My Best Friend

by Dirk Standen

I had never met Quentin Carr. I had heard of him naturally. Half of London, it seemed, had heard of QC. Yes, he had quite a rep, that boy Quent.

What did they say about him? Oh, the usual. He dealt drugs. You only ever saw him with the daughters of rich and titled men. He consorted with known criminals. He couldn’t possibly pay off all his gambling debts. He hit women.

Mostly they said this last thing. Who do you suppose gave Fiona Campbell-Taylor those two black eyes? And since when did Annabel Claridge take to falling off her horse like that? And poor Sophie Whisker, even if her leg gets better, do you think she’ll ever ski again?

 

Nothing in those rumours, then, could have prepared me for the elegant figure joining me at the bar that chill November evening.

A drug dealer? This smooth bastard in the tailored suit and shirt of dazzling blue? A deadbeat? This flash geezer with the gold Rolex and the gently fading tan. A woman-beater? Him? Sauntering my way in the handmade shoes? Now, I ask you, how much damage could a chap do in a pair of those? It’d be a crime to get blood on leather like that.

Intricately tooled in softest crocodile with some sort of gold snaffle or toggle on the tongue (but not Gucci, no danger), Quentin Carr’s shoes must have set him back two grand, easy. They, came, I later learned, from a small shop on Jermyn Street. Most of the business was Japanese now, and only eighty men in the whole of London still had their shoes made there. Quentin Carr was one of them.

Say what you like about QC; he was always well-shod, and that was the half of it.

 

We met that first time on his turf—a starkly modern restaurant he said he liked, located on a quiet Knightsbridge sidestreet. He was an hour late. He didn’t apologize.

Shaking hands at the bar, he looked straight past me and called the busboy over. He took out a fat money-clip, peeled off a crisp ten pound note and, in the velvety tones of an ex-public school boy, asked the young Filipino to go round the corner for cigarettes. They didn’t sell them on the premises apparently.

Now call me naive, but I had no idea until that moment that you could do this: walk into a posh eatery in South West One and, if you felt like it, send the staff out for fags. They were not your everyday brand either. What, the busboy wanted to know, should he do please if the local late night Europa didn’t stock them? Well in that case, purred Quentin, he had better not come back at all, had he?

Here, I remember thinking, was a man who’d seen one too many Bond movies. I half expected him to order a martini, but he went for a whisky and soda instead.

 

I hadn’t wanted to meet him. The girl I was seeing at the time wouldn’t shut up until I had. Despite my objections, she’d gone ahead and arranged this cozy dinner for three.

I’m not completely stupid. I could tell they were up to something, the two of them. What exactly, I never found out. Halfway through dinner she leaned close to me and, with a catch in her throat, asked if I’d ever seen hands quite like Quentin Carr’s. I hadn’t. Large and gnarled with long, sharply tapered fingers, they looked as if they might have belonged to a vicious dog. Even so, I’m not sure I would have noticed if she hadn’t pointed it out.

To be honest, I felt rather mousy in his presence, with my threadbare jeans and faded blazer. I comforted myself with the thought that I at least was semi-legit. I was leaving the following morning to begin the first of two years with the Royal Shakespeare Company. And Quent, what exactly was it that he did? Pressed a second time, he confided only that he was in fine jewels, not that fine jewels—he was eager to point out—occupied a great deal of his “headspace.”

 

We were among the last to leave. Parked right outside the door, on a double yellow but gloriously unscathed, was a motor car of spectacular vintage. Surely they had museums for that kind of thing. I waited until Quentin had climbed behind the wheel, gunned the engine—a throaty roar that sent shivers down the spine—and driven halfway down the Brompton Road. Only then did I bundle my girlfriend into my trusty Beetle. The next day, at a steady 60 MPH, it took me to Stratford.

 

II.

I can’t say I thought about Quentin Carr much the next couple of years. I did, it’s true, start smoking his cigarettes. Just that bit more expensive than your average brand, they were my only luxury in that dreary life of pubs and picnics, read-throughs and bed-sits. And, consciously or not, I may have borrowed a little of his swagger and polish for the role of Gratiano in The Merchant of Venice. It got me my best reviews. But really he never crossed my mind at all.

 

The next time I saw Quentin Carr—a chance encounter on Kensington High Street followed by a long session in an out-of-the-way wine bar—he asked me to do him a favour. He asked me to knock over his pad.

Now it’s not every day you get an offer like that, and I wasn’t sure quite what to say. But, as if sensing my confusion, Quentin reached over, held a long finger to my lips— those wicked hands had a surprisingly delicate touch—and told me to think it over. No need to give him an answer right away.

His timing, as usual, was spot-on. It so happened I was at a loose end. My stint at the RSC was up and Hollywood hadn’t exactly come calling. Never mind Hollywood; not even a walk-on in The Bill, for heaven’s sake. Stage work, on the other hand, was no problem, not if you call the backroom of The Leg Of Mutton in Islington a stage.

The way I saw it then, I had no choice but to take Quent up on his offer. I’m an actor after all, and a gig’s a gig. Besides, I was under his spell. You’re not going to believe this: Quentin Carr, it turns out, went to my drama school. No, straight up. Ten years before I did, he took Voice with Binky Beaumont.

