Blowing in the Wind

blowinginthewind

Blowing in the Wind by Chris Green

I am walking Malcolm on Panhandlers Hill when I first spot him. In fact, it is Malcolm who spots him first. Malcolm is a cocker spaniel and he is very sensitive to changes in his surroundings. We get a few hill walkers around these parts and at first, I think the shadowy figure in the distance is just another hiker, enjoying the peace that this beautiful stretch of upland has to offer. But cocker spaniels were bred to be gun dogs and Malcolm seems to be able to tell straight away that this is a gunman coming out from behind the clump of trees to the east towards Cascade Falls. When he phones, Milo is always telling me not to go out on the hills on my own in case there are snipers. Milo is away a lot lately. Something to do with the merger, apparently, or is it the takeover? I don’t get into that side of things.

‘I won’t be on my own,’ I tell him. ‘I’ll have Malcolm.’

‘A fat lot of good Malcolm will be when you are faced with a battalion of bloodthirsty rebels,’ he says. Sometimes Milo’s outlook verges on paranoia, but it looks as if he may have got it right this time, although he has perhaps overestimated the scale of the threat. The lone figure is ambling towards us, rifle cocked. Have I got the right word? Is cocking something that you do with a rifle? Whatever, it’s still a man with a rifle. And cocking or not, he’s getting closer.

‘Run, Malcolm!’ I shout.

The stupid mutt starts running towards the sniper. At times like this, I wish I’d continued with his obedience classes at Sit Happens.

‘Not that way, Malcolm,’ I call out.

I might be pushing fifty but I can still manage a canter, if need be. The problem now is we’re heading in the wrong direction for the car park but I daren’t double back.

When I feel we are a safe distance from the ridge where we caught sight of the sniper, I get the phone out of my shoulder bag. My heart is racing. Malcolm is now barking furiously. He can smell my fear. How on earth are we going to get out of here? It’s no good phoning Milo, of course. Even if he were to answer, he would just rant and rave about me going up on to the hill despite his warnings. Not that he’d be able to get here anyway. He’s out of the country on business. Most of the people I know live in Richmond which is a good ten miles away or Freeport which is even further. In any case, most of them would probably be tied up at this time of day. People have work to do or people to see. I decide to phone Doobie. He will be able to get here quickly, plus he is streetwise. Unconventional certainly, but resourceful.

Within a matter of minutes, Doobie, his long straggly hair blowing like Bob Dylan’s answer, arrives in a curiously customised Jeep at the arranged spot along the dirt-track lane by the derelict grain store. Crashing guitar chords ring out from an improvised on board speaker system. I don’t believe that this is Bob Dylan. Thrash metal perhaps. Or nu metal. Whichever, you don’t hear a lot of this kind of music on Iescos. The Rolling Stones are still considered to be new kids on the block here. I have often wondered how someone who draws so much attention to himself as Doobie does can get through life in such a cavalier fashion without requital, but he appears to do so. Hiding in the light, I think it is called.

I lift Malcolm into the vehicle and jump in beside him. With a spin of wheels, we speed off, hopefully out of danger.

‘What was happening back there, Nattie?’ says Doobie. ‘You seem a bit shaken up.’

‘There was a gunman coming for us and Malcolm was running towards him and …….’

‘Slow down, will you, Nats? You’ll give yourself a heart attack.’

‘But he had a rifle and ….. ‘

‘Oh, I wouldn’t get too alarmed about that,’ he laughs. ‘If it was a sniper, he’s not going to waste a bullet on you. Ammunition is precious when you are a renegade in hiding. You worry too much, Nattie, you know that? Time for a cold one at Mojo I think.’

Unlikely as it may seem, I got to know Doobie through a mutual interest in avant-garde cinema. We met at a rare screening of one of Leif Velasquez’s films in Freeport. I read about Velasquez in Artz magazine, on the internet and went along to the Freeport show out of curiosity. Doobie was there setting up the props. He is an artist of sorts, although, by his own admission, not an easy one to categorise. Interactive guerilla street installation art or subversive performance sculpture mural art. Anyway, something unusual.

Doobie and I were, in fact, the only two people to attend the Velasquez screening. Even today, it seems few people you speak to have heard of Leif Velasquez. I don’t believe Artz magazine has a wide readership, even in the US or the UK, and certainly not on Iescos. Interactive film has therefore not caught on yet, but it will. Give it time and it will fulfil the MAYA (Most Advanced Yet Acceptable) criteria for innovation. Milo, of course, is not one for the arts, but Doobie and I have now been to a few shows together. Few, because events on Iescos are rare. If you google ‘Iescos’, it will come back with, ‘did you mean Tescos?’

To look at the two of us you would think we were polar opposites, me in my tweedy twin-sets and Doobie in his denim cut-offs with a torn The Bloody Rook t-shirt. Who is The Bloody Rook? Is it a band? An artists’ collective? A group of writers? I don’t want to show my ignorance by asking. I keep meaning to look on the internet but have not yet got round to it. But, anyway, Doobie and I seem to get along. Opposites, and all of that.

The recent uprising was a bit of a joke. Most of the rebels were rounded up within the first twenty four hours. Iescos is, after all, a small island and because of this it has since its colonial days been relatively easy to govern. A few of the more enterprising insurgents managed to escape capture and most of these apparently headed this way, the cover of the hills providing a treasury of hiding places. As it was such a shambles, I’m not sure that mastermind is the right word here but nobody I have spoken to seems to know for sure who the mastermind behind the uprising was.

Around two hundred ill-equipped rebels stormed the government building and imprisoned the government officials. To announce the change of leadership to that of a popular co-operative and to manage the flow of information, they took control of the radio station and the press. What they overlooked was that hardly anyone on the island listens to the local radio station and even fewer read the newspaper. This is the internet age, even on Iescos. Unfortunately, there was not a skilled webmaster among the band of insurgents. So, unaware that we had to acknowledge a change in fortunes, we all went about our business as usual. By the time the rebels realised what was happening, or in this case not happening, outside help was at hand. GCHQ had already processed the information and, almost before the uprising had started, a pair of British frigates was in Freeport harbour. The freedom fighters who were not captured by their former colonial oppressors took to the hills.

We pull up outside Mojo. It is almost buried beneath lush vegetation. It looks like a former colonial trading post. As we make our way through the greenery, we are greeted by colourful adverts for exotic herbs, hummingbirds, parrots, livestock, alligators and two-headed snakes. Island Sweet Skunk and Gurage Khat. It appears you can buy anything here. Or in Doobie’s case, it seems you can just help yourself. He ushers me inside to the darkened interior, Malcolm at my heels. He directs us to a table, nods to a shadowy figure behind the counter, takes two glistening bottles of Sol Original out from a giant peppermint green fridge and places one in front of me. Clearly he is a man of standing in these parts.

‘The gin here is fresh too, if you would like one in a bit,’ he says, pointing to a still, visible, despite a beaded curtain, in the corner. ‘And duty-free.’

We settle into a conversation about the complicated topography of Iescos, all the peaks and promontories, twists and turns, ridges and rills, swales and dingles. Or in plain language, the ups and downs.

‘Although Milo and I have been here for three years and the island is less than forty miles across, I still get lost,’ I say. ‘Even with satnav. Some of the roads are little more than tracks or paths and even out in the open there are next to no road signs.’

‘The road signs all but disappeared in the uprising,’ he says. ‘One of the rebels’ tactics.’

‘This is why I take Malcolm out on to Panhandlers Hill,’ I say. ‘It’s an easy journey from the house and it has a safe place to park the car.’

Doobie says he doesn’t need satnav or road signs, he knows every inch of the island. He knows which parts are safe and which bits might be rebel hideouts. I tell him it is just as well he knows his way around because I don’t have any idea how to get back to my car. We have probably only come five or six miles from where he picked me up, but I would never have been able to find my way to Mojo in a million years. I had no idea that places like this existed.

‘Most of the people on the island never make it out of the towns,’ he says.

In breaks in our conversation, I overhear the murmur of two men in conversation at a nearby table. They are speaking in their native tongue. It is something that you could easily miss, in fact, it is Malcolm who draws my attention to it, but their conversation seems to be interspersed with occasional utterances of Milo’s name. Malcolm’s ears prick up and he gives out a little yelp each time that Milo’s name is mentioned. He misses Milo. At first, I wonder if the pair might be referring to a different Milo. Or perhaps Milo or something that sounds like it is a word in their language. But, when Doobie goes off to speak to someone at the bar, I distinctly hear one of them say the name, Milo Lorenz. He repeats it several times. No doubt then that it is my Milo. This is disconcerting. What connection could they possibly have with my husband?

I look around discreetly, anxious not to draw more attention to myself than I might already be doing. I am aware that a lady dressed in Barbour country clothing as I am might look out of place in a bar like this. In fact, a lady of any sort might look out of place. Except possibly a lap dancer. This is a male domain. I’m not at all comfortable that Doobie has brought me here. The lightness of the atmosphere earlier when we were sipping our Sol Original has vanished. Dressed in torn fatigues and baseball caps, the two men definitely don’t look like the kind of associates I would expect Milo to have. They would not fit easily into the world of commerce. For one thing, I don’t imagine that you are allowed to spit on the floor in the meetings that Milo goes to. But, it occurs to me I do not know much about what Milo actually does and he is around so infrequently that there is not much opportunity to find out. I do not believe that he has been home now for nearly a month, in fact, he hasn’t phoned for a week or so.

The longer Doobie spends talking to the sinister man at the bar, the more nervous I become. They have sneaked away into a corner of the bar and I am unable to see what they are doing. The two men on the table behind me now have raised voices. They seem more menacing by the minute. I call over to Doobie, but he completely ignores me. I have a bad feeling about what might be happening here. What if I have been lured into some kind of trap? What if they are all in on it? What if I am being kidnapped? It is perhaps not the conventional way of doing it, but then there has been nothing conventional about today. They might be using me as a way to get money out of Milo. I take the phone out to give him a call but, predictably, it goes straight to voicemail. I can no longer see Doobie. He has disappeared.

Malcolm begins to bark. One of the men at the table, the one with the scar running the length of his cheek, mouths something guttural at him. The other man, the one with the dental problems, then addresses me in a threatening manner. He spits. I don’t understand Iescan but I think I understand the gesture. It is aimed at me. I am not welcome. I look around me for support. There is none. I am scared. I get up quickly and go over to where Doobie disappeared. I push open a door, Malcolm following at my heels. We go down a couple of wooden steps and find ourselves in a murky room. Parrots call out as we enter. There is an overpowering aroma from a potpourri of herbs and spices, tarragon and eucalyptus, coriander and nutmeg. It is like a bazaar. Shelves are stacked with a dizzying assortment of strange artefacts. Malcolm is spooked by the two-headed green snake that peers out from its glass tank. Next to it in another glass tank is a writhing congregation of baby alligators. Are those bats circling overhead? Or are they large moths? This is the stuff of nightmares. There is no sign of Doobie.

I backtrack and along a corridor find another door. I push it open. This is a much larger room. There are no parrots. No two headed snakes. No alligators. Instead, dominating the space and looking completely out of context is a Heidelberg offset printing machine. I do not know much about printing, but this looks like a serious piece of kit. Although it is not in use, it appears to have done its job. Stacked alongside it are bales and bales of printed material wrapped in polythene, newspapers, posters, flyers. I move in closer, brush the dust off the nearest pile and take a look. To my alarm, they have Milo’s photo on. President Lorenz, it says. So do the other bales. President Lorenz? What on earth? Is this some kind of joke?

