27 May 2004
The fateful day eventually came when his true state of mind was revealed to me. He told me of his brief time at university, the pills and speed, the short employment at Macdonald’s, his mental collapse and breakdown, his fits and his jumping through a plate glass window on the second floor of his parents house and the ensuing 263 stitches. This revelation grated against my initial impression of him that had been derived from his spoken intention of wanting to join M16. Having shared so much Tony then made the mistake of presuming that I cared.
His visits became more and more frequent as well as designed to coincide with my rare stints behind the counter. One day he came in and said hello, to which I grunted without looking up and then he said:
“Bruce, I’m just going to pop behind and make a coffee.”
Who?! What?! When?! Before I could put my surprise and shock into words Tony had disappeared from sight behind the counter and I could here the chink of spoon on mug. I sat there in mild disbelief. It was hard work developing and maintaining the fearful mystique of the video shop and, until that fateful day, to have someone uninitiated into the fold tramp into the back room without an armed guard or UN monitor, was unheard of. Eventually he emerged with a mug of coffee in his mitt. Only one mug as the bastard had not thought to offer to make me one. Not that I drink coffee but he did not know that. He then proceeded to take up the whole of the counter to roll a fag. It was painful to watch. He made a mess off the rollie and then took his coffee and fag and went to stand at the door to smoke it, leaving a veritable weed patch of tobacco on my counter. I was speechless, a rare condition for me, but I had no words.
He returned, left the empty mug on the counter, smiled at me in a friendly way and then asked me, if I didn’t mind, to stop calling him Tony and call him Anthony instead. I asked him if he was sure and he said that he was. He then left. Tony cannot leave without making the parting, which you would think would be a pleasant thing, into a drawn out and painful social interaction.
“Right Bruce, I’m off.”
“Goodbye Tony. I mean, Anthony.”
“Yeah, I’m off now.”
“I’ll see you……are you working tomorrow?”
“I can’t remember.”
“Oh well. I’ll see you maybe tomorrow and if not tomorrow then…are you working on Wednesday?”
“Maybe. See you later.”
“Yep. Right Bruce, I’m off. I’ll see you on….”
“How about you’ll just see me when you see me next.”
“Ah. Yes. See you then, then.”
“Right. See you later.”
The next time I saw Gary I told him of Tony’s impertinence. Gary’s head sank into his hands and he moaned.
“Nooooooo. I was worried something like this might happen.”
“Why, Gary, why? What happened?”
“Shit Bruce, I believe I’ve fucked up. Last Thursday he came in and asked if he could have a cup of coffee because he was cold…”
“And you told him nicely to fuck off, right?”
“Yes. Well, no. I told him he could go and make one because I was busy.”
“Ha fucking ha. Honestly G, I think you’ve created a monster.”
“Yeah, well, he’s your little friend, not mine!”
“You knew him first you slag!”
As the months rolled on I slowly started calling Tony Anthony without thinking about it. My behaviour towards him depended very heavily on whether I saw him or not. If I didn’t see him then I was very congenial towards him but if I had him in front of me I was, at the best of times, rather curt.
Much as Gary passed Tony on to me, I made the fateful mistake of infecting Cris with him. During the brief period that Tony seemed only moderately strange, I introduced him to Cris the tattooist. Before we knew it Tony was hanging out at both of our shops, always behind the counter, hovering like a big floating twat in the background, making insipid jabs at humour and laughing at his own failures at it. Being a far more warm-hearted human than myself, Cris never employed the mordant sarcasm that I did when talking to Tony, a sarcasm that he never appeared to notice.
At this present point in time my conversations with Tony consist of him being friendly and full of shit and me being busy elsewhere. I have noticed that the pause between the beginning of Tony’s sentences and the next word can last for upto a minute. Even to someone who professes to be uncaring of the poor boy’s derangement, I have noticed that his mental well being is faltering. He does not try to smile as much as he used to. Instead of struggling to finish a pointless sentence he will instead just close his mouth and wait for me to grunt. This is not to say that his high level of brazenness has reduced at all, nor his apparent unappreciation of subtle social hints, like the rolling of the eyes, the deep and depressed sigh and the middle finger.
Take for example last Friday. Mr. Pennyfat came into the shop early in the morning when it was empty. I was feeling very chipper because it was Friday and I had a wonderful evening planned:
“Morning Anthony. How are you?”
“I’m skint. I’ve lost ninety quid.”
“Really? That’s a total bastard when that happens. It happens to me all the time. It’ll turn up.”
“I can’t find it anywhere.”
“Have you looked everywhere?”
“Yes. I had it in my flat. I’ve searched the whole place.”
“Well Anthony, maybe you left it somewhere. You know you are always leaving your tobacco or rizlas or gloves or jacket all over Bude.”
“Bruce, can I borrow a fiver until next Wednesday when I get money in my account?”
“You want to borrow a fiver off me?”
“Well, I would like a tenner but I didn’t like to ask too much.”
“Riiiiiiight. Next Wednesday you’d pay me?”
“I’ll tell you what Anthony, I’ll lend you a tenner. If I don’t get it back on Wednesday, right, I get to break your legs with a baseball bat. Al’right?”
“Okay. Thanks. I’m just off for a meal at Atlantic Diner and a big milkshake.”
“Anthony, that’ll cost at least five quid. You could go and buy bread and beans for under a quid at the supermarket. I thought you were skint.”
“Ah, well, now I’ve walked into town I can’t be bothered to walk home.”
“Yeah, I guess that three minute down hill walk is quite debilitating. Don’t forget, a tenner on Wednesday or it’s your kneecaps, my boy.”