 

It was, as you can imagine, no casual break-in. We rehearsed. Boy, did we rehearse. I tell you, the Bard himself was never this much work.

Late at night, behind the drawn curtains of his basement flat in South Ken, bathed only in the clinical blue light of his sunbed, Quentin Carr instructed me on the finer points of armed robbery. He showed me how to tie someone up, and I practiced those knots until my fingers bled. He showed me how to hold a gun, and I imitated his poses in the carved and fluted, angel-adorned mirror in his hallway.

It looked, Quentin Carr’s flat, as if it might have been featured in a 1973 edition of House and Garden. Everything was Sheraton this and Chippendale that, but the carpet was a vivid orange and brown shagpile, and the coffee table was one of those chrome and glass numbers. He’d inherited it from a distant relation, some old fruit called Uncle Russell, and he’d never redecorated. His only additions were a large number of hi-tech and possibly illegally obtained electrical goods, and a safe.

Here he kept the jewels which, nominally at least, were a part of his trade. He showed me how to blow its steel door off the hinges. For obvious reasons, his demonstration had to remain somewhat theoretical until the actual night.

 

It went off like a dream.

Scaling the wall in back, I stumbled through the pitch-black garden. I looked in at the French windows. A TV screen glowed in a corner of the living room. A movie was playing on the VCR: a man in a dark suit was walking down a narrow corridor. It was a moment before I pegged him as Sean Connery. The rest of the house was dark. It took two seconds to jimmy the lock.

Quentin was waiting for me on the sofa. He was dressed for bed: "I was about to turn in for the night, officer . . . "

He was wearing flamboyantly striped silk pajamas, a matching dressing gown, and black velvet slippers. A pair of initials was embroidered on either instep. RC, it said, twice, in thick gold braid. There was a strong smell of some fragrance, possibly vétiver, and a cup of cocoa on the coffee table in front of him.

But it’s his face I’ll never forget: half-expectant, half-mocking, it stared back at me with a provocative intensity.

Quickly, wordlessly, I threw him face down on the floor and tied up his feet and canine hands. Flipping him back over, I stuck a strip of two inch duct tape over his mouth. Then I raised the butt of my .38 and—just to make it look real, you understand—hit him hard across the face. I did that twice. The second time there was a brittle breaking sound and his cheekbone caved in. Blood started to flow down his cheek.

Standing back up, I undid my fly, took out my dick and—I never knew I had it in me—pissed all over Quentin Carr: a steady stream of steaming yellow. I pissed on his slippers. I pissed on his dressing gown. I pissed on his face. I left him shaken, if not stirred.

 

Okay, I’ll come clean. It gave me a kick: the thought of him lying there all night, trussed up like that, his face bleeding into the shagpile, the stench of urine in his hair. How slowly the hours must have passed until his cleaning lady found him in the morning.

Was it the girl who made me do it? She never replied to any of my letters from Stratford, and I only saw her once after that. It was a New Year’s Eve party in Notting Hill. She was trying hard not to smile all night. She didn’t want anyone to see the broken stump of her front tooth.

Sure, the girl had something to do with it. But it was more than that. He asked for it, didn’t he? No, really, he did. Just before I let rip, I caught the look in his eyes. ‘Yes,’ those black orbs seemed to say, ‘Do it.’ He enjoyed it, I’d say. And I have to admit, this old ticker was beating hard.

In any case, it’s not something we’ve discussed much since.

 

The safe popped open the first time. It was empty of course. The emeralds it had contained were halfway to Rio.

 

III.

It was, as they say, the start of a long and beautiful business relationship. I got ten grand for my handiwork. Quentin netted half a million from the insurance, plus whatever the Brazilians were paying. He kept it in an offshore account.

There was never a shortage of jobs after that. Each time my share of the responsibility and the profits increased. Within five years we were fully-fledged partners.

But I like to think it was more than that. I like to think of him as my best friend. I certainly spent more time with him than with any other male companion. I probably saw more of him than any of my three wives. I lose count of the number of times we went to the races together.

That’s why I strongly resent the rumours that I’m the one who grassed him up.

 

I often think about QC now, as I slide behind the wheel of my DB 4, or give that Amanda girl the occasional pimpslap (I’ve been under a lot of pressure lately), or slip into a booth at my favourite restaurant.

I can’t imagine prison life suits him. Altogether too drab I would have thought. Though, knowing Quent the way I do, I’m sure he has some kind of scheme worked out. I don’t see him weaving too many baskets, do you?

Yes, I think about him a lot, sitting here, waiting for the busboy to return with the cigarettes that’ll probably kill me, lightly tapping the soles of the shoes that only 79 other men in the whole of London are wearing at any given moment.

I think about him and I think I better get out of this game before it’s too late. Let’s face it, I wouldn’t want to end up like Quentin Carr.

 

—Dirk Standen is co-founder of a popular weekly reading series at the KGB bar in New York. A writer and film director, he is currently completing a screen version of his short story, “My Best Friend,” with Jared Harris as the irrepressible Quentin Carr.

 

Tags:
Crime
Social classes
Humor
drugs
short stories
BOMB 55
Spring 1996
The cover of BOMB 55
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