The door opened and the Scottish singer emerged. I stared at him in some surprise.
He was shorter than my imagination had prepared me for. Also, I hadn’t expected the turban.
As he stepped out, he saw me looking. I must have stared longer than I had intended as he demanded, “Wha’ the feck are youse lookin’ aht?”
Ch 37 – Smuggler.
The Sikh man had a close trimmed black beard. A tangerine coloured turban and a scowl. He didn’t like being stared at. No one does when they are buckling up having come out of a stall.
“Well, pal?” He asked again. The anger not in his eyes. He was more wary than angry. This was bravado. He was the man I wanted, all right.
“If youse wanna suck on ma’ broon man-hood, it’ll cos youse more than tha’ ghayboy grin.”
He wasn’t worried about committing sexual hate crimes. Being genderphobic or racist. Being a minority himself, he knew he was above the law. Though as a Sikh, only a little above the law. Sikh’s ranked only slightly above Jews in the lefty top trumps of victimhood. Being a Sikh was the equivalent of a pair of eights. You wouldn’t want to have to bet much on it.
“I’m looking for someone,” I said to the Scots Sikh.
“An’ youse thorgh’ they’d be takin’ a dump in thar, wi’ me?”
“They are you. I’m looking for you.”
“Go piss yerself.” he said angrily. But it was forced.
He’d been looking at my face. I could feel the bruises from the fight in the basement. They would be showing now. Cuts too probably. And even after Nina’s ministrations, the ear and head wound would be clearly visible at this close distance.
The lights in this toilet were good. This wasn’t a club. It was a cafe. A daytime place of business. And the fixtures and décor and ambiance were all what you’d expect in a London tourist zoned cafe, restaurant and bar.
In a movie a scene like this confrontation would have a thumping bass soundtrack and sequin clad, waif thin models snorting coke while hanging off the arms of Mafioso types.
In here it was just the sound of a hand dryer running. Someone whistling. And what sounded like sobbing from the far stall. The thumping bass hardcore was in fact ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’ Playing at a very low level.
The owners liked to ensure this place had a very respectable appearance.
Patrons were requested to be discreet too. That way everyone got what they wanted.
He moved to brush past me. Going for a shoulder barge. But I was ready for it.
Braced with by back against the sinks. He wasn’t big. Even though the turban gave him the appearance of height. He struck my chest but I didn’t move and he bounced back a step. I raised my good arm and pressed the palm against his chest.
“Why don’t we get a cup of coffee? We can get to know each other better. We might have some common interests.”
“Ahh doh’drink coffee. Tha’s fer poufs.”
“You can drink tea. Or Whiskey. Or Orangina for all I care. Let’s go.” I moved aside so he could get to the basin. He stepped forward and put his hands under the autotap that gave just a hint of water to wash with. The ‘Climate Emergency’ had been running so long there wasn’t much left for the ecoloons to moan about us all wasting.
The man was watching me in the large mirror. I looked into his eyes. Not threatening. Just steady. Sending the message that the bank was open and it was time for business.
“Arl righ’ then. But if youse touches me, ar’ll pull off your cock wi’ ma own hands.”
He did seem pretty homophobic. I hope he wasn’t in the closet of denial. They were deranged.
“Whatever makes you happy,” I told him. “let’s go.”
We left the toilets and I sought out a table on the upper level. On the rim of the circular mezzanine. We could easily look down on the lower floors from up there.
He’d be more relaxed being able to see who was coming and going. So would I.
I ordered a coffee and he ordered green tea. Staring at me challengingly as he pushed the buttons on the screen for his choice. Daring me to make a comment about his hot drink. He also ordered a peppered Hukki sausage.
“I like ..hot..things .. in ma’ mouth.” he told me. Then he jabbed another button under a picture of a doughnut. “I like to lick a nice..sweet…ring too…” He said both lines in a semi-husky voice. A sexual hint in the tone. “A lovely…BIG…piece o’ meat.. Fits tight ‘n a sticky ring, Eh?”
I think he was just challenging. He didn’t know who I was. And was worried I was some form of policeman. He was just trying a few options. Hoping I’d come out and try and arrest him for innuendo.
Which was every bit as much of a hate crime these days as actual hate crime. Then he’d play his trump card. That he was a special minority, who could not be touched.
Not because he was lucky enough to posses brown skin. But for his Scottish passport.
Scotland was, like the rest of the UK, both in, and out, of the EU. The difference was England and Wales were in a holding pattern where they had left, but hadn’t left.
Were still paying in. Still subject to all and every law regulation. Until the EU allowed Backstop2 to lapse. Sometime never.
Scotland, having voted to leave the UK, was now in the waiting room to re-join the EU.
It paid in nothing. Deliberately aligned itself to each and every EU regulation it could. It received huge subsidies from both the EU, who were desperate to get them to sign up to the Federal States Membership and to cause endless mischief with a second, hostile land border for the UK.
They also received plenty of cash from the UK, since the doubling of the Barnett formula under the short lived Corbyn coalition of idiocy, to persuade them to remain in the UK.
