Thursday, March 23, 2006
"Then there will be bells and sirens and car horns," thought Julian Devine. "Telephones in millions of homes will bleep, lips will be kissed and resolutions made. Silver and gold-necked bottles will be opened with great flourish if little expertise and the good people will be full, awash and delirious with hope."
He clicked off the light and locked up the office before taking his customary walk around the public area to check the troughs. The machines were arranged like strange standing stones in two circles, one inside the other, their consuls facing outwards. When the players were in it was like a prison exercise yard or a mobile ID parade. All the subjects were suspects and all the suspects were guilty.
There was a pound coin in the Oklahoma Showdown; a blue infant's teething ring on top of the Glory Ride Express; the coin slot of the Caribbean Cop Fighter was glued up with chewing gum. On the floor, amidst the cigarette butts and the discarded cash bags, spent matches and candy wrappers, he found a packet. It had been make-shifted from a glossy magazine page.
Four hours. The buzz beginning. In Scotland now they would all be waiting, all the ghosts. And soon the hugging and the kissing and the singing, the Lord Provost's speech in the city square, the pipers and the dancers in their plaids and soft black, silver buckled shoes....
His father woke him and helped him dress in his Christmas cowboy outfit: the waistcoat, the chaps, two silver pistols in holsters, a large handkerchief for a bandana and a warm coat on top. His mother singing along to Johnny Ray on the radio - The Little Cloud That Cried - as she busied herself with secrets. Tenement days. He recalled the cold, and the security of beer on his father's breath.
But it was a magic night. The air was frosty and crisp and the streetlamps glistened amber as they swung softly in the city crosswinds. The sound of clicking heels and excited chatter echoed all around. Outside the bars and cafes men and women were gathering, readying themselves for the procession to the centre. The men wore cardboard hats; their hip pockets bulged. And the women were tipsy and giggling, teetering on stiletto heels, their short dresses displaying lacy underskirts and sometimes a hint of bare thigh.
And then they reached the Square.
A huge Mississippi riverboat, its bridge decorated with coloured lights, had docked in front of the Town Hall. And a Dixieland jazz band played on the Town Hall steps. He had never seen so many people. All dressed fancy as movie vampires, Italian waiters, Hollywood gangsters, riverboat gamblers and gunslingers, plainswomen in Gingham and sunhoods... and everywhere the sound, like a great deafening roar, of HAPPY NEW YEAR.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Picking up and dropping off: they're just like the boys; making it and losing it, nothing singing, nothing seeing, aware only of the good and the sleep and some hidden sense of the possible in the dark; some soft sensibility of the existence of solace in the act of leaving.
On the street there is no promise. You hit back and lash out at a thought or a face or a lie just to humour the beast, all the while knowing that nothing that hits or slashes or threatens to harm you in any way will avoid you of its own free will. Avoidance is not the will of demons.
The concourse: middle ground and no man's land. This is where you find her, networking, demanding money with promises, drinking, loving, seeking security or searching for pain; like a screamer out for sentiment and babies, as if all of those are one and the same thing.
See the boy by the coffee stand? That gesture that starts from within becomes a head movement and then a beckoning smile.
And now he is here at the subway mouth; the falling angel. He swims deperately in the smell of urine and tobacco before the panic costs him his breath and he starts to drown in a wonderful redolence of fear and power and expensive leather coats - now safe in the big black, half way to Knightsbridge or Earls Court, Fulham or Chelsea - and asphyxiate in the collective miasma of all the subways of the world.
She greets him like an old acquaintance and he invents a name for her from the air. A man to whom she has been talking shuffles his feet and coughs awkwardly in obvious discomfort. His hands attempt to shield his features from the beam of the overhead camera: he knows something's not quite right but he fails to walk away; the boy knows the girl's not quite right and he also fails.
She fascinates him; he is tranfixed by her presence, hypnotised by her strange accent: Greek or Italian, he thinks, but with east London vowel sounds.
And then she is offering him a drink from a bottle of cheap spirit mixed with something sweet and carbonated; but the neck hardly reaches his lips before she snatches it back with terrible laughter and hands too large to be female.... And a sensation of weird sex, existing alone, devoid of emotion and dangerous for its own sake, entraps him, and he sees the demon.