Gradually it dawns on me that Milo must have been the one behind the failed uprising. This must have been the takeover that I heard him talking about in those clandestine phonecalls late at night. This would explain why he hasn’t phoned me. This must be why his phone is off. He must be in detention somewhere. This will be why I was being spat at in the bar. I can see straight away why the plan might have failed. Milo’s big problem is that he never thinks things through. He has an idea and thinks that this is enough; the job is then done. Not that Milo would have made a good president anyway. His politics are too fickle. He has a low boredom threshold. One thing one day, the opposite the next. He would have been quickly overthrown.

But, why haven’t the authorities contacted me? And why has Doobie brought me to this godforsaken place?

As if summoned, Doobie sidles into the room. His aura seems to have darkened a little.

‘There was no easy way of telling you, Nattie,’ he says, apologetically. ‘When you called me I wasn’t sure what I should say. Not a lot of people in respectable circles realised who was behind the uprising. And it was seen as important that they didn’t find out. We’re no different here on Iescos when it comes to secrecy than anywhere else. The fewer that know the truth the better.’

‘I see,’ I say, not seeing at all.

‘You wouldn’t have believed me anyway,’ he says. ‘So, I thought it would be best if I brought you here and let you find out for yourself.’

I am about to point out that all the people here seem to know about Milo, but, I think I am beginning to get it. After all, the peasants here in the interior don’t have a voice, do they? They don’t have access to one. Nor will they have. The printing press is shut down for now.

‘So, Doobie. Whose side are you on, I say.

‘Sides, Nattie? I don’t do sides, Nattie,’ he says. ‘I’m too smart for that.’

‘I put too much faith in people, Doobie. I always expect to find things how I left them. But life isn’t like that. It’s full of surprises. From now on, I’m going to see which way the wind blows.’

‘I think that’s the answer, Mrs L.’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

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Bougainvillea Heights

bougainvilleaheights2

Bougainvillea Heights by Chris Green

As soon as she opens the front door, Angel can hear the sound of the shower running in the upstairs bathroom. That’s odd,’ she thinks as she unzips her boots, ‘Jayson is never home at this time of day.’ Still, it is a nice surprise. Since he took up his post as CEO of Dozier and Coons, Jayson never seems to be home. Their love life has become almost nonexistent. If he is having a shower at this time of day, perhaps he has plans to put this right. A little afternoon delight, she thinks, exactly what a girl needs, now and then. Angel was forty-two last month. While she works out and keeps herself in shape, she needs a little reassurance that she is still desirable. She drops her keys in the Art Deco dish by the hat-stand, throws her suit jacket over the bannister and after a quick check in the hall mirror heads upstairs.

‘Jay,’ she calls out. ‘Jay, I’m home.’

There is no reply.

‘Jay,’ she calls again, at the top of the stairs. She has undone the top button of her blouse.

Jayson doesn’t answer. He can’t have heard her above the powerful pounding of the shower.

The bathroom door is ajar a few inches and steam is billowing out. Her fingers reach out to push the door open. From behind, an arm reaches out and grabs her around the neck. She looks down to see a gloved hand. It is not Jayson’s hand.

Jayson Love leaves the car park at Dozier and Coons in his new Audi A5. He phones Angel on the handsfree to say he will be late. There is no reply. She must be in the shower, he thinks. He leaves a short message. He slips Mozart’s Don Giovanni into the player to listen to while he drives along the short stretch of motorway to the turn-off to Dakota’s. The traffic is light for early evening.

Jayson sees Dakota three or four times a week depending on workload. Dakota is the only escort he has found at Elite Escorts who entertains clients at home. He used to just visit once a week, but Angel’s affections seem to have dropped off lately. Ten years is a long time. None of his friends have been married that long.

Dakota is preparing for Jayson’s arrival. He likes her to surprise him with a different colour underwear each time he visits. Today she is going to treat him to lilac. Dakota has been with Elite Escorts for nearly five years. Because Jayson is such a regular, she wonders if she should give up the agency and just see him and perhaps one or two others regulars on a private basis. She would have more than enough income to live comfortably. Perhaps she should just see Jayson. He is a very generous man. Ah, that will be him now. She sprays the room with Occidental, makes a final adjustment to her skirt, puts on her heels and goes to the door to greet him.

Russ Buchanan joined the force from school. He stood out among the new recruits and was moved over to CID, where he was quickly promoted to Detective Sergeant. DS Buchanan has been called away from his skittles evening because his colleague DS Slack, who should be on duty, is off sick. When he arrives at Bougainvillea Heights, the crime scene investigators are already there going over the prints in the bathroom where Angel Love’s mutilated body was found. Jayson Love is not answering his phone and his whereabouts is unknown.

‘What have we got, Constable,’ he asks.

PC Hogg, the first to arrive on the scene, says that he has spoken to Mr and Mrs Schneider who reported the disturbance.

‘It was just after Angel Love arrived home that they heard the screams, Sarge’, he says. ‘They called right away. Mr Love, as you may have guessed, was not home.’

‘Was he not?’ says Buchanan. ‘You know that, do you?’ The key to being a good detective is to rule nothing out.

‘He is hardly ever there, apparently,’ Hogg continues. ‘Neither the Schneiders nor the Pembertons who live opposite saw anyone apart from Angel Love arrive at the house and no one has seen anyone leave.’

‘Then the murderer would still be inside, Hogg. And clearly he isn’t, because you and Constable Peacey and the crime scene boys have all been over the house. None of the other neighbours saw anything?’

‘There are no other neighbours, sir,’ says Hogg. ‘As you can see, it’s pretty exclusive up here.’

‘No little Pembertons or Schneiders?’

‘Rosalind and Jemima are at university and Horst is at boarding school.’

‘You’ve checked, have you?’

‘Peacey’s just checking now, sir.’

‘Sarge will be sufficient, Hogg. I haven’t got my promotion yet.

Russ Buchanan can see from the body in the bathroom that Angel Love did not take her own life. People cannot slash their own torsos at those angles with such force. What could possibly be the motive for such a vicious attack on a beautiful woman in these prosperous preserves? While this does not have the hallmarks of a crime of passion, somebody must have held a hell of a grudge to make their point so powerfully. Hardened he might be by watching snuff films with fellow officers at the Lights Out club, but he feels physically sick by the sight of the carnage before him. This is not the kind of case that officers in the Home Counties are often asked to investigate. But, with the Inspector’s post being advertised it represents an ideal opportunity to take on the mantle of higher office. With another baby on the way, he is sure that Trudi would be glad of the extra salary.

‘What have we got from REX,’ he says. REX is the affectionate name for the new police computer. No-one knows for sure the explanation, but it is believed to come from Recs, records. There appears to be a singular lack of imagination in the creative department of crime prevention.

‘She seems squeaky clean,’ says Hogg.

‘Not her, you fool, the husband. Go and check on the husband and bring him in.’

‘We haven’t been able to get hold of Mr Love, Sarge.’

‘Just do it, will you, Hogg.’

Russ Buchanan has a variation on good cop, bad cop, he even has a variation on bad cop, bad cop. It is bad cop, bad cop, better cop, where he is the better cop who manages to extract a confession from the by now terrified suspect. It always works. He has secured endless convictions by this method.

He calls up Division and asks them to send over Noriega and Suggs for bad cop duties.

Jayson Love arrives home from Dakota’s about nine thirty. The area around the house is by now completely sealed off and the barrage of blue flashing lights is blinding.

Burly cops pull Jayson roughly from his Audi, where a smiling DS Buchanan greets him.

‘We’ve been trying to contact you, Mr Love,’ he says. ‘I expect you’ve got a good explanation for where you have been for the last four hours?’

‘I’m not at liberty to say,’ says Jayson. ‘Perhaps you would like to tell me what’s going on.’

‘I think it would be a good idea for you to answer our questions,’ says DS Buchanan. ‘What do you think Noriega?’

Noriega delivers a hefty blow to the stomach.

Further protests are greeted with further blows. Noriega and Suggs guide him, kicking and screaming, to the gruesome crime scene.

‘You surely don’t think that I did this,’ Jayson splutters, holding back a surge of vomit. ‘What kind of animal do you think I am? You think that I would slash my own wife to death.’

‘Perhaps you’d like to tell us where you were at around five o’clock this afternoon. I think that might be your best plan,’ says Buchanan. ‘What do you think, Suggs?’

A million thoughts simultaneously run through Jayson’s head. While he is sickened by what he is seeing, he must try to get a grip. Nothing is going to bring his wife back. And, after all, he does have an alibi. He can disclose his earlier whereabouts to the officers. He does not want to do this, but Dakota will understand. There are other considerations. There is a lot at stake in commerce. He has important interests to protect. In his line of work, the potential for misunderstanding is large. Those with, or even without vested interests are easily upset. Butchering his wife may be their way of getting their message through to him. The people we are likely to be talking about here are anything but subtle.

‘Can you get his phone from the car, Hogg,’ shouts Buchanan. ”We’ll soon find out what is going on around here.’

Jayson has a moment of panic, but, yes, he does have the device in his pocket. He presses the emergency button. The phone will now be completely wiped. Not even the spooks from the spy base will be able to retrieve any information. His Iranian contact said that it might come in useful one day. And, of course, he does have a backup copy of the phone at the bank, but he is not going to volunteer this information in a hurry.

Dakota is surprised by the visit. People don’t usually knock so vigorously at the door at 2am. A look out of the window is enough to confirm her suspicions that it is the police. At least, it gives her the opportunity to flush the coke down the toilet. The interrogation ensues. Although Noriega and Suggs are chomping at the bit, not even Buchanan can stoop low enough to use the bad cop, bad cop, better cop with someone as feminine and attractive as Dakota.

Yes, she tells them, she did know Jayson. Yes, she had seen him that evening. Yes, she did know that Jayson was married. No, he never talked about her. She didn’t even know his wife’s name. Oh, Angel, that’s a pretty name. Oh my God, no-one deserves that. I expect it was one of those psychopaths you read about in the Sunday papers. No, she never took money from Jayson for sex. She’s not that kind of girl. Certainly, he might have bought her the odd present. He was a kind and generous man. No, she didn’t work for an agency. No, of course, she wasn’t a prostitute.

Dakota is a seasoned professional. She lives in a world where it pays to be discreet. She has also watched enough crime dramas on television to know what is the best course of action here both to protect herself and not to incriminate her client. To avoid being taken downtown, she does make a statement but she offers the minimum amount of information about Jayson and their meeting earlier. She leaves out all personal details and makes no mention of previous assignations. Detective Sergeant Buchanan leaves disappointed.

Jayson’s solicitor, Milton Chance, the senior partner at Gallagher, Dreamer and Shed arrives at the police station at 7am. Jayson is in a detention cell. He has the look of a broken man. Milton knows all about this look. Most of his clients have this look when he meets them. It’s his job to get rid of this look. He is good at his job. This is how he is able to afford to live at Bougainvillea Heights. He is not sure how Jayson is able to afford to live at Bougainvillea Heights. There is an air of mystery surrounding Dozier and Coons. He has heard rumours about what they might do in the huge complex at West Park, but no-one seems to know for certain. He drives past it sometimes and he can’t help but notice that the heavy security at the gates. He has more than an inkling that there might be something that Jayson is not telling him. From experience, he finds this is the case with a majority of his clients. A defence solicitor today sees it as the duty of modern justice to be able to accommodate secrets and lies.

‘Why do you think that are they keeping you here if they are not going to charge you,’ he says.

‘I think they just want to give me another going over,’ says Jayson. ‘That bastard Buchanan seems to have it in for me.’

‘I’ve come across him before,’ says Milton. ‘Nasty piece of work, isn’t he. A real shitbag. Don’t worry! I’ll get you out of here. But! If there is anything I need to know, you had better tell me so that I am in a position to react appropriately.’