It was Scottish lorries that had the papers to travel throughout the UK.
English and Welsh trucks were subject to the insane green regulations that made them almost impossible to run in any cost effective way. Scots trucks also had all the same, mad taxes, but were exempted from them in England, by the English parliament. And exempted from them in Scotland, by a special EU, transition period of compliance. That only ended in 20xx.
Scottish citizens did not need to show papers. Did not need to halt at a hard border, unless specifically instructed to do so by customs officers. Who had to have a very good reason.
Scottish industry and business was subsidised by both the EU and the UK. It was booming. Even after the best efforts of their communist government of the Nippy One, which was trying desperately to redistribute it all to poverty, they were doing well.
Scottish courts were superior to UK courts. Even though Scottish courts were no longer anything to do with the rest of the UK.
That’s how badly the Jockxit negotiations, led by true scots, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, had gone. If you thought Brexit was a nightmare.
Well..look north, friends. Look north.
The fact my table companion was a Scot, was exactly the reason I had sought him out. I wanted a Scot. His ethnicity was just the, illegal icing, on the red traffic light calorie warning symbol, on the cake.
“Good to know,” I replied. Replying to his attempts to draw some homophobic comments. “I’m currently a bit of a hot item myself.”
“Oh, aye?” He looked at me for a second, then away. His poker face wasn’t good. He should probably have a better one in his line of work.
“Why’s tha’ then?”
“What’s your name?” I asked him.
“Gill. Wh’as yours?”
“Whays youse a hot item, then, Joe?”
“Where are you heading after here, Gill? Going back to the borders?”
“Aye. Wha’ of it?”
“I want to go North,” I told him.
“It’s tha’ a’away,” he replied. Pointing vaguely towards Camden. “You’se ken ge’ a bus.”
“I have a conviction. I can’t cross the border.”
“Conviction? ‘Fer wha?”
That got his attention. He looked more interested now.
Scotland’s chronic drug and alcohol problems had long been a political football for the Socialist. Communist. Unionist. Green and SNP parties. Each promising to be tougher than the other in dealing with the issue. And, as was always the case, the more draconian the proposals, the more likely they were to be described as ‘Not going far enough,’ by the other side.
Scotland had managed to kill its own Whisky industry. Which was now based in Berwick and Belfast. Scotland had slapped first 10%. Then 15%. 20%. 50%, and finally an escalator that added 99%, taxes, every year, to cigarettes and booze.
Prohibition was alive and well in the Republic Of Sturgeon.
And although there were undoubtedly significant health benefits to the citizens of Aberdeen, with their reduced alcohol consumption. That was somewhat offset by the likelihood of being killed or maimed in one of the many daily gun battles that raged in all the major towns and cities, all the time. In Stornoway, a major smuggling port now, there were more Albanians than there were native Scots. And more people died by gunshot than from old age.
Alcohol infusion was the crime of adding back the alcohol content, to bottles that had been declared below the legal 0.001% content. And labelled and documented to say so.
Easy to ship, as they were legal. Had all the right stamps and customs marks. The Scottish court papers. The testing and approved for sale e-documents.
Though was being shipped was the original, pre-independence strength bottles.
“Wha’ sor’ o’ thing?” Gill asked me.
“Vodka mainly. Russian. It ships from St Petersburg. Into Rotterdam. For export to the USA. I have a contact that switches manifests. The USA gets the ‘For Scottish Import Only’ stuff. Which they send back to the Russians. For re-export. Their cut comes from the sale of the ‘Not-For-Sale-In-Scotland,’ Vodka, in the People’s Republic.”
He was definitely interested now. His hands flat on the table. No more fiddling with the menu order buttons.
“Wha’ proof is tha? Thirtae percent?”
“Thirtae Severn? Smirnoff then?”
“Yes. I told you. Russian Vodka.”
I could see he was calculating the profit. 37% proof. Cut down to 5% or 6% that would go a long, long way. With Vodka it was simple. Ordinary tap water would do.
That’s why I had chosen Vodka for this lie. The biggest margin with the easiest distribution. He was thinking it over. I could see greed in his eyes. He was thinking about adding some flavourings. Peach was best. But even apple or orange could do.
All only added to the price. The sugar tax was at 45% at present.
“Wha’ youse talkin’ aboot here? Who many cases? Five or so?”
“I’m talking eight hundred.”
“Eight hindred!” His eyes popped wide. “Wi’ wha’? Six bottles a case?”
A lesson I had learned from the likes of Oliver Letwin and Lord Bixby. If you are going to tell a lie. Make it a whopper.
“Ten,” he said back. Reflecting on the easy maths. 8000 bottles.
“I, if I wer’ tha’ sort of person. An’ ah’m nae sayin’ I am, OK? I can nae shif’ eigh’ hindred cases.”
“They aren’t for you. I’m not selling. They are for me to sell. To my contacts. You would just get a fee for getting me across into Scotland.”
