You see, Nico hasn’t killed anyone yet, so I guess he’s still salvageable. Sure, he’s hurt people — stabbed them or cut them — but he’s never shot anyone at close range, has never bundled some guy into a car, taken him to his mother’s house, stripped him naked and blown him in the mouth while mummy stands there crying and begging and wondering how the f**k is she going to clean the blood and brains off the new carpet, the recently hung wallpaper and the unpaid-for furniture.

“Because I’ve got a little bit of heart, you know,” he tells me. “I turn away when them kinda things happen. But it happens and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Turn away? Somewhere is a little grieving girl called Shanella.

I feel like I want to leave but the lies fascinate me.

Then he lights a cigarette, blows out the smoke and stares at the floor and I know what he’s thinking. One day his name will come up and he’ll have to do one.

“Otherwise it’ll be me with a hole in my face.”

That’s the way it is. You can’t remain a foot-soldier for ever, you either have to move up into the inner ring or they make you take a fall and spend a long time in prison to protect one of the higher-ups. And if you refuse you get blown away and somebody else goes to jail.

This is his life for the last four years:

At 14 he leaves school, no certificates, nothing, not even an encouraging word.

His father is a junkie, f**king low-life, robs betting shops and liquor stores and goes down when Nico’s 12.

He never sees the “lovely life – nine to five, kids, settle down” –- only the grime. “Yeah man that’s what we call this life, the grime, and this is all there is. I’m on the run, lived in fifteen places just like this in as many months.”

“This is it: Slumberdop.”

Slumberdrop. It’s like a bunker in a battle zone. There is a bed, a busted suitcase full of clothes, rubbish on the floor, a small black and white television, the remains of a pizza. No carpet on the floor and no furniture except a broken up old foam rubber sofa with no upholstery.

Slumberdrop. This is where they do everything, count the money, sell the drugs, stash the guns, carry out enforced conversions.

Slumberdrop. They’re an affiliation of gangs, known collectively as the Muslim Boys, beginning to fan out beyond London now. They hold up banks and post offices, deal in guns and tax drug dealers.

Slumberdrop. Things used to be different. You could hook up with a crew and get out any time you liked. Now that’s all over. It’s a cult thing, it’s for life, that’s what it’s all about. It’s their way to keep a hold of you. You can’t just come in and leave the next day like you could before.

“Now you either get wasted or step up to the hard core — if they want you.”

There is one other way. He knows about a couple of the guys who’ve done it like this:

“You do a certain amount of murders. You know, sensitive deals, things no-one else wants to do. Then you can get out on the last one and you got respect. Maybe they set you up with something nice, like a little club or something, or a cab stand. Then they leave you alone, you’re home free.”

But you have to do the first one, let them know you’re up for it, that you’ll do anything, kill anyone: women, kids, whatever. Whoever they need to blow away for whatever reason.

Slumberdrop.

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