Jayson feels that it is too early to share any big secrets about Dozier and Coons business. ‘We sell information,’ he says. ‘Some of it could be considered to be sensitive. It depends on your viewpoint.’

‘I think I get the picture,’ says Milton.

It’s a dog eat dog world out there. Databases are traded for profit the world over. It would be difficult to pretend that it is a virtuous line of business. Jayson does not spell out that Dozier and Coons have access to the same transatlantic data traffic as the listening centre. The same traffic that Edward Snowden got all hot and bothered about. But, in contrast to the listening centre who just monitor the data, Dozier and Coons decrypt it, package it by category and sell it on to interested parties. He does not confide that the interested parties are likely to use the data to exploit or undermine others, or worse.

‘What is Buchanan likely to know?’

‘He would be able to find out that Dozier and Coons are in the information business. He could find out that much with google. But he could burrow around in TOR all day and still would not be able to find out the specifics of our operation and certainly nothing regarding our client list. We are a very security conscious organisation.’

‘He will be back here soon, probably with his goons. You could be in for a tough day,’ says Milton. ‘So, as you’re paying me well, I’m going to stay with you until the twenty-four hours are up. I’ve brought us lunch.’

Jayson Love never imagined in all his nightmares that he was putting those close to him in such danger. He has been a fool. He was earning good money with DataBroker. He didn’t need to take up the position at Dozier and Coons. Angel had not wanted him to. A slideshow of memories floods his consciousness; small but precious moments from their life together, the stolen kiss at the turn of a mile in his coupé on their first date, watching the waves roll in as the summer sun was setting over Mawgan Porth, Angel trying to capture the shifting light across the bay at Juan Les Pins for an impressionist painting, the night-time sleigh ride to see the northern lights in Nova Scotia, watching spellbound as Lang Lang effortlessly gilded the Liszt Piano Concerto No.1 at The Proms, the month spent touring Spain in the hired Winnebago last year, or was it the year before.

He remembers the moment Angel told him she was pregnant just months ago after they had been trying for years, and the heartbreak of the miscarriage, knowing also that the biological clock was ticking. Was his inattention to her needs the result of this? Consciously or unconsciously, was he blaming her?

‘Angel didn’t deserve to die,’ he blubs, head in hands. ‘It should have been me. Goddammit! I wish it had of been me. I feel as if I killed her.’

Milton Chance has seen many grown men cry before. To be a successful criminal lawyer requires suitably accessible shoulders, and sometimes a little pick me up to help the client. He does not know what is in the cocktail he administers, but more often than not it seems to do the job.

The lawyer’s continued presence throughout the day frustrates DS Buchanan. He likes his detainees to be more vulnerable. Having to abandon his bad cop, bad cop, better cop strategy he is not able to make any significant progress on the investigation. All his fellow officers’ reports throughout the day about the activities of Dozier and Coons also come up with nothing. Little by little he sees his promotion prospects dwindle.

Jayson is released without charge at 4pm. He is just in time to pick up the duplicate smart phone from the bank vault. There are eighty-four missed calls. The battery is low. He will look into these later, he decides. As soon as he is on the steps outside the bank, the phone gives out its Rondo Alla Turca ringtone.

‘Dakota’s a pretty girl, isn’t she, Mr Love? says a foreign sounding voice. He pronounces his name as Meester Lov. Jayson cannot place the accent. Is it Middle Eastern, perhaps?

‘Who is this?’

‘It would be a pity if she ended up the same way as Angel, wouldn’t it?’ says the voice.

‘Who is this?’ Jayson repeats. He has the feeling he has heard the voice before. Perhaps it was a week or two ago. Someone with similar phrasing called. He has a vague recollection of the voice saying something about a friendly warning. He did not take much notice at the time. Some days can be quite full on at Dozier and Coons.

‘I imagine that you found the place a bit of a mess. All that blood and the sight of your dearly beloved lying there amongst it must have been shocking.’

‘What do you want?’

‘It is what we do not want, Mr Love,’ says the voice. ‘We do not want your organisation to have such close links with third parties in Iran. We do not want to see propaganda supporting Hamas. We do not want supplies of rocket parts to reach Hamas. We do not want to see Palestine as a member of the UN that is a sovereign state in its own right. I think that might give you an idea of who we represent.’

‘But ….. your people buy information from us too,’ says Jayson.

‘Precisely, Mr Love. And we intend to continue this arrangement, but your …… other arrangements will be cancelled forthwith. Or, it’s goodbye pretty little Miss Dakota. I think that you understand me.’

‘I usually get The Times,’ says Mrs Pemberton. ‘But tabloids are much more fun when something like this happens.’

‘We get the Telegraph,’ says Mrs Schneider. ‘Jurgen likes to do the crossword. But these, what do you call them, redtops, do like to tell a story.’

‘It says here, he was shot at point blank range,’ says Mrs Pemberton. ‘It’s odd though that the photo looks nothing like him.’

‘This one says that a girl was seen running from the house,’ says Mrs Schneider.

‘The Express says that an armed division of Israeli soldiers rushed the house,’ says Mrs P. ‘But they don’t have a photo, just a mock up of what an armed division of Israeli soldiers might look like storming a house.’

‘Look at this headline, BURNING LOVE. It says he died screaming in a house fire,’ says Mrs S.

‘They’ll do anything to sell papers,’ says Mrs P. ‘It talks about a Palestinian tunneller here.’

‘It says in the Standard that Jayson Love died from a heart attack,’ says Mrs Pemberton.

‘I know. You don’t know what to believe, do you?’ says Mrs S. ‘Its funny we haven’t seen that nice policeman again. That Inspector Buchanan. You’d think he’d want to ask us some questions.’

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

 

The Black Book

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The Black Book by Chris Green

When I was growing up in the nineteen sixties, I was surrounded by books. The bookshelves in Grey Gables, the big old house in Gloucestershire where we lived were full, but there was one particular book I was told I must never read. It was referred to simply as The Black Book. No explanation was offered, but under no circumstances must I even touch it. There were a number of house rules back then, which as I saw it were there to be broken, but for reasons its hard to explain I understood this rule to be somehow less negotiable. I had no idea what they were, but I was of the view that there would be grave consequences if I transgressed.

Before you jump to the conclusion that the book may have been some grimoire or occult classic, let me state that this was not the case. This was not The Clavicule Of Solomon or The Book Of Honorius or anything like that. The Bible then, you might be thinking. Bibles are black. A big no here too. My parents were regular church goers. Three times a week sometimes. Why would they forbid me to read the Bible? They practically threw Bibles at me.

Sandwiched between old copies of The Compleat Angler and Dr Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, The Black Book looked like an ordinary leather bound book. The only difference was there was no title or author’s name on the spine, nothing to suggest what might be inside. As you can imagine it was a tantalising mystery. When my school friends came round to visit, they too were curious about The Black Book. From time to time we would idly speculate about what exactly it might be.

‘Might its pages be black too?’ one of us might say. For point of argument, this would probably be Adam. He was the smart aleck among us.

‘Wouldn’t that make it difficult to read?’ someone might say. Let’s say Roger. Roger was the most systematic thinker in our little group.

‘Probably not as hard as Silas Marner,’ David might say. I would more than likely have agreed with David here. It was after all ridiculous to expect fourteen year old boys in modern times to become interested in a long meandering tale of a Calvinist weaver in the pre Victorian north of England.

‘Or King Lear,’ Peter might say. ‘What a load of wank that is.’

‘You think that Lear is tough going,’ I might say. ‘You will find Coriolanus unfathomable. You might as well be reading a bicycle repair manual in Welsh.’

Truth be told, all of us in the B stream at Greystone Grammar School found most of the required reading difficult. Wasn’t this the intention? Oh! And that the books must be boring. Why do you think we passed Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comics around in class?

Obviously there were times when we were tempted to have a peek inside The Black Book. With so much mystique surrounding it, who wouldn’t? The thinking would be if we had a look and put it back carefully in the same place, no-one would be able to find out. It was not as if the books on this particular shelf were read very often. But each time temptation arose, something, an invisible yet powerful force, held us back. Each of us had the strange intuition that by opening the book we would cross a line that must not be crossed. It would be ….. dark on the other side.

It was not that we were faint hearted. We weren’t. We did all of things that rebellious grammar school boys do growing up. Smoked cigarettes behind the Science block. Smoked weed behind the science block. Smoked weed in the science block. Grew weed in the science block. We got bolder and bolder. We constantly dared each other to go one step further. We stole push bikes. We stole motor bikes. We even stole Ugg Stanton’s car. Ugg taught us History. When I say taught, I use the term euphemistically. He was a hopeless teacher, secondperhaps only to Hans Orff, who euphemistically taught us German. But despite our insurgent proclivities, The Black Book remained a no-no.

In my later teenage years, what with outside interests and all that, I did not give it much thought. I was not around the house very much. I had no interest in entering into lengthy discussions with Pater about the nature of sin or whether there was life after death. Clearly you wouldn’t find out if there was a Heaven or Hell until the time came. With hormones racing, there were more important matters to attend to. Diana, Elaine and Fiona for example. My wild oats were there to be sown. What else could I do? There was a reputation to be established. Burgeoning adolescence gave no quarter.

Some time later, on a rare home visit from university I slipped into the library, as my parents referred to the room. I noticed that The Black Book was now bookended by Great Expectations and Crime and Punishment. I couldn’t be certain, but it seemed to me that it was also on a different shelf.

I asked my father about this.

‘The cleaner must have moved it, son,’ he said. ‘but she’s ….. no longer with us.’

‘Been gone a while now,’ said Mum.

Oh well, I thought. Getting rid of home help was one of the few hobbies they had. They had to have some pleasures to brighten up their dull lives. Pops meanwhile got back to berating me, with renewed vigour.

‘Why don’t you get a hair cut, lad?’ he said. ‘Do they let you wear those ridiculous clothes at Leeds? You look like a pansy. What bloody good is Media Studies anyway? What are you going to do, be a gopher at Thames Television?’

I wasn’t going to be spoken to like this. I decided to take a time out. There was a good pub in the next village. Over a couple of pints of Old Bastard in The Belted Galloway, I got to thinking, if the forbidden book had been moved so unceremoniously, maybe it was not so dangerous after all. The temptation to take a look became stronger than it had ever been. By the end of the second pint it had become all consuming. I would finally discover what had been hidden from me for all these years.

After a frosty dinner, trading insults, I excused myself and sneaked off to the library. I took a deep breath and braced myself. Whatever dark secrets The Black Book held would soon be revealed. But just as I was about to take the book down from the shelf and examine it, an invisible force took hold. It felt like I was reaching out into dark and empty space with a thousand watts of electrical current pulsing through my flailing limbs. My whole body became numb and I collapsed in a writhing heap on the floor. I was petrified. The paramedics could not work out what had happened. I kept quiet about the book. If you are going to face ridicule, it is best not to do so in your own home.

I did not go near the library for the rest of my stay. In fact I curtailed my stay and did not visit my parents again for a number of years.

After university with my hard earned Desmond (2:2), I got a job at Thames Television as Assistant to the Deputy Assistant Regional Promotions Editor. It was at Thames that I met Sarah. Sarah had a job title similar to my own, but then Thames did employ about forty thousand people at the time. There were a lot of errands to run. There was a lot of tea to make. Sarah and I got to know each other quickly and moved in together into a small flat in Hammersmith, West London. In the seventies Hammersmith was the very cauldron of change, as with the empire striking back, London became truly international. Within a square mile you could find families from every corner of the globe.