For a moment he is repulsed but it draws him back and holds him close and firm. He cannot break away but grabs the man's arm and drags him closer so that their faces almost touch and he can smell the fear on the guy's breath and the power in his own and in the demon's voice as it growls, "Pay her, pay her, give her the money, give her some money now or I'll mess you up for good, I'll kill you, you bastard, pay her! Pay me. Pay us. Give us all your money, everything you have. Don't look at the camera! Don't look at that frigging camera...."
And his coat collar clenched tightly now in both fists as the boy head-butts him, then again, and again, and pulls him by his hair deeper into the subway out of the range of the camera and the passers-by, the hair tearing out from his scalp and the screaming and sobbing echoing in the boy's head, and then butts him again, and once more, and there is a sickening crack as the man's nose bursts and his head hits the wall, a swath of blood slashing across the white tiles as he slides to the ground with the girl's big demon claw ripping the wallet out of his coat and the boy finishing him off with a final, bloody kick in the head.
They exchange a glance and leave the subway by the stairs up to the street. As they reach the top she links her arm in his and, smiling, gently kisses his cheek.
Monday, March 20, 2006
"I don't believe in absolutes," she said. She had the makings of a movie hitman's mustache. I decided to call her Mustache Petronella, but not to her face.
"Don't killers believe in absolutes?" I asked.
"You think death is an absolute?" She flicked her cigarette so the ash just missed the ashtray. I couldn't help thinking this was a deliberate act.
"If the act of causing it is a deliberate move, with intent, extreme prejudice, then I think it is, absolutely."
Nico with the lithe body and the smooth skin, high-cheekboned oriental look - he's a static boy from the other side of Snake River - loves his knives and his brothers, and both are necessities. He talks a kind of "lingwo", spits out words and phrases like bursts from a MAC10.
"What about the kid?"
"Yeah, always knew him. We grew up knowing each other. Went to school together. All that thing."
"Then why did he die?"
"Because his name come up! It's easy to get blowed. Word is he got mixed up in this Muslim thing, did something that doubled back on his people. Maybe it was meant, maybe it wasn't, maybe didn't even know what he done. I don't know. Anyway it doesn't matter, it's happened... he's gone and that's it and there's nothing anybody can do about it. They killed him, shot him in his mouth and throat. Tomorrow it could be me or you."
Sunday, March 19, 2006
"So, Charlie's having a curry in Brick Lane and he's just about to order another couple of poppadoms and a beer when all of a sudden the waiters are running about like headless chickens and there's coppers all over, creeping all about and eyeballing all the punters..." He paused for a swallow of his pint and a drag on his cigarette. Charlie nodded to Carol to confirm what had already been said; he wasn't too good with words, having had his tongue removed some years previously for speaking out of turn about a rather nasty face's girlfriend.
"Anyway," Billy continued, "Seems one of the boys has been out the back dumping some rubbish or something and he's having a crafty Marlboroughette when he sees these pins sticking out from behind a wheelie bin. Well, he streaks back into the gaff, shaking like a leaf and whiter than a sheet, ain't that right Charlie?" Charlie nodded again with his usual enthusiasm. A dribble of beer ran down his chin. Billy paused for effect, and then, drawing his finger in a slow arc from ear to ear, and lowering his head level with Carol's, he said in a theatrical whisper:
"Throat cut! Almost took her bloody head clean off."
Crazy Carol shivered and gripped Zimmerman's arm. He muttered, "Alright girl, alright," and stroked her hair. Then he ordered her another half of bitter and a Jack Daniels and Coke for himself. "They know who did it?" he asked.
"Bloody hell mate," said Billy, "give them a bleeding chance. It only went down no more than two hours ago. Ain't that right Charlie?" Charlie nodded and held up two fingers at Zimmerman, who responded with an uncomfortable shrug, handing Carol her half and pocketing her change.
"Bet it was her boyfriend, anything you like. Any takers?" It was the Dwarf. He'd just come in and was edging his way Spanish between them to get to the bar.
