I keep myself to myself at the gym, don’t talk much. A nod or a “hello” or the occasional fist-bump is enough. My old man used to tell me that it’s always better to keep your mouth shut and be thought an idiot, than to open your mouth and be confirmed as one.
I got to know Jonty Jackson, though. He was a well-built blonde bloke, particularly big around his cannonball shoulders. He had so much muscle that his body hunched over as if to say: fuck it. Even though we’d struck up a rapport, it wasn’t until we began training together that I found out his name. I used to just call him “mate” or “buddy” or “bro”, because we were too far in for me to let it slip that I didn’t know his name.
We trained hard hard, played against each other’s strengths. The gains were fucking bang on. In weights, like life, the thing you don’t want to do is almost always the thing you should be doing. We pushed each other up the winding, slippery staircase of gains, and at the end of each session we were broken and breathless, because broken and breathless was the only way we could breathe.
He limped into the gym one night, squat night. He’d strained a calf when he’d hit parallel on a squat the week before, and his lower leg was still deciding whether to turn black or blue.
“Doesn’t that hurt?” I asked, as he ducked under the bar.
“Only when I’m sitting, standing, or lying down,” came the reply.
I knew he was on a dose of juice because I was on a dose and the son of a bitch was out-working me. Consistently. I cycled my shit – equal time on, equal time off. This lets your body recover from the bad medicine, and you make cracking gains on the rebound. I figured that Jackson wasn’t cycling, he was stuck in a perpetual cycle – he took the drugs and carried on rolling.
He trounced me with another set of perfect squats – arse completely to grass. I sat down on a bench, ran a finger across the constellation of calluses on my palm.
“How long have you been on?” I went.
The only sounds were the thud of tin and the din of the stereo when Jackson went: “I’ve been on since February.”
“Yeah? That’s not so bad.”
“February 3 years ago.”
I whistled. That was bad. I’d been on hard cycles before, and the shit shuts down your body’s natural production of testosterone. When I came off, my genitals were shriveled. Pulling my foreskin back was like watching the wrinkled head of a sick tortoise emerging from its shell. My balls were sucked up tight to the underneath, and I couldn’t even wank, let alone fuck.
“Stay on the shit much longer and when you come off you won’t even be able to nail a bird with someone else’s dick,” I teased, nonsensically. I extended the little finger on my right hand and wiggled it in his face. He slapped my hand away.
“When are you going to cycle off and start some HCG?” I asked.
“Fuck is that?”
I couldn’t believe it. The bastard was on all the gear, but he had no idea. I went: “HCG is Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, or, to give it the technical name, pregnant woman’s piss. Synthetic. Restarts your bollocks after a cycle of juice. Jab it into your gut with insulin pins.”
“Wing me some of that shit, will you?”
“Yeah, I’ll sort you out with a couple of boxes. I’ll ring Simon over in Old Town,” I said. I often sorted out my mates at the gym, in the hope that they’d restore the karmic balance if I was ever in need of a little something something.
“You’ll have to pick up the shit yourself, though. I’m banned from his gym for smashing their wooden floor through with a heavy deadlift.”
Jackson laughed. He pointed at the squat rack, and said quietly: “Your lift.”
We finished the squats, and then separated to do some accessory work. Jackson was as messy as fuck. Every time he’d finished with a dumbbell, he’d just drop it to the floor. Half an hour later, by the end of this workout, there were weights all over the fucking shop. We signed out of the book on the counter of the gym, and left to hit a greasy spoon on the high street. As we were walking through the car park of the gym, we ran into Marcus, the owner, just arriving. He slammed the door of his motor.
“Jackson, you put your weights away?” he asked.
“You sure you put your weights away?”
“Course I have.”
“You said that last time. You fucked off and I looked around the corner and there were weights everywhere. Took me ages to put them all away. If you’re big enough to lift it, you’re big enough to put it away,” that’s what I say.
Jackson took a step towards Marcus, and said it a little louder: “I’m telling you, I put my weights away.”
Marcus took a step back from Jackson, and sort of smiled it off: “Well…alright then. I’ll trust you. Thousands wouldn’t.”
As we were walking down the street, I heard Marcus’ voice through an open window: “That son of a bitch didn’t put his weights away!”
We walked to the café on the high-street. It had 4 tables and a counter and there was grease all over. It was quality. The sign on the shop-front read: SPEEDY PIZZA. The A was hanging on the piss.
I walked up to a small man on till who had hair like a bad bit of turf, and said: “Can I get a double pepperoni pizza, extra-large, with two portions of large chips and a Coke and a strawberry milkshake. Appreciated.”
Jackson went: “Can I get a cheeseburger with a triple-stack of meat and a dollop of that red hot fiery chilli shit you’ve got in that pot over there. Plus two portions of large chips and a Fanta.”
“Only got Diet Fanta.”