I mentioned The Black Book once or twice to Sarah, after a few drinks. I couldn’t help it. It was something that just came out now and again. Regrettably she began to show too keen an interest in it. I could sense that she was eager to see what all the fuss about. I stood my ground. I resisted. I did not want to go back home yet. I was not ready.

‘There’s no real point in going to see it,’ I said. ‘Unless we are going to take a look inside the thing.’ I imagined that when it came down to it, the book would work its arcane magic and keep her at bay, as it had with me and with my school friends. I was just saving her the trouble of finding this out.

‘Then perhaps we should take a look inside,’ she said. ‘This mumbo jumbo about the bloody book is probably all in your imagination. Have you thought of that? You do get worked up about little things sometimes.’

There was another objection. My trump card, I felt.

‘My parents and I don’t even speak,’ I said, hoping that this would seal it. ‘You know I haven’t been home in years.’

‘Then you definitely should,’ she said. ‘Look! Your Mum has to my knowledge phoned at least half a dozen times and you’ve not got back to her. And even your Dad phoned once and left a message and you never had the decency to call back. It’s time to lay those ghosts to rest, Clive. Time to put your petty vendetta to bed and start behaving like an adult.’

‘I shouldn’t have let them have the number.’

‘In any case, we’ve been together for three years. Don’t you think I might like to meet your parents?’

‘I can’t think why you would,’ I said.

‘And you never think about your inheritance, Clive.’

‘So this is what this is about, is it?’

‘No but one day …….’

‘I never think about the future.’

‘Then you should. You can’t run away from it, because it is going to happen.’

Little by little Sarah used her guile to persuade me to take the plunge and renew my severed ties.

‘We’ll go in the new year,’ I said finally, hoping that over the festive period she might forget.

Sarah didn’t forget. Over the Christmas holidays, her insistence became stronger. So, on the second Friday of January, we drove across the country to the family pile. The snow we had had earlier in the week was beginning to thaw, but not so much that it spoiled the picture postcard views of the rolling Cotswold hills. Perhaps I had become used to driving in London, but for once it seemed that there was little traffic on the road. We passed a joint back and forth and listened to a cassette of Kaya, Bob Marley and The Wailers new album. We had been fortunate enough to see them play at The Plaza de Toros in Ibiza earlier in the year. They were spectacular.

As we drove through the rural idyll, the winter sun shone and the sky was an azure blue. The wealth of the wool towns and villages of West Oxfordshire set against the frozen landscape offered a bounty of chocolate box views. In the Windrush valley we watched a red kite swoop down from a great height. I had not seen one for years, not since a group of us went camping in Mid Wales for our Duke Of Edinburgh Award Scheme expedition. I took the sighting to be a good omen. I began to think that I might have been wrong in my decision to keep the family at a distance. Sarah’s family had always been close. She saw them every week. Perhaps, I shouldn’t have taken my father’s comments so much to heart. After all, he had always been a cold fish. I shouldn’t expect him to change now. That he had actually phoned and left a message, albeit quite a sour one was was as much as I could reasonably expect. In fact that he had left a message at all could probably be described as progress. Perhaps too I had been mistaken about the perils of The Black Book. Imagination could be a powerful force. Maybe there was nothing to fear.

From a distance I could see Dad’s grey Rover 3.5 parked on the drive, along with the green Morris Traveller that Mum drove. You don’t expect to see a lot of changes to Cotswold country houses, but it was clear that there were no concessions here to modernity. No double glazing. No extension. No vine covered pergola. The house was exactly as it always had been. Before going in, we took a look round the back. Maybe this was my way of delaying the reunion for a few more minutes, while I got used to the idea of being back, but the garden too was unchanged. The borders were exactly as I remembered them, the lawns carefully manicured as they had always been. The trees were the same size. Five years and they appeared not to have grown an inch. The shrubs were the same size. Even the ornamental statues and the rustic water feature were weathered to the same degree. The summer house was still in the same state of crumbling decay as it was when I left.

Eventually we went into the house and I introduced Sarah. She made a joke about all the number of layers of clothing she was wearing. This helped to break the ice. The frosty reception I might have received had I come alone was averted by Sarah’s bubbly personality. Mum and Dad were able to focus on a conversation with her and thus able to completely ignore me. This suited me just fine. I listened to them making small talk and watched the hands of the grandfather clock as they moved around to quarter past three. I recalled all the times it had woken me up throughout the night, chiming as it did every fifteen minutes. Surely there must have been a mechanism to prevent this.

By about four o’clock the conversation seemed to have run dry. They had brought up all the embarrassing facts about my childhood that they could remember and Sarah had filled them in on the latest blockbuster that would be going out on ITV. They offered to give Sarah a tour of the house. They wanted to start by showing her her room, my room, our room. I knew that the room would be frozen in time. The posters for Superfly and 200 Motels would still adorn the walls. Pater would make some snide remark about one or the other. I saw this as a good point to sneak off to the library. It had the familiar musty smell of old books. There were probably close to a thousand of them in all. I could not spot it at first, but there was The Black Book, on the top shelf now sandwiched in between Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams and Bertrand Russell’s Has Man A Future? Had the cleaner again been responsible for the rearrangement, I wondered. Had she too since been dispatched?

I reached up and carefully took The Black Book down from the shelf. For the briefest time I held it in my hand. Then all at once time became ……. suspended. One moment I was breathing, with blood running through my veins and thoughts going through my head, albeit what if thoughts, soft and foggy thoughts, slipping away thoughts, the next moment there was nothing. No-one, nothing. Like there never had been anyone, anything. Don’t expect a tunnel of light, or St Peter waiting to greet you, when it happens. Its not even like waiting for a bus that you know is not going to come along, as someone once described it. There is just an empty hollow void. Silence forever. Eternal nothingness.

I wonder who could be writing this story.

Whoever it is instructs you to leave the Black Book on the shelf. You should not take it down until it is time ………

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

 

HOMBURG

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Homburg by Chris Green

Ben Maceo told me about the clock last week. Ben has special powers, you see. He can tell when things are going to happen. Had it been anyone else, I would never have believed them, but as it was Ben, I knew that it would happen and so I was able to prepare. Ben knew that the big clock in the town’s main square was going to explode and that there would be fragments of time scattered everywhere. He knew you would no longer be able to rely on your watch or the numbers you saw on your phone display to tell the time. He knew that time being the key to practically everything, the chaos would spread. Perhaps I should have shared his warning with others, but I did not. I find that not many people are ready for unpleasant truths, and especially not to hear them before the event. The others on the campus already think that I’m a bit weird for hanging around with Ben.

Anyway, time is all over the place now. Not just hours and minutes, but years and months are coalescing, or separating. No-one knows what is going on and from what I can see from the television pictures, there is panic on the streets. Film crews have been shipped in from far and wide to take a look at the chaos that is happening in the town. Many of course have not been able to get here as time is buffeted around, but some have arrived, or are arriving. But others who have arrived are stuck here, whether they want to be or not.

Every aspect of our everyday lives, as Ben points out, is time dependent. I am not going to even venture outside until things get back to normal. Perhaps they will never get back to normal, but this is a chance that I have to take. In the meantime, I can take some cuttings from my agave plants and practice some Janacek on my ukulele, and there’s that Schopenhauer essay I have to finish off. Schopenhauer’s view on time is that we spend too much of it ruminating on the past or planning for the future that our lives quickly pass us by. So, I’m going to try to get on with mine. After all, Ben has my phone number. He will let me know if and when there is any change. Perhaps he might even call round. We could listen to my new Ozric Tentacles CD. And, who knows what else?

I have learned to trust Ben’s intuition. It was Ben who told me about the man in the Homburg hat’s arrival at the railway station last June. Ben was aware that the stranger’s very presence in the town would bring about the worst snows on record, and this in the middle of summer too when the rest of the country was basking in the seasonal sunshine. The mystery man was also responsible for the disappearance into thin air of the 11:11 train from the capital to the west country on November 11th, somewhere between the ancient burial sites and the land sculptures by the artist with the unpronounceable name. Ben told me this was going to take place days before it happened.

His gift is that he can detect what is happening behind the scenes. He can see the invisible threads that connect all things. He knows that when one of those threads gets broken that something anomalous will happen. By tracing the path of the broken thread, he says, he can tell exactly what will happen, along with when and where it will happen. He does not do any of this consciously. He says that it’s just like having the radio on in the background. This is how he knew that we would have blizzards in June and he knew the train would disappear.

‘There is more strangeness in the world than most people realise,’ he is fond of saying. ‘Most people cannot see the mechanics of things happening. They just put events down to cause and effect, without understanding what cause might be or what happens in between cause and effect or else they come up with some claptrap about theoretical physics to explain things.’

I’m right with Ben on this one. Theoretical physicists seem to know very little about the universe. Their theories change every five minutes. They talk about red shifts and blue shifts, expansions from the big bang and contractions down to gravity, dark matter, and dark energy, but despite all this blather, their understanding of what is really going on never seems to become any clearer. The great Karl Popper summed it up by saying, ‘Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.’ Ben Maceo takes it a step further and argues that there is no point at all in universal theories, each event is unique and has its own explanation.

……………………………………………….

Time is still all over the place. So far as I can tell, it has been three days, give or take, so far as I can tell, since it all went down and Ben still hasn’t been round to see me. He hasn’t so much as called me. You would think that given his intuitive powers, he would have detected the undeniable chemistry between us. Surely he has spotted that I always sit next to him in Paradox and Plurality. He must have noticed that I hang on his every word. What can he possibly be doing that is getting in the way of our blossoming romance? Especially now. He can’t be busy. College has been closed since the upheaval. He has no excuse not to get in touch.

I left several messages on Ben’s phone, but amidst all of the temporal disorder, I suppose it’s possible he may not have got them. Perhaps he will get them tomorrow or maybe he got them and thought they were from last week. From before the clock exploded. This could explain why I haven’t had a call. On the other hand, the messages may still be up there in the ether, struggling to find its way, along with all the other communications that have been disrupted. They said on the news that messages from weeks ago were still bumping around out there, trying to find their destination. I suspect some people will have made it out of town, but the newsman said that this would be a risky undertaking because of the wormholes. I imagine the term wormhole is perhaps being used here because they have no idea what is going on.

Ben would be able to explain what is going on, but he probably wouldn’t want to tell them. Perhaps they would not understand it if he did. If you can’t understand something without an explanation, then you can’t understand it with an explanation. I read that somewhere. I wonder where it was. There is an innate tendency to feel that things have always been as they are now and always will be. This is the way the human mind seems to work, but there was always a before and there will always be an after. It’s just a question of learning to think this way. We need to take a more Zen approach.

It is dark much of the day. Sometimes light breaks through for a few minutes but then the sky blackens again. With nothing to regulate them properly, night and day seem to be entirely arbitrary. My laptop is continually doing a system restore and my bedside clock is like a random number generator. I keep picking up numerals off the floor from the various clocks around the flat. Living without the certainty of time takes a lot of getting used to.

Ben did say that in the beginning, at least for the first few days, the aftermath of the explosion in the town would be difficult to live with. Perhaps he has left town. He knew that it was going to happen and seemed to understand the effect it would have, so this would make sense. And this is why he can’t communicate. Bit he should have taken me with him. Instead, I am stuck here. Oh well, no use dwelling on it. If it stays light for a while, I think I will paint some yantric mandalas to focus my mindfulness.

……………………………………………….

