‘I’ve taken rhino k.’
‘And I’ve had a couple of joints.’
Maxxy looked sharply around the Wills Hall bar to see if anyone else had heard what the lad sunk into the armchair had just dribbled. The other students at the bar were a world away from this exceptionally dressed, exceptionally posh lump, who appeared to have tripped through a hurricane of Vietnamese gladrags, cosmopolitan jewellery and bad haircuts on his way to meeting Maxxy and Tommo that evening. While all the other members of Wills Hall were content to excite their senses with the end of their second drink and surround themselves with the wood-panelled walls of the bar, and examine the trophies proudly lined over the fireplace, this interesting creature had contented himself with rhino ketamine.
‘That reminds me of Eton,’ he slurred, looking at the list of past JCR presidents inscribed on the wall above the hearth. ‘Did I tell you I went to Eton?’
‘I don’t care that you went to Eton, Mungo, where is our stuff?’ spat Maxxy irritatedly.
‘Stuff?’ enquired the boy.
‘Yeah mate,’ said Tommo, even more frustrated. ‘You said you’d meet us here with our pick-up, where the hell is it?’
‘We’re serious Mungo!’
‘I… caaaaan’t – remember!’
His sentences dribbled out of his mouth like sludge.
‘Mungo, you jammy dodger, do you have it on you or not?’ said Maxxy.
‘If you get busted with it on you then we’ve got nothing to do with it, understand?’
‘But Tommo, mate, you went to Eton as well!’
‘I know Mungo, shut the hell up!’
A girl holding a near-empty glass of red wine approached them from across the bar.
‘Excuse me,’ she said, her vowels sliding in much the same way as her dopey eyes, ‘but you’re making really rather a lot of noise, would you mind either being a bit more quiet or leaving?’
‘What is this place!?’ said Maxxy to Tommo, then turned straight back to the anaesthetised youth. ‘Tell me where our stuff is now or I am actually going to smack you in the face.’
‘It’s in my roooooomm mate, chill ouuuttt yaaahh? Just take, like, a chill pill…’
‘I am literally going to kill you.’
‘Where’s your room?’ demanded Tommo. ‘We’ll get it if you’re so bloody useless.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said the girl again in her slow, unaffected manner, ‘I don’t know if you actually heard me, but we’d really appreciate it if you made a bit less noise?’
‘This isn’t Cheltenham Ladies’ College,’ Maxxy heaved haughtily.
‘Actually my cousin went to CLC,’ said the girl. ‘Oh my god, are you even in Wills?’
‘No we’re not in Wills!’ said Tommo. ‘Mungo, where is your room?’
‘Oh my god, like, if you’re not in Wills then, like, what are you actually doing here, like, I’m not joking but why are you in our bar?’
‘Jesus…’ hissed Maxxy. ‘Mungo, tell us where your room is and we’ll get it ourselves.’
‘K Block, here’s the key,’ slurred the Old Etonian. ‘I don’t keep it open in case people come and steal my stuff. Like, I’ve got about three grand’s worth of stuff in there. If you steal anything I’m literally going to call the police.’
‘Right,’ said Maxxy, taking the key off the withering lump, ‘Let’s find K Block.’
The boys made a swift exit out of the bar and through the enormous wooden door out onto the Old Quad of Wills Hall.
It was Friday night in Stoke Bishop, and the boys had come up to Wills to collect a bag of marijuana off Tommo’s old school friend Mungo Johnston. The sky was rich and dark and blue. It was the kind of sky that you feel you have to savour when it occurs, that is entirely clear of clouds and allows the moon to shine all the more silver and make all the earth-bound things on the ground seem like the hilarious set to an epic theatre. The Old Quad of Wills lay quiet and empty beneath it. There was a rumour behind Wills Hall that it had been built in the style of an Oxbridge college because one unfortunate son of the wealthy and historically dubious Wills family had failed to get into Oxford, so his father had simply built him a lookalike in Bristol. To this day it still fulfilled its use as a hall for people who wished they were really at Oxford.
Maxxy and Tommo crossed the Old Quad, found the door to K Block and let themselves in. Before they had a chance to so much as step towards the stairs, however, a boy with swept hair and stout, rat-like features poked his head through the first door on the left and stared at them impudently.
‘Who are you?’ he snapped in a fine-gravel, public-school voice.
‘The police, mate,’ said Maxxy, who had firmly left the mood to bother himself with the residents of Wills.
