It never struck me as a derogatory nickname, at least not until I was much older. I was too young when they gave it to me, too innocent to view it as anything other than a term of endearment. Other kids wore theirs like a badge of belonging: Stilts, Jumbo, Dobba - there were enough pet names at St. Telegraph's Primary School to qualify the place for a zoo. That isn't its real name either, of course: another title bestowed by a former pupil - yours truly, in fact, 15 years after being ferried out of the place for the last time at the tender age of 11, in a Range Rover Discovery (a prototype "Chelsea Tractor", as they'd later come to be labelled).
When the 'old Man' ran out of the closet and away with his solicitor, Daniel; when he blipped off our radar for six months without so much as a goodbye, before turning up in Puerto Benus, naked, purple and swinging from the tan leather belt mum bought him the Christmas before, he didn't just take all our money and the respect of our so called 'friends'. No, he also robbed Mum and me of our Middle England identity cards; without them, we were never going to get back in. And for that I'm eternally grateful.
Over the next few years I shed the trappings of my former life like an unwanted skin, and I felt better, freer for it. The accent, the outfit, the casual hatred of those outside my self-serving egomaniacal bubble, they all melted away like so much dead weight. But one facet stayed with me: a keep-sake from a more naive time, a time when a young boy of mixed race ran with the pint sized man - my nickname.
My name is Chocolate, and here is my story.
I was grateful to Mum for my year-round tan and ten inches of ebony manhood, but it was that doughy dead Daddy I had to thank for help for finding my calling. If he hadn't fled the nest for a bit of back door action, if he hadn't quit his job and drained his accounts, if he hadn't been so ashamed of what he was and, crucially, if he hadn�t opted to throw a seven when he did, I would never have found myself living amongst, let's face it, my kind of people.
OK, so it wasn't a conscious decision by the old man to relocate me to a world of violence and drugs (or maybe it was -who knows what the fat fuck was thinking when he made his exit) but it was the making of me all the same. If it weren't for all those 'ifs' then I'd probably be haw-hawing like a pinstriped jackass with the other city boys, wealthy to a point but passed over for the really big promotions on account of my mother, instead of selling cocaine for a living. If I'd never climbed all the way down to this community I never would have met Willy Wonka.
Wonka was a legend, whichever side of the tracks you hailed from. There were dealers, there were suppliers, there were gang leaders and there was Wonka. He'd been the main man for almost thirty years, running an empire from behind closed doors. You knew it was Wonka gear the second it hit your teeth, shit you didn't even need to wait that long. Every wrap folded to perfection like a piece of origami, multicoloured and branded with a single silver 'W'. Who the hell else ran a fully established brand?
And if Dix, Slugworth or any other crew tried to piggy-back his marketing advantage and recycle those vibrant little envelopes? Let's just say Wonka wasn't averse to protecting his rights with violence or even murder. Of course, when I say Wonka I'm talking Wonka Inc. The man was too smart to get directly involved in that side of the business (not that there weren't rumours � pretty fucking frightening rumours at that � about how he made it in the first place), he had his army of Oompa Loompas for that.
Don't ask me where they came from. Hawaiians, Mauris. I don't know. The Loompas had freakish tans like Des O'Conner and not one stood an inch above five foot. But they were broad as my widescreen and as vicious as Taz on 'base'. But these were no cartoon characters. The Loompas were fucking animals. Wonka's animals. Loyal as dogs and twice as dangerous.
So it paid to be on side with Wonka. It was good for your health and it paid financially. Even those in the front lines made a tidy little profit punting out those magic little wraps of scrumdidaliumptious powder. But it wasn't as easy as that. Only super salesmen got their hands on Wonka product. You needed to be a full on Barnum or you didn't have a sniff. And as for meeting the man himself, passing through the gates of that legendary 'factory', well that was tantamount to finding a golden four leaf clover inside a sentient rocking horse dropping.
That was until last year.
I'd been dealing Wonka for two years by then. I had a small team of trusted runners who worked hard and kept their noses clean. I had a mortgage, a second hand 5 Series BMW and twenty grand in the bank. I also had the mobile number of a fat Loompa called Oochocho in case anything got heavy. It never did. My crew was hand picked and I made sure they all made money. Everyone was happy. What more could old Chocolate need? Well, as it turns out, a lot more. More than I could ever dream.
It broke down like this. Every dealer under Wonka had five months to sell like a motherfucker. The five biggest earners got a golden ticket into Wonka's wonderland and a crack at the title. You had to admire the man. He shifted more coke in that period than all his rivals put together. It was a crazy time. Christmas came early for the party people and they didn't even need to dream to turn it white. The city was hit by a blizzard the like of which had never been seen before. We're not talking a blanket of powder here; it was raining bricks. Unlike the gear, prices were cut and then cut some more. Not a single dealer switched off his or her mobile phone for five months � the kids had a twenty four hour hotline to party paradise.
Every dealer in the city was drunk on the spirit of competition but, the truth is, it was a no contest. As with most things in life, it came down to money. The Have-nots ran around town pushing coke like lunatics, the Haves simply bought their own stock. If you'd been squirreling away for a rainy day, if you hadn't bought a house, you simply ordered the biggest shipment of your life and waited for the madness to end. I mean, you could always sell it at a later date and, fuck it, if you were inside the gates, who cared?
It nearly killed some people trying to keep up. There were plenty of dealers who were also addicts. Most of them chose the dangerous strategy of ratcheting up their habit a few notches in an effort to snort their way into Wonkadom.
