A Berlin story : Fast Eddie, the dog’s bollocks and there’s always more pieces to the story.

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I’m a people person and when working away from home I’d miss some company, so I usually sorted myself out a relaxed bar where I could occasionally pop in and have a couple of drinks after work and a chat with the locals. A smart etiquette when you’re new to the joint, is to sit at the bar and chew the fat over with the barkeep while the locals get to look you over at their leisure before doing any ice breaking.

As long as you haven’t got three ears and can act normal, you’ll make a few nodding acquaintances. The ears thing isn’t necessarily a deal breaker by the way. You never know, it could even be your USP.

A shadow breezed into position at my right elbow and he just accidentally nudged me enough with his left elbow to apologise and we naturally struck up a conversation in the afterward, as one would. There was a slight but perceptible one or two decibel drop in the conversations around the bar, so even a care in the community type like me knew something was up.

We did the intros and with the usual vigorous shoulder-wrenching handshake the Germans are prone to, he told me his name was Fast Eddie. That’s not a German name I observed – I can be quite quick like that. He smiled and said it was just what everyone called him. I got the feeling there was a certain wolfish pride in the racy foreign name.

Within ten minutes or so, he moved the amiable conversation around to one of those bar bets about arranging match sticks, but for modest stakes. I knew the trick of it but I also knew what I was dealing with – a pavement con artist working the local bar circuit and about to pluck the latest pigeon to appear on his patch. I liked the look of him though.

The locals were all wised up about him and watching with interest to see how I’d react. I took the bait and duly lost, but did the double or quits thing with a challenge about how you swap a full glass of scotch with a full glass of water without pouring either into another glass. For a change he was stumped, much to the quiet enjoyment of the regulars.

Like all professionals he simply had to know the trick of it, even though he absolutely knew there had to be one, but it was simply killing him that he couldn’t work it out, so he took the sucker bet and duly lost it.

I got the crafty knowing look from him that he wasn’t the only scamp in the bar but I could see him stacking that one away in his bag of tricks because he knew it’d be a nice little earner. I asked Otto to put out two empty glasses so we could share a Scotch and water from my winnings but Eddie declined – he didn’t drink on duty. Mineral water was as strong as it ever got for him.

Fast Eddie was an old-fashioned conman. Civilised. He was more of an entertainer, a turn, rather than a hard-edged grifter ready to rip you open from gizzard to gullet for every penny you’d got, up to and including the very gold fillings you might have in your teeth. He’d too soft a heart for that sort of stuff. Sure, it was all a trick and everyone knew it, but for the cost of a couple of drinks, you got to go home with a really neat trick you could show the family and friends. He worked that line very well, with a certain roguish charm.

Eddie was hugely ambitious and wanted to move up in the world. In furtherance of that aim, he was always keen to improve his English, which he once told me proudly he’d learnt to speak from a book in one week flat. It showed. He needed it to fleece Americans, whom he knew were all rich, especially the Californians. It was one of those tender notions people have which you decide to leave well alone. After all the hard study of his formal education in English, he worked on the more idiomatic aspects of it with me. Some of the discussions were interesting, to put it mildly.

‘Can we talk about bollocks?’

‘We usually do, but go for it Eddie.’ He missed that ironic reference and ploughed on.

‘What’s it mean when you give someone bollocks?’

‘No, I think you mean to give someone a bollocking. It means to tell them off.’

‘So, when they have the bollocks, it means they’ve been told off?’

‘No, that means they’re really daring or have courage.’

‘So when you say they’re full of bollocks, they’ve got lots of courage?’

‘No, when you use full in front of bollocks it means they’re full of nonsense.’

As I thought about the myriad and subtle meanings of bollocks, I could see this conversation shaping up to be a classic.

‘Okay. So, what does the dog’s bollocks mean?’

‘It means something is really really good.’

‘Why can’t you just say that?’

‘Well, it’s because it’s just so good that all the usual words don’t describe it well enough.’

‘But isn’t bollocks a bad word?’

‘Not always.’

‘When’s it a good word?’

‘Well, you can say bollocks when you’ve just heard something you don’t believe – that’s a good bollocks.’

‘So when you say bollocks to someone, you’re telling them you don’t believe them?’

‘No, not always. That can also mean you’re just telling them to fuck off.’

‘But how do you know the difference?’

By this stage, he’d totally backed me into a corner on the bollocks front.

‘Just stop Eddie, please.’

After some thought and a respectable pause, he came back with ‘But why does it have to be a dog’s bollocks, why not a cat’s bollocks?’

‘For fuck’s sake Eddie, three-quarters of people who’ve got a cat don’t know whether it’s got bollocks or not. It’s gotta be a dog’s bollocks. You always know where you are with a bloody dog. They’re always licking them anyway.’

One evening, Eddie got through the bar door, and uniquely for him, he was wasted. On the con and being drunk as a skunk is a dangerous combination and Eddie knew it, so he took the evening off in my company. Everyone was worried for him. Nobody had ever seen Eddie drink, never mind being pie-eyed and legless.

He was on a very English G and T lash, but every time I insisted on fetching the next round of drinks. I poured away the gin down the sink behind the bar after dipping my finger in it and running it around the rim of his glass before dumping all the tonic in. It didn’t matter, the placebo effect just kept on kicking in and as he slipped off into unconsciousness, I raided his wallet for a home address.

