"Fuck me." Paul Me is blown left across Blackwall Tunnel underpass and wobbles to a standstill after scraping along the wall.
any slower, toss?"
The driver of an overtaking people carrier calls back. As its final
honk echoes on, Paul tries but fails to make a note of the registration
regaining his composure and
checking for damage, he starts his secondhand scooter and continues
---A shot flies past my head as I dive at the fence behind Blackwater Shopping Centre. I sling open the Enrage backpack, remove a sausage sandwich folded carefully in cellophane and a pink Valentines card, ‘Love Is Magic’.
I don't have time. Several motorcycles attempt the embankment
I have just
climbed, one topples backwards. I run as steadily as I can towards a
line of trees
and can hear the buzz of an engine on the plateau behind me,
Acceleration, daybreak. Something closing.
I cannot outrun them, throw myself against the first bough of
a tree and
hoist myself up. Another, I climb. At the height of the fence, as bikes
below me, I see a rifle being prepared.
I edge along this branch, clutching loops of nearby berries
almost fall as I drop the backpack over the fence's edge. I notice the
pause to consider. Other bikes are gestured to leave the scene and as
branch begins to buckle under my weight, but the valet aims again.
The bullet whistles through the space my face just vacated. I
hard. My knees give way, I roll from another shot which bounces beside
backpack and into the sky. I lie there watching all the wasted
her sunglasses, she
watches the diminishing city give in to fields. Suburbs give way to the
worn-looking Norman church between feint pylons that pass under her.
private helicopter had casually
snaked across the motorway until it reached Blackwater, and the better
allows her to recognise the familiar face of a premature crowd. It’s
mass, the unformed edge, risky but somehow beautiful. Even from here,
hovers over, looking down at strangers’ children looking up, the
singer and rapper Carlie Reward feels able to give herself a modest
thank her ascendant popularity. And she prays, as she does, in descent.
Tash, her nicotine gum-chewing publicist, also in shades, folds a
recognising and respecting Carlie’s need for space.
I clear the steps up to what looks like a store room and fling
door. A sign informs me The
Exchange - Goods In and Damaged Goods (Bads)
Shone concrete and lines of stacked boxes. I make my way
towards a door, which
I assume will lead me to one of the upper levels of this emporium. Then
voices, and sports on a portable radio. I retreat behind an open box of
clothing - several neatly pressed Christmas outfits.
"It's crazy, yeah? Once you do that there's no turning back."
peer between boxes. Two security guards are pointing at a newspaper
TO BE GIVEN
SPERM. "Once you start doing that, that's it. That's just
beginning." His colleague shakes his head.
"Would you let that sort of thing go on in Nigeria? I don't
His colleague continues to look on, sadly, then returns to
monitors. I edge in the direction of the door but a grip is immediately
on my right shoulder.
"Lost in the supermarket, brother?"
father’s advice came in fits and starts but, when it came, it came in
morning, stressed with a shaking hand hovering like a thunder bug over
boiled egg. "Always carry a snooker ball in a sock, Paul. It’s a
offensive weapon." The yolk would then be dabbed away from his lips. An
crowd in the clubs, last night, perhaps. "Both components can be
There’s nothing illegit about an adult in the free world carrying a
ball and a sock. Ask any lawyer."
the milk around some glistening cereal, Paul Me wanted to protest,
notion of removing a snooker ball from a sock, deep in one’s pocket and
front of assembled officers, did sound offensive in some ways.
work in Bahrain, Paul. Loves his grub, the bloody commis. State
support for an evening class. Paul Me was cooking on gas when it came
to a smooth
blond roux, and his well-shredded rösti?
Well. But, Bahrain. Mum looked numb and cold, like a million mums
packing their son off to antique wars, for evergreen
History is the history of goodbyes. Brutal and short. And what tales
after bending through waking
suburbs, off the motorway, and some way into the countryside, Paul
ruddy track and gears down, to slow up beside Me Valley. A
large and friendly-looking billboard, and workmen have begun to
the story?" He points.