"Here we go," chortled Billy the Pill, laying his finger lightly on the side of his nose and slipping Charlie a conspiratorial eye. "Here's the man. Now we'll get the inside story. What do you know boss? No, put your money away. I'll get that. Now, come on, you've heard something haven't you?"
"All in the fullness, young man, all in good time."
Billy passed him his pint and the Dwarf took a long pull on it. Meanwhile Crazy Carol, Charlie and Zimmerman tracked his every move with building expectation.
"As it happens," he continued at last, "I had reason - one of my little helpers having been somewhat careless in his endeavours - to be entrammeled for a short period of time this evening in the rather unpleasant environs of Limehouse nick, wherein I stumbled upon..." he paused and eradicated what remained of the contents of his glass. "... a little whisper!"
His audience was entranced: Billy bit the crook of his thumb, a wide-eyed Charlie was trying to lick his beer off his chin with his absent tongue, Carol stared, wide eyed and open-mouthed, and Zimmerman ordered another Jack Daniels.
"Seems the unfortunate young lady was an acquaintance of yours, Carol," said the Dwarf. "Part time brass. Lived down Shandy Street with some Greek nonce?"
Crazy Carol's eyes popped. Her features froze:
"Bleeding hell, boss. It can't be. Not her, not little Alice!"
Zimmerman muttered, "Poor cow. Don't get upset babe," and attempted a sypathetic embrace but Carol pushed him away and shook her head. She fished a pack of cigarettes out of her bag, lit one and blew the smoke in his face.
"Poor cow my arse," she growled. "Bitch owes me fifty frigging quid!"
There followed a milli-second of stunned silence, after which Billy the Pill started to laugh, the Dwarf sniggered, Charlie chortled and Zimmerman's shoulders started to shake.
"Bloody hell Carol," said Billy, "ain't you got no respect for the dead?"
Crazy Carol totally lost control and collapsed into hysterics, whooping with laughter and spraying everybody with beer and spit.
"Yeah?" she spluttered. "Well I'll tell you something else, Billy boy, the bitch was only pregnant, wasn't she? Three months gone mate."
Gales of hilarity shook the big bevelled mirror behind the bar. Glasses rattled on the shelves and the guffaw echoed like a dirty joke all through the pub and out the big swing doors into the street.
Somebody said later that you could hear it all the way down the Mile End Road.
Friday, March 17, 2006
Dictator with a Lisp
"You can mend a bird's broken wing but it sure as hell isn't going to fly the same again. A bird can't fly with a limp and retain its grace and the spirit of the people won't be raised by a dictator speechifying with a lisp, even if he did come by it honourably, sir.
"No, the atmosphere just won't sustain such things, isn't dense enough.
"They feed you that garbage all around the world, everywhere you go and it doesn't get any sweeter no matter where you hear it."
The secondary mourners arrive first, the men wearing off the peg black suits with un-adjusted sleeve and trouser cuffs and their girl children dancing behind them in their newly tailored dresses and over-large new shoes bought for the occasion.
An old woman in her best hat with the feathers and the fur coat smelling of moth balls and a cup of sweet tea spilling onto her best stockings:
"Always go straight for the buffet after I's buried a relative... mourning always make me so hungry, you know? And Reverend Williams, well didn't he just deliver a most moving and respectful service? The family always use him, he's the best. But my, it always seem the better the service the hungrier I am...."
Soon the old lady and the nephews and nieces are dragging the lake for the sons and the daughters and poor sister Rose and nobody's looking twice at anyone younger than eighteen in there.
The manager is a coat stand: "What the hell, that's what the bastards are paying for and it's a slow day Tuesday - after this all we got to look forward to is Halloween; I'm gonna have to lay people off...."
The Old Praejudicium
Anyway, Ms Curvature-of-the-spine - let's call her Julie - is getting down to it with Ted Siversteen in the back of his battered old Princess, her tongue slithering along the upper set of his old dentures and hands everywhere. He'd spent quite a bit of time imagining making love to her. What would it be like? Would he find other curvatures beneath her dress, hidden bends and bevels in her pants? She unzips the front of his trousers and takes it out, her tongue in his ear now; he can feel all the old wax begining to break down with the moisture. He carresses her... curvature(?) and soon there is a noticeable hardening and enlargement of his... member(?)