It was never going to happen, though. An unhealthy appetite or hard work is no substitute for cold cash, after all.
So, there I was. A decent team and a tidy business plan but it all amounted to shit. I had twenty thousand notes but there were dealers out there who had that on them just for rolling and snorting. Nothing short of a miracle would get me through those gates.
And that miracle arrived in the form of Lucky Nelson.
The last person I wanted in my flat during the competition was Nelson. The man was Midas in reverse. Everything he touched turned to shit and then he stood in it. Nelson was the kind of dealer who bought a brick for double during a drought then cut it down to 'seasoning' five minutes before the biggest shipment of prime Wonka for years rolled off the production line. When Nelson walked into a bookies, everyone else walked out. The man was a curse, and the last thing I needed on my leather sofa.
"I'm busy man. Maybe you should come back tomorrow, Nelson, hey?"
"Come on, Choc," he pleaded. "Just a fat one and I'm outta here. Pass me the knife."
That was the other thing about Nelson. He was a regular downhill skier. Man loved the powder and he just couldn't stop. He wasn't in the competition but, typically, Nelson had bought the biggest stock of his life the day before it was announced. His colossal collection of bricks sat in the corner of my lounge like one of the pyramids in a snow storm. Of course, being Nelson, he'd paid top dollar for it before the whole city went nuts, and every dealer in town was pricing him out of the market. Lucky Nelson. True to his reputation, Nelson hoovered up a line like a tampon and dropped down dead in my flat that very afternoon. Unlucky for Nelson. Very lucky for me.
It was the hardest month of my life but I shifted the ruins of Nelson's business. I barely had any sleep but that didn�t matter. What I did have was a golden ticket.
He was nothing like I expected, Willy Wonka. A slight man with fair skin and a red Kangol covering a perfectly bald, white head. You kind of expected a referee in evening wear to remove his hat, polish that head with a handkerchief and return him to the table just behind the blue ball. It didn't suit him, the bald look; his ears were too big and his neck too small. He looked like Sam Jackson playing a Bash Street kid. And half that description would have suited the man down to the ground, because he so wanted to be black it hurt. He didn't speak much but when he did it was in a voice too deep for the person it came from. He tried to walk like a brother but had the gait of a homo with a stone in his shoe. What he also had was an aura of menace which vetoed any chance of me repeating that description to his face. And it wasn't just an aura either, as I learned during our factory tour.
Wonka's factory was nothing like any coke works I'd ever seen. I'd seen barley factories in La Paz, of course, but they were dingy sheds compared to this. This was a production line. The coke came into the main factory in paste, and we're not talking bricks here, these were bales. They weren't imported either. Wonka had some crazy eco-dome, like the fucking Eden project: a climate controlled Bolivia in miniature, all within the gates of his factory. The coco leaves were picked in there by crack squirrels. If that sounds like the dumbest street slang you've ever heard then you owe me an apology because it ain't no slang, brother.
That's exactly what they were, squirrels. Huge grey squirrels with a taste for rocks of base. Don't ask me how he'd done it but these loopy rats had been trained to substitute nuts for coco leaves. They could tell a prime leaf from a Dudley better than any chemist or South American field worker. The squirrels would harvest them in return for a rock or two and then they'd store them away for a cold winter. Or so they thought. Every day, once the squirrels were rock happy, the Loompas would creep in and remove the goodies. And when I say creep, I mean it. Even the Loompas didn't want to get on the wrong side of them. Wonka's crack squirrels were savages. Something I was to find out later.
Once the paste arrived in the main factory it was processed on a fully automated production line. Metal Mickey the chemist never got tired, never sneaked a line or two for himself and always came up with the perfect collection of crystals. He didn't fall asleep during the drying process and, with ultraviolet heaters for eyes and industrial fans for breath; you'd almost believe the maker assembled him to do just that. And Wonka was the maker. Wonka was a fucking god.
But the wrath of God is nothing to joke about, as the rest of my tour party found out. Slugworth had a crack at every one of them, including me. I told him where to go but it turns out the rest took a decent chunk of cash to make a few notes on Willy�s empire.
And God sees everything.
First to go was a fat dealer called Gloop. Wonka shot him in the face and the Loompas stuffed him in an exhaust pipe to burn.
Next up, 'Violent' Budgerigar. Sang like one, apparently. Whatever that line was that Wonka gave her, it was no coke. The lady swelled up like an implant, turned blue and that was that. Looked like I'd always imagined the old man did, 'cept Violent still had her pants on. OD. RIP. Three Loompas carried her out for a quick funeral.
Next on the list was 'Teevee'. Young Kid. Obsessed with television. Dealing coke to buy his own cinema. Willy stuck the kid's head through a Sony Trinitron. It carved his face up like a cheese grater. Then he turned the thing on. Teevee lit up like a Christmas tree. Fried.
But the worst, the most frightening of all, was Vercua Salt. Named after the mole on her face. Trust me, it was no Madonna spot, this was nasty. Past tense, because the mole is no more. It was the first thing the squirrels ate.
"Chocolate," Wonka said, "Chocolate, my nigga, these squirrels haven't had any rocks for a week. Now watch this.�
They tore her apart. Thousands of them wrapping her up in a blanket of brush and teeth. By the time the Squirrels had finished with her she was more Salt than Veruca. Flesh, bones, blood, all ground down to a fine powder. These hopeless little tree rats trying to snort her into a million twitching nostrils.
And that left me. Well, you're reading this, so I'm still here. I didn't think I would be, after following Wonka into that elevator but, well, that's another story.