Someone up a ladder offers. "It was all a rinse."
a series of motorbikes pass by, the tail of the snake slowing to
watch him. Paul believes that he recognises one of them. Dad's
Dad's mad pals. Dad's pals – they never smiled. But this morning they
serious as fuck. As they signal to one another and depart, Paul
jacket, against a patient heart quickening under some
intuitive call, there isn’t a snooker ball or even a sock. There was,
a French-made Catullus semi-automatic.
"Oh, I do apologise." The third guard is joined by both
"Mr Me. Wasn't informed."
One of them straightens his jacket and throws the paper under
"Didn't see you in your civvies. Crowds are in for Carlie."
I am not sure why they think I am someone else. I find the
Blackwater itself is a boundless world of white. I look across
White marble and white escalators shroud near-white reflections on
pointless heaven, which seems to stretch forward forever. At this point
morning, only a few customers have arrived on the upper levels.
"Morning, Mr Me." The owner of Pamper World rolls up a
look in his window at Dewberry Bath Bombs and handmade candles. Instant
Sixpack. In my pocket, I still have his credit card.
I don't have time for Me Time. I quickly descend to the
down at the fountain towards a security-chaperoned entrance. A few
have made it in. A blonde couple on an escalator, who could be brother
sister. They kiss as I pass and when I look back, one of them is
talking on a
At the entrance I have to physically slam my way through
pouring in, but by the time I reach the doors I am glad of their
astride his bike, trigger-finger on a firearm, the valet. Bat bikes
"Where's the stage
manager? Where’s sound? There’s more coordination in
a can of spaghetti hoops.” Tash Hammell closes the door to what is
a dressing room.
"This is the
test, Tash." Carlie is meditating while her
friend screws her into silver boots. "To find soul everywhere
is to be
soul. Music knows this. We just strip back and obey the song."
"Interview mode off.
Talk me to me like a human person, C. We’ve got two
more today and then a Sony retirement. Someone made it past
getting America, girl."
"I have everything I
need right here." Carlie visualised space itself.
Unfolding vectors. They talked to her differently now. She could see
Respect. And who didn't deserve that?
Chanting ‘fuck’ at
some buckles, Tash Hammell begins to chew faster.
Nina Simone once booked a meeting with her record company to enquire
missing royalties. "What do you want those for, Nin?" Someone leaned
the desk. "You got your arms, got your legs, got your fingers, got your
blood, got your liver. Stop being greedy."
Retreating, I window shop some Olde English Chutney with cider
'Condimental', for Madame Burgalat, and then my eye is briefly caught
by a French
magazine in the newsagents. Anne
Renaud's father acquitted of murder. Pictured here with Julianne
working on the English translation of Goncourt-nominated 'Les Amants Du
A hailer reverberates along the halls as I pass under a
stretched tile of
canvas and rope suspended above us, as a fan of sunlight catches ‘REWARD’.
for Radio Blackwater bellows forth, 'The Crispin McMunkie Show' enters
like a strange
growl. "She comes amongst us, Blackwater." The fans seem energised by
the news. "Bag snatchers may operate. Struggling unwise."
I sit at the fountain watching security watch the doors and
draw around my
backpack. I may be somewhat hopeful but I cannot find the
semi-automatic - and
apart from the card and the sandwich all it contains is a rope, a
maps of Paris. Above me, in a glass booth, an unkempt disc jockey rubs
belly. Something catches my eye amidst the cast pennies and plastic
paused at the bottom of the fountain. I reach in and hook out a credit
I wipe it dry, then try to read the Love Is card, my stress
- give this to the main lady.
Mandy Dearest, remember how you said you seemed to pick the wrong men?
Hey and I
always pick the wrong women, I told you. So a match made in heaven, we
proved the doubters wrong, on and off, for twenty six years. When you
I’ll be part of some foundations I myself designed. I can't pay a guy
taken you on holiday, Mandingo. CC will take you to Paris. Sincerely,
McMunkie cuts across a song. "Lost person announcement. Would
come to the carpark? His friends can't wait any longer." Teens seem to
look at me, whispering at phones. I stand. I sit. I see some men in
helmets eventually make their way through the crowd.
well. The good
listener." She had called him this before.
had followed the
flow of bikes cautiously, and not very far, to a carpark entrance. And
been nudging his way in and around the back when a voice spoke to him
from a tree.