“No worries Bruce. I’ll see you…..are you working tomorrow.”
“I’ll see you on Wednesday.”
After my shift finished at two o’clock I went around Aquaries to help Cris out. We were both sitting eating pasties with our feet on the counter when guess who walked up the stairs, evidently replete after his feed at the Atlantic Diner downstairs?
Bruce: “O bollocks. Hello Anthony, how are you.”
Tony: “Hi Bruce, Hi Cris. How are you guys?”
Cris: “Good thanks, mate. What are you upto?”
Bruce: “Anthony came into the shop earlier and borrowed a tenner off me.”
Cris: “He came and asked me as well. I don’t do that though.”
Bruce: “My Gran used to say ‘Never a lender nor a borrower be.’ but I’m in so much debt I can’t be that hypercritical. I do get to break Anthony’s legs though, if he doesn’t pay me back by Wednesday. Isn’t that right Anthony?”
Tony: “Yep. I’ll get the money to you on Wednesday.”
Bruce: “Well, Anthony, to be honest, I’ve never broken anyone’s legs before. I think I’d be prepared to spend a tenner on the experience. So, you know, if you don’t want to pay me back that’s okay, I’ll take your kneecaps as payment instead. Whack! Whack! Thank you very much.”
I finished my pastie, got up and said goodbye to Cris, grunted at Anthony whilst making swinging motions with my hands and left the pair of them to it.
On Saturday night, at about one o’clock in the morning, Jack and Claire were walking back from the Falcon having attended the wedding reception of one of the dental nurses and some other chap. They had enjoyed a very pleasant evening of mostly good company, free booze and edible food and were meandering up the hill towards home. Claire was becoming increasingly more annoyed with her boyfriend as they walked. It seemed to her that every ten seconds Jack would interrupt himself and look at the sky and ask:
“I wonder * hic *what that helicopter is doing.”
“Mostly flying Jack.”
“I know that! I know, know keno that, my dear, but why has it got a searchlight?”
“Well, * sigh *, I imagine that it is searching for something.”
“Really? * hic * Goddamn hiccups. What do you suppose it is looking for in that field?”
“I don’t know. Did you think Jane’s dress was tasteful or a bit too eighties?”
“Err, it had a lot of lace, acres of lace, like a meringue…What do you suppose that helicopter is doing, eh?”
On the lovely sunny Sunday the next day, Jack and Claire walked to the secluded Launcells church just down the sunlight dappled road outside my house. There they had a romantic picnic and there was shagging involved, as they don’t get to see each other as often as they would like. They were going at it like fluffy, rampant long-eared herbivores when Jack’s keen hearing distinguished a noise other than Claire’s delirious heaves. He stopped to listen better. Claire was not immediately impressed:
“Fuck me you bastard!”
“Shhh, I think someone’s coming.”
“Not yet! Get on with it. Shag me!”
“No, really, there’s someone coming through the hedge.”
“What? Where? Shit, where’s my dress?”
And then four tall men, all armed with long wooden sticks and all dressed in blue overalls pushed their way through the hedge in front of the scrambling couple. Jack was sitting on the grass with one leg in his trousers and his shirt over his groin. He had a smile on his face and his hands on his hips. Claire had managed to pull her dress over her head and after she finished arranging it over her hips she leant on Jack’s shoulder nonchalantly with one hand and tried to brush her hair into shape with the other.
All four of the radios attached to the interlopers belts hissed and clicked and there was a muffled conversation between one of the policeman and whoever was on the other end of the line. “Excuse us.” he said after he had finished and then they all turned around and disappeared back from whence they had came. Jack and Claire looked at each other. The mood had evaporated and Jack’s curiosity was lit.
“You know Claire, this is about where that helicopter was hovering over last night.”
“O for Christ’s sake,” snorted Claire as she pulled her knickers up.
“I’m going to go and have a look and see what’s going on,” continued Jack, struggling with a sock.
Last night the recently returned Will joined Jack, Cris and myself at a table in the Tree for our regular Wednesday evening beer or three after a basketball game. Near the end of the evening, after I had drunk about six gin and tonics and was feeling loquacious, Jack said:
“Guys, I have a story.”
“O yeah? What?”
“Well, Claire and I went for a picnic on Sunday down to Launcells church…”
“Oooh yeah? Wink wink!”
“No, we did have a picnic. Then we shagged, obviously. Anyway, afterwards, when we were walking back, I saw two helicopters in a field and there were loads of coppers everywhere.”
“Yep. Bruce, you remember I told you about that helicopter with a searchlight that I noticed on Saturday night?”
“Yeah, well, I went and asked one of the policemen what was going on. At first he said that he couldn’t say but he eventually told us that there had been a search going on for a young epileptic guy from Bude. They had just found him in the wood behind the church. He had hung himself.”
“Really, Christ. Bude’s not a big place. I wonder who that was then.” said Cris.
“It could have been Tony.” I suggested. Cris and I looked at each other.
“Was he an epileptic?” asked Will.
“I’m not sure but he definitely had fits of some kind.” I replied. “I bet it was Tony.”
“I hope not.” said Cris. “It probably isn’t.”
“Well,” said I ,”he has been down recently. It would be more interesting if it was someone we knew.” Which drew a gasp or two from around the table. “O, c’mon guys, we’re just animals and there are too many of us anyway. Apart from any pain that might be involved, I wouldn’t mind at all if I snuffed it tomorrow.”
Cris and Jack shook their heads at me. Will drank some more Guinness. Then Cris smiled at me. “I’ve just thought of something.” he said.
“O yeah, what?” I asked.
“Tony owes you a tenner!”