High ground

We scrambled up the hill dodging dead branches studded with thorns. Clumps of soil and grit filled our shoes, grinding against hurried toes, as sirens whirred from the streets below.

‘You fucked this up,’ she said through heaving gasps.

We had both let our fitness goals evaporate during the summer, like chilled spills of ice dripping from a bottle onto the sun-blazed terrace.

‘Did you hear me? This is your fault.’

I heard her, but pleading my defence had to wait. I kept running, my throat burning with dry heat. We had looked upon this hill every evening from our hotel room, watching the sun descend behind it in disintegrating beauty, only to resurrect and repeat in a seemingly infinite summer. We promised we would climb it before we flew home, take water and snacks in our backpacks, a blanket to lie on. Always in view, yet it appeared a foreign land, like a dreamed realm, impossibly far from the lethargy of our room.

‘Are they following us?’

‘Are they following us? Hello fuckface, are they following us?’

Her choice of insult made me laugh despite the urgency of the situation. ‘I don’t know, let’s get to the top before we turn around.’ I grabbed her wrist for a second before she snapped it from my grip. ‘Okay, let’s just get to the top.’

It felt strange to be running away in adulthood. From physical threats at least. Evading dogs and girls in my childhood turned to escaping security guards and the aftermath of petty vandalism in my teens. Maybe adulthood makes you less inclined towards behaviour that precedes fleeing.

‘What the fuck are we going to do?’

She looked stricken with panic and hate all at once, and it made me love her puffing red face even more. ‘We are going to keep running until the top of that hill,’ I offered.

‘And those sirens?’

‘I am hoping there won’t be any on the other side.’

‘Great fucking plan, honey, great fucking plan. I feel so much calmer after this chat.’

I grabbed hold of her arm and pulled her close. ‘I am sorry.’

She shook me off. ‘Yeah, well it’s still your fault.’

‘I’m pretty sure I said we shouldn’t.’

‘This isn’t the time for told-you-so, okay.’

‘Fair point.’ I looked past her. Blue lights flashing and coppers on foot. ‘There are only two of them. The one looks slow. Let’s go.’

Given enough time bending the law and not getting caught, people get a bit brazen or maybe just sloppy. There is fear at first, especially when you’re in a country where they spell police with a z. The shape of that letter makes me imagine the worst: uniformed men using truncheons for fun, inserting their brand of justice in places deemed too dark for bureaucracy.

Eventually though, with time passing, you start to forget the risks involved. Or at least, we started forgetting the risks involved. Speaking too loudly too often to people we shouldn’t have even looked at.

It’s not like we were selling the hard stuff. We were holiday pushers, laying down God’s plant, dried up and ready to roll. By extension of our naturalist ethics, we threw in a bit of psychedelics if it came our way. We didn’t look for it though. I dabbled briefly in speed and pills during university, but my heart was heavy in those days. It didn’t seem right pushing something with so much at stake. Trisha’d never even tripped before. Her relationship with narcotics was based on derision or business.

In Trisha’s mind, weed didn’t count. It helped to call upon an incomplete sketch of reality where atoms and people and birds and trees were all just part of a heaving existence linked together by the essential ingredients of our making. Tying a moral code to this hole-ridden dinghy required floating upon the gods of new-age spirituality.

I guess she was right. Objectively, if there can be such a thing in a deal gone bad, I should have known better. We had rules of engagement, hazy and ill-defined as they were, like a business’s corporate social responsibility plan, which always sounds like people trying to make shit smell good.

It’s all word of mouth in this game or cold canvassing based on unscientific profiling. Young honeymooners were our golden strata of customer. Loved up and daring to be bold in their newfound unison, these virgin smokers wanted to show each other how thrilling their lives would be now they were married. I could tell how much they were willing to pay based on how sunburnt she was; how preppy his collar popped; how they occupied the table at breakfast; how much affection they devoted to one another.

Money was coming easy. We weren’t high-rollers, just people who shunned working in an office with Clive from client services who speaks too loudly, or Toni from human resources telling you why the office temperature can’t be changed: ‘Well, you see, there is a maintenance guy who works remotely and we can’t just accommodate a change in degree for you. The office space is a place for everyone.’

Fuck Toni and Clive.

But sometimes greed gets the better of you. A bigger job means bigger risk but fewer of them. One job and lie low.

Top of the hill and the air is lighter. The sun hotter. The gentle breeze prickles its heat against my sweating arms and legs. This is a beautiful country. I inhale hard and full like I’m about to swim a length under water, and at the point of spitting the breath out, I exhale in perfect control.

I hear muffled sounds in a foreign tongue reverberating in the hills and my head. My Italian is shit, but I assume they’re yelling: ‘Stop! We have you surrounded. Resistance is futile you British wanker.’

I let out a wild howl, grab hold of her head and kiss her. ‘It’s all downhill now.’