She was up sitting there, a bow and arrow loose in her hand and two
rests dead, steadying
his secondhand scooter by standing, and he looks down and away.
know what he was doing here. Goodbye was enough. Bahrain. Out of his
Paul hears them drop from a tree and approach him while, ahead, the
scrambler bikes circle against the entrance to a mall. He admires the almost
called the real
world." She says. "But I wouldn’t do it if I were you."
Paul Me closes his eyes.
"Are you sound?"
Tash seems relieved.
Two men in black
crash helmets have been following me through the arcade. My brisk walk
the escalators transformed into a run, back up service stairs to what I
misjudged to be an exit. Now I watch down, one foot in the doorway to a
makeshift dressing room.
you check it's not
I push her inside
and make my way in and around a very bare space with no exit. "Whoah.
dart back to stop her leaving and lock us in with my shoulder.
"Who.." She is
jabbing buttons. I can hear feet turning on the metal steps outside. I
to shut up and remove the phone.
Reward, who hasn't moved, appears to be smiling.
"Security." A voice
security." I back away. "Far from it."
Someone tries the
door but refuses to enter. I think they've heard us.
I look into the wood.
Both of the women are looking at me. I make brief eye contact with the
isn't sitting on the table.
"No, we're not." She
says eventually. "We need the stage manager."
I exhale. My heart
is pounding. "Ah, Ms Reward. It's you. Could I have a signature, for my
Only he's in hospital and it'd do him the power of good. It really
"What's he got?"
There is a brief
discussion. "Muscular. Trophies. Atrophy." "He's shrinking to nothing,
It's a terrible sight."
Tash approaches the
handle. Turning it, she asks for a pen, then invites the men in.
Hidden snugly, I
hold the door against me with one finger tip. "You should see him."
"He's no bigger
than a pretzel."
speaks, as if in his ear. "If you want out of the family trap let
me know. It's plain narcissism. There's a stronger bond, that makes you
Me sits back down on
scooter, but doesn't turn. "What you mean?"
strength. The policeman knows it. The government know it. And the media
who exist to warn you off? They really know it." He can feel her hand
shoulder. "We're all slaves, sonny boy. Who've seen what love between
sun had fully risen, and was fully caressing the side of his face. He
watches the languid curl of a family estate turn into its resting
bow sets down on his left shoulder, and her right hand passes across
grabs her wrist and twists it when she tries to take the gun. She
the side of his head with her elbow. He rolls off the scooter and
her. She curses him and, by the time she backs off to prime an arrow,
the gun at her.
wouldn't. You couldn't. You can't. Go ahead. Get it done. Come on."
Tash Hammell's sense of
which had been absent for so long that any genuine response surprised
to be returning.
As she absent-mindedly chews some long extinguished gum she observes
security look around the space they seem unfamiliar with, with sweat on
foreheads and, somewhere, the tang of burnt engine, petrol and earth.
didn't add up. And when she backs against the door, one of them uses a
helmet to nudge his companion.
"Step aside, madam."
"Who are you?"
"When people do vanishing
find out why."
Carlie Reward opens her eyes
see the men brush her companion into a wall and yank the door. They
me out and apologise for the intrusion, and I watch the floor sweep
beneath me as
I am carried down the steps, both arms behind my back.
"Calm down, she's here. Who's this little McMunkie Junkie?"
view down from
the mezzanine. At least a dozen crash helmets ring the horde. My arms
twisted behind me and, despite the energetic backing music and
it feels like a long march to some medieval scaffold. Below us,
in the shape of a McMunkie Roadshow.
"Chloe from Basingstoke. You've only gone turned seven today,
"What do you make of Carlie's new ditty?" Silence. "Bit shy,
petal? It's alright, McMunkie's here."
"Bloody off the hook." The people cheer.
After a swift gesture from the balcony to the ground floor,
the valet notices
us and begins to quickly sidle towards the foot of the escalator.
"And who are you, big lad?"
"Chieftain Ringer, Smashing Fascism."
"And you're a paid-up member of Carlie Youth?"