‘No, seriously, who are you? If you don’t tell me who you actually are I’ll call security. You’re not in this block.’
Maxxy and Tommo gave each other a withering look.
‘Sorry mate, we don’t talk to twats.’
‘If you don’t tell me your names right this second I’m going to call security.’
‘I dare you.’
‘Do you know who I am? Obviously I can’t tell you my real name otherwise you might report it, because I’m in pretty high journalistic demand.’
‘What actually is this place?’ said Tommo to Maxxy, who looked perplexedly at the rich runt in red trousers and a cricket jumper.
‘My first cousin is a rather senior member of the royal family, I’ll have you know, and if you don’t tell me who you are then I’ll have to assume that those reporters from the Daily Mail will find you and you’ll tell them all about where I am, and they’ll come hunting for stories again. Now tell me who you are this instant.’
‘I think I’m going to punch him in the face,’ said Tommo, but before he had the excited chance to do so, the door behind them opened and in walked two familiar faces: Ray and Stevie, two of Maxxy’s good mates in Wills.
‘Hello lads!’ they said, with hand slaps abounding. ‘Ah, I see you’ve met Charlston.’
‘Do you know these louts?’ said Charlston.
‘Yes we do, Charlston, now leave them alone. They’re not Daily Mail reporters.’
‘Can’t be too careful when you’re in my position,’ said the rat, who sniffed suspiciously at Maxxy and Tommo.
On their way up the stairs Maxxy and Tommo explained that they were picking weed up off Mungo, and it was decided that Ray and Stevie would come down to Badock with them to smoke with their friends. Then, in Mungo’s room as Maxxy searched the drawers for their weed, Tommo noticed a gold ring lying on the desk.
‘What’s that?’ he asked.
‘It’s his signet ring,’ said Ray. ‘He’s always going on about how he’s descended from some big aristocratic family. I’m surprised he’s not wearing it to be honest.’
Tommo looked at Maxxy with a cunning sneer crossing onto his face. ‘Let’s take it.’
‘Take it?’ said Maxxy.
‘Yeah, let’s really piss him off. He was being an arse.’
‘That would really annoy him!’ said Stevie. ‘Do it!’
‘I’ll give it back to him when he realises it’s gone,’ said Tommo, pocketing it. Maxxy laughed gleefully at the plan.
With weed acquired, they set off back down the hill to Badock, and Ray turned the conversation onto one he knew Maxxy would find interesting.
‘Do you still like that girl, Maxxy?’
‘Which girl?’ said Maxxy, knowing precisely whom he meant.
‘Sapphy!’ cheered Tommo. ‘We all had a good night with Sappy at Motion last week, didn’t we!’
‘Why what happened last week?’ said Stevie, who, despite having given up smoking, was making his way through the sixth cigarette of the day.
‘The guy she was with punched her in the face!’
‘He was trying to punch me!’ laughed Maxxy as that outstanding memory came vividly back to him. ‘He thought I was going to get with Sapphy, so he tried to punch me, missed, and punched her straight in the face!’
‘That is unbelievable. So it’s over, yeah?’
‘Not sure that relationship’s gonna recover, if I’m honest.’
‘I haven’t seen her since though.’
‘She’s so hot,’ said Ray, ruminating. ‘I see why you fancy her.’
‘Yeah mate, but there’s another girl coming tonight who, to be honest, I quite like.’
‘What, you’ve got your eye on someone else now?’
‘Well, no, I mean, I fancy the pants off Sapphy, but she’s difficult to pin down. I’ve got to get laid somehow.’
‘Yeah mate,’ said Stevie. ‘Men’s needs.’
‘Men’s needs,’ they all agreed as they reached Badock.
The lads entered Unit 4, overlooking the quad, and headed up to the top floor. At the door to the right bedroom, Maxxy knocked, and the sound of frenzied talking and laughing silenced with the beating of music. ‘Who is it?’ said a girl’s voice, and just underneath could be heard the sound of someone saying ‘febreze the room in case it’s security.’
‘Let us in, Connie,’ said Maxxy, ‘or we’ll smoke it all ourselves!’
The door was promptly opened, and the lads entered into a room full of Badock residents. Maxxy’s mates were all there: Doogie, Nick, Swag, Ferg and Plum, as well as their friends Nikki, who had a notorious liking for Doogie, Connie and Isla – whom Maxxy had a surreptitious fancy for, and who secretly had an equal liking for him. But there was also one other girl, and to Maxxy she was the most important of all – of course she was, because she was Sapphy!