This may be the kind of stream of consciousness perversion that would worry some men but it doesn't bother old Ted one bit - he hasn't been able to get it up in years. Good old Julie. What does it matter if her... curvature(?) turns him on? Compared to the amputee nuts he has no problem.
There is one case he's read about: a woman it was, reckoned she was "an amputee in a whole person's body". She was desperate to lose something; didn't care what - an arm, a leg, a hand, a foot.... She contacted a sympathetic surgeon who tried to convince her that perhaps it would be sensible to adopt a gradual approach - a finger first, maybe, or a toe, then a hand or a foot... but she wasn't having any: tried to slice her whole bloody leg off with a chain saw and died of shock. Or perhaps it was elation.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Pete the Feet
No-one, that is, except Pete the Feet.
They threatened to break his fingers so he upped and moved his habit to a late night lounge on the other side of town; he had drinking partners all over. Yes sir, everybody knew Pete and some people even liked him in small doses. Of course Pete was a drunk - people who drink all day invariably are - and he was a little bit cokey, so small doses meant nothing to him. But he sure could play that piano; he could have been a big success if the booze and the nose candy hadn't gotten to him first.
Strange, I know, that a piano player should call himself "the Feet" but that was his gimmick - he actually played with his feet. He'd lay with his back on the stool, supporting himself with his hands on the floor, and his bare toes up there rattling the black and whites; he could play anything anybody shouted up from the floor: classics, old standards, a selection from the charts, jazz... and all with his feet.
They should've threatened to break his legs.
Sunday, March 12, 2006
The Importance of Mirrors
The sprite was West Indian Oriental, with an accent that suited the paper folding image. He was busy with some coloured card and tissue paper. "How will he find you?" he asked, not looking up.
Lucien sucked his teeth. "He knows everything, man. No problem," he spat, "He rules this town - the whole damn world in fact - from a bunker somewhere, communicating to his agents by telepathic means."
The paper folder looked up, still folding: "Seems to me you got yourself an evil demon."
"Yes sir, that's what I reckon."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Well there's this guy, some kind of philosopher, goes back some ways... anyhow, he's trying to find a method to suss out the meaning of existence, you know, as you do. So he posits this theory that God is actually a great and powerful deceiver who's like fooled everybody, including himself, into believing that they exist, when actually, they don't, yeah?" He paused, fiddling with some particularly intricate piece of folding.
"And?" said Lucien impatiently.
"Oh, he gets out of that one, man. Oh yeah."
The sprite leaned forward in his chair and whispered: "Cogito ergo sum, my friend. I think therefore I am. Get it?"
"No. But, anyway, everybody needs to believe in something, don't they? What do I know about metaphysics. I'm a damn chemist!"
"Everything's chemistry, bro. You said that."
Lucien shook his head. "Look," he said, "I wish you wouldn't quote me back at myself to back up your own position, you know? After all, I mean... not only are you a figment, a posit, you're my figment, my bloody posit. You wouldn't even exist without me. You know that, don't you?"
The figment shrugged: "Since I don't exist I can know nothing."
"Look, don't sulk. And don't try to screw me up with philosophy, right?"
"Ok. But let me just say this: if, as you seem to strongly imply, I exist only through you and not as an independent entity... well, you can see where I'm comming from, can't you? Like, who's doing the screwing up, yeah?"
Lucien didn't rise to the bait. "It's just that I don't think he's evil, that's all"
"Oh, so I don't exist but now he's my demon, right? Yeah? Hello? How does that one work?
"Shut up. You're such a brat, you know that? I mean The Man, the magic gangster, you know, the one I'm waiting to hear from?"
The posit sat back in his chair and crossed his legs. "So, let me get this straight," he said, "just so I know which way the candy's melting here. He's a gangster, right? A killer, a murderer and a kidnapper, an extortionist and a torturer - but he's not evil, right? That's what you're telling me, yeah?"