The stranger in the Homburg hat. …… The one that Ben described. ……. He is outside my house. ……. He’s looking in the window. ……. He has something in his hand. He is holding it up for me to see. It looks like an envelope, a black envelope, one of those A4 folding ones that you use to keep documents in. …… Oh my God! I can see his silhouette through the frosted glass of the front door. He is wearing a long black overcoat and with the hat looks about seven foot tall. He’s knocking on the door. ……. What should I do? What should I do? I’m not ready for this. I am terrified. He knocks again and shouts something. I can’t make out what he is saying. His diction is not good, but it does sound like a threat. ……. Suddenly, there is another rupture in time and to my great relief, the man in the Homburg hat is no longer there. But, the black manilla wallet is lying on the coir doormat inside the door, in front of me. Anxiously, I pick it up and inspect it, afraid to open it to see what is inside.

Finally, I pluck up the courage to take a look. The wallet contains nine sheets of A4 paper, each with several paragraphs of text on, but it is like no writing that I have ever seen before. It is perhaps a little, but only a little, reminiscent of Arabic script. In any event, it looks to the untrained eye as unintelligible as Kurdish or Urdu might be. At the bottom of the last page, as if acting as a signature, there is a line-art graphic of a shattered clock. How am I supposed to make anything of this arcane communication? We covered theosophy and The Golden Dawn and all that Zoroastrian mysticism in a module last semester, along with Rosicrucianism and the Kabbalah, but I can’t pretend that I followed it that closely. It was too easy to get one mixed up with the other and I drifted off a lot. I think I may have just sat in on the module to be around Ben.

The curious thing is, I find that I am able to read this bizarre communication. Not all of it, certainly, but I can make out passages of the strange text. Where has this remarkable ability sprung from? The letter contains none of the mumbo jumbo from esoteric teachings that the blocks of arcane lettering suggests. Instead, it mentions a meeting. I am to meet an undisclosed party, by the statue of Neil Diamond. The statue of Neil Diamond? Crackling Rosie? Sweet Caroline? Why is there a statue of Neil Diamond? The statue, it says, is located next to the harmonica museum. I didn’t realise there was a harmonica museum in the town. Where on earth is the harmonica museum? The letter doesn’t offer a map. Oh well, I expect I will find it. It is not a large town. The main problem might be the one concerning the specified time, midday. Time has not settled down yet, so how will I know when it is midday and if I do find out, will it still be midday when I get there.

……………………………………………….

‘Light doesn’t necessarily travel at the speed of light,’ says a muted voice. I cannot see where it is coming from and, at first, think it might just be a voice in my head. After all, it is an odd line in conversation.

‘The slowest recorded speed for light is thirty eight miles per hour,’ the voice continues. Is it perhaps some kind of coded message? I turn around to see a short stocky one-armed man in a Pablo Picasso blue and white hooped sweatshirt and black sunglasses emerging from behind the statue of Neil Diamond. He has a Siamese cat perched on his shoulder. Even though there is a lot of competition for strange, if this fellow is going for strange, he has surely succeeded.

‘Would you like to sing to my cat?’ he says. ‘He likes sea shanties best.’

‘I don’t think I know any sea shanties,’ I tell him. ‘Sea shanties aren’t a very girlie thing.’

‘Of course, you do,’ he says, dancing on the spot. ‘Everybody knows at least one sea shanty. What about Blow the man down?’

‘No sorry,’ I say. ‘I don’t know it.

‘What about a folk song then,’ he says. ‘My cat likes Wimoweh. My cat is called Trevor, by the way.’

‘OK I’ll give it a go,’ I say, finding myself somehow being drawn into Pablo Picasso’s veil of nonsense.

Wimoweh is easy as it doesn’t have a lot of words, but as soon as I start singing, Pablo Picasso disappears along with his cat. One minute they are here and the next they are gone like thieves in the night. I am still no wiser as to what the meeting might have been about, or indeed if this was the meeting at all. I wait outside the harmonica museum for a while, but no-one else turns up to meet with me.

I notice that some men are trying to rebuild the town clock. It is a great brute of a thing, much bigger than I remember it being. It is surrounded by crude scaffolding and one of the men is struggling to carry the minute hand up an improvised ladder while another holds the hour hand in place at three o’clock. Perhaps time will soon be back to normal and I will see Ben again. After all this singularity, I’m looking forward to some straightforward metaphysics and philosophy.

……………………………………………….

‘By the new saxophone shop? Yes, Ben. Of course, I can meet you there. I’ve got my bicycle. The new saxophone shop, though? I’m not sure where that is…… Ah, I see. Jack of Clubs Street. That’s round the corner from the kaleidoscope repair centre, is it?’

At last, to my great relief, Ben has called me. It’s so good to hear his voice. Since he’s been away, I have had to suspend belief with some of the things that have been happening.

‘Yes, up Jack of Clubs Street and about a hundred yards on the left,’ he says. ‘You can’t miss it. It has a large Selmer saxophone hanging outside. I’ll meet you in an hour.’

I’m concerned that if I let him off the phone then he will be gone out of my life again. ‘Look! I’ve been worried about you,’ I say. ‘And I’ve been living a nightmare. Where have you been?’

‘I’ve been here and I’ve been there and I’ve been in between,’ he says. ‘You’re right. Things got a bit mad back there for a while, didn’t they? But, I believe the man in the Homburg hat has gone now.’

‘Thank God,’ I say. ‘He was sinister.’

‘I hope the dancing painter with the cat wasn’t too much bother,’ he says. ‘He comes out of the woodwork sometimes when he sees an opportunity. I expect you had to sing a song or two.’

It is uncanny the way Ben knows what has been happening, even though he has not been in town. Or has he? He did say he’s been here and he’s been there and he’s been in between. Anyway, I’m thrilled to be meeting him again. I can hardly contain myself.

I pass the clock and see that the hands are now in place and the men are taking the scaffolding down. A small group of cheery vagrants are gathered around it, celebrating with their bottles of cider. I pass the new statue of Neil Diamond, although I have to say, it doesn’t look a bit like him. I take a detour to avoid some men putting up a hoarding to advertise a new blockbuster called Rocket Man, or something. I’ve not been this way often, but eventually I manage to find Jack of Clubs Street. It is a long narrow street and it is enveloped by a haze so I cannot immediately make out where the saxophone shop is. Then, I spot the silver Selmer saxophone shimmering through the murk. It seems to have fallen from its mount onto the pavement.

But, where is Ben? There is no sign of him. What can have happened to him? I get off of the bike and as the haze clears a little, I look frantically up and down the street. It is then that I notice the man in the Homburg hat. He is walking slowly towards me. He has something with him. He is holding it with both hands on his shoulder. In the haze, it is difficult to make out what it is. Is it a balloon? Or, is it a kite? It might be a surfboard. Oh Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! It’s a …… rocket launcher! Jack of Clubs Street is not a safe place to be. Why has Ben brought me here?

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Across The Universe

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Across The Universe by Chris Green

There has been a secret underground line in the south of England for years. It can be accessed through a network of tunnels originating from the basement of a former Turkish dry cleaners’ in Dulwich. The line runs for sixty miles deep underneath the Weald to the coast near Newhaven. It is believed to be the deepest underground tunnel anywhere in the world. It took over twenty years to build and it houses the extraterrestrials who were intercepted at Warminster in 1980. Leaving Dulwich, it is thought that there are just two stops, one at a clandestine underground military establishment and the other at a colossal subterranean dormitory village and recreational facility a couple of miles further on. There is a covert service exit at the other end but this is heavily guarded. Walkers are discouraged from going near the area by a series of signs warning against unexploded mines.

Keeping the X-Line, as it is referred to, secret has been a formidable undertaking, surely one of the major achievements of our security forces. You may have been labouring under the misconception that the principal objective of GCHQ and MI5 has been one of global surveillance because this is what we have been told. It now looks as if this may not be the case. Its main focus may have been keeping news of the X-Line project out of the public domain. While initially the operation’s cover may have relied on the premise that Turkish people do not have a lot of dry cleaning done, this does not explain how its growth from a small shop front to that of a huge edifice covering several blocks has been concealed. Might those that have questioned the development or accidentally stumbled upon the truth have been systematically liquidated?

One or two of the extraterrestrials have been sighted above ground, but these reports have been hushed up. When photos of these taller, thinner, paler creatures were put up on the internet a while back on forddriver.onion, the site was unceremoniously closed down. The proliferation of 9/11 accounts and New World Order explanations has been sufficient to keep most conspiracy theorists busy, so the posts passed largely unnoticed. Weekend conspiracy theorists are not going to spend a lot of time following up the odd alien sighting possibly put up by a paranoid bipolar photoshop photographer. The post also suggested that military personnel had interbred with the tall aliens and that the resultant hybrid race is beginning to establish itself in the hidden depths below the Sussex countryside.

……………………………………………

Helped along by the reactionary press, in just a few years, the politics of the country has lurched ever further to the right. The abandonment of welfare benefits and the reduction of the minimum wage have resulted and there is a think tank currently looking at plans to cull the disabled. With opposition parties no longer opposing, freedom is rapidly being eroded and, brainwashed or not, Joe Public seems to be going for it. Persecution of minorities is now the norm. The press is full of tirades against Eastern Europeans, Blacks and Asians, unmarried mothers and gays. There are of course no longer any immigrants. Racial purity and ethnic cleansing are the new buzz words. But where there is a discourse, there is also a reverse discourse and some of us are finally getting together to fight back. We can remember the optimism of a bygone era and would like to see a return to love and peace and freedom of speech.

Few people not involved with the secret project have ever been down the X-Line. As an undercover investigative journalist with The Lefty, I am one of a select band who through subterfuge hope to see first hand what is going on. We are an ill-equipped but determined bunch. Otto Funk is nearly seventy but he is as fit as a fiddle. Otto used to publish Undercover, but although this went under a few years ago, he still feels the need to further the revolutionary cause. Otto was the one who first drew my attention to the X-Line. He says that he has been researching the story for years. He says his big break came when he discovered Ford Driver’s unpublished manuscripts. Ford Driver, he says, had been amassing information on the X-Line project since its inception. Otto acknowledges that it might have been a mistake for Driver to put pictures on the internet and his death he says is shrouded in mystery. Otto remains undeterred in his resolution.

May Welby is the editor of Loony Left, a radical socialist magazine that comes out now and again. She is also the one who came up with the photos of the tall extraterrestrials. May’s pictures of them match Ford Driver’s descriptions exactly. They may even have been taken from Driver’s defunct web site. For the benefit of those of you that remember it, May Welby was the one that broke the BorisGate scandal a year or two back. Stanton Polk is the kooky publisher of Peace Frog magazine. Peace Frog is something of a relic of the hippie era. It still talks about revolution in the head and posts pictures of Jimi Hendrix on the cover. To be fair, Stanton has probably only come on board because he is as barmy as a box of badgers and doesn’t appreciate the dangers. Nanci Gatlin puts together The Underdog, a publication sold on street corners which remarkably is still going to print despite an unsustainable drop in sales. The last issue sold fourteen copies. ‘Everyone seems to want to be on the side that’s winning, these days,’ Nanci says. I’m sure I’ve heard that somewhere before but I can’t place where. Calvin Sharp runs Ethical Spy. The title is perhaps misleading as there is nothing ethical about it, nor has it very much to do with spying. At least not in the sense that you think of it. It is a top shelf porn mag. Calvin though is the only one of us with real military experience. He was in covert ops in the first Gulf war, so that makes him, at least, sixty. He had a stroke last year but there seems to be no holding him back. Importantly, he has a cache of ex-army handguns, which he says may come in handy later.

Otto tells us that the warriors from the breeding programme, although lean, might be endowed with super-human strength. As journalists, although we are always anxious for a good story, we are a naturally suspicious lot. We do not believe everything we hear, well apart from Stanton Polk possibly. Stanton believes Elvis Presley is still alive. The rest of us though realise there is a tendency to exaggerate a story each time it is passed on. Everyone adds their two penneth. Otto’s story might indeed be one of those.

