah, that’s me. I’m connected. No smartass boy messes with this bad guy less they wanna get cut up bad. You better come with me, Jessie baby. I reckon you lucky I found you, that’s for sure. You coulda been talking to any bad guy ‘stead of me. They gonna cut you up bad and use you real tough. But I’m Francois, I’m cool, I respect ladies, that’s for sure. I’ll protect you. You come with me, sweet baby. We get you some clothes and maybe something to eat. You gonna stay at Francois’ place. Warm you up good, baby, make you smile. You’re real lucky, girl, ‘cos now you got a connection. This city ain’t no safe place for no pretty runaways. You gotta get a connection and now you got one, baby.’

As they left the arcade together the Frenchman took her hand.

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