‘Maxxy!’ said everyone when he entered, but somehow it seemed to come with more enthusiasm from Sapphy’s lovely mouth. It was that habit she had of making you feel as if you were the most important person in the world.
‘No time to waste lads!’ said Doogie, having just broken off conversation with Nikki. ‘Let’s get that joint going!’
Tommo passed the weed to Nick, who swiftly began rolling a joint. The door was locked and a towel placed over the bottom to stop smoke seeping into the corridor, and the music was resumed along with the conversation. Ferg plugged himself back in and was trying out his latest DJ set, his baseball cap covering his face as he looked down to mix. Nick and Swag continued debating the potential uses of MDMA after watching an episode of Drugs Live, and Ray and Stevie positioned themselves by the window and proceeded to chain-smoke whilst simultaneously waving off any suggestions that they smoke regularly.
Maxxy made certain he sat next to Sapphy because he was drawn to her like a flower to sunlight.
Isla sat to his right, and she let her forearm lie gently against his side. The conversation began to roll forcefully onwards.
‘I just think it’s such a big problem,’ Connie was saying. ‘I just can’t work here. Like, there are just too many distractions. I’ll sit down to work and then it’s like, ooh, facebook, or, ooh, my phone’s ringing, or whatever.’
‘I can never be by myself,’ said Isla. ‘There’s too much happening around here. And I get so stressed when I have to work by myself. I need, like, something to de-stress me.’
‘Like sex,’ said Swag, and the lads laughed.
‘Yeah,’ said Isla, but she didn’t say it in any way ironically. She said it as if Swag had hit upon a secret desire in her heart. She had replied as if he had recommended she go on holiday, which, to her, was in some ways what a sexual experience was. ‘That’s exactly what I need.’ Her eyes flitted sideways over Maxxy in a way she imagined to be nigh on invisible, but she had underestimated the outstanding attention young men find they give to potential sexual partners, and he had noticed it.
Maxxy glanced equally invisibly at Sapphy, but she was showing the world that she was focussed on her phone. He wanted to see some sign that she had noticed Isla’s persuasion towards him, and he wanted to feel her hushing some jealousy that had sprung up in her like a newly found spring; but instead he simply received the relentlessly well-meant indifference of her eyes looking elsewhere. He turned back to the room and felt again Isla’s arm surreptitiously brushing his side, because she had briefly removed it when the room was looking at her, and now she slid it back.
Plum, remembering Maxxy’s predicament, decided to wade in.
‘So what happened with Chris then Sapphy? After, you know, what happened at Motion last week.’
There was a small gurgle before a general eruption of laughter around the room.
‘There’s not really any good way of asking it!’ he laughed, and Sapphy laughed just as heartily.
‘Oh, he’s a sweet boy,’ she laughed, ‘but I think that he’s going to have to sit on the naughty step for a while.’
‘It’s over,’ she nodded. ‘I think I’m going to have to look in places other than the rugby team to find a suitable man.’
Maxxy clenched his hand in celebration. The first joint began circulating the room.
‘How do you do it, Sapphy?’ said Isla, now placing her head in her hand and her elbow on Maxxy’s knee, which surprised him and didn’t thrill him as much as he thought it would. ‘You know. Make people fall in love with you.’
‘Yeah Sapphy,’ said Connie, imitating Isla with a joke voice full of adoration and placing her head in her hands, ‘you’re just so wonderful, tell me how to be you.’
‘Oh, Sapphy,’ joined in Nick, ‘why are you just the best?’
Everyone laughed at the isolation of Sapphy for her loveliness, although of course it thinly covered the level of jealousy they all felt for her.
Sapphy laughed, and on some level this attention annoyed her, but with all the authenticity in the world she didn’t know quite what to say. ‘I don’t think I do make people fall in love with me! I’m far too much of a boy for that.’
This of course was ironically exactly why people fell in love with her. Maxxy stayed quiet as the joint reached him and he began to drag needfully at it.
‘But everyone fancies you,’ said Nikki, using this interjection to keep Doogie interested in the topic.
‘Ah, they’re all jealous,’ said Maxxy after a moment. ‘I don’t fancy you at all.’
There was the slightest, smallest, most acute and most pregnant pause Maxxy had ever perceived with his dope-filled senses. Then the lads collapsed into hysterics, and he suddenly felt enormously self-conscious because they were giving away his blatant love for Sapphy. But then he didn’t care, because he was stoned, and in his way he wanted her to know.