"Shut up. Listen: he has no sense of evil. The concept of good doesn't exist for him, and you can't have one without the other, right? I mean... if you've only got one arm, then there's really no question of it being the left or the right, is there? There's only one arm. He's beyond that, beyond good and evil. Differences between pleasure and pain, right and wrong, good and bad, love and hate don't exist for him. Evil doesn't exist for him, only power, that's all, pure power, raw power, power for its own sake. Power is everything!"
"You mean like chemistry?"
"Don't start that again. But yeah, if you like."
"But you have no power, do you?"
"For pity's sake that's why I'm waiting for him to contact me, isn't it, you bloody idiot, to give me the frigging power!"
"Why should he give you anything? I mean, does he owe you for something? Can you do something for him? What can you do? Why should he give you anything, do you any favours? What is it about you? What the hell have you got that a guy like him needs so damn badly? Hmm? Tell me that."
Light, bright and brittle, the morning sun cut a swath through the dust that hung in the air like the question. And the whore in the mirror cried "Screw me, Screw me Lucien, love me like a bastard and I'll be yours forever, I'll work just for you, just for you Lucien...." And then he was awake and alone and wondering what it was he could do for the magic gangster.
She stirred and turned to him, smiling through sleep, her breathing soft and soothing and contagious. The patter of rain on the window became more intense and he imagined another window in some other place, a window without the rain and with curtains shielding them both from magnified sun. He pictured a huge luxurious bed in an air conditioned palace, softly draped french windows beyond which a high secret patio beckoned them to breakfast above a screaming city.
It could have been anywhere: Athens or Rome, Paris or Geneva, Budapest, Cairo... anywhere but Stepney; anywhere but the Whitechapel Road.
In centuries past watchmen heralded the day with "GOD GIVE YE GOOD MORROW, MY MASTERS, PAST FIVE O'CLOCK AND A FAIR MORNING" but today there was only the drone of humans waking, becoming louder, everywhere escaping, through the windows and doors of their dwellings, all over the city. A cough, a shout, heavy feet clumping across poorly carpeted floorboards, the drone increasing in menace until it threatened to explode like scandal down the stairwells, into the courtyards and away through the side streets to the junctions and the intersections to live and die in the traffic.
The bed disappeared and became a table separating them. Sergio was busy at the counter. They were no longer lovers.
She shook her head slowly, her eyes full of suppressed tears like a river trapped, suspended in the tarns of her irises. Her face was pale with the fatigue of years but still attactive; her hair had retained its glisten. He saw the film holding back her tears rupture slightly at one corner and a single droplet welling out and nestling in the curvature at the bridge of her nose for a moment before continuing on its path across her cheek.
They were close to the edge, he could feel that; only had to falter slightly in their step and they would fall. Any loss of concentration, a sneeze, a too vivid memory, some element or aspect of consciousness against their will to the greater good and the years would peel away and she would be his again and he hers. And so eventually they would fall.
He lit a cigarette and offered her the pack. She refused.
"You're absolutely sure?" he asked, his smoke drifting towards her. She nodded:
"He's changed, it's true, and at first by his features alone I could not have been sure, but then.... There is no doubt, I am certain it is him."
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Genet was "haunted by the idea of a murder which would cut me off irremediably" from our world.
But Chesterton got it right when he declared: "The criminal is the creative artist; the detective only the critic."
"What do you believe in Gerry?" she aked him once. And he smiled that smile and told her in that voice:
"Magic. Magic, that's all there is, and it's pure and beautiful and loyal and will never let you down."
But Gerry wasn't talking about the magic of music halls and cheap illusionists, hocus pocus conjurers and now you see it now you don't card sharps. No. What he meant was a kind of sorcery; he believed in the occultism of London after dark, hoodooists hovering in half lighted rooms behind curtained windows in the stolen bodies of drug dealers and gangsters, casting curses in soiled wraps, hurling hexes through space via telephone wire.
Voodoo medium of instructions for an execution. Every death is magic - especially if it's premature - every crime hustle and scam. She pouring another drink and taking in every word but understanding nothing.
