Ah yes, Elsie is worrying, Steve is drunk in stilettos, the mad woman at the station is preaching and blowing down a harmonica, and Abel is slowly creeping down a tunnel looking for the opening Steve told him about. His mouth is like a miniature chalk mine, his brain is set on automatic as he touches his way through the darkness to the tune from the Spletzer Martin advert.
Underlondon is a vast place, a maze created by accident, innovation, experiment and deceit. Ancient rivers merge with sewers, wine cellars link with catacombs. Deathly dark, as you’d expect, and as complicated as the city streets above it. Large parts are permanently flooded ankle deep in water. This does not bother it’s inhabitants, who, aside from the terrapins and crocodiles, have built shelves for their beds above the flood level. All their belongings rest on these shelves, from marmite to stolen diamonds, vast platforms made from found timber and steel, scavenged, as their life is, from the above-landers.
Elsie paid the bill for Abel’s hospital stay, of course. Once he was out he took up residence in her flat. He had no job now so couldn’t pay any rent. Elsie lived round the corner from me, I saw Abel hanging about Barons Court and West Kensington, there was something lost about him. He made friends with my neighbour Steve, the transvestite I told you about, I think it was their shared love of alcohol. Abel started to spend his nights and days round Steve’s flat in drunken delirium. Occasionally they ventured out to the Coop, Steve dressed in high heels and furs. They made a strange couple, brought alcohol and intimidated customers.
One day, after Elsie hadn’t seen Abel for five nights running she went round there at 2pm and knocked on the door. She waited, she knocked again. A howl came from within, then the sound of locks being unfastened, eventually she was confronted by a man in a stained white lace blouse, and a pair of grey pants one size too big, which he was partially hanging out of. He had long greasy hair hanging down in rats tails, he was so thin and so waisted one touch and he’d have fallen like a leaf. It was Steve. He’d obviously been asleep and she’d woken him.
“Where is Abel?” she asked
He beckoned her in. She was reluctant, the place stank of rot and seemed covered with newspaper, but she was worried about Abel. She stepped through the doorway and into the house.
“Tea!” cried Steve, who seemed to be coming round a bit
“Er, no thanks”
Steve put the kettle on, swigged from a bottle of gin and placed two teabags in two dirty mugs.
“Where is Abel?” She tried again.
Then slowly “I’ve seen im, I’ve ad im round here.”
The kettle boiled, he tried to pour it but missed. Tried again with more success and handed Elsie half a cup of black tea with teabag still in it and a spiders web decorating the rim.
“Is he here now?”
“Na, gone, gone”
“ There. Needed his tablets”
“His tablets, yer can get em there, they can get anyfing for yer there. it’s the tunnels see. But they’ll charge, not money, other stuff”
Elsie had two contradicting thoughts simultaneously:
1. “Oh no, what’s happened to him? I must find him!”
2. “Bloody idiot, why am I running after him? I’m not his mother!”
She stood there in the slime covered kitchen, her dark blonde hair covering half her face, a frown appearing over the top of her large brown eyes.