Sapphy looked at him for a second, then looked away bashfully.
‘I’m sure you don’t, Maxxy,’ she said, and in one fertile second laid her hand on his hand and scratched it affectionately with her finger, and then removed it. That was all Maxxy needed for his eyes to be opened wide and to think: ‘It’s on.’
Isla, however, stubbornly pushed herself even closer to Maxxy. Suddenly he felt confused. ‘What do I do?’ he thought, ‘I could get with Isla easily, that’s a given; but what if I tried even harder and I could get with Sapphy?’
The second joint of the evening began circulating, and as the night waved soulfully on like a boat shorn of its sails, more joints followed, and before long the assembled crowd were full-steaming-stoned. The world had become a very pleasant place to be.
Tommo’s phone rang. ‘Yeah, Mungo, what is it?… Why, are you coming down?… We’re in unit 4, room 4303… Yeah, sure. See ya.’
‘What did he want?’ asked Maxxy, the emotional tranquillity of the weed sitting comfortably in his veins.
‘He’s going to come down and smoke with us. I wonder if he’s noticed his signet ring is gone!’
‘He must have done!’
‘He was pretty out of it though. I’ll bet he hasn’t.’
A few minutes passed, and Tommo’s phone rang again.
‘Yeah Mungo, are you here?… What?… You’ve what!?… Oh my god, you are such a bastard… You’re a dickhead Mungo!’ He ended the call and threw his phone on the bed.
‘What is it?’ they all said.
‘He’s called security!’ fumed Tommo. ‘He immediately saw his signet ring was gone so he’s sent security to our room!’
‘Shit!’ hissed Connie, ‘The room stinks of weed!’
‘They’ll be here in minutes, quick febreze everything! Maxxy, hide the weed!’
Maxxy jumped up to grab the baggy, and Isla jumped up at the same time.
‘I’m gonna get out of here,’ he said as he made for the door.
‘Wait!’ said Connie. ‘Take my jumper, it reeks.’ She threw her jumper over her head and thrust it on Maxxy.
‘Okay…’ mumbled the startled hipster. ‘Someone febreze me.’
Connie produced her bottle of febreze and sprayed him down, then did the same to the others and then to the room.
‘I’ll come with you,’ said Isla as he made for the door, and Maxxy didn’t complain. In the corridor outside they immediately heard the heavy sound of security crunching up the stairs, and they head in the opposite direction.
‘Where do you want to go?’ said Isla as soon as they were around the corner. ‘I’m in unit 7 if you want to come to my room?’
‘Ah, hold on. Tommo has Mungo’s ring, he might need me to take it. Security might search him.’
He paused and tried to think about what to do. He could have Isla now if he wanted to, because all the barriers were gone and all the mores and social fretting had evaporated from their attraction for tonight. For tonight that is – he worried about what he might think tomorrow, when he had slept with a girl who in truth he did not fancy, and sacrificed a potential liaison with Sapphy for it. Then he would be kicking himself.
‘I’ll text him.’
‘Be quick, security are right there!’
As she said this, the sound of footsteps came to them from down the corridor, but as they turned to begin walking away again, Sapphy produced her lovely figure from around the corner.
‘Maxxy, quick!’ she said, thrusting her hand out. ‘Tommo told me to give you this.’
She produced Mungo’s ring and he took it in his uncertain fingers. She gave him a strangely communicative look, but Maxxy was too damned illiterate to read what it said.
‘I’m going out this way, are you guys coming?’
‘Well, hold on,’ said the hipster, suddenly realising that he did not want to be travelling with both of his prospects at the same time. ‘Where should we go?’
‘It doesn’t matter, Maxxy, just the hell out of here!’
‘Well I’m not…’
‘For god’s sake, let’s go!’
At that very moment Maxxy looked up the corridor and saw the black boots of security emerging. He turned round and found, to his disbelief, that both Sapphy and Isla had disappeared – and he was left holding the ring in his hand, and a strong-smelling jumper in his other, and with a strong-smelling bag of marijuana in his pocket.
‘Hello mate,’ said one of the two enormous security guards in his hefty West Country accent. ‘Can I ask you a couple of questions?’
‘What’s that you’ve got there?’ said the other one.
‘Oh Christ,’ said Maxxy, gulping down the last of the night as it ebbed away before his desperate eyes.