She loved the way he talked. When Gerry got on a roll it was like soft automatic fire: a hundred rounds a second and each one hitting the target, although she never felt them connect; just tasted the warm blood spilt and the ecstacy of death in the distance, the exquisite sexual pull of her own ignorance.
"The city's full of it. It's in the garbage, the boarded-up store fronts and the courtyards of the estates. It's in the blood of the people and in their eyes, in the lies of the old men getting pissed in the backstreet bars and in the cries of the alley fights after midnight. It's there every time a cracked up mother's baby breathes all the way through til morning and every time strangers meet...." Then he pulled her close and stroked her hair and she smiled and kissed his hand through the strands.
"Did you feel it, Gerry? Did you feel the magic when we met?"
He had felt it then, back then before the wordbuck and the ice-ray and the fear of spacemen. That's what he was there for that night, with the tight jeans and the leather and the knife in his boot. Instead he met Alice, Alice the sex clown, Alice the flesh monkey with that demon in her spleen needing so much care.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Is there life on Enceladus?
There was a lot of door-knocking, a daily pageant of young men with large hold-alls full of dusters and dish-mops; double glazing and home improvements salesmen in bad ties; matronly market researchers with clipboards; prospective burglars, gypsy rug sellers and roof repairers.
He particularly disliked the evangelists. They'd hit the street mob handed: middle aged men and women in hats and overcoats, even in the summer. They'd never simply rap once and then go away; sometimes they'd loiter for hours, flipping through their Bibles, chattering about God knew what, periodically rattling letterboxes and knocking.
He peered at them through a crack in the curtain. There was one of each: regulation hats, overcoats and Bibles, big white teeth and cavernous eyes full of spiritual luminosity. The man rattled and knocked and said something he couldn't quite catch. The woman giggled.
His breathing grew intense. They must have known he was home: Big T and The Badda-Bings blared out of the stereo - The Girl From Ipanema - and at one point the man came right up close to the window and peered in.
All attempts at communication had failed. He could smell her resentment all over the house: in the living room, the kitchen cupboards and the fridge, in the dust on the bookshelves and between the pages of the books themselves. It was especially pungent on the first floor landing around the closed door of her room. Something had to be done.
He gathered together a saw and a kitchen knife, a pair of secateurs, some black plastic sacks purchased from one of the hold-all men, and a large wooden chopping board. She looked up from her pillow as he entered, watched in silence as he got to work.
There was a lot of blood. He almost slipped over in it as he positioned himself to begin sawing through the neck.
The spinal cord was tough but finally he succeeded in detaching the head. It was while he was debating whether to remove the arms in one piece or cut off the hands first that he noticed the ring. The flesh had swollen around it and it wouldn't budge; he snipped off the finger with the secateurs.
Once the head and limbs had been removed, the middle section was light enough to be carried through to the bathroom. He placed it gently in the tub and slit open the stomach with the kitchen knife. The contents spilled into the bath. Then he opened up the chest cavity and began to remove the various organs, laying them carefully on the chopping board. These he cut up into small chunks and flushed down the lavatory in servings of about half a pound in weight. He then cut out the ribs one by one with the saw and quartered the torso, placing each piece into one of the sacks ready to be taken downstairs.
He boiled the head first, followed by the hands, feet and ribs, in a big, copper cooking pot. Once cleaned of flesh the bones were separated into smaller fragments, mixed with some general domestic waste and sealed away in another sack to be disposed of by the council garbage men.
It was nearly daylight. He was left with several large bones - a pair of femurs, shoulder blades, other arm and leg bones - on which some flesh still remained. Feeling suddenly exhausted and deciding it was time for a break, he poured himself a whisky. As he did so he turned, sensing her presence in the doorway. She said nothing, just stared at him with that I told you so look of hers. He shrugged. "All right, all right, I know," he sighed. "If only we had a garden...."
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
The Weird Metropolitan
It is also the title of a novel in progress by Jon Hilltown, a regular patron of the cafe and one time secret lover of Tina Zacharini, the cafe owner's wife.
This site has more to do with the novel within the novel than the sandwich within the novel but, what the hell, everybody's got to eat and, believe me, the Weird Metropolitan really is a most unusual sandwich.
The same, of course, may be said of the novel.