"Formerly. But the servoid backing dancers are over-potent
symbols of a
will to power. However post-modern the times, if Carlie feels so
her own iconography she should die young."
I am hustled aggressively along the mezzanine.
"Hey-hey. Alright. Is the correct answer. Ooop. I feel a poll
on. Who thinks Carlie should die young then, eh?" A cheer wavers though
"That's a massive eighty-nine percent think Carlie should be
swinging at the top of her game! You lot are criminal." The cheer turns
Chloe from Basingstoke is jumping. "Catapulted.. like a crap
Through the windscreen.. of a.. of a.."
"Let it all out." Suddenly yet another hand grabs my shoulder
pulls me back.
".. helicopter going.. bang into a cliff."
Carlie Reward steps between us and the top of the escalator,
waving over the
ornamental balustrade. Her publicist ensures that the crowd notice by
Carlie's entrance fanfare to the stage manager below.
McMunkie casts his arm past a teetering hierarchy of boxes
scaffold. "Carlie is sponsored by Me Valley Construction. And Pamper
Bath Bombs. And, stone me, she's here."
People start pointing and shouting. The mass begins to flex
like a muscle.
Carlie puts her arm across my shoulder and tries to guide me away, but
valet is ready. As he rises at the top of the escalator, he
miscalculates our importance.
"He's got a gun!" McMunkie dives. The crowd frenzy as a
well-aimed shot is
taken at me, which nevertheless only serves to rupture glass in the
sound several alarms.
Paul Me turns to watch the flood, the exodus. Cerys vanishes.
He revs up and
makes for the mall.
Inside, real security run up the down escalator while the
valet is running
down the up. I swing and trip the rider into his companion, and flee.
rush past the Blackwater staff and get pushed back. The
valet rises up
a second time and takes a new shot at the fans. Below, men in crash
chains at schoolchildren.
I stop fleeing, turn on a heel. Corbeau? In many ways, which
never admit, because we've always got you and yours here making things
out and chaotic, all we do is hide.
I return for the singer. "Thank you." They need safe passage,
and I have a
job to do. I kick one of the riders right in the face and push the
the balustrade and onto the boxes. In the pits, bikes have begun to
through into the mall, and an all-out war has started. Screams, and
Linked chains. British Bulldog.
As the publicist guides our way back to the service exit,
pursued by a wave of
protective kids, someone mentions a helicopter, and I begin to sense my
way to the safety
of London. "This way." I guide them down steps that I should
previously and we burst free, into the far end of the carpark. Children
rush us and
quick to follow. "Allez!" I warn them back as we make for the
And still they dance over cars towards us, only to get
by racing boots. A
good push is enough to remove some riders. Trying to hook a passing arm
drags one to
the ground. The riderless bike thumps into a child, rattles to an
between parked cars, scattering wing mirrors and the contents of a
school bag. Yells
elsewhere as an engine slides hard into the legs of a defensive chain.
stripped of the machine, riders are dealt with ruthlessly. Swarm
A gunshot. So close behind me it
feels like a slap
head. The valet is clutching Carlie, and waves the rifle at me, then at
her. "Trade off, Corbeau." He seems eager to escape, cornered and
fearful. He had to
kill his way out. Of this I have no doubt.
am not even sure what he wants. Cerys slides across a
bonnet and lands on Chloe from Basingstoke who all this time has been
uncontrollably. The valet could take a head off, but he is gesturing
only memories. Christ. So, I reach them out to him.
And drop it.
full speed, Paul Me manages to scoop everything from the tips of my
The valet releases Carlie and Chloe from Basingstoke races towards her
rifle is prepared but a bike chain catapults him into a pit of the
valet scoops a
laughing Chloe under his arm. He approaches the young man as he rises
painfully twisted all fours and tries the safety catch on the Catullus.
"Pass that here, Paul. You don't understand." The valet offers a hand
while bikes flank him. Carlie Youth trot around us, encircling the
"Come, old fellow."
safe?" He looks directly at me, but his voice is so light that I cannot
stupid." He looks at me again. Like he was asking what he should do.