“Cases.” I explained “Obviously, I meant cases. I’m not trying to waste your time.”
I had picked an amount I thought he could handle. He looked small time. Though I didn’t know him at all.
But it was a reasonable guess. If he was a big time smuggler, he wouldn’t be in here.
He’d be somewhere better. And if he were smaller time, he’ wouldn’t be here at all.
Ten cases I thought was an amount that he could sell on to a gang, with minimal risk.
Making himself forty five Scottish-Euro-Pounds a bottle.
I wondered if he was a bit thick. Ten bottles was home consumption levels. Not worth the risk. The penalty was high if caught. Travel ban was just the most minor consequence. But I saw he had licked his lips. Sikhs generally didn’t take Alcohol.
And never tobacco. He seemed to be an exception. He looked very excited at the thought of some hard liqueur.
He could, of course, get alcohol in London. They sold it right here in this cafe. They had a licence to do so. It was horrendously expensive. But not as expensive as in Scotland. Not by a long way. And it wasn’t watered down. It was, what it was.
But he couldn’t legally cross the border with any he bought in England. It would be confiscated and he’d face customs officers for attempting it. The penalty for alcohol smuggling and customs duties evasion was very severe. While the people smuggling penalty, if caught, was little more than a slap on a wrist.
He might be a home drinker. He was certainly excited enough to be one. Like Alistair Campbell in the green room at the BBC.
“I want you to take me to Scotland, to do the deal I need to do, Gill. I’ll give you ten cases of premium Russian Vodka, once we are across the border.”
“Wher’ is this Vodka noo?” He asked.
A reasonable question. He was getting suddenly suspicious. Sensing a deal too good to be true. Which it was.
“It’s in Dunbar.” That wasn’t too far from the border. I hoped that would make him worry less. But it didn’t. He wasn’t a fool.
“Ah’m nay goin’ drive youse to Dunbar, a then’ hope youse pays me! Wha’ de youse take me fer? Ah may have a funny hat and be a bit tinge. But I nay just got off a tha boot.”
“Gill. Look at me. And pay attention. Because I thought you were a serious business professional. I hope I haven’t made a mistake and wasted both our time. I said I would give you ten cases for getting me across the border. And I will. But naturally, I will pay you for the transaction of getting me to the border, also.”
I put my hand in the jacket pocket and felt one of the envelopes of cash Nina had generously given me without any conditions.
I took it out and placed it under my hand on the table. Then pushed the wad across to him.
He dropped his hand over it and pulled it onto his lap. He dropped a paper napkin down over his hands as he began thumbing through the notes. Doing a quick count.
“No need to count it Gill. I’m going to ask for that back in just a second. But I wanted you to see I have the money. I want you to take any five notes out at random. Check them to be sure they are genuine. I’m going to give you two thousand Euro-Pounds to take me, just to the border.”
He looked up from his counting. The money having got his attention. I wanted to seal this deal now, so I continued, “And another three, once we are across. The moment we are over you can have that sum. If you take me to Dunbar, you can have another thousand. And, of course, the crates of Vodka.”
It was an insane price. It wasn’t illegal to travel to the border. It was just very difficult. Unless you were wealthy. Bixby level of rich was required.
Trucks and lorries and vans did travel the route all the time. And people paid to sit in the cabs, even though haulage firms never allowed that. Tthe cab cameras made sure the employed drivers did not do it. But there were enough self employed drivers these days. With the margins being so good on the different tax rates between the countries.
If you could get around the insane green legislation and taxes on transport.
Road travel was considered a sin, by the ever present green lobby of the Extinction Rebellion Cult. But flying or sea travel was a mortal sin. So there was still more road travel than they would have liked. Especially with the solar powered railways being so unreliable in the British weather.
Two thousand for that journey was mad. He’d have done it for five hundred. He was certainly not travelling empty to Scotland. He’d be carrying whatever his cargo was and whatever other items he was stashing alongside the legitimate goods. He was already making money without mine. He would be committing no crime if he was stopped and I was with him. Having crossed no borders.
But I wanted him to know I was serious. And I wanted him to be convinced I would pay him out after we crossed. Which I would. It was only at Dunbar when I would dump him. Going into some warehouse and disappearing while he waited for the non existent vodka deal to be done.
I turned my arm that was resting on the table, over. So that the big, black and purple bruise on my wrist would show. It looked very fresh and very mean. I wanted him to think I was in some kind of gang. Was used to violence. I motioned with my fingers for him to give me back the cash. The muscles in my forearm hurt like hell from the movement.
He finished checking a few random notes. Put them back in the envelope and passed them all back. I wouldn’t have handed the notes over to a Romanian that way. A Romanian smuggler would have siphoned off half already and were so good at sleight of hand, I would have trouble knowing they had done it.
He looked like he was hooked. The corners of his mouth turning up in an involuntarily grin. I was just about to cement the deal with a drink, when a deep voice from just behind me exclaimed loudly, “Well, well. Look who we have here. If it isn’t the man everyone’s been looking for.
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file