However, it would be foolhardy to underestimate the risk we are taking by going in. We need to be fully prepared. We sit around the table and speculate about what might be happening below ground. What is the aim of the project? Might it be more than an exercise to hide away a handful of captured aliens? Otto suggests it might be an experiment to investigate the compatibility of their extraterrestrial genes with the human gene. The fearsome levels of security that Otto has told us about appear to suggest something apocalyptic.

To avoid suspicion, we have had fatigues made up to resemble those worn by the rangy strangers in the photos and we have had our skin bleached so that we can blend in with the lanky super-humans. We have browsed reactionary Neo-Con web sites to learn the language of the right. There are hundreds of Neo-Con web sites. If you go through TOR, they are hard to escape. Intolerance has been spreading through cyberspace unchecked, like a malignant cancer. Expressions like calibrated ethnic cleansing, white supremacy and reprogrammed meta-human now trip off my tongue.

We have discovered a remote location on the downs which gives access to the tunnels. This is where in the dead of night they remove the weekly waste from and surreptitiously take it to landfill. This is where we plan to make our entry. We imagine that below it is the main living area. The entrance does not show up on Google Earth. Otto suggests that Google could be behind the breeding programme. I think he is joking, but who knows? It is quite difficult to ascertain who is behind what these days. Nothing anywhere is quite what it seems.

………………………………………………

We are surprised by how easy it is to get inside the compound. As soon as the grey garbage truck emerges from the tunnel, we casually walk in the entrance before the hatch closes. The squad of guards that we were told would be there appear to be on a tea break or something. There is absolutely no-one about. We can’t even make out any security cameras, but on the basis that with such a sensitive project there must be cameras somewhere, we try to act as if we belong. We have practised our nonchalance, with an acting coach in preparation. We are able to make our way to what appears to be a service lift, still without seeing a soul. We cautiously press the button and get into the lift. It is much smaller than we imagined it might be. This could not have accommodated the truck that has just left or indeed it cargo. It has just two buttons, Up and Down.

As the lift starts to descend, Beatles music begins to play through hidden speakers. Loudly, especially for such a confined space.

‘All You Need Is Love,’ says Nanci, apparently unphased by the surreal experience being stepped up a notch. Perhaps she worked a little closer with the acting coach than I did. I am finding it difficult to remain calm. It is bound to be a trap.

‘Quad sound too,’ says Stanton Polk. ‘It’s the remixed version from the Cirque de Soleil soundtrack album.’ He sees no irony in the juxtaposition. He is on planet Polk. He sees things differently from the rest of us. He has spent much of his life off of his head on one thing or another.

‘Not what you would expect the neo-Nazis harbouring tall aliens would be listening to, really is it?’ says Calvin, nervously fiddling with one of the several guns that he has secreted around his person. ‘Something is not quite right here, chaps.’

Otto is beginning to look a little unsettled and May, who up until now has displayed steely confidence, tries to hang on to me to stop herself from fainting.

It occurs to me, not for the first time, that none of us, not even Calvin with his military background is really cut out for this kind of mission. How could we ever think we could pull this off? What is it we were hoping to get anyway? Even if we get out of here and one of us manages to publish something about the experience, we are not going to be allowed to get away with it. We will be hunted down.

‘I don’t want to be stating the obvious,’ I say. ‘But, this has trap written all over it.’

‘Not a very soldierly approach, giving us time to be ready,’ says Calvin. ‘It would have been more straightforward for them to have intercepted us and taken us out and then. Don’t you think?’

‘Perhaps it’s easier for them to do that down below,’ I say.

All You Need Is Love is followed by I Am The Walrus. It’s not the most sing-along of the Fabs tunes, but Nanci starts singing along to it. I wonder if perhaps Stanton Polk may have shared some of his substances with her before setting off.

For those of us without the benefit of Stanton Polk’s pick me ups, the lift is descending agonisingly slowly. It is clearly going down a long, long way. My ears are now popping and my head is bursting.

………………………………………………

They say in the event of a traumatic experience, your brain releases adrenaline which speeds up the rate that it processes information. This is apparently why it is said that your whole life flashes before you when you are about to die. And as we descend into the bowels of the earth, I am certain that I am going to die. What other outcomes can there be? I Am The Walrus gives way to While My Guitar Gently Weeps. We are all going to die.

I am drinking homemade lemonade on a summer’s afternoon. I do not know these ladies in dusty pink cardigans. They are old. Mummy has gone to the post office, they say. Will Mummy be coming back? I ask ….. Why is Miss Crabtree slapping my legs with a ruler? It wasn’t me, miss. It was, it was Ja….. I have done nothing. …… pi equals three point one four one six ….. 1066….. I hope you don’t expect anything from this school, because ………. Is Ann really going to let me do it? Without a rubber Johnny? …….. Do you, David, Andrew Norman take …… I do, I do. ………. I don’t. I won’t. Yes, you will ……. No Nukes, No Nukes, No Nukes. Are you going to arrest me, officer? ……. Don’t go, Kristin, don’t go …… I’m not going to pay that……. We’re going to craaaash….. Publish, and be damned. ……. Aliens, Otto? Really? Where? What? You mean underground?

The lift finally comes to a stop. This is it. We wait in anticipation for, for ….. we don’t know what. But no one now expects it to be good. I can’t put my finger on who or what has changed the mood, but it is now one of discomfiture and fear. Shouldn’t we have expected it to be something like this? It was always going to be dangerous. While My Guitar Gently Weeps segues into Across The Universe. The lift doors stay closed. Is the waiting for the bad thing you think is going to happen worse that facing the bad thing that is going to happen? The others scream at me to press the button, first to open the doors, but then for the lift to go back up, but the button doesn’t work and The Beatles are relentlessly going on and on about going on and on across the universe.

………………………………………………

Eventually, the lift door opens and we are greeted by a pair of rugged looking thugs with Force Security sweatshirts. They are brandishing semi-automatic handguns. They look alert.

‘I’m Billy Shears,’ says the bulkier of the two. He is built like a Challenger tank.

The one and only Billy Shears, perhaps? I do not say this. He does look as if he means business.

‘And I’m Rocky Raccoon,’ says the other. Rocky is the smaller of the two, lean but still mean looking. I can’t help but think that they have chosen their names inappropriately.

‘Welcome to uh …… The Cavern,’ says Billy.

It seems a well practised line, but Rocky chuckles.

‘You are probably wondering what’s going on,’ says Billy.

An understatement.

‘So long as you remain calm, there is nothing to worry about,’ says Rocky.

Remain calm? Where does calm come from? They have guns. They are guards. We are reporters.

‘Firstly, We’ll have your guns on the floor in front of you,’ says Billy. Instinctively, we all look in Otto’s direction.

‘Then we might show you round,’ says Rocky Raccoon. ‘What do you think, Bill?’

‘I can see you are reporters,’ says Billy. ‘You have that journalist smell about you. But, you won’t be reporting anything that you see here today.’

‘We’ve had reporters before, you see,’ says Rocky.

‘Regularly,’ says Billy.

‘And we wouldn’t like what is happening here to be misrepresented,’ says Rocky.

‘We could, of course, lock you up, or send you away with a flea in your ear,’ says Billy. ‘But now that you are here we may as well give you the tour.’

‘But if we do that we will have to erase your memories before you leave,’ says Rocky. ‘Security, you understand.’

‘But don’t worry. The procedure is quite safe,’ says Billy.

‘We’ve used it on all the others who have been curious as to what’s happening here in …… The Cavern,’ says Rocky.

‘And no-one yet has come to any harm,’ says Billy.

While I do not feel that we are out of the woods yet, the pair do seem to be taking a friendlier approach than they did when we first arrived.

‘So, if you wouldn’t mind,’ says Rocky. ‘Your guns please.’

‘That would be you he’s addressing, I believe, Mr Sharp,’ says Billy. ‘I sense that the others haven’t bothered to arm themselves.’

‘Drop them right there in front of you,’ says Rocky.

We watch as a cache of Brownings, Glocks, and Heckler and Kochs makes its way from Calvin’s person onto the paved area.

‘Excellent! Then we can begin our little …… magical mystery tour,’ says Billy.

‘It all started when in February 2008, NASA beamed the Beatles’ song Across The Universe into deep space,’ says Rocky.

‘This was at the time considered to be nothing more than a gesture,’ says Billy.

‘It was more to show that we could do it, than with any hope of making contact,’ says Rocky.

‘Time is, however, relative,’ continues Billy. ‘And this group of odd, but essentially peaceful extraterrestrials travelling through space and time picked up the transmission. They landed at Warminster in Western Wiltshire in 1980, having found the approximate site of the source of the transmission.’

‘Give or take a continent or two,’ says Rocky. ‘And three decades ahead of time.’

‘Time travel can be very imprecise, you understand,’ says Billy.

‘A bit like it is on Doctor Who,’ says Rocky.

‘They said that they were keen to listen to some more tunes like the one they had heard,’ says Billy. ‘This was the express purpose of their visit. They had no music at all back home, you see. In their haste to explore the cosmos, the arts were completely overlooked. For relaxation, they listened to recordings of power tools and hammers.’

‘Our government at the time naturally wanted their landing to be kept secret,’ says Rocky. ‘As have all governments since.’

‘Imagine if our friends from across the ocean had got wind of it,’ says Billy.

‘Our guests would all probably be in Guantanamo Bay,’ says Rocky. ‘Or on a Saturday night TV special.’

‘Also, the government didn’t want the public to be alarmed by seeing unfamiliar life-forms wandering about,’ says Billy.

‘There might have been a panic,’ says Rocky.

‘There was a responsibility to safeguard the newcomers as well,’ says Billy.

‘So they built a base from which they could come and go,’ says Rocky.

‘They have been coming and going for years,’ says Billy ‘And back home on their planet they now use Beatles music as an energy source.’

‘Where are the ….. aliens?’ I ask. ‘When are we going to see them?’

‘There are only a few of them here at the moment,’ says Rocky. ‘The others are off on their …… travels.’

I wonder how they manage to come and go and where they land their spaceships and why no-one sees them. They couldn’t get from here to Warminster every time these days, not even under the cover of darkness, and wherever their landing site is, wouldn’t the comings and goings be seen? Then I remember that according to Otto witnesses get liquidated. But how many witnesses can be liquidated without something getting out and if they close web sites down new ones always spring up. There are a million unanswered questions. And how does time travel fit into all this? What is time travel? I’m a rationalist. Well, at least some of the time. But then you do have to have some belief is the strange and unlikely to be a journalist. What is it that is really happening here that they feel the need to erase our memories before we leave? Are there more surprises to come? I begin to wonder, not for the first time today, whether anything at all that Otto has told us is true. But we’re moving on. Things are speeding up now.

‘What about the breeding programme with humans?’ May Welby is asking. Not a good question, I feel at this point.

Billy appears noticeably angered by the insinuation. ‘What on earth are you talking about, lady?’ he says.

‘I do think that would be impossible,’ laughs Rocky, doing his best to placate his prickly associate. ‘We will introduce you. You will be able to judge for yourselves. Ah look! Here comes old Flattop. He has brought George and Ringo along to say hello.’

Two tiny mud-grey creatures with domed heads and large eyes waddle towards us. They can’t be more than two feet high. They are wearing brightly coloured clothes. They have headphones on and singing along to the tune. These are a far cry from the seven foot three super beings we were being told to expect. We don’t, however, get the opportunity to register our shock. The pair are accompanied by a burly thug in a Force Security sweatshirt. This apparently is Old Flattop. He stares sternly, firstly at Otto, and then at May. A look of recognition spreads over his face. It is not a welcoming look.

