Chapter 3: October 1998
It begins to rain. We’ve been driving for hours. London isn’t far away now.
“Do you know where you’re going?” I ask.
Chambers glances at me.
“Always,” he says.
I roll my eyes, flip down the mirror and adjust my hair. I’ve been trying to grow it long like Kurt Cobain’s and now I’ve dyed it a dirty yellow too. Chambers notices me staring at myself.
“You look gorgeous,” he jokes.
I shake my head and turn the stereo volume back to maximum.
Hours pass, then out of nowhere, London’s on top of us. There’s been no build-up, no New York style skyline, but there it is. I take it in. Everything is grey. There are no flying cars, but it feels like we’ve moved into the future. A fractured, fast-paced future. The roads turn from one lane canals to lawless go-kart tracks and back again. It’s early afternoon but time has no meaning anymore.
The rain is coming down now like someone’s pouring it out of buckets. Alien starts playing. Makes sense.
We’re looking for Carlito’s. We turn this way and that. Then that way and this. At last I see it. It’s a backstreet pub and it doesn’t look much like its name makes it sound.
Chambers parks and stares through the windscreen at the weather.
It’s hard to believe we’re here.
“Ready?” Chambers asks.
I’ve never been ready for anything but things are going to be different now so I nod.
Inside, there’s one man behind the bar. His eyes are the colour of polished wood and his hair’s as black as gunpowder.
He’s on the phone but he looks us up and down. Then he slams the receiver onto its hook.
“This is him?” he asks.
His attention’s on me but the question’s aimed at Chambers.
“Yep,” Chambers says.
Carlito comes out from behind the bar. He takes a step towards me and I flinch. Then he hugs me like I’m his long-lost brother. The intensity with which he holds me makes my stomach hurt. Right where they stitched me up. I imagine my guts all over the place. Again.
“You crazy bastard,” he says when he lets me go.
He grins and then he turns to Chambers. It’s like they’ve known each other for years.
We sit at a table. Drinks appears just like that. Everything Carlito does seems to happen at triple-speed. I try to take him in: his constantly moving hands, his colourful clothes, his Portuguese accent.
“The famous James Dean,” he says, shaking his head as if he can hardly believe I’m real.
“JD,” I correct him.
Carlito throws his hands extra-high into the air.
I reach for my pint glass.
“You look like you need that,” Carlito says and he howls with laughter.
“He always looks that way,” Chambers tells him and Carlito howls again.
Then he leans in my direction. He lowers his voice, like he doesn’t want anyone to hear.
“Do you ever feel like the world has got you by the balls?” he wants to know.
He stares at me intently, then his voice goes back to full-volume.
“Of course you do,” he roars. “I mean, look at you!”
I stay quiet, but Carlito continues talking noisily. He says he recognised me as soon as I came through the front door. Which makes me wonder how much Chambers has told him. There’s no way he would have told him everything.