12. A Man of a Thousand Pieces

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It was not the first time I had done business with O'Carroll, though it had been nigh on three years since I had seen the man in these exact same circumstances

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It was not the first time I had done business with O'Carroll, though it had been nigh on three years since I had seen the man in these exact same circumstances. I grunted in reply, not wishing to admit to him any more than he already supposed.

He made comment on how much more refined I looked now compared to when I had frequented his shop in days past, in awe of how I'd turned my life around, though quite perplexed by how I had done it. He asked me about the scar on my face running from nose to lip and, when I offered him no reply, he scoffed, nodded and said: "I see you are still chasing that foolish hobby of yours. You'll never change, Joseph."

I had no love for his small talk or boorish observations, and beckoned him with a gloved forefinger. He complied and produced a stained, unlabelled brown bottle from beneath his counter; the sight of which bred a familiar, obnoxious prickling on the roof of my throat.

"Twenty drops should see you through the night," said he as he handed me a small vial of liquid of a rich, chestnut hue.

I produced a second penny. "Make it fifty."

The loose skin on his bristly neck swayed as he shook his head, though I would sooner he left me dry than surrender my request. "Something tells me that the absent lustre in your eyes is no mere symptom of insomnia. Your nightmares must be truly insufferable."

Growing impatient, I tipped the liquid onto my tongue, caught on the verge of retching from the bitterness of it. It was a taste from my youth I had grown accustomed to, but now, after several dozen months of abstinence, I was most surprised I could stomach the vile tincture at all.

"Nightmares, O'Carroll? You have no idea," I told him, and slammed the vial on the counter in disgust at myself.

I dared not step foot in Tom Rawlings' home under the influence of opiates, however mild. The man was adamant that he would not tolerate or excuse the misuse of narcotics in his household – he was, in fact, one of the few people I knew of who also detested cigarettes, complaining that the smell of tobacco upset his digestion. Although ... from conversations with his wife, Ida, I had come to understand that my landlord had not been quite so above it all when first they met.

Alone in an alley off Clement Street proper I huddled against the brick aspect of an estate agent's, curling the nicks of a weather-beaten poster of some greatly inflated concert cellist whose name I did not remember. It may have been but the tincture's spell asserting its influence, but true enough at the time, I might have sworn the young man in the poster was laughing down at me; his unseeing eyes according me a snide frown.

Notwithstanding, I let the drug welcome me into its airy embrace, releasing me from the sobriety of a gentleman's life and teasing forth the grin of a fool, though by which variety of amusement I would never know. It began with a queer sensation in the imaginary space between my eyes and the front of my brain, as if the waves of some blissful Far Eastern ocean bay swept out my thoughts like fine silt. I lolled my head against the poster, smiling for the heady euphoria that took me back to being an adolescent falling in love for the first time.

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