My Cupboards Were Empty

If ever there was evidence of society’s hidden dangers, it is seen in this country over the last weeks. I watched the parasites strip supermarket shelves bare with no account for the poor and elderly who could not afford to stock a little extra food or even get to the stores.

Some years ago I had a friend: You cannot be liable the dead, so I name him: Des West. I met him during my evening drinking sessions. Initially, we exchanged glances, and later we spoke in-depth about our differing views of the world. He was a sharp and caustic minded man.

Des drove a Mercedes sports coupe, and I discovered he owned an expensive home. Unmarried and seeming to be indifferent to female company, Des became an excellent friend. There is one other aspect of Des: he was rich, and I mean rich. Whenever work came into the conversation, his stock answer was ‘I have finished work for the day’.

I suppose we’d known each other for a year or so when he said ‘Shall we have a takeaway at my house?’ I agreed and away we went. The house was terrific. One could not ask for anything more: good-sized indoor pool, beautiful kitchen and designer perfect living room. I did not review the upper floor, although Des told me there were six-bedrooms, four en-suite. If the downstairs rooms were anything to go by, there would be no doubting the upper floor would reflect the living space’s opulence.

We drank good wine and took our time eating the Indian meal. Our takeaway meet-up became a weekly routine. I enjoyed Des’s company and friendship, for indeed we had become close friends.

One evening he asked me a question ‘You no longer ask me about my work’ my reply ‘well you do not want anyone to know: so I assume there is a grey aspect’ ‘Oh! Yes, Ian, there is a grey-area alright, certainly the wrong side of the law’. ‘Then do not tell me, Des! It’s difficult to keep a secret when you drink as much as me.’ He looked at me with vacant eyes and smiled.

Sometime later I’d hit a difficult time financially. Like most people, the initial weeks were a keep brave face and hope for the best. ‘Take-away, Ian?’ ‘Des, I cannot afford my share, so the answer must be no’ ‘Are you taking the piss? A tenner its nothing to me and you are my friend. Come on, let’s go’.

After we had eaten, Des left the room. He was away for around ten minutes and when he returned he was carrying a plastic supermarket bag ‘There’s twenty-grand in there Ian. It’s yours keep it. It’s your birthday present’. I needed the money, but no way could I accept the gift, and I declined the offer’.

‘Ian, I earn between ten and twelve thousand pounds every week. I do not know what to do with my money. I have it everywhere, in building society accounts, bank accounts on the Continent. My mother owns her home, and my brother owns his home, I’ve paid for it all. There is two weeks work in that bag, and the money will keep coming in, week in week out. I have over six-million pounds, twenty-grand is nothing, and if you want more, ask’.

I took the money, my problems over, my life turned around. A year or so later I realised my friend was ill. He had terminal cancer, the evening he told me I sat in my car and cried. He asked me if I would come and see him in the hospice when the time came. And indeed, I did. Des was an exceptional man and an incredible friend.

During the last week he told me about his work

‘I’m a pornographer. I have three adverts in soft-porn magazines. They read ‘Continental Magazines by Mail order: PO Box 25 Leicester’ I have a list of titles and my clients pay twenty-five pounds a copy postpaid. My business associates in Denmark and Sweden post the magazines to my customers in this country. I have about eight-thousand clients’.

The idea was an effective way to become a millionaire; he asked me if I wanted the business! ‘Believe me, the temptation was there, but the idea of a long prison sentence did not appeal’ Des smiled when I declined ‘You’re a fool, but that’s your strength. I’ll bet you’ll be in your fifties before the penny stops dropping!’ we smiled and I held his hand.

I asked Des about his work, and he said ‘There is nothing to it: it is like all business’s supply and demand. And I haven’t even scratched the surface of the potential. Here’s is something to think about Ian, there are millions, and I mean millions of pounds made in my industry, and you’ll not find anyone who is a customer!’ I can still hear his laughter. ‘Best of all is the control I have over the two officers who take their grand-a-piece to leave me alone. I like the idea of corruption. Everywhere you look, there is morals and blind-eyes, and it will become worse. Your future is to live in a world of greed.’

Des left me a decent amount of money. And I wasted it, as he knew I would, I could see him smile when the last thousand became nought. Des was a wonderful man, and many would have judged him severely thirty-years ago. Today he wouldn’t have made a penny from his method. These days most who knew of his work would not give him a second thought or concern. These changes are the way of life, the way of the evolution of society.

But when I see those empty supermarket shelves. The trolleys full of pasta, tins of beans and tomatoes: I think back to Desmond’s customers and their hidden vice. There would have been people from every avenue of society, making my friend his millions. And you’d not get a one to admit to their purchases. We do not know who we live amongst: What are their vices: What are their truths? Everything changes a seedy sex magazine becomes a roll of toilet paper.

Few will admit to their vice or greed. And to my mind, greed is a worse danger than any virus.

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