Like he doesn't
know if he is stupid.
valet lunges for
the pack but Paul arches so fast that a stray round goes off against
ground. Chloe from Basingstoke cracks down, laughing freely. The
reignites, unstopped by shots. I am hit hard with a chain. Someone
assailant to the ground and I rise up to punch someone else. The valet
away with the backpack, rummaging through it, to the distant spin of
stoop to help
Leopold's son. "Where's my -?"
Enrage rope is
placed around my neck and - nnn - pulls me away with such force it
eyes from my head. "Is this some kind of joke?" The memories in my
backpack scatter out, the valet's rifle is in my stomach, and a Love Is
tumbles in the breeze towards Paul Me. Now on his knees, he turns it
front of me, my hands extend as if for pity. I am dragged further back,
numb in the brain. As if through water, the boy begins to find
and for some reason lobs the gun towards me. I reach but the throw is
short. I watch
its parabolic swing into the hands of Chloe from Basingstoke who stops
long enough to breathe, and then scream, and, before I finally blank
out, she tugs
the trigger so uselessly but with such frenzy that the valet turns us
dance, to look. He stiffens before the child and the resultant
him off his feet.
Paul onto the back of the fallen scooter, wrench the backpack off a
Chieftain Ringer before the Shadow Bank batter the fans with better
and turn their attention and chains to us. The singer is back on the
long, silent journey out to
Orly. They couldn't take the Lexus Argento. So Brigitte watches a
succession of thin trees passing beyond the window of Monsieur Dix's
closes her eyes briefly at the
sun, its light flashes regularly against her eyelids.
Renaud returns her
spectacles to the bridge of her nose and checks to see if both sleeves
white shirt are rolled up equally. As her laptop powers up she gazes
the window into the garden, sucking a sweep of breakfast crumbs from
Never the equal, they
A theme in the sequel
would have be - she suggested to herself - the ability of romantic love
us meet one another eye to eye. Equality. Set against the backdrop of
a long time ago and important.
with her daughter had
taken a turn for the worst. They rarely spoke these days, except for
reproach and recrimination. The parent and child who are most alike
fight. She wasn't sure if she was looking for ammunition or simply
quietly fascinating to read her daughter's weblog - which she was
and subsequently bookmarked last Tuesday - and was gradually working
through. Must you sit in that room alone? She used to ask.
Anne shuddered to think
about the motivations of those who might be reading.
concluded that she had
mixed feelings about the form, and about la toile in general - diaries
be the most private of affairs. Abbreviation, hint, curiously
opinion. She drew down
a list of favourites and clicked on www.mavieestcompletementstank.fr -
waited for layers of a somewhat grainy, almost spectral image of her
to fill a box on the left of the screen.
Eventually worked out how this webcam works.. boarding again
Balthus.. Double maths first thing tomorrow.. I am off the hook
entry should be pretty shallow - fuck you, why am I apologising? Also
Bored to the bones, like pain I can actually feel.
daughter's life, she seemed
eager to stress, was 'stank'. And who did she think she was talking to?
.. this .. Anne tried to find a phrase.. emotional pornography.
single chime. The inbox.
Mail. From .. nothing's simple.
Fait accompli, ma chatte. One
Goncourt is having your name grilled to it - even as we speak ~
smiles and looks across
the garden again. 'I hope my success encourages those who would never
tell their story to do so.' Mdm Renaud, are you reverting to your
You are the natural successor
to the Highway Code. x ~
dark clouds were moving
in. Stop it, Anne X.
this was business and
history was re-written by the winners. True - the critics had used the
populist to damn her - but as she unscrews the top of a Martini bottle
recalls Karl Marx saying that every revolution started by converting
majority. Democracy was populism. But this book had been a revolution
life - and she was confident that dusty little corners full of
be.. swept out - brightened up - one by one.
smiles again - and reaches
towards the laptop to terminate her internet connection - she catches
I sit here for one reason alone - boredom. I'd scream or cut
otherwise. At least it's me writing something. Some are just too drunk
any research (cut paste and jigger whatever they pulled off the net).
might even get so far up their own ass they'd make a drunken threat in
middle of the night to have their ghost-writer silenced for good.