“Can’t be dealing with semi-skimmed. Give me a Dr Pepper.”
“You fellas want a salad with your chips?”
We both said in unison: “Fuck, no!”
Neither of us gave a fuck about being healthy with our diets. I’d shoot for 6000 calories a day, that was the Golden Number, and I didn’t give a fuck how I got them. We took a seat at a table in the corner, and I looked around to make sure I’d ordered at least double the amount anybody else in the place was eating. I noticed some sliver of a dude sat at a table, whopping into a salad. I shook my head at his choice of meal, made sure the little pecker saw me do it.
My eyes slid over to a fit bird ordering food at the counter. The arse on her would make a man wince – in a good way. Gear, particularly at the start of a cycle, always thrums the invisible cord connecting my brain and cock. Even before I started taking juice, though, every woman I’ve ever shagged had called me a sleaze, a pervert, a dirtbag. I agree with them.
The minute hand on my watch spun 5 times, and then the food was with us.
I said to Jackson between mouthfuls: “Why you been gunning gear for so long anyway, man? You aren’t competing.”
“Just trying to make the most of the shit, that’s all.”
“But it can get out of hand quicker than a bitch. How many times have you loaded up a syringe past the maximum fill-line just because you can get a little bit extra in the chamber?”
I was washing my pizza down. I’d refined a technique where I’d take a bite of food, a swig of water, slosh it around, and then swallow.
Jackson went: “Lots of times. If I had a quid for every time I’d done that, I’d have enough money to buy my next vial of gun juice.”
We both laughed. I’d been down that road, though, and Jackson wouldn’t be laughing when he tried to come off the shit. It feels like you’re stuck inside a crumbling tomb. The strength starts to bleed away before the mass, but that’s bad enough. You feel naked, exposed. And when the mass starts to go, you’re staring at your reflection in every mirror, wondering where you can go to escape the carnage.
Jackson loosened a defiant, stereophonic belch, and went: “I don’t know anybody who’s died from this shit, though. You remember Timmy from the Hammerhead gym? He used to nail his testosterone with speed mixed in, and that bastard’s still pushing tin.”
Jackson speared a chip with his fork, and raised it to his mouth.
“You forgotten about Mac?” I said.
The fork stopped several inches from Jackson’s mouth.
“Yeah, but Mac was a special case. He used to take all sorts of scatty shit, underground gear that had probably been bottled in somebody’s skanky bedroom. It’s no wonder that he finally blew.”
Jackson sent his chip down the hatch, and went for another. I nodded, slowly. I wanted to confront him further about his usage, but how far could I go? I was balls deep into the gear myself. We finished our food, eating less fiercely now, in a kind of quiet complicity to the illusion of safety that we’d all created.
“I’m off,” I said, standing up.
“You want to go out for a few bevvies up town?”
“Nah, man. Booze always brings me out with a right minging moon face when I’m on a dose.”
Jackson waved ta-ra at me, and said: “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
That left me plenty of fucking room for maneuver. I put my jacket on, buttoned the collar, and walked out into the rain. I swear this town has its own radius of shit weather.
Jackson missed our next 3 training sessions, which wasn’t unusual. He worked occasional shifts bouncing at a bar in town. The security got tired of chucking him out, so they stuck him on the door. Nonetheless, I asked Big Dave if he’d seen him. Every gym in England has a member called Big Dave. He is usually a bald, gigantic man (unless he is actually fucking tiny) and he has trained at the gym since the dawn of time. He is universally liked, not because he possesses any particularly likeable qualities, but because he offers nothing to actively dislike.
“You seen Jonty Jackson lately?” I asked him. He was stripping some weight plates off a bench-press, and slapping them onto a plate rack.
“Jonty Jackson? No. But I’d heard he’d moved to the Congo.”
“The Congo, huh?” I said. I was following him back and forth between the bench-press and the plate rack.
“Yeah. I’d heard he’d moved to the Congo and started living with a gorilla.”
A gorilla, huh?
“Male or female gorilla?”
He slapped his last weight onto the plate rack, and said: “Female, of course. There’s no way that Jonty Jackson would fuck a male gorilla.”
Fast forward 2 days. The phone rings at 2 a.m. I am asleep, was asleep. I stutter to life, covered in sweat, heart beating inside my chest, trying to remember a dream I’m only bound to forget.
“Who the hell is this?” I say. I didn’t get an answer. I hadn’t picked up the phone yet, you see.
I picked up the phone, and said: “Who the hell is this?”
I hadn’t recognised his voice. He sounded like shit, what I imagined shit to sound like. I rubbed sleep-dust from my eyes, and went: “What’s wrong, and why are you ringing me in the middle of the fucking night?”
“I’m sick. Feel as rough as houses.”
I yawned, and went: “There’s a rumour going around that the gear has killed you. I’ve got a bet with Marcus.”