Me and a few others managed him out of the bar and into a taxi and I volunteered to see him home. He might not have been any damn good, but he was our scallywag, so we looked after him.

I got him out of the taxi and up the inevitable stairs to his apartment. Why the bloody hell is it that everyone weighs twice as much when they’re bladdered and always live in an apartment three flights up? I got him through the door and dumped him on a couch. I was about to arrange him into the recovery position when a worried voice called out ‘Eduard, Eduard, is that you Eduard?’

Like a burglar suddenly detected, I carefully pushed open the connecting door off the living room to a bedroom and found her there propped up with pillows. Nothing but pale skin and scared eyes left of her face. I raised my hands and told her I was just seeing Eddie home. No threat. The cancer had had a good old chaw down on her and having done that trip with someone I loved, I advanced in to see if there was anything I could do for her.

We talked. I sat on the edge of the bed. Her name was Magda. They’d let her out of Charité that week and they don’t let you go home unless all hope is lost, and that’s why Eddie was a complete bloody disaster that night. Poor bastard. He’d left the water just out of her reach, so I ran the cold tap in the bathroom and freshened it up and held it for her as she sipped through a bendy straw Eddie had borrowed from MacDonalds. She didn’t have the strength to lift her arms. Her lips looked very dry and cracked. I held the back of my fingers to her forehead; she was running a slight fever.

I dipped into the bathroom again and squeegeed the hell out of a yellow natural sponge under the cold tap. I dabbed her lips with it, rubbed her forehead and down both sides of her face, and tissued off the excess droplets.

‘That feels so good.’

There was nothing more I could do for her.

‘Is Eduard okay?’

‘He’s fine, just sleeping it off.’

‘He’s no good with drink, never has been, he won’t even remember in the morning how he got home.’

She paused.

‘You do understand?’ she asked.

I did. Eduard and Magda were an untarnished pearl in a hidden away corner of his wide-boy, duck and dive, Del Boy Trotter life, a little bubble kept apart and out of sight while Fast Eddie made the sometimes shady moves that kept them afloat. He needed to be Fast Eddie for his living and make his own way without an albatross of pity hanging all over his neck. It was about his pride and she knew it. One way or another, he’d provide for her, come hell or high water, and she was the one worrying about him.

It meant I could never mention knowing anything about Magda to him or anyone else.

‘Is there anything more you need?’ I asked, because I could see she was already exhausted.

She shook her head and I lipread the barely audible ‘Nein, danke.’ She was asking me to leave.

I sat on the side of the bed and my impulse was to give her a parting kiss on the forehead, but that would have been too invasive a gesture from a complete stranger, so I got up to go but could do nothing more than stand there wavering beside her bed, paralysed between those twin impulses. I’ve always been absolute shite at leaving people.

She looked at me with those big luminous cancer eyes that were just so very tired of doing that “this is the last time we’ll ever see each other” glance for time after painful time with all of her friends. She knew I was locked there. With a ghost of a smile and a small, tired but eloquent wave of her hand, she turned her face away to look at the wall and it released me to leave the room, as she intended.

Even in her ruined state, she had a grace and elegance about her. Some women have that thing; unique, timeless and impervious to the ravages of age, disease or even the worst efforts of some men. It’s called class. No wonder he loved her.

In the living room, I loosened Eddie’s tie, took off his shoes and popped them under the settee where he’d find them in the morning and moved the coffee table away from him just in case he rolled off the sofa in the night and hurt himself, and then let myself out.

©Pointman

Related articles by Pointman:

The great global warming con.

Click for all stories in the Berlin series.

Click for a list of other articles.

Comments
9 Responses to “A Berlin story : Fast Eddie, the dog’s bollocks and there’s always more pieces to the story.”
  1. Blackswan says:

    Pointman,

    There’s no doubt about it, a watchful observer of the human condition makes a unique friend or … a devastating enemy. The years and maturity usually tip the balance, and friends such as you are not soon forgotten. We can only wonder whether Eduard ever really understood that. I hope so.

  2. David says:

    Spot on. Some people have real class no matter how dire their circumstances.

    Fast Eddie was a lucky man to have been part of her life.

  3. meltemian says:

    “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” indeed.
    It’s not easy to know what makes people act as they do, but you had a rare glimpse of a secret life and left it untouched. everyone kept their dignity which was as it should be.

    On a lighter note Mr. M. is halfway through his chemotherapy and the signs are good.
    We wait and hope.

  4. brennan says:

    Bugger Pointy. It’s 430am and I’m sobbing so hard I’m upsetting my dogs.

    It’s nearly 20 years since I lost my girl from cancer and I still miss her. She was the only person who ever ‘got’ me.

    Tonight, I’m going to have a few drinks. I’ll rise my glass to Magda and Eddie and hopefully enough alcohol will wash away the memories of her last days and I’ll just be able to see the tiny beautiful Russian girl who when she got up on stage and sang had the audience in the palm of her hand and loved nothing more than finding a great wave to surf.

  5. Pointman says:

    The secret of how to swap a glass of Whisky with a glass of water. Remember, with great power comes great responsibility – use it wisely.

    The secret of how to change a glass of water into a glass of Whiskey I’m keeping to myself.

    Pointman

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