Drugs are a dangerous business. Especially heroin. But dealing and using heroin combine to make the ultimate tightrope career and life path. It dredges up problems you and I can only begin to imagine- well, maybe I’ve got an advantage there. And those kind of problems aren’t static, shit is always handed down the ladder, usually to the user.

Andy was a heroin dealer who lived in a terraced house in the town. He was covered in crap tattoos, had been around the block many times, and was a kind of living legend, he was ultra old school. Andy used to sit right by his front door all day with a length of motorbike chain and a machete. He’d used them on occasion. I suspected there was a gun in the property but unlike another client of mine he wasn’t stupid enough to go brandishing it about when I was there. Andy’s dog was a furious Staffordshire Bull Terrier that hated almost everyone it met. It was called Starchild and was about as far from the hippy ethos as it was possible for any dog to get – without stepping too far into anthropomorphic territory. When Andy’s house was raided by the police once – which was a periodic event, and treated simply as a hazard of the job – Starchild ran into the kitchen and bit a police officer on the leg. The officer needed 3 stitches and went off work for six months. Eventually Andy received a letter from the Police Officer’s private solicitor saying he was seeking around six thousand pounds of damages from Andy – who didn’t have a pot to piss in despite dealing heroin. It was ludicrous. Still, Starchild and Andy evaded prosecution and the RSPCA. They were like a streetwise, dangerous, and raggedy, Roscoe P Coltrane and “Flash”. They survived Andy’s massive – even by dealer standards – heroin habit, police raids and, once, even a shoot-out in the street with some Yardies from a nearby city. But more than all of that, Starchild loved me. I couldn’t go round to the house without having to play fetch with him for twenty minutes. Each time I knocked on the front door I’d hear Starchild barking and trying to bite his way through the door, until Andy shouted “Come in Ben,” and the growling would stop. I’d open the door to a brown ball of knotted muscle wagging its tail. Who knows why that dog felt that way. I’m just glad I didn’t join the “bitten” list – which included the police, two postmen, a probation officer, and god knows how many sickly customers. There I’d sit with Starchild on my lap as embarrassed punters nervously entered and left the house, nodding awkwardly to me (most users in the town knew who I was), and staying as far from the demon dog as possible. He’d leap off and chase a rattling heroin user out of the house then return to me, wagging his tail, and lick my face. I never worked it out.

Andy was liked and respected in the heroin community for three main reasons – 1) He never sold you heroin if he thought that money should really be feeding your kids, 2) You always knew where you stood with Andy, he wasn’t a bullshitter, 3) he always had the product. But Andy was part of a dying breed.

Ian was from Liverpool. He had been shot six times, all in the same sitting, and was in jail for some drug related shenanigans. They’d moved him far away from Liverpool for his own protection. Ian had a small heroin problem himself and was seeing me in the jail to try and sort everything out prior to him being shipped out to HMP DunThieving somewhere down south where he was witness in some large drug trial.

“You know it’s easy, dealing smack,” he once said. “All you do is buy it, cut it, sell it on.” Cutting it – or “bashing it up” – was the key to profits and some were really good at it, using vitamin c powder, or milk powder, something fairly safe and pure. Others would crush up paracetamol and bake it, or use brick dust, tinned furniture polish, or chalk, the list is endless. But Ian, without a doubt, won the cup for Most Depraved and Uncaring Dealer I’d ever met.

“So, one day, yeah, we’re bashing up a key of brown (kilo of heroin) and I had to nip out to get some fags. We’re in Toxteth right, in a terrace house. So I’m walking along and I’ve bought the fags and a few beers and I’m just getting to the door and I look down on the pavement and there’s this big pile of dog shit, only about ten foot from the front door of the house. And this might sound bad, but this thought started going through my head – what if….? Anyway, I go inside and dump the shopping then I come back outside with a cardboard box – a cereal box – and I scoop up some of this dog shit into the box. When I brought it back inside the lads were doing their nut but I just told them to watch. Then I put it on a dish and banged it in the microwave for about ten minutes. It fucking stunk up the place but after ten minutes it had sort of dried out, like crispy, you know. I took it out and pounded it up in a pestle and mortar, then we tipped it into the heroin,” he was laughing really hard, “and the smackheads who bought that gear afterwards would be injecting dogshit.” Tears of laughter were rolling down his cheeks.

It’s not something Andy would have considered, but it’s a sign of the times. Zammo would be turning in his grave. Just another reason to say no kids.

I got Andy into detox, twice, and he stayed the course the second time despite hearing the staff saying he was a waste of space and time. When I picked him up he looked a beacon of health and we hugged before I drove him home. I was so happy to see him getting straight. We went back to his house, where his girlfriend was waiting. She had promised to get herself clean while Andy was in detox but when she opened the door she stumbled over the step and slurred her welcome. She looked more fucked up than before Andy had left. He saw her and sighed inevitably.

In less than a week he was using again. What chance did he have? His brother had taken care of the  business operation while Andy was away and had gone and got himself arrested with three grams of brown. I went round and tried to convince Andy he’d end up getting really sick or doing another long stretch but he just laughed it off and prepped some more foil. Starchild wagged his tail and kept on destroying his “indestructible dog ball”.

The films all tell you “Don’t get high on your own supply,” and maybe that’s good advice for the entrepreneur, but Andy didn’t sell to make money, he sold to support his own habit. There, in that dingy and dirty house, he had everything he’d ever need – a tv, sofa, tinfoil, and heroin. “We’re not so different you and me,” he said, “we’re both just trying to get through life as best we can.” Maybe he was right? Who am I to choose someones poison for them? Andy was providing a service to people making choices – albeit bad ones – that’s all. Anyhow, the police would stop him sooner or later, they weren’t stupid. They’d enforce the law and keep everyone safe from the horror of heroin. The law says heroin and anyone who touches it in any way is a criminal. It’s not a Class A drug for no reason eh?

We sat and talked about both of our futures and how both of us got where we are through similar, though wildly differing paths. Andy smoked a few lines. “Sorry Ben, are you ok with me doing this when you’re here?” he always asked me this question when he was smoking heroin. I never told him I had used the drug myself but one addict can always tell another. It’s like some form of cold mutual magnetism. “I know you’ve used,” he’d say, “I don’t mean to make things difficult for you.” I liked Andy. He was a good guy in a shitty world. I went to go and he opened the door and patted me on the shoulder “I always enjoy our chats,” he said, before looking up and down the road.

Outside, down the street, the local undercover police sat in an unmarked car. They couldn’t have been more obvious if they’d been dancing along the pavement playing Samba music and dressed as Mexican Gaucho’s. We both waved at them as I left.


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