‘You two miserable hacks have been down here before,’ he barks. ‘We redacted the experience from your minds, but still you are back. Perhaps you would like to explain why that is.’

Things are beginning to make sense. Otto and May may have spun us a line. As we try to work out what their motive might have been, the gun in Billy’s hand is twitching. Cute and cared for the extraterrestrials might be in their safe little haven down here below the South Downs, but I don’t now have a good feeling about our welfare in this situation.

Perhaps Scotty is now our best chance. I hope he gets the message about beaming us up I am about to send from my phone.

 

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

Buy and Buy

buyandbuy2

Buy and Buy by Chris Green

When did personal computers cease to be a labour saving device? Without even looking at the Spam folder, it took nearly ten minutes daily to scroll down through the garbage in my inbox, searching for the one or two messages that might have some relevance on my life, or be from people I actually knew. Why would I be interested in insurance for a pet monkey? Who could possible need a battery powered salad spinner or a dog snood? What on earth was facial flex? And wasn’t AirportHostage9™ the same as AirportHostage8™ except that to play it you had to buy a GameBox6™ which would cost you £499? And how did the Deputy Prime Minister find time to write me so many letters? Were bitcoins legal currency? To make the task harder, deleting emails only seemed to ping some widget in Yahoo which told them I would like to receive even more dross.

Eventually it got to me. I became so weary of this daily trawl, I suggested to Kaylynn that we switch off all our devices. We could surely manage without them for a while. I expected her to resist the idea. She liked to skype and generally keep in touch, so perhaps she would regard it as a bigger sacrifice. To my surprise she agreed that it was a cracking idea and before I knew it had taken the battery out of her tablet and unplugged the router. She had been meaning to suggest to me for weeks that we do something about our absurd dependence on electronic media. The volume of unsolicited advertising and feeds on her facebook and twitter, she said, was no longer manageable. She had friended so many people, joined so many interest groups and recklessly clicked the ‘I want more stuff like this’ button so often that some days she couldn’t even keep pace with the feed. Bedeep, bedeep, bedeep went her tablet all day long, about one bedeep a second some days, as the messages landed. It was driving her nuts, she said. It was certainly driving me nuts. Even after I had changed the sound to a gentler plink, it had a grating effect on the nerves. Kaylynn said she could use the time she’d have to take up something creative, stencilling maybe or cross-stitch. It would be easier now that now that both Sonny and Cher had gone off to university. We agreed that we would look at the switchoff as an experiment and give it maybe a month to see how we got along.

Being off line took a little getting used to, as we began to realise that we had been using the internet for many things other than social media, emails and purchasing goods and services. Kaylynn and I were now unable to access our calendars, the local weather forecast, travel information, practical advice, research into a million and one topics into which we developed a sudden interest because we now had lots of time and those nagging little facts that day to day that were just out of reach because we were getting older. For the first few days it took enormous willpower to keep from plugging the wi-fi back in.

One time I caught Kaylynn looking longingly at a billboard advertising the new iphone but we got through the critical first 72 hours with our pledge intact, and once we became accustomed to the change, it was wonderful. Not having to spend all those hours sitting in front of a screen opened up a zoo of possibilities. We stopped worrying about where we were supposed to be and what we did not know. We found we had time to talk and we could stay in bed on a Sunday and make love. We could even venture out of doors and go for walks in the hills if we wanted to. I took up carpentry and in no time at all I had knocked up a kitchen table and four chairs from a pile of wood I had kicking around in the garage. I simply followed the instructions in Woodwork for Dummies, which had been an unopened Christmas gift from several years ago. We cleared out the attic and Kaylynn made a quilt form bits and pieces she found up there. We had a car boot sale, we gave the garden a birthday and began to talk about the vegetables we would grow next year. When the month was up we decided to try it for another month.

We discovered we were not alone in our thinking. Our friends, Mac and Minerva had in fact gone a step further. Minerva explained that when their PC had been crippled a few months back by a backdoor virus with a long name, they had made the decision not to replace it. Freed from the flow of information that the internet spewed out daily they found that their stress levels were greatly reduced. When their television license ran out they decided to get rid of the TV as well. The move, Minerva said, changed their perspective of what was really important. TV news focussed on matters that had little relevance to their everyday lives, its purpose to keep you anxious. The rough and tumble of party politics and the rattle and hum of celebrity indiscretions was so trivial. And, why didn’t someone decide once and for all who was the richest football team and leave it at that? The prime aim of television advertising was to make you feel inadequate. It served no useful purpose. In addition there was the growing sponsorship of programmes by CashCow and Wonga, even on the BBC. With the commercials taken away, Mac and Minerva remained blissfully unaware of new developments in consumer durables. If you really wanted something it was easy enough to find out where to get it.

While we weren’t so paranoid as to think television transmitted subliminal messages to persuade you to purchase particular products, you never knew for sure that this was not the case. What for instance was it that caused those inexplicable headaches if you watched The X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing? And why had we needed to go digital anyway if it was not to feed information back to someone somewhere. We agreed that although we would miss The Sky at Night and Gardener’s World, a switch-off was something we ought to consider.

……………………………………………

Desperation had begun to creep in at the Treasury. Retail was flagging in all areas. No one was buying on the High Street and online sales had dropped exponentially in the last six months. Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Flannery Ainsworth felt she was at the centre of this plight. With the general election only twelve months away, there were plenty of power-hungry chinless wonders on the back benches jostling to take her place. She needed to come up with some reactionary new measures to get the country spending. She had to make the people forget that they had been made poorer over the last four years and to borrow more, and very quickly. To add to her torment, her husband had left her for a younger woman. To make matters worse the other woman had been her Personal Assistant. Flannery’s input to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement reflected her bitterness. This consisted of a mélange of swingeing penalties for those refusing to borrow. Much of the detail of the new legislation was concealed in political doubletalk, positives emphasised as milestones, negatives buried by obfuscation.

We ignored the letters which arrived daily from our bank, in fact from a whole range of financial institutions, offering us larger and larger loans. It had come to their notice that our purchasing had dropped off recently. We were missing out we were told on this or that offer on a staggering variety of goods and services. All in Ones, Platinum Creditcards and Advanced Mastercards were suggested as payment options with a bewildering array of Cashback inducements. And we could take advantage of APR rates as low as 34.4%. We stood firm in our resolve. The bulky catalogues that hit the mat with a thud were responsibly recycled along with the fast food flyers.

There was a knock on our door. Two beefy roughnecks in navy blue fatigues stood there. They allowed me a fleeting glimpse of their identity cards and told me they were arresting me. I was handcuffed and taken without ceremony in the back of plain white van to the SummaryJustice Fiscal Centre, where I was bundled into a cell with two others. The one in the Jesus Rocks T shirt told me he had been brought in for Using a Mobile Phone that was more than Three Years Old, the one with the Peace tattoo for ‘Not Owning a Blu Ray Player’. I told them I was not sure what I had been brought in for, so many new offences seemed to have been created lately.

‘Lack of Designer Footwear. That’s a favourite,’ said Jesus Rocks.

‘It’s a shame all the charity shops were closed down,’ I said. ‘Quite often you could get a nice pair of boots in one.’

‘Not supportive of the deserving rich, I suppose,’ said Peace Tattoo. ‘The guy they just took in was arrested for Political Activism. He was selling the Big Issue outside House of Fraser.’

‘Perhaps car boots are illegal now,’ I said. ‘The sellers did all seem a bit jumpy when we had the sale recently.’

I soon discovered what my offence was. I was fined £500 for ‘Wilfully Ignoring Promotional Emails for a Period of Sixty Days’. In summing up, the Profit Enforcer informed me that I had now three times dropped below my Required Credit Limit. He stressed the gravity of the offence and reminded me in no uncertain terms that I needed to borrow more. ‘Did I not realise,’ he said, ‘that Growth depended on everyone pulling together and purchasing for Queen and Country.’ If I continued to treat good honest promotional material with disdain, it would result in a custodial sentence.

Intimidated by my surroundings, I thought it might be pushing my luck to point out to him that we the second most indebted country in the world and owed China and the emerging Tiger economies zillions and everything we bought was imported and added to this debt. Or that we were supporting billionaires paying slave wages to minority groups in the Third World to rape the planet of its precious resources. That 1300 individual billionaires have hoarded 94% of the planet’s resources, the other 7 billion were fighting over 6% of the Earth’s wealth. Instead, like the others going through the summary justice process that day, I kept quiet.

Flannery’s initiatives were popular with the party faithful and her plan to disenfranchise the unemployed was seen as a masterstroke. Perhaps the disabled could lose their votes too; they were a vociferous lot these days. Flannery’s name was even being spoken about for higher office, as the next Chancellor perhaps. It was unfortunate therefore that the press uncovered her use of Class A and Class B drugs and her abuse of prescription drugs. Suki, Benedict Ainsworth’s new love interest revealed to The Independent how Benedict’s life with Flannery had been unbearable because of her drug abuse. Her mood swings made Benedict’s life hell, she said. Several times at the Ainsworth house she herself had intercepted phonecalls from Razor, asking how much Charlie she wanted this week, or whether she wanted White Widow skunk or Northern Lights. Another time she had discovered Flannery collapsed over the toilet bowl with a needle hanging out of her arm, heroin paraphernalia all around. Once the story about her decadent life had broken, even the papers that had supported her jumped on the bandwagon. Day after day Keith Struggler in The Sun and Chelsea Grudge in The Star came up with more vicious and bizarre accounts of Flannery’s wanton debauchery. Condemnation was universal. Stories of wild s and m parties and international drug deals made her position at the Treasury untenable.

Flannery had for some time been viewed by some within the party as a moderate. With a matter of months to go to the election and the economy still flatlining, her departure paved the way for former hedge fund manager, Quentin Thief, who was immoderate in the extreme. His view was that it was immoral to have any savings at all when you could be borrowing. If the banks did not make interest on your debt, how were they to survive, for heaven’s sake. The proletariat had a duty to support the banks. Nothing could have prepared the country for Quentin Thief’s draconian package of measures to force people to spend. Everyone’s accounts were scrutinised by a colossal team of monetary police to ensure that loans were being taken out and purchases were made. The expression ‘short sharp shock’ was reclaimed with harsh new prisons built around the country to accommodate defaulters.

We remained unrepentant and did not switch our computers back on, and as we no longer watched TV, all we knew regarding the new legislation was hearsay. But a matter of days later the hired thugs were at the door to arrest Kaylynn. It was her turn for Summary Justice, they said, restraining her. She was charged with Cancelling Credit Cards in Times of Austerity. She was sentenced to 28 days in prison. As if this wasn’t bad enough, all the prisons were full beyond capacity and the construction schedule for the new prisons was being compromised by the number of construction workers being held in custody. Kaylynn was taken to a converted minesweeper moored off the North East coast of Scotland where they allowed no visitors.

By way of protest against Kaylynn’s sentence, I took a tram to the High Street and passed by forty two shops without setting foot in a single one. I dodged the uniformed monkeys trying to corral me into FastBucks and KwikKash, then I crossed over and passed the thirty nine shops on the other side, through the square past the jugglers, clowns and fire-eaters. Surely they would be arrested soon for some black-market transgression. And finally, without paying the toll, I stormed into the hallowed arcade, past its Jerusalem of flashing ATM machines and glitzy pilgrimage of supershoppers. Batteries of LED video walls spewed out a miscellany of competing promotions for a glittering catalogue of top end luxury items. Buy Now! Sale! Sale! Offers! Offers! Save £200. Save £300. Only £699. Only £499. Save! Buy! Lowest Ever Prices. Buy Now Pay Later. Credit Available.