“If you turn up at the fucking gym next week, I’m £50 down.”
“Think I’ve got a leg infection,” he went.
“Did you give your leg a going over with an anti-septic wipe before going in with the needle?”
“Gave it a quick rub,” he replied. The tone of his voice was shifty, evasive – a guilty little boy forced into admitting wrongdoing to a parent.
Fuck. Nailing gear without properly sterilising your skin is like fucking a bird without a condom. You can catch all sorts of nasty shit. “What does your leg look like?” I went.
“Red, swollen, canes like fuck. I’ve had to call in sick to work the last 3 days. Told them I’ve got the running shits, which I also have.”
I sat up in bed, and got to thinking. What Jackson was chatting was par for the course for injecting gear. You sometimes even get a golf-ball pop up because the gear is stuck between the muscle and skin. It’s hard to determine if you’re dealing with just a common injection site, or an infection.
“Bacteria is infinitely spiteful shit. Go to the hospital,” I suggested.
“Fuck that. You go up there and speak to some clean-shaven boy who couldn’t find his bollocks using both hands a mirror.”
“You could always wait until your leg rots off.”
“Nah, I’ve got somebody lined up to stick me and draw the gunge.”
“All the veins and shit in there. I hope your “somebody” knows the fucking score.”
“When you coming over, then?”
“Fuck your mother, I said, rapid-fire.”
“What if I hit a vein, flake out, and fucking bleed to death?”
“Jonty. I’m not a doctor. All I know is what I learnt in GCSE biology, and I fucking failed that. Nah, forget it.”
“Come on, bro.”
“Listen, mate. I’m a man of my word. I never go back on it. This situation is lunacy. You need to get yourself to hospital, and have a trained medical professional take a look at that leg. I’m telling you for the last fucking time, and I cannot emphasise this enough: I’m not carrying this shit on my conscience.”
In the motor on the way over to Jonty’s, I thought about what happened to Carl Stockford when he tried the same procedure Jackson was suggesting. Carl was a bicep fiend. I never saw him training anything else but his biceps. And he liked to feel the nick of the needle, too – used to “spot inject” gear straight into his biceps. The gains were top-draw until he contracted Septicaemia. He tried to back-pump the infection out using syringes, but it went tits-up. He wound up having a cube of the muscle cut out. He attempted to compensate for the loss by working his 1 remaining bicep twice as hard, but in the end he quit the gym and never came back. Fingers crossed we’d have better luck than that poor bastard.
I shored the motor up outside Jackson’s ground-floor flat, and put 1 foot in front of the other until I was outside the door. Knocked. Through the little porthole, I could see the light in the hall go on, and a substantial figure limping towards me. The door opened.
“Alright mate?” I went. Fucking stupid question. He looked pale, shaky, and weak. He was leaning against the door frame so heavily that you’d be forgiven for thinking that he was trying to stop the building from falling down.
“I’ll give you 1 goddamned guess,” he hissed.
I squeezed past him – down the hallway, into the kitchen. State of the fucking place. Stacks of dirty plates in the sink, the bin was over-flowing, and there was a general sense of engrained filth. Clean it out? You’d have better luck burning it out.
“I can see you’ve let the housekeeping go in your current state,” I said, gesturing at the shithole.
Jonty was hobbling in behind me. He responded: “The flat’s exactly the same as it’s always in. It’s my leg that’s the fucking problem.”
“Show us the damage, then,” I went.
He pulled a chair from under the table, collapsed into it, and hiked up his shorts. The infection was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. It was worse. 1 side of his leg had turned mad red from the shit sitting under the surface. The colour was brightest around where he’d jabbed, and spread out lighter down his quad. It was puffed-up, heavy with pus, and it reminded me of 1 of those fuck-off zits I used to develop from a heavy cycle of Tren.
“That’s what you get for treating your body like a pin-cushion. Not such a cocky wide-boy cunt now, are you?” I went.
“Could be worse, though.”
“Could be my fucking leg.”
I walked to the window. Ignoring a pang of pain from the gram of Sustanon I’d dropped into my own glute 3 days before, I asked: “So, how did this happen?”
The little boy spoke out from inside the muscle suit: “Been re-using the needles.”
“You’re an idiot,” I said. I pulled the volume of my voice way down, like my bitch ex-missus before the shit really hit the fan. I turned around to face Jackson, and went: “You can buy 50 pins for a fiver on the internet. You’ve burnt yourself through sheer fucking laziness!”
The only noise for 10 seconds was the tap dripping.
Jonty lowered his head into his hands.
“What are you going to do now then, Billy Big Balls?” I asked.
“What we talked about on the phone,” he said, talking through his hands.
“I told you I’m not doing it.”
“I’d be too shaky on the trigger,” he said, raising his head to look me in the eye.
“If I was in your position, the last bastard I’d want to do it would be me.”
