Tea with On The Road

I’d always been afraid of meeting Moriarty, for real.

But I guess I always wanted to, too. Martinsen was Moriarty, or could have been, but lets leave that at that. Sometimes I even forget I was there in Warwickshire, Heart of England. But that was before On The Road. I don’t know why we even had the book, or how I found it, come to that. Perhaps my Dad thought it was a bit dirtier than it was. Maybe it was a mistake. He had a pal who sold second hand books, Meakin’s Yard, it was. I remember the smell, the feel. It was hardback, there was no dust jacket, a slight mustiness about it. But, inside, it was like the revelation of a prophet from another world. Kerouc the prophet. I read some every night, after Luigi’s.

We used to get a taxi home, one, two in the morning. Karen, I think it was, used to sit on my lap. Well, she couldn’t sit on Salvio’s. And Lizzy, she’d be laughing and laughing. She took up half the space, in the back, just by herself. No seat belts. Maybe that only happened two, three times. It only has to have happened once to have happened. So I’d get out the book, when I got home, and drink tea. Everyone else was in bed. Sometimes Mike the Chef, he was Welsh, said why don’t you get a bottle of wine, Luigi’ll sell you one, to take home, but I never did.

I was drinking when I met Costello, though. It was a long, narrow bar, just in from the harbour.  A working harbour, not the pretty kind you see in postcards. Crowded and noisy, mostly foreigners, with a few Greeks eyeing the girls. I guess by then I could recognise him, too, but anyway a shaft of light shone down on him, from above, and everyone, it seems was listening to him.

I didn’t even need to say hi, we just started talking. He could talk about anything, Costello: going blind, hospital treatments, diabetes; someone wrote a play about him, he said, but most of all about some deal he was getting together in Sparti. I said something about the island, Helen and Paris’ island, I’d heard that was starting up again, but he wasn’t interested. He wanted to talk about Sparti.  We called it Sparti, like ex-pats, but we weren’t really ex-pats, we were kind of illegals, though we didn’t know it. “If the police stops us, no laughing”, that was Stefanos, the gangleader Costello was getting a team for, but all that came later. It always made us laugh.

I didn’t say anything about the bus. That’s when I first saw him, when he got on the bus at Lyon, with another English guy and two girls. The girls had deep tans. I don’t know if they were in the bar that night, but anyway they didn’t stick around. I’d got on in Paris. That’s another story. The answers yeah, if that’s what you’re thinking, I thought it would be somewhere to sleep. I sat next to a guy from Macedonia, I mean the old Macedonia in Greece, that was the only one then, the two of us talked a lot, but I didn’t talk to them, the four English. He thought there might be a military coup. He was going to vote Pasok, which was funny because I ended up sleeping in their office, but I didn’t know that then.  He got off at Thessaloniki. Maybe Costello and me said something in Yugoslavia, in one of those bleak roadside stops, but I think we just looked at each other, like the English do.

In Athens I just went  off, it was a Sunday, blank, dry heat .  .  .  I sometimes think I see him. Not now, not now I’m not in London, but in London, I’d think I’d seen him. Then I’d tell myself, no, he’s dead, but then I’d look again and it’d be him.

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It was in  London, about six months after Greece I saw him again. In Portland Street, outside the RIBA, opposite the Chinese Embassy. I remembered it, years later, when I was on a scraggy demo for Tibet. It was right there, where the police penned us in, that I’d  met Costello again. He’d just been working at the RIBA. He’d been using his other name, Paul Laurent, Laurent like the fashion designer, except he always said it dead English, LORunt, a bit like Laurent of Arabia, which always made us laugh, especially Sophie the French girl. But I hadn’t met her then.

He did the same thing when he worked for the government. Used his other name. Signed the Official Secrets Act, Paul Laurent, working in the Ministry of Information for three months till they pressed him for his NI number. So he left. He told me all this in a cafe, in Marylebone, one with high-backed padded benches and formica tables. He had to use his other name, I knew about that in Greece, because he’d told us he was supposed to be too sick to work. On account of his diabetes. But the money they gave him was outrageous, he used to say, so he worked as well.

He got me a job, too. I was doing something, it must have been market research, but he fixed me up with some ushering work, as well, evenings at a theatre. I could tell straight away when I got there and saw the woman that she was going to give me the job, just so she could have a piece of Costello around. She only asked me about him, really.  He never went back there, but everyone knew him. That’s how I met Sophie, Ron and the others.

We went off to Greece again. Costello wanted a break. He was trying to get a flat. He already had a flat, a housing association place in Hammersmith, but it was outrageous. He wanted them to give him another one, two bedrooms, at least, nice area. He got it, in the end, somewhere in Maida Vale, but that was a lot later.  But by then we’d lost touch again. No, we fell out. Had a big fight. He’d got married, too, I heard. He wasn’t someone you’d ever think would get married. But he married a beautiful, well, I’m guessing, but she must have been, beautiful Brazilian.

We didn’t fall out in Greece. I was pretty pissed off there, but not with Costello. We were on an island. Ron had a place there, he used to walk around naked. Like a grown up baby.  Altogether too many hippies, too many sybarites. I preferred Sparti. But we went north first. Up near Albania. Me, Sophie, Costello. Costello knew someone there. On the lake, Megali Prespa, it must have been.  We used to stare across it, at Albania, wondering what it was like. Which sounds weird now, with everybody going everywhere, tourists and refugees and hippies. But back then, no-one came out or went in. Maybe we felt sorry for them, seeing as we thought ourselves so free.

But we nearly didn’t get there. That was Costello again, wanting to go way up there. But then we got stuck in the middle of nowhere. No busses and the taxis wouldn’t take us. It didn’t matter about  the money. But then Costello got out his medical case. It had an aluminium body, he clicked it open on the counter of the taxi office. It was packed with insulin and hypodermic needles and other stuff all in neat compartments of black foam. He kept saying he was a doctor and he had to get through because someone was ill and needed the supplies. In the end they gave in, we got a taxi; it must have been a couple of hours along a dusty road.

The furthest we got was Rhodes. I hated that, too. Hippies, tourists, shops. I ran out of money, so had to get some work, shifting things on and off a truck for a Greek guy. By then, Costello’d had enough, took the plane back home. Which meant Sophie and me had to hitch, once I’d got enough money for the ferry to Athens. Costello’d given us the address of someone in France, in Gigondas, a Monsieur Alexandre, so we headed there.

 © Stephen Moore 2016