I left without buying anything. Foolish I know, as this meant I would not be able to present the necessary Proof of Purchases to take the tram on its four mile journey back home. Also the banks of cameras on each of the outlets would have recorded my non-compliance and relayed the information to Quentin Thief’s vigilant team of fiscal spies. I realise it could not be considered much of a stand compared to the anti-globalisation protests that you heard so little about, but you have to start the fight back against the commandments of capitalism somewhere. Maybe next time I could bring a gun and start shooting, like they do across the pond.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

NOIR

NOIR

NOIR by Chris Green

It’s early evening and it is beginning to get dark. The street lights are just coming on. Apart from a middle-aged man in a black coat sitting near the door, Bianca is the only customer in Café Noir. She is uncomfortable because the man keeps staring at her. She feels there is something familiar about him, but she cannot put her finger on what it is. She has had this feeling on occasions before and it has turned out to be a bad omen.

Bianca doesn’t usually stop off on her way home from work. After a hard day at Trask and Wherry, she normally goes straight home, but she has had a late meeting, and anyway it is Ronnie’s poker night. There is no sense in getting home much before eleven on Ronnie’s poker night, so she has dropped in for a glass or two of Prosecco to unwind and perhaps a bite to eat, before she goes home. She had wondered if she might see Cathy at Café Noir, but she is not here. She has probably gone to see the film that is on at the Odeon. The one with Hugh Jackman, that she has been talking about. Still, she has the novel that Louise lent her to get on with while she enjoys a quiet drink. Black Veil, a tense thriller.

The half familiar stranger in the black coat keeps up his vigil. Bianca has a nagging suspicion that there might be some connection with her friend Trudi. Might Trudi know who he is? It would be good to have a chat with her anyway to put her mind at rest. She is about to make the call, but she finds that the battery on her Samsung is flat. She suspects it is probably to do with all the background apps that she has installed to check on what background apps are running. At least, this is what Derek at work told her last week when the same thing happened.

Didier, the bar manager has just slipped behind the counter to fetch her a menu when the man makes his way over. Standing, and silhouetted by the backlight, he looks even taller. He sweeps his hair back and Bianca notices he has a scar running up his left cheek. Other than this he has a symmetrical face, reminiscent of a matinee idol from the fifties, so much so that he almost appears to be in black and white. Without asking her if it is OK to do so, he takes a seat at her table. She waits for him to introduce himself, but instead, he starts talking about Ryu Sakomoto. He talks about Sakomoto’s regular themes of journeys into the unknown and the external nature of evil.

‘He feeds on modern-day paranoia,’ he says. ‘That concern we all have that something terrible is about to happen.’

Who is Ryu Sakamoto, she wonders? Is he a film director? Like David Lynch perhaps. A painter? More to the point, why is this man with the piercing eyes talking about him as if she might be interested? It is not exactly a sparkling chat up line.

‘Sakamoto gets up at 4am and writes for five or six hours,’ says the stranger. He is edging closer, invading her personal space.

Ah! So he’s a writer then, she thinks, this Sakamoto. Perhaps Ronnie has read something of his. Ronnie likes authors with foreign-sounding names. There’s that one who wrote The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Larsson is it? Sven? Steig? Steig Larsson. Not that he ever finishes a book. They just lie open face down on his bedside cabinet.

‘Sakamoto never plans a story,’ the man continues. ‘He lets it unfold by itself. He doesn’t know who did it until the end of the story.’

Who did what, she wonders. Why is he telling me this?

…………………………………………………………………………..

Ronnie Kemp is not used to losing at poker, but tonight he has lost hundreds. How often does a full house, aces over kings, get beaten? And losing hands to Tim Little. Tim is the most transparent poker player for miles around. If Tim were a better player, Ronnie might have suspected that he was cheating. After all, what are the odds of landing four queens in 5 Card Draw? It would be stretching the imagination though to see Tim as a bottom dealer or hand mucker. These tricks are strictly for professional card sharps.

But, what a fool he was to then try and bluff his way out of trouble in the next hand with a pair of jacks. This had cost him another ton. When things are not going your way, they have a tendency to go from bad to worse. Isn’t that known as Murphy’s Law or something? Whatever, it’s right, Ronnie reflects. This is exactly how Lady Luck seems to work. In the last few hands of the evening, the best he could manage was two pairs, fives on threes. How are you supposed to win with hands like that? He would have liked to have continued the session a little longer, but Bill, Phil and Tim understandably wanted to call it a day. They were all well up on the night, and all at his expense.

And where the blazes is Bianca? It’s nearly midnight. She should be home by now. She never said she would be late, but he has to admit they don’t communicate well first thing in the morning. They don’t sit down at the breakfast table or anything like that. Perhaps she did say something. Did he imagine it, or did she pack some bottom drawer lingerie before she left? For a clandestine liaison perhaps, or even an overnight stay? He can’t remember exactly, but she did seem to spend a long time getting ready before she went off to work.

Ronnie tries to phone her on his Experia, but he finds his battery is flat. All the resource hungry battery saving apps draining it probably. That’s what Sid Hacker, the techie at work had told him the last time this happened. Perhaps Bianca has been trying to call him. He has no means of calling her now as they no longer have a landline. He cancelled this a while ago because of the volume of nuisance calls they were getting. Accident claims, mis-sold PPI and solar panels, mostly. Oh, and payday loans. He could try a Facebook call but these don’t work well with a wi-fi dongle.

…………………………………………………………………………..

Bianca finds herself in a dark room, windowless and foetid. She has been asleep. A deep sleep. She can hear a drip, drip, drip of water. She is not sure if it is coming from inside the room or outside the room. She is unable to see a thing. There is no light at all. She can’t even make out where the door might be. The floor that she has been lying on feels cold. She has no idea where she might be and has no recollection of how she came to be here.

Last thing she remembers, she was in Café Noir, wasn’t she? Or was this an occasion some time ago? She thinks she may have heard jazz playing earlier, but it could have been a dream. The tall stranger with the piercing eyes and the facial scar. Was he part of the dream too? He was talking about some writer …… and then there was the drink. The drink that he bought her tasted odd. She can remember the taste. It was like ……. like almonds. This must have been last night. She can’t have been asleep any longer than that. Surely. Not in these uncomfortable conditions. She shivers. She is so cold. She has a raging thirst. She needs a drink. She needs the toilet. She needs to freshen up. She needs to know where she is. She needs light. Bianca had been led to understand that in a dark room, your eyes gradually become accustomed to the level of light, or lack of, and eventually you can begin to detect shapes. She finds that this is not the case. This is black. Like blindness is black. This must be underground.

As the gravity of her situation begins to dawn on her, she is terrified. Surely, to be abandoned in an unfamiliar dark room is everyone’s deepest secret fear. It’s suggestive of the grave. It is time for those unavoidable what ifs. What if she hadn’t accepted that drink? What if she had thought to charge her phone, or better still not installed those rogue apps? What if she had gone home instead of stopping off at Café Noir? What if she hadn’t taken the job at Trask and Wherry? Giving mortgage advice is, after all, a little dull. And there are quite a lot of late meetings if she is honest. Those deeper regrets start to creep in. Why hadn’t she had picked a more suitable partner than Ronnie? Someone a little more cultured. Someone with a little more understanding. Ronnie was always going to be a gambler. Why hadn’t she married Boyd Fleming? Boyd had worshipped her. Boyd would have taken proper care of her. Boyd has prospects. Or John Trilby. Someone honest. Someone dependable.

God! She might never get out of here. This might be it. Why hadn’t she taken that opportunity to go to Australia when she was younger? Her brother owns land out there. He is an entrepreneur. Ostrich farms or something along those lines. He could have set her up in business. Not in ostrich farming perhaps, but something more girly. He did offer to put up some money. ‘Anytime you want to come over,’ he had said. ‘You’d love it over here. All the wide open spaces.’ If only she had taken him up on it.

…………………………………………………………………………..

Ronnie is dazed. He has hardly slept. His phone rings. He makes a mental note to change the ringtone from Viva Las Vegas. He takes a look at the display. It is a number he doesn’t recognise, but he is sure it must be Bianca.

‘Hi babes,’ he says coolly, anxious to give the impression that he has not been worrying.

‘Aren’t you the cool one,’ says a vaguely familiar voice. ‘It’s Cathy. Is Bianca there? I’ve been trying to get hold of her, but her phone seems to be dead.’

‘No,’ says Ronnie. ‘She didn’t come home last night. I was wondering if she might be with you.’

‘No. She’s not with me,’ says Cathy. ‘I did say that I might see her at Café Noir last night but it was a loose arrangement. I went to the cinema instead. I expect she’s lost her phone again. She’s probably at Trudi’s.’

‘I’ll try Trudi in a bit then,’ says Ronnie.

‘How did the poker go?’ says Cathy. ‘Bianca said that it was your poker night.’

‘OK,’ he says. Professional card players, he has been told, never let on that they have made a loss. Something to do with positive thinking.

He manages to find Trudi’s number and gives her a call. It goes on to voice mail. He leaves a message, trying to sound casual.

A minute or two later, Trudi returns the call.

‘Hello,’ she says. ‘You called my number.’

‘Yes,’ says Ronnie. ‘It’s Ronnie. I was wondering if you had heard from Bianca. I’m having a little trouble locating her.’

‘No, Ronnie. I haven’t seen her,’ she says. ‘Look. I’d love to stay and chat, but I’m at the lights at the moment. And they are about to change. I’ll tell her that you’re trying to catch her if she phones me.’

Café Noir is not the sort of place that Ronnie normally frequents. He finds it a bit twee. He prefers the more earthy atmosphere of The Black Horse or The Fat Ox, but by lunchtime, there is still no word from Bianca, so he decides to call in to Café Noir on his way to BetterBet.

Didier asks him to describe his wife and following on from Ronnie’s description says that although he cannot be sure, he has the feeling that she was in last night and that she left with a tall man in a black coat.

‘Perhaps I shouldn’t say this,’ he adds. ‘But they did seem to be quite cosy tucked away there in the corner. I would keep an eye on her if I were you.’

………………………………………………………………………..…

While Physics doesn’t actually state that it is impossible for someone to walk through a solid wall, it discourages you strongly from believing that it can happen. Pauli’s exclusion principle and all that. But, this is exactly what appears to take place. One moment Bianca is alone in the darkened room and the next moment she finds she is not. The man in the black coat and the piercing eyes stands before her. Is that a lamp? There is a bright light coming from somewhere. With her eyes shielded against the sudden illumination, she takes in her surroundings. A quick scan of the room reveals four stone walls but there is no windows and no door. No, that’s not right. Is it a room at all? Nothing seems to stay in place. It’s like a digital television picture that is breaking up. Or words dancing on a printed page. The man moves slowly towards her. Is that a gun in his pocket or is he just ……..

A sound she recognises is trying to break through the silence. It takes Bianca a few moments to realise that it is coming from the table in front of her. It is her phone. It is displaying incoming call along with the battery critically low icon. She puts down the thriller she is reading and answers it. It is Cathy.

‘Hi Cathy,’ she says, ‘Am I glad to hear a ……… a familiar voice? Look! I’m in …… ‘

‘Are you all right?’ says Cathy. ‘You seem in a bit of a state.’

‘I’m in Café Noir,’ says Bianca, regaining her composure. ‘But there’s this creepy man in a dark coat with a scar down his cheek who keeps staring at me. I have been trying to hide myself behind a book, hoping that he will take the hint. But, he looks as if he’s going to come over. He is coming over. You know what. I think I will come to the cinema with you after all.’

‘You’d better hurry then. The film starts at 8:20.’

‘I’ll be ri …..… ‘

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved