The Man Whose Head Expanded And Eventually Popped

I’m back over at Six Sentences with The Man Whose Head Expanded And Eventually Popped:

‘Lenny Cray had always thought that the quest for experience was a vital part of a man’s learning curve and so, throughout his life, whenever a window of opportunity opened up, he jumped straight through, headfirst if necessary.’

Read the rest here, if you fancy.

A Story For Sunday: Before The Moon Falls

Before The Moon Falls

Duffy awakes drowning in sweat. Still smothered by bad dreams. Gunshots echo through his brain. Then the sound of helicopter blades. Screams.

It takes him a moment to adjust to the surroundings; the room looks unfamiliar in the wan light. Slowly, his eyes make out the details of his sparse living room. He’s on the sofa, tangled up in a worn blanket cradling a bottle of bourbon as if it were a teddy bear. He lies for a moment, each heartbeat like the tick of a clock, and edges off the sofa. His joints ache as he stumbles to the window and peels back the blinds.  

A constellation of streetlights and a galaxy of Christmas decorations fade into the distance towards Banks’ Hill. A feral group of Hoodies trudge through the snow. They shuffle through the redbrick Ace of Spades archway and into the narrow alleyway that leads to the rear of Klub Zodiak. More of Dragan’s new recruits. More cannon fodder.

Someone, somewhere nearby is whistling Hank William’s ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.’ Or maybe he’s imagining it.

Duffy shakes his head. He’s exhausted. His mind playing tricks on him. His sleep is becoming increasingly fitful the days. Spectral. Like wading through molasses. Guilt, his mother would have said. And she’d be right.

And then Duffy sees him.

Stood in the Zebra Bar’s doorway, illuminated by the flash of his Zippo as he lights a cigarette. His face looks pallid. Lips as red as a clown’s. He’s wearing a long dark raincoat, his hair long and black like rats’ tails.  A chill slices through Duffy like the ice pick that took out Trotsky.

A black limousine purrs around the corner and stops. Ivan Walker salutes and gets in.

Duffy walks into the bathroom and switches on the shaving lamp. He avoids looking in the mirror, knowing what he’ll see; bloodshot eyes; dirty, unshaven face: inky black hair. His skin riddled with acne.

 He coughs. Spits. Coughs again. A Rorschach test of blood splashes the white basin. He turns on the tap and tries to wash it away.

***

A brittle, icy morning and the air tastes like lead. Duffy glides the black BMW through The City’s cobbled streets, listening to Bessie Smith’s ‘Downhearted Blues’. Eases the car along New World Street, taking in its expensive shops, hotels, cafes and bars. It feels like the calm before the storm. It is.

A rickshaw pulls up outside the Euro – China Hotel and a couple of drunken Chinese business men tumble out. The rickshaw driver is Travis, a tall blonde Californian surfer girl. She wears a screaming red chauffeur’s uniform and a forced grin. She laughs at something the men say as she clutches the wad of notes one of them hands her. She notices Duffy as he cruises past and taps her chauffeurs cap in a mock salute. He blows her a kiss.

Dragan, crouches in the back seat, like a coiled python. He wipes a fleck of cocaine from his nose and sits up. His eyes dance the flamenco. He chuckles, lights a cigar and gazes out of the window, like a king surveying his domain. Which isn’t too far from the truth.

‘Why do you always listen to such depressing music, Duffy?’ says Dragan.

‘Not depressing,’ says Duffy. ‘Cathartic. Helps me process the wear and tear of life. Chew it up and spit it out. You should do the same. Listen to a bit of Billie Holliday. Lady Day, as she was known. Would sort you out, no worries.’

But Dragan’s not listening.  

‘Remember, Richie Sharp?’ he says, gesturing toward Patrick’s Irish Pub, which spills out its early morning dregs. Puking and mewling executives. Pumped up pimps. Hairy arsed bikers.

‘Rings a bell,’ says Duffy.

‘You must remember. The fence. He used to call himself Mr Google. Said he could find anything for you. Eh? Remember ?’

 ‘Yeah,’ says Duffy. ‘That flabby farm boy that used to practically live in Patrick’s? The shittiest pub in The City but he loved it.’

‘Happy days, those, eh? I miss them sometimes. Don’t you?’

‘Naw. Nostalgia’s not what it used to be.’

Back in those days, Dragan was just a speed freak. A jumped up Serbian car thief. A drug dealer with ambitions. There’d been a lot of blood under the bridge since then, thought Duffy. Rivers of the stuff.

‘Whatever happened to him, anyway?’ he says.

‘Fuck knows,’ says Dragan. ‘Last time I saw him was well over five years ago. Just after the last wave of refugees swarmed into The City. He had hundreds of them working for him; dealers, whores, pickpockets, hackers, croupiers.  I think he was screwing Bronek Malinowski’s wife at the time, though. So …’

Duffy laughs.

‘Was Sharp the one they roasted in the pizza oven?’

‘No, that was the French guy. Journalist. They frizzled him. Who knows what happened to Richie Sharp, though  …’ 

Duffy turns right at the Palm Tree Bar and heads down Othello Avenue, looking up at Rhino Towers, Count Otto Rhino’s grey Gothic headquarters, looming over The City like a giant gargoyle keeping danger at bay. Though not exactly doing too good a job of it.

As he turns the corner and heads toward the Central Railway Station, a big black van suddenly screeches in front of him and blocks his way. He brakes but his reactions are slow and he slams into the side of the van.

 ‘Bollocks,’ says Duffy.

‘What the fuck,’ growls Dragan. His eyes bulge out of his head. He grabs his Glock from its shoulder holster and opens the car door.

‘Close it and hold on!’ Duffy shouts.

He screeches the car into reverse. Dragan falls back in his seat, the door wide open. And then another van turns the corner and slams into the back of Duffy’s car, stopping his exit. 

Within seconds, a swarm of massive shaven headed men dressed in military fatigues rush out of the vans. Otto Rhino’s Frog Boys.

Dragan slams his door closed. The men start attacking the car with hammers and baseball bats. A giant of a man pulls out a shotgun and blasts the bullet proof windscreen which cracks like a spider web.

 ‘What the fuck, is this?’ screams Dragan. The cigar falls into his lap.

One of the vans sounds its horn and within seconds the men rush back inside.

‘Who would dare? Who the fuck would dare?’

 He sits back, stunned. The dropped cigar burns a hole into his lap. He looks down for a moment and brushes it away as if it is a mosquito.

***

Dragan slumps in the blood- red leather armchair that is jammed in a darkened corner of the office. A ghost of the man he once was.

‘So, what’s the plan?’ says Duffy, flicking through a copy of the National Geographic.

Dragan grunts. He holds a bottle of red wine in one of his hands. He disinterestedly watches as it drips onto the wooden floorboards. 

‘There’s a rat in the kitchen,’ he says. ‘An informer. There’s no way that Otto Rhino would come at me like that without information.’

At a large desk, Lulu, a tall raven haired woman, uses a gold credit card to chop up a little heap of cocaine. She leans forward and snorts through an Eiffel Tower souvenir pen.  

‘Ay Caramba!,’ she says, her Galway accent as thick and dark as an Irish coffee. She turns to Dragan. ‘Maybe it’s that Haitian guy? Ton Ton Philippe?’

Dragan growls.

Duffy pours himself another large gin and hands the bottle to Lulu. 

‘Gin makes you sin,’ she says, with a chuckle. Dragan glares at her as she swigs from the bottle. 

She turns away, retouches her make-up in a hand mirror and stands.

Duffy can see rage rumble inside Dragan like a thundercloud.

Lulu walks over to him. She looks good. She’s tall and in her early twenties with wan looking skin, red lipstick slashed across her full lips and black hair cut into a bob. She wears a red PVC raincoat and shiny black stiletto heels that click on the floorboards. Dragan takes a wad of cash from his wallet and wearily hands it to her.

‘Whatever you can find out, okay?’ he says.

‘Aye,’ says Lulu.

‘And by whatever means necessary.’

She nods. Smiles. 

The James Bond theme begins to play and Dragan takes out his mobile phone. 

‘Yes,’ he says and listens for a few moments before answering.

He slumps over the large oak desk.

‘And exactly how much of a bollocks is ‘a bit of a bollocks’?’ he says. His expression is volcanic.

‘Maybe I’ll go?’ says Lulu.

‘Not a bad idea,’ says Duffy.

Dragan waves indifferently toward her and she walks out of the office door, her head held down but still watching. And still listening. 

Dragan smashes the bottle on the floor. The red stain crawls into the wood’s cracks and crevices. He stands up, lights a cigar and gazes out of the window. 

The Old Town square is almost empty. Just the occasional little ant scuttling across the snow. Duffy can hear the sound of the music from Klub Zodiak below. He can feel the throb of the bass, thumping its message. 

Dragan pulls a bag of cocaine from his desk drawer and trails a line of powder along the window pane.

‘I’ll be off, then,’ says Duffy.

Dragan nods slowly.

‘And Duffy, remember to watch out for mercenary eyes.’

He points a shaking finger and immediately looks over one thousand years old.

***

As Duffy blasts Ricardo’s brains across the snow smothered ground, a row of black birds, that were lined up on telephone lines like notes on sheet music, scatter and slice through the milky whiteness.

Snow dandruffs the corpse as he takes the Glock from Ricardo’s hand and pushes it down the back of his jeans. Looking at the fat heap on the ground, his scraggly beard and unkempt hair matted with blood, he is overcome with sadness, guilt. And anger.

‘You useless fucker, Ric,’ he says.

He takes out his hip flask, toasts Ricardo, takes a sip and pours the rest of the vodka onto the snow.

He grabs the cadaver by the ankles and hauls his massive corpse towards the dilapidated cottage, leaving behind a snaking trail of blood. In front of the door, he pauses and wipes his brow with the blood stained sleeve of his biker’s jacket. 

He catches his breath and gazes over at a Christmas tree which is lit up with shimmering, dancing multi-coloured lights. A wind chime that hangs above the door tinkles.  He smiles. Elsewhere, for a moment.     

Dragan’s Harley pulls up outside the cottage.  He takes off his black crash helmet and runs a hand through his freshly cropped hair, scratches his head and dismounts.

‘Well?’ he says.

Duffy, angry, ignores him. The heavy wooden door creaks as he pushes it open. Ricardo’s head bounces off every concrete step as he drags the body downstairs into the dark and dingy basement and onto a sheet of dirty green tarpaulin.  

He switches on a lone light bulb, which buzzes and flickers, revealing a room cluttered with wooden barrels. A dirty, cracked mirror hangs precariously above a rusted metal sink.

‘So, what did he say?’ says Dragan, as he pounds down the stairs, the sound of his feet echoing around the basement.  

There is a burning in Duffy’s chest. He bends forward, grips his knees and hikes up a wad of bloody phlegm.

‘He said nothing.’

‘He said nothing or that he knew nothing?’

Duffy sighs.

‘He said that he knew nothing.’

‘And you believed him.’

‘Yes. Until then the stupid fucker grabbed my gun and tried to make a run for it. Shot at me.’

Duffy leans against the sink. It creaks and squeals as he turns the rusty tap and releases the shitty brown water. He splashes it on his face.

‘The sad fuck had nothing to lose, I suppose,’ says Dragan, ‘apart from his balls’. He snorts and lights up a large Havana cigar. ‘Idiot accountant thinks he can rip me off.’ 

‘Well, he got away with it for long enough,’ says Duffy.   

‘Did anyone see you?’ he says blowing a perfect trio of smoke rings. ‘Any spies? Any mercenary eyes?’     

‘Around here? No,’ Duffy says. ‘No. There’s no one around here. ’

‘Ha! So, you say!’

Dragan’s increasing paranoia is like finger down a blackboard to Duffy these days. He clenches his fists; digs his nails into his palms.

‘We’re in the middle of the fucking  countryside. On Christmas fucking morning. Who’s going to see me? Fucking carol singers?’     

‘Did he say anything else?’ says Dragan, his bullet-hole eyes bore into Duffy and show no amusement.   

‘Yes. He cried for his mother.’

Dragan peels off his boots and black leather jacket and sits cross-legged on the dirty floor. He is wearing a black sleeveless T-shirt depicting Edward Munch’s ‘The Scream’, and a pair of expensive denim jeans.

He plucks a bottle of vodka from one of the wooden barrels that cluttered the room. His wedding ring glints as it catches the light.    

‘You know what I mean. Did he say anything about Rhino? About Ton Ton Philippe?’

‘Ton Ton Philippe … Jesus …that’s all you talk about. I told you. He’s just a bogey man. A legend that those Haitian mobsters use to keep their protection racket running.’

Dragan turns. His face as expressionless a Golem. He pours large measures of vodka into two pink plastic tumblers. 

‘Well?’ says Dragan     

‘Well, okay,’ says Duffy. ‘Well, I’ll admit that it was when I mentioned Ton Ton Philippe that he did a runner. But it’s all these scare stories. All these voodoo and black magic bullshit rumours that are filling The City.’     

Dragan looks lost in thought for a moment. He stands motionless and not for the first time Duffy is reminded of the robot in the film The Day The Earth Stood Still, waiting for a sign from his master. The only noise is the buzz of the light and the sound of Dragan’s breathing.   

Eventually, he breaks into a smile.     

‘Well, we’ll see,’ he says.  

He walks over to Ricardo’s corpse and shakes his head.         

‘Misguided loyalty, my friend,’ sighs Dragan.     

He passes Duffy a tumbler of vodka.   

‘Cheers,’ he says.

‘Up yours,’ says Duffy.

They down the drinks in one.

‘Okay, back to work,’ says Dragan, slamming his tumbler down on the table.  

He digs into a darkened corner of the room and pulls out something heavy and metallic. 

‘I think it’s time to sever Mr Ricardo’s contract,’ smirks Dragan as he starts up the chainsaw.

***

A sliver of moon garrottes the coal black sky and Duffy’s heart pounds as he stands outside Klub Zodiak. Its shimmering and buzzing neon sign is reflected in a pool of blood.

He feels the cold metal in his fist as he slams on the steel door of the nightclub until it creaks open. He pushes his way to the bar, breathing in the scent of cheap aftershave, cigarettes and booze. A sultry Femme Fatale on a Chiaroscuro lit stage purrs a torch song that roars into the abyss.

‘Bourbon?’ says Arek. Duffy nods, take off his leather jacket and drapes it over a bar stool.

‘Is Dragan here?’ he says, downing his drink in one.

‘Of course,’ says Arek ‘Where else would he be? He thinks that the moment he sets foot outside he’s a dead man. The paranoia is eating him like a cancer.’

Duffy turns toward the metal door that leads upstairs to Dragan’s office.

‘For fuck’s sake, yer man’s lost the plot, Arek; he’s away with the fairies. He’s like Hitler in his bunker up there. When was the last time he came out?’

‘At Darko’s funeral.’

‘And when was that, for Christ sake?’

‘A long time ago,’ growls Arek, his voice like sandpaper.  ‘What do you think is happening, Duffy?’

Duffy stuffs a fistful of peanuts in his mouth. Chews. Arek waits.

‘It’s all that cocaine he hoovers up,’ Duffy says. ‘And that new stuff coming in from Greece. He’s mixing them. Starting the day with uppers, ending the day with downers. Thinks someone’s drugging him, would you believe! And I bet he still doesn’t know who it is that’s out to assassinate him.  Mercenary eyes, the streets are full of mercenary eyes, he says. That pretty little wife of his must be ready to piss off I’m sure. And who can blame her? You should do the same thing before he turns on you.’

Arek nods.

‘Maybe, maybe,’ he says, as he pours a large glass of whisky. ‘But where will I go? And what about you? Where will you go?’

‘When is more to the point.’

Duffy places a metal briefcase on the Klub Zodiak’s marble bar and turns to Arek.

‘It’s all there,’ he says. ‘Do you want to count it?’

‘No. He’ll probably count it himself, the way he is these days,’ says Arek.

 ‘Aye,’ says Duffy says.

Duffy shivers as the singer whispers ‘Gloomy Sunday’, as if it is her dying breath.

‘Great version,’ he says. ‘Best version’s by Mel Torme, though. You know what Torme’s nickname is?’

‘The Velvet Fog,’ says Arek.

‘Nice to meet a man with good musical knowledge,’ says Duffy.

***

It’s already past midnight but Krystyna could swim all night. She loves the Euro – China Hotel’s glass swimming pool and the floor to ceiling window that gives such a great view of The City’s skyline. High above the squalor, the sin, the vice, it twinkles and shines.

‘I’ll miss this,’ she says, as she floats on her back.

She gets out of the pool. Duffy rises from his seat and hands Krystyna the towel.

She looks stunning. A pure albino, with eyes as red as blood.

She dries her iron muscled body and goes into the changing room.

Duffy switches off the lights.  

Krystyna comes out of the changing room. She’s dressed all in white, as usual. Boots, jeans, sweater as pallid as her skin. She switches on her Nokia.

‘Any messages?’ says Duffy.

‘There were two missed calls from Dragan and three SMS from him written in a mad garbled mixture of Serbian, Russian, English and Mandarin.’

She hands Duffy the phone and he tries to make sense of Dragan’s ramblings.

‘Like the last words of Dutch Schulz,’ he says, and laughs. Krystyna doesn’t.

 She shivers as she plays with her loosening wedding ring.

‘He’s close to the edge now,’ she says. ‘Maybe the house of cards will tumble down quicker than we’d hoped’.

***

The tall men in the black fedoras and long black overcoats look like shadows as they cut through the snow smothered Old City Square.  

A ghostly spiral of smoke drifts up from the husk of the burnt out car as Duffy falls to his knees, the low hum that hovers in the distance growing louder.  Giovanni stares blankly at him, a red dot in the centre of his forehead. The look of incredulity frozen on his dead face. 

Duffy looks up, gasping, as a plane roars overhead. His fingers buzz and tingle and the sensation spreads through his hands and up his arms. The weight of an elephant is on his chest and then he feels cold hard metal against his forehead.

‘You’re fucked, boy,’ says the tallest man, who crouches down, cradling a high powered riffle. His vowels are long and elasticated. Stretched all the way from Tennessee to The City. He plucks Duffy’s gun from where it had fallen and takes Giovanni’s pistol from his corpse.

‘Yep. Yer fucked. Fucked up the arse,’ says the squat Irishman as he presses his Doc Martin boot into Duffy’s twisted ankle.

Tears fill his eyes as pain rips through him but he refuses to give them the satisfaction of hearing him scream. He forces a smile and waits for the day to dissolve into night. 

But then a clock begins to chime, loud and cacophonous.

 The men look up.

‘What the fuck is that?’ says the Irishman.

First there are a couple of drops. Then trickles and then there is a flood until what seems to be hundreds of people spill out over the square, like jackals searching for carrion. The men in the black overcoats put away their guns.

‘Later, Duffy,’ the American says. As they slip through the crowd, approaching sirens scream nearer.

The crowd all head in the same direction. Men, women, children. And out of the milieu a stumpy punk rocker with a tall red Mohawk walks toward Duffy, beaming a broken toothed grin.

***

Shuffling into the corner of a nearby alleyway, Duffy sits down on the front steps of a butcher’s shop. Its rancid smell makes him queasy.  He pulls his black woollen hat over his frozen ears and plucks a battered packet of Galois from his jacket pocket. He hands one to the young punk, sweat peeling from his acne scarred face.

The punk grins 

‘No thanks’ he growls in English, his French accent as thick as treacle. ‘That shit will kill you’. The traces of a grin appear at the corners of his mouth. 

‘Yeah,’ says Duffy, ‘but you’ve got to die of something.’ 

Duffy coughs and spits on the ground. Takes out his hips flask and drinks its acrid contents. He hands it to the punk who shakes his head.

‘Take care of your body and it’ll take care of you.’ He snickers like the dog in an old cartoon Duffy used to watch as a kid.

 ‘Thanks for dragging me out of … that lot,’ Duffy says. Nodding toward the town square. ‘What exactly was happening? All of those people … Is it some sort of religious festival?’

The punk smirks.

‘Sort of. If you call going to work a religion. It’s the start of the next shift at the meat packing factory. These are all factory flats and houses. All owned by Otto Rhino.’

Duffy slumps to the ground. Takes a pill from his pocket and pops it. Washes it down with the booze.

‘Your body really is you temple, isn’t it, Duffy?’

Duffy glares at him.

‘Who the hell are you, anyway?’ he says.

‘Guess,’ says the punk.

‘I have no bloody idea,’ says.

‘Well, I know all about you, Sergeant Duffy.’

Duffy automatically reaches for the Bowie knife that he keeps tucked in his boot. It’s gone.

‘Who the hell are you?’

The punk steps back and holds up his hands.

‘Relax! You’re safe. Take a chill pill! I was just messing with you. Walker sent me.’

He moves closer and places the knife in front of Duffy, along with his wallet.

‘I’m Robinson,’ he says, his accent becoming Scottish. ‘Oliver Beacock Robinson.’

‘The Magician?’

‘Well, I’m no Harry Houdini, but, yeah, that’s what they call me.’

Duffy remembers the war stories about Robinson during Desert Wave. He was a legend. He could slip undercover, undetected everywhere. Anywhere. And he was never caught. Lucky bastard, he thinks.

‘I thought you’d be … cleaner,’ says Duffy.

‘And I thought that you and the Italian would be able to take out a couple of third division hired thugs without blowing up half of the town square. But you know what thought did, as my old gran used to say.’

‘Too…friggin shay,’ says Duffy, struggling to his feet.  ‘Shouldn’t we be getting out of here?’

Robinson nods.

‘Follow the white rabbit,’ he says and he’s off down the alleyway.

Duffy hobbles after him, keeping his knife in his hand.

***

‘Like something out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting, isn’t it?’ says Walker, as a Clockwork Orange skinhead French kisses an overweight transvestite. Then cracks a beer bottle over his head.

‘If you’re saying it’s a shithole, well, you’re right on the money,’ says Duffy.

And Patrick’s really is a shithole, thinks Duffy. The building itself is fine. Oak doors. Marble bar. Silver chandeliers. And a very tasty old Wurlitzer Jukebox. But the dregs of The City are drawn to Patrick’s like a used condom down a toilet bowl.

‘One of Dragan’s most successful enterprises, though, I heard?’ says Walker. He sips a death black espresso and turns his attention back to Duffy.

‘Well, I think you’ll find that this joint is actually owned by Mrs Krystyna Kostic, actually. Dragan’s wife.’

‘Yeah, yeah. Pull the other one, it plays Elvis songs. ’

Duffy pours the Budweiser down his throat without letting the bottle touch his lips. You never know what you might catch in Patrick’s.

‘So, who were the twats that wacked Giovanni and were ready to take me out? They didn’t exactly look like The Frog Boys. They were good too. Fast’

‘Out of town contractors. Ex- CIB. Like you.’

The cold sweat gripped Duffy like a cowl. Almost on cue, Barry Adamson’s version of ‘The Man With The Golden Arm’ started to play.

‘I thought you might have recognised them,’ says Walker. ‘Maybe you worked with them during the Desert Wave? Are you sure they didn’t look familiar?’

‘No. Never seen them before in my life. A covert group like CIB had people coming and going all the time. Government policy, so you didn’t get too loyal to each other and start up a mutiny when things went pear shaped. You know that. Colonel. You were there, too.’

‘Yes, I was sergeant. And I also know that you owe me. You shouldn’t need reminding of that. If I hadn’t got you out of that prison cell, those mercenaries would have sliced you up and eaten you for lunch. Literally.’

‘I know, I know. So what do you want?’

‘This is how I see it. Someone is trying to take out Dragan’s gang. At first I thought that they were just after him but now it looks like they’re taking out everyone around him. To make Dragan as vulnerable as possible. And now Giovanni is worm meat, there aren’t too many of your boys left.’

‘Maybe it’s Rhino, maybe? A few of The Frog Boys attacked us last week.’

‘No. I think someone gave the info to Rhino but there’s someone else behind it. I think they were just sent to scare you off. You in particular.’

‘Yep, well we’re certainly dropping like flies. And those Hoodies are no use. So? Who?’

‘Dunno. Maybe Ton Ton Philippe?’

‘Come on, Walker. Don’t talk cobblers.  He’s just a scare story that the Haitian’s made up. Isn’t he? You don’t believe all that stuff about zombie henchmen and werewolf bikers, do you?’

‘Maybe yes maybe no. But, remember, we saw some weird and horrible things back in the war, Duffy. Things that we couldn’t explain. How do you think I got this?’ he scratches the pentangle shaped scar on his neck. ‘Philippe’s name keeps turning up wherever I look, these days. And as much as Dragan and you boys are a pain in the arse, this guy sounds worse. Much worse.’

And then they hear the bang.

***

 The building is ablaze. Flames lick the sky. Crackle. Roar. Outside Klub Zodiak, a handful of Hoodies shuffle around. Lost sheep. Arek is on his hands and knees, coughing his guts up.

             Walker rushes over to one of the fire engines that pull up outside the building and Duffy heads toward Arek

‘What the fuck happened,’ says Duffy.

He stands up. Wipes his mouth.

‘Dragan happened.  He cleared out the safe with a suitcase full of money. Took a plane out of The City,’ says Arek. ‘I drove him to the airport. He was rambling like a madman. Worse than usual. When I came back and opened the door…boom.’

‘So the house of cards really has fallen down then?’

‘Yep, looks that way.’

Duffy hands Arek his hip flask. He stakes a swig.

‘What about Krystyna?’

Arek shrugs.

‘She went with him. Her and Lulu. But neither of them seemed too happy about it.’

Walker strolls over to Duffy with a grin.

‘Well, looks like you’re out of work, Duffy.’

Duffy shrugs. Takes a Micky Mouse napkin from his pocket and blows his nose on it. Stuffs it back into his pocket.

‘Not really,’ says Arek, ‘Here. From Krystyna.’

He hands Duffy a large envelope. He takes out a wad of documents and a set of keys.

Duffy smirks.

‘What is that?’ says Walker.

‘Payback,’ says Duffy and heads back towards Patrick’s.

‘Pop down to Patrick’s for a drink later, boys. It’s under new management.’

***

‘You arseholes could have killed me!’

Duffy is red faced as he screams at Tennessee Bob and Davy Boy Ryan, who are sat at the bar grinning from ear to ear. ‘Nearly broke my bloody leg, too.’

 He half-heartedly drags a mop around Patrick’s and then heads over to the jukebox. Presses a few buttons.

‘We were just fucking with you, Duffy,’ says Bob, twirling his fedora on his index finger. ‘Had to make it look convincing to Walker and Dragan. And whoever else was watching. Had to put the shits up your old boss, eh?’

‘And it worked, didn’t it?’ says Ryan, looking around the bar. ‘You got what you wanted.’

Roy Orbison’s ‘In Dreams’ starts to play. Duffy walks behind the bar. Checks his inky black quiff in the mirror. Takes down a bottle of Dark Valentine and three glasses. Pours.

‘You’re a pair of twats,’ he says. They knock back the drinks. Duffy pours again.

‘You going to redecorate this dump, then?’ says Ryan.

‘Eventually,’ says Duffy. ‘I’ll just change the name for now. But I’ve got big plans, boys.’

‘You heard from that Albino girl?’ says Ryan.

‘Yeah. She sent me an SMS. Her and Lulu have just got off the plane in Paris. Dragan hasn’t.’

Bob snorts.

‘She doesn’t waste much time, does she?’ he says.

‘All’s well that ends well, then,’ says Ryan. They clink glasses and knock back more booze.

Outside the day is melting into night.

‘Twilight time,’ says Duffy.

‘Indeed,’ says Ryan.

Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘I Ain’t Superstitious’ kicks in as the front door creaks open.

A dishevelled figure shuffles in.

‘Detective Dalton,’ what can I do you for?’  says Duffy.

Bob and Ryan tense.

Dalton sniffs. Looks around the room.

‘Under new management?’ he growls.

Duffy nods.

‘You seen Ice–Pick Mick McKinley?’ he says.

‘Not today but I think he usually crawls in here at the end of the night.’

Duffy holds up the bottle of booze.

‘Want to have a drink and wait for him? It’s on the house.’

Dalton’s shuffles over and looks at the bottle.

‘Why not? That strong stuff, is it? I fancy something with bite.’

‘Oh yes,’ says Duffy. ‘It’ll rip your heart out, this will.’

The end.

YOU CAN BUY SUPERNATURAL NOIR HERE, IF YOU FANCY.

Recommended Read: Frank Sidebottom-Out Of His Head by Mick Middles

The mind of Chris Sievey was clearly a treasure trove – indeed, a veritable Aladdin’s Cave – of bright and shiny ideas, many of which, thankfully, came to fruition. Most notably in the effervescent forms of The Freshies and Frank Sidebottom.

The Freshies were a brilliantly eccentric power pop/ new wave band who cheekily surfed the Manchester pre-punk, punk, and post-punk scenes, and came painfully close to success with a bouquet of great singles such as ‘I’m In Love With The Girl On The Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk’ and ‘I Can’t Get ‘Bouncing Babies’ By The Teardrop Explodes.’

Sievey’s later creation, Frank Sidebottom, was a surreal half-man/ half-puppet version of George Formby whose anarchic performances enlivened kids television shows and late night TV alike in the ‘90s, and whose live shows seemed to have garnered an strangely obsessive fan base. When Chris Sievey died in 2010, however, he left behind a hell of a musical legacy that showed the he was more than just a novelty act.

Out Of His Head was written by Sievey’s friend the journalist Mick Middles and is as intoxicating and sobering as Sievey’s life seems to have been. The book’s timeline spans more than a quarter of a century and includes cameos from Sievey’s family and friends as well as the likes of Mark E Smith, Steve Coogan, Jon Ronson, Caroline Aherne, Chris Evans, Mark Radcliffe, and, er, Bros.

Frank Sidebottom – Out Of His Head is a fascinating and bittersweet read, and is very highly recommended.

out of his head

Fiery Jack at Spelk Fiction

I’m flashing again at Spelk Fiction. Fiery Jack goes a little like this:

Jack walked across the pub carpark and found Sidney Round’s BMW. His bony hands shook as he took a petrol canister from his backpack. He closed his eyes and counted to ten. Tried to control his breathing. He was dripping with sweat. He emptied the canister’s contents over the car and then took out another petrol can.

Read the rest here.

I’m Back at Pulp Metal Magazine

PULPLOGO (1)With a little yarn called Spectre vs Rector.

‘I’m just a walking cliché,’ growled Rector.

He sat at a table in a dark corner of The Essex Arms. His black clothes melded with the pub’s shadows. His bony hand reached out of the darkness and scratched his unshaven face.

He took a sip of whisky.’

Read the rest here.

Short, Sharp Interview: K A Laity

PDB: Can you pitch CHASTITY FLAME in 25 words or less?

KAL:  Sexy super secret agent has mad flings and chases wild things as a Norwegian mastermind and a Belgian hacker try to crash the European market.

PDB: Which books, films or television shows have floated your boat recently?

KAL: I’m reading so many books! I’m deep into Vol 3 of Len Wanner’s Crime Writer Interviews, as well as Off the Record 2 which is just chock full of good stuff, same goes for my colleagues in Tales of the Nun and Dragon and I’m plunging into K. T. Davies’ The Red Knight which has massive battle scenes, quite different stuff. I haven’t been to a film since I got to NY and we don’t have television out here in the country, so we just rewatched all of Arrested Development. Steve Holt!

PDB: Is it possible for a writer to be an objective reader?

KAL: No. Wait, you wanted more than a monosyllable? I read with different levels of attention, but it doesn’t take much of an error to get me scribbling in the margins or annotating my Kindle. I hate anything that takes me out of the story.

PDB: Do you have any interest in writing for films, theatre or television?

KAL: I do but I’ve been so busy with prose that everything’s fallen by the wayside. Horrible to be gainfully employed all of the sudden. I’m getting so much less done.

PDB: How much research goes into each book?

KAL: It varies: I used CHASTITY FLAME as an excuse to hang around my favourite spots idling: the National Gallery, the Tate Modern, the Millennium Bridge. I did have to research the lounges on the Eurostar because I have no intentions of being suffocated in a tunnel under the British Channel.

PDB: How useful or important are social media for you as a writer?

KAL:  My lifeline! I don’t know how I’d manage without it. At any given time I am too far away from some people I love and being back in the States in the midst of a political race is a monumentally depressing thing. I don’t know what I’d do without my friends cheering me. I’m a bit of gypsy, too, so social media is how I make sure I have some place to sleep at night! 🙂

PDB: What’s on the cards for the rest of 2012?

KAL: My dark fiction collection UNQUIET DREAMS is out on October 4th from Tirgearr; I’m wading through the submissions for WEIRD NOIR that needs to be out in e-book form before NoirCon in November, so I am feeling the whip. I’m also stealing time to work on my next novel WHITE RABBIT which is also a kind of weird noir tale with fake psychics, a murdered trophy wife and a strange drug cult. I hope to have the first draft done before the end of the fall semester. The next CHASTITY FLAME book, LUSH SITUATION comes out in January,so there’s no let up, eh?

WIN A COPY OF CHASTITY FLAME HERE.

Recommended Read: The Fall by Albert Camus

I have no friends, I only have accomplices now. On the other hand, my accomplices are more numerous than my friends: they are the human race.’

Jean-Baptiste Clamence, a former big shot Parisian lawyer, and self-proclaimed ‘judge-penitent’, sits in Mexico City, a smoky, pokey bar in the murky depths of Amsterdam’s red-light district. And he tells a fellow Frenchman about the time when, given the chance to save a young woman’s life, he did nothing. And his subsequent fall from grace.

Camus’ The Fall is a stylishly written series of monologues about the desensitising nature of modern life, guilt, ‘the fundamental duplicity of the human being’, responsibility and more. And it’s a right riveting read, it really is. The intimacy of Clamence’s barfly confession drags you along as we hear how, like a true noir protagonist, his life spirals further down from Parisian high life to Amsterdam’s fog and neon soaked underbelly.

The Fall was Camus last work of fiction, published in 1956, four years before he died. At 146 pages is a short, bitter and hard-hitting espresso that will give more than a few jolts during a sleepless night.

Bang, fucking bang The mighty Fall!

(This post first appeared at Loitering With Intent as part of the Criminal Classics season)

Days Of Futuramas Past

Here comes the sun, which means the rock festival season is already upon us. Young and old alike are turning up at football stadiums or muddy fields for the likes of Coldplay, The Stone Roses and, er, probably loads of people I’ve never heard of. And all in the name of ‘fun’. Apparently. Not me, though. No way. And here’s why…
 
Dexy’s Midnight Runners once sang ‘Lord Have Mercy On Me/ Keep Me Away From Leeds’, in the brilliantly titled Thankfully, Not Living In Yorkshire, It Doesn’t Apply.
 
And, to be honest, many people would probably agree with Dexy’s, since Leeds certainly fits a lot of folk’s idea of the grim, industrial wastelands of the north of England.
 
What could be gloomier, in fact, than, say, Leeds on a cold and rainy weekend in September? Maybe watching Joy Division, too? Ah, well …
 
And so it came to pass … it was 1979, at the age of 17, when I first visited Leeds to attend the Futurama Festival (nothing to do with the cracking telly showat the Queen’s Hall. Organised by local boy John Keenan, the festival was billed as ‘The World’s First Science Fiction Music Festival’ – even though there seemed to be  little sci-fi to the experience, apart from a couple of people dressed as robots.  
 
Mind you, sleeping in a municipal building’s drafty hall, on a grubby and sticky floor, with a bunch of other waifs and strays (who had travelled the country – and further afield – to see some of the hippest, most cutting edge, post- punk bands around) did have a touch of the dystopian future about it, when I come to think of it.
But the sci-fi angle wasn’t important. It was all about music. And what a line-up of ‘hot’ bands it was.
 
Yes, of course, the now legendary Joy Division were among the odds and sods  of bands playing over the Festival’s two days, along with their fellow Factory Records glum chums A Certain Ratio and, electro-pop  superstars in the making, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark.
 
But, there was also The Teardrop Explodes (who were beaut and performed a cracking version of Aretha Franklin’s Save Me)Scritti Pollitti, Cabaret Voltaire, The Monochrome Set, Spizz Energy, Echo and The Bunnymen (complete with drum machine, Echo), The Only Ones, and more.
 
And there was also one of the first performances of former Sex Pistol John Lydon’s Public Image Limited (I slept through a bit of them but bought a Bowie bootleg from Lydon’s brother Jimmy.)
 
And, of course, The Fall who, for my money, were the best band of the whole two days. I still have fond memories of Mark E Smith hassling the Hawkwind fans about their ‘cosmic crap.’ Hawkwind, along with other sixties psychedelic types, such as Nik Turner, seemed prehistorically out of place but their stoned fans seemed happy enough to wander around and take abuse from the younger punks and long-mac wearers.
 
futurama pass.
Joy Division, by the way, were damn fine.
At the time, they were on the crest of a creative wave, just after UnknownPleasures and Transmission, and before the synthesizers softened their sound. They were, for most people, the stars of the show. The bees’ knees, the cat’s whiskers, the dog’s bollocks. And other animals’ anatomy.
 
As was the Futurama Festival.
 
More than a few of those bands went on to make something of a name for themselves and when Keenan organised another Futurama Festival in 1980. Acts then, included Siouxsie and The Banshees, who were promoting their mega selling  Kaleidoscope album, The Psychedelic Furs, Altered Images, Soft Cell (who, I remember, did a pretty tasty version of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid in front of projections of hard core porn) and, ahem,  Gary Glitter.
 
The Bunnymenwere back, too, complete with a real  drummer, and seemed to be on their way to a bombastic psychedelic form of what became known as stadium rock. Speaking of which, there was also a newish band from Ireland, who were being raved about by Sounds’ Garry Bushell – the ill-fated U2.
 
I actually thought they were alright, on the night, what with their Television-lite pop rock, although I –along with my mate Ronnie Burke – did spend most of their set shouting Nanu Nanu at the singer because of his remarkable resemblance to Mork From Ork.
 
The annual Futurama Festival carried on for a few more years after that but I didn’t go again or, indeed, go to another music festival.(Apart from Dock Rock in Hartlepool, my home town.) It could never be bettered.
 

Guest Blogger: K A Laity – In The Mind Of The Wolf

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When Mr B asked me if I wanted to contribute to the Drunk on the Moon series, I knew I had to get into the head of the werewolf. How could I write from Roman Dalton’s perspective if I had not lived in his world? I had to know him from the inside out. I immediately set up a plan to immerse myself in the wolf mind. I set my plan in motion leading up to the full moon.

DAY ONE

I listened to the Fall non-stop, The Infotainment Scam. Not only had I chosen the song “It’s a Curse” as my touchstone, but I knew the hypnotic drone of Mark E. Smith’s voice and the grinding pummeling of the music would help me reach the altered state I sought. After twenty-four hours without food or drink, just the steady beat on repeat I was feeling the effects. My hair grew, my nails sharpened. I began to drool. Right on schedule.

DAY TWO

I moved outside; the wolf must be wild. Fortunately I live right above a park. There’s not much land, but there are hedges along the edge that I thought might provide enough cover for me. I crouched in the green border and watched the people. They were my prey. I had to know their weaknesses. They had many. And few defences. But as the sun set, they thinned out. Also, there was too much broken glass and SuperMac wrappers in the hedges. I needed another hunting ground.

DAY THREE

I moved to the cemetery. There was more cover there and since I had ripped off my clothes I needed to stay warm. Winter is harsh on the wolf. I chewed on a bone to sharpen my teeth. Despite my focus, they were not sufficiently lethal yet. The dead were good company. However, there was a shortage of victims. Perhaps a disaster of some kind would provide more fodder for the chase.

DAY FOUR

Memory sketchy. Trees scratchy. Dirt cold. Throat sore from howling. Running so far, so far. There were others. I was not alone. Something squeaked. Older woman made hand signals at me, sketching a five-pointed star. Bite marks on my flesh. I may have grown a tail, not sure.

DAY FIVE: FULL MOON

Blood. Flesh. Teeth. Profiteroles.

DAY SIX: RECOVERY

I returned indoors. Dressed and ate food that I had not killed myself. Got the computer out. Typed madly, in a trance. Remember nothing. Grammar inexcusable. Older woman reappeared; asking for recommendations of internet suppliers. Emailed story to Mr B. Slept for fourteen hours. Filed nails. Applied moisturizer. Brushed teeth. Remembered to use cutlery. Started a new story. Buried bones. Write more.

Bio:  K. A. Laity gets away with writing just about any damn thing she pleases, including the forthcoming OWL STRETCHING (Immanion Press) as well as PELZMANTEL, UNIKIRJA and oodles of other stories, plays and even academic essays. See www.kalaity.com for a complete list or find her onFacebookTwitterGoodreads and Amazon.

Interview: Richard Sanderson -Banned From The Big Breakfast!

Q1 : Tell me about your first and your most recent bands?

 
My first band was called “Solaris”, it was me, my cousin Mark Sanderson and his friend Mark Spybey – we were aged about 13. 
 
Unlike the rather swish rock groups 12 and 13 year olds play in now, no doubt schooled by their rock-literate parents, we were musically inept and had no real instruments. 
 
We just used my Dad’s piano, a tatty acoustic guitar and an ancient Boy’s Brigade drum plus radios, tape recorders and a stylophone. We were basically playing free improv – albeit influenced by Krautrock and Hawkwind
 
The three of us met up again last year and it was rather lovely, and we’re hoping to actually record something this summer! I’ve still got the first cassette, and, astonishingly, a label has expressed an interest in releasing it, so soon the world could delight in our squeaky adolescent voices and ramshackle non-musicianship. 
 
I suppose my most recent band is “64 Bit” which is trio with Kev Hopper on electric bass and Ian R Watson on trumpet, I play melodeon (button accordion) and electronics. We improvise too, which doesn’t suggest a lot of progress over 35 years. 


For good measure I also play in a group called The Mixed Porter Band, a load of squeezeboxers, fiddlers and percussionists doing traditional English tunes – we play in pubs and ceilidhs and that. It’s good fun, and beer is involved.
 
Q2: Julian Cope described you as ‘The Post Punk Peter Hammill.‘ Was that a compliment or an insult?
 
I thought it was very nice of him! He was talking about me as an 18 year old – so I guess he’s referring to the perhaps over-serious and intense young man I was then (come on, you remember!) 
 
Hammill’s never actually been an influence, even though I knew the song “Scorched Earth” from Fluff Freeman’s show in the mid ‘70s. Lately I’ve come to enjoy his music a bit more, but I still find his choirboy to snarling rocker voice a bit, well, daft. But compliment I reckon – came right out of the blue too…I haven’t listen to Julian’s music for decades, but his website is a real goldmine of interesting stuff.
 
Q3: Didn’t a breakfast TV show once invite you to go on and play with toys?
 

Yeah! Back in the Mid 90s when Ticklish were just starting, I used to play a big collection of toys, which I’d amplify and process. It was very John Cage and abstract. 

 
Anyway, some researcher on the Big Breakfast heard about us and booked us to appear with Chris Evans, and he clearly thought that we’d be doing funny tunes with quacking ducks or something. 
 
Almost as an afterthought he asked to hear a recording, and a motorbike courier was sent round to pick up a demo from my house. We never heard another thing! 
I just wish I’d been there to see their faces when they actually played the tape. We used to claim we were “banned from The Big Breakfast” after that- it made good copy.
 

Q4: You played the Berlin Jazz Festival. Did you take lots of heroin? And die?

 
Yes. And I don’t recommend it – the heroin and dying bit anyway, not big or clever. 
 
Actually, this was probably the acme of my avant garde career. It was another toy gig in a trio with Steve Beresford and Anna Homler – I’m not sure it was what the promoters wanted, but the audience seemed to like it. 
 
Most embarrassing bit was just before the gig I was told that Guy Klucevsek (easily the world’s greatest avant garde accordion virtuoso – admittedly a niche area, but still) was coming to watch me play accordion. I’d only been playing for about a year on a klunky little toy one knocking out a few hamfisted chords. Let’s just say he didn’t come backstage to congratulate me – I assume he felt his position was safe….
 
Q5: You’ve played with Simon Fisher -Turner who was famously handcuffed to Robert Mitchum during the making of Micheal Winner’s The Big Sleep. How did you meet him? What’s he like?
 
Simon auditioned me for a group to play backing Blixa Bargeld at a gig at Nick Cave’s Meltdown. He’d heard about the toy stuff (again! Is it any wonder the gigs have dried up now that I’ve dropped playing toys?) and he came to my house in Hither Green to chat to me – we sat in our garden in glorious sunshine for about an hour chatting about all kinds of music – he looked at the gear I used, and I got the gig without playing a note. 
 
Simon is charming and debonair and totally lovely. I didn’t know he was in “The Big Sleep” or that Michael Winner directed that version! You are an education, Braz.
 
Q6: When did you get involved in Morris Dancing? Does it damage the car?
 
Right – Three rules for talking to Morris Dancers-
1. Don’t imagine he hasn’t heard the “I’d try anything once except for incest and morris dancing” quote. (He has, many, many times)
2. Don’t say “it’s just like ‘The Wicker Man’ (it really isn’t – I’ve only met about three morris men out of hundreds who are actual “pagans” and none of those have sacrificed anyone, yet)
3. Don’t make clumsy puns with the car
 
I got involved about 5 years ago. That’s the easy bit, slightly harder is “why?”
 
I guess I’ve always been attracted to music and arts outside the mainstream, but these days “the avant garde” is mainstream – look at The Wire (the magazine…or the TV series come to that), or half the gigs at the Festival Hall. 
 
Meanwhile there are these lovely people playing music and dancing outside pubs- sometimes to blank incomprehension, piss-taking or even hostility – more often charming the birds off the trees. Keeping fit, getting your body to move slightly more gracefully, hanging around with interesting people (my side includes bankers, monastery gardeners, professional west-end musicians and the man who’s responsible for public safety if there’s ever a major nuclear incident) and drinking beer. Obviously I was going to have some of that. 
 
Five years later and 2 and half stone lighter, Its becoming clearer that it was one of the best decisions I ever made. My wife, Ruth, does it now too. The kids are doomed!
A good morris joke –
Q- Why was line-dancing invented
A- To give morris dancers something to take the piss out of
 
Q8: What is Scaledown ? Is it like a Scalextrix?
 
Scaledown is a monthly performance above The King and Queen pub in London (Where Dylan did his first UK performance interestingly) that I started with the musician Mark Braby. Six acts, each playing for 15 minutes, with 15 minute gaps for socialising between, using minimal gear. Free admission, donations to performers. That’s it. 
 
 
Basically I’d been putting on experimental gigs for over 10 years and I was heartily sick of it – having to deal with lousy and grumpy soundmen, people trying to get in for nowt, musicians expecting enormous fees etc etc all eliminated immediately. Of course it still became too much for me and I stopped being involved several years ago (having kids helped force that decision) but Mark’s still hanging in. 
 
Scaledown has scaled up a bit, it actually has two great soundmen and a pretty good PA, and has attracted some big names, Vic Godard even played there! I wouldn’t mind scaling down the concept even more, and actually dispensing with the PA altogether, but until I can find a venue I can walk home from, this is unlikely to happen soon. A scalextric would be nice – I’d probably try to find a way to make music with it.
 
Q9: You’re a Notherner who lives in East London. Do you eat jellied eels and love the Krays?
 
I live in SOUTH-East London actually, Braz, so we have none of that, being on the “wrong” side of the river.
 
I’ve been in London for over 25 years now, which I reckon qualifies me as a Londoner, and I still love the place – even though these days I rarely get out of Lewisham (I’m a “Stay-at-home Dad”) so I don’t get to see the iconic sights of London Town Centre- apart from at the top of Hilly Fields, but I feel at home in this neighbourhood. I think my accent’s slipped a bit mind, when I go up North friends imitate me as some kind of Michael Caine, even though my neighbours think I sound like Chris Rea. I have never eaten jellied eels – as Ogden Nash wrote “I like Eels, excepts meals, and the way they feels”…
 
Q10: Are you more Leslie Crowther, Aleister Crowley or Ice Cream For Crow?
 
Ha!
 
I always thought Leslie Crowther was a bit sinister to be honest, something about the eyebrows. More sinister than that old fraud Crowley, who was most accurately demolished by yourself when you described him as looking like “Benny Hill with a cushion on his head” – I’m a staunch rationalist and like my magic without a “K”. So I guess it’s “Ice Cream For Crow” even though I don’t like the album that much.
 
Can I have Doc Rowe, Teesside Docks and Doc At The Radar Station instead?


Bio:Richard Sanderson was born in 1960. He is originally from Middlesbrough in the North East of England, but has lived in London for over 25 years. After a background in punk and post-punk groups he shifted into experimental music. Playing electronics, toys and squeezebox, he has recorded and performed with many left-field musicians.


He was a director of London Musicians Collective for 10 years, and ran several clubs promoting experimental and improvised music such as “The Club Room”, “Baggage Reclaim“, “Western Civilisation” and “Scaledown”. In 2005 he joined Blackheath Morris Men as a dancer.


In July 2005, together with Neil Denny, Richard created the ‘rationalist’ radio show Little Atoms.


In 2009 he left the world of paid employment in the music business, and scaled down his other activities to look after his two young children. He has been married to Ruth for donkeys years.


His blog is BAGGAGE RECLAIM.


This is his DISCOGRAPHY

Recommended Read: Ritual In The Dark by Colin Wilson

“Not since Dickens has a British fiction-writer dealt with murder in a book of such size and seriousness” – SUNDAY EXPRESS

Colin Wilson’s Ritual In The Dark is a cracking read and certainly a very British book. I first got ‘into Colin Wilson– as I did with many writers, artists and filmmakers via music. In my later teens, one of my favourite bands was The Fall. The Fall‘s lead singer, okay dictator, was , and remarkably still is, Mark E Smith.

Like me, Mark E Smith was an over-read, working class, Northern lad who had left school at sixteen, blessed and cursed with an over ripe imagination.

The Fall, of course, were named after Alber Camus‘ best book but their previous name was The Outsiders, after another Camus book. But there was another The Outsider, I discovered after reading a MES interview. And one that wasn’t written by some namby-pamby Continental intellectual but by another ‘ over-read, working class, Northern lad who had left school at sixteen, blessed and cursed with an over ripe imagination.’ (Okay, Leicester isn’t really THE NORTH but you get my drift…)

And so I started to immerse myself deeply in the weird and frightening world of Colin Wilson. Of course, I avoided The Outsider for a long time – philosophy, the great waste of the tax payers’ money- but I’d heard that he wrote dark crime stories,  including one, The Killer, which is partly set in my home town of Hartlepool. Hartlepool library, in fact, had lots of his books and you could usually find them in charity shops, which is where I found Ritual In The Dark.

So, ‘Ritual’ is that now over egged pudding, a serial killer story. A ‘modern day’ Jack The Ripper tale which would be called a period piece now. It’s a kind of British Crime and Punishment which takes place in a sexually and socially repressed 1950’s Britain and a vividly drawn Soho. Written in 1949 but published in 1960 it is distinctly pre- The Beatles (pre rebellious youth) and post WW2. It is also a distinctly British exploration of existential extremes featuring a murderer who kills as a creative act, a positive rebellion against the supposed unimportance of his existence.

Ritual In The Dark -Post war angst in a world where ‘we’ve never had it so good’ simply isn’t good enough.