He raised his face skywards, grabbed 2 great fistfuls of air, and shouted: “I’ve got nobody else to help me, for fuck’s sake!”
He said these words with such arse-dropping helplessness that I’d have been a right wank-stain to have not helped.
“I’ll do it,” I said. Jackson blew air from between his lips, and leant his head back so that it was resting on his traps. Saved. For now…
I went out to the car to get my needles. I always keep a vial of Test, a pack of chambers, and a pack of pins in my glove compartment. Just in case I get caught short. It’s not illegal to possess a personal supply of gear, and if the law searched my motor and found the needles, there’s no danger that they will confuse me with a skag head. I don’t have the gaunt look.
I re-entered Jackson’s house, tore a chamber and a pin from their respective packets, and screwed them together. I depressed the plunger several times to check for fluid motion. Jackson eyed me like a condemned man witnessing the hangman test the quality of his noose.
“You ready for this?” I went.
“Yeah,” he said.
Kneeling down in front of him, I took aim at the fattest part of his quad where there was less chance I’d hit a vein.
“Tell me if you ain’t ready, alright?” I went.
I put metal to flesh.
“I ain’t ready!” Jackson went.
I went in anyway. The skin resisted for what felt like a slow eternity. When the surface finally broke, a spatter of blood leaped out and painted the white-tiled wall of the kitchen behind me.
“You shithouse!” Jackson went.
I kept pushing until the pin was three-quarters in, and then shifted hand position so I could better work the plunger. I gently pulled on the thing, and what looked like a snotty nosebleed slowly began to crawl into the chamber. My stomach spun like a washing machine, and I could taste the froth of a chocolate protein shake I’d drank several hours earlier. It tasted better than the first time around.
I looked up at Jonty. He looked as bad as I felt, and probably felt worse than me and all.
“You alright, boss?” I asked.
The bastard was gone behind the eyes, was sliding off the chair. Nothing else for it – I gave him a slap across the face. Jonty Jackson re-entered the room.
“Thanks, mate. I was seeing squiggles,” he said, shaking some sense back into his head.
I shrugged, went: “You’re welcome. Nothing to it.”
I returned to work. I carried on pumping the plunger until I was drawing nothing but sloppy bubbles. Then I pulled out, ever so slowly. I walked over to the sink, and picked up a Gold’s Gym mug from the draining board. Hell of a mug. I squirted the contents of the syringe into it, and a scum of pus floated to the surface of the blood. I unscrewed the pin from the chamber, binned it, and screwed a fresh one into position. So that I didn’t push the infection deeper into Jackson’s leg with each contaminated jab.
“You ready for round two?” I went, lining up the needle.
“Yeah, but you got to give me some warning or a countdown this time, man.”
“Countdown? You pussy. For fuck’s sake, alright.”
I took aim.
“Thanks, bro, Jackson went.”
I plunged the needle straight in. Countdown my left nut.
“Oh, you twisted lump of cunt!” Jackson squealed, gripping his leg at the sides.
This time, the needle went in easy – it was like jabbing a rotten apple. I dug in way too deep, and Jackon’s leg did a rigour-mortis shuffle.
“You snagged a nerve. I can feel it in the roots of my fucking teeth,” Jackson snarled. His face was like a tiger’s face crushed into a man’s face.
“Sorry mate,” I said, reaching across for a paper towel to mop up the blood leaking down the side of his leg. The kitchen was beginning to look like some bastard had hacked up some other bastard, and had been particularly messy whilst he was at it.
“What do you think this is, a game of fucking darts?”
“You want another slap?”
Jackson snorted, scowled, and pulled his hoody over his head. I dabbed away some more excess blood, and resumed my needle work. Neither of us spoke for several minutes.
“I’ve fucked up,” Jackson said, finally.
“You might get out of it, yet.”
“Yeah? I owe you, brother.”
I went: “But if you don’t get a grip on your gear intake, I’m going to collect your fucking kneecaps.”
The prick was blessed. The rest of the operation went off without a hitch. I fed him some painkillers, bandaged the wound, helped him up the stairs, and put him to bed. Drove back to my digs. I rang Jonty the next morning, and he said he was feeling well better. The swelling had gone down, and he’d even managed to smash a big breakfast. In fact, he was thinking about hitting the gym that night. I told him that only a mug would hit the gym after his ordeal. So, of course, when I arrived at the gym, there he was. Stood in the office at the back, bragging like a motherfucker, showing off his punctured leg to everybody and his sister. He wore it like a war-wound. Jackson said that I was a gentleman and beast for fixing the problem. Big Dave said nothing important. Marcus said that the story was bollocks, and that Jackson probably got his limp from falling down the stairs whilst pissed.
I said that I wish I’d managed to record everything on my phone. Then I could have put it on YouTube, and it would have got a million hits.