Ross Busker's Burning
Stop The Gaul Blather, Barbara Taylor Trotsky
London was left both rocking and stunned last night when violence poured out from the ex-pat thought-tank dear to wacko French brain-czars' hearts, the Institut Francais. Frosty authoress Anne Renaud, 53 - romping through the capital to promote her new shocker porn'n'protest novel 'Les Amants Du 68' - and leaving a now-trademark trail of sleaze blazing escargot-like in her shamed wake, presided in silence as hooligan-style thugs seized the proceedings. After lying to journalists over accusations of man / child pyjama nights at her 'art-book' HQ - slammed as the Parisian Chateau Sin, haughty Renaud uttered not a single word of sympathy as rounds were blasted through the terrified audience. Her book sales weren't hurt, but how many more demonstrations do we need that leftie cant wears khaki when our backs are turned? Whether it's tartan-clad atomic waste at war on the power-cut terraces of West Ham or books on strike outside the very libraries of our own South Ken, those dark days are fiction now and we don't need a rerun. You've lost the plot, Barbara Taylor Trotsky. The yarn you spin was last century's model last year and the Gaul-blather grave you're trying to dig for Britain will never ever ever be hammer and sickle-shaped so long as Ross Busker's within bird-flipping distance of Dover. Hoppez back off Che vous.
Someone has pushed a refolded newspaper under my hotel room door. I return to sit on my bed, reading. Finished, I carefully tear out the piece on Anne and place it into my pocket.
Brigitte and I booked into adjacent rooms last night - the first South Kensington establishment we could find with French television on cable - after mutual agreement that this would be a comfort. Between the moment we locked our doors and this seems so hazy yet undisguised. I set down the newspaper, lie down again and stare along the door in recollection.
9:50 pm. I walk in. The room is well-enough presented but the air is a little overcome with the aroma of cleansing agents at odds with one another - forest fresh, sea breeze. The drop from the double-glazed window looks like an unharmful fall onto the roof of a partly sheltered Range Rover, from where one could slip along the narrow well-lit mews and onto the high street in seconds. I pull the window open, let some air through, walk back, look into the bathroom.
Brigitte wants to shower before we go to the nightclub. I pick up the remote control for the television - perched on a high angling bracket that leans from the one of the furthest corners of the room - and I try to navigate my way around the buttons. Canal Betamix. Now Views.
"We've just had this - an outbreak of gun trouble in London. Madame Renaud involved. Rioting. Two men arrested. We'll see if we can get anything better as soon as. Roland, this Renaud thing gets more bizarre. Hit refresh for the viewers."
"A patrol car found the daughter on the streets, hysterical. When the boy was questioned later he denied everything."
"What do we make of the 'family friend'?" He turns to another pundit who is spinning a pen in his fingers.
"The decent things that keep a man anchored in life's ocean aren't enough for him. For some reason he feels the need to nature trek down to the darker parts of the forest, dance with the crazy mushrooms."
"What do you make of the 'policeman' ploy?"
"Well, it's textbook schizophrenia. The man's a complete fantasist. If he's a flic I'm Genghis Khan. He's done the full twist - like the little worm world-leader-pretend or the negro who can't even look in the mirror for a shave without some Klansperson demanding a flamer with fries. Even as he commits the acts in question he seeks to absolve himself by arresting another part of himself."
A complete fantasist. This is not the first time that I have been called this. Simone Signoret spat the same thing at me when I arrested Jean Paul Sartre in 1970.
I move to wash in the sink when the weather report comes on. Something catches the corner of my eye. I know that face. I know her. I jump towards the set so fast - for a second I am lost in a swirl of flickering pixels. I settle back, watching the image form and focus into the low, knowing gaze and the sideways it's-so-not-going-to-happen-pal smile of a woman I've had far too many run-ins with across my career. Poppy Franco. Interesting choice for a weather girl - the last time I saw Poppy she was wiping around in a poppy-coloured cocktail of blood clot and cut crystal meth she'd just thrown up through her nose. A quondam dj, she ran les Bains Douches for a while and knew Zak Bonnaire. Subsequently introduced Marianne Castro to Rocco Schopenauer and a man near Orly airport who offered to help Marianne with her modelling career. Enough said. Results unseen, at least by me.
"Yes indeed. But don't be fooled by this warm front." She turns finally. "There's a real storm coming through from the Atlantic." That sideways smile ripens on the other side. "All those thinking about flying tonight.."
Say it, Poppy. "..it's so not going to happen."
I am shocked out of my recollections by three confident knocks on the hotel suite door. I mute the television.
No-one there. I walk down the corridor to Brigitte's room, try calling her name with my cheek to the wood. No response. I return to my own room.
I am washing in the sink beside the door when I look into the mirror and see him.
So, there he is. He's quick. He his standing behind me, a gun in his hand, his face cast as a silhouette under the shifting glow of the television. I look away.
"I have to say - you move fast, Leopold Me."
He doesn't reply, cocks the gun.
"You know I don't have the money. I'm here to stop you."
He sighs. And when he speaks - it's not the voice I was expecting. Soft. Local. "I'm here to give you an English lesson, lover boy."
"I'd rather get it from your boss."
He sighs again. "You can't wait to get your French fingers on other people's things, can you? Repeat this and remember it - all the time you're here. My bird.."
I try to make out his face. His hand begins quivering as he raises the gun to the back of my head. "Remember!"
I raise an eyebrow. "My bird.."
".. is the centre."
"Is the centre."
The sudden aggression in his tone makes me flinch."..of fucking universe."
I suck my lower lip, begin to turn slowly. Things, guesses, hunches - things - throwing themselves around in my head.
"Where is Julianne? Sir?"
"With me now. Just remember."
"All we ever were was.." Suddenly the door knocks. "..friends."
"Was that you, CB? I've been dished up the hairdryer from hell. How's yours?"
The gun gestures that I should reply. I lean my head against the wood.
"Sure, Brigitte. I'll bring it down to you in a moment."
When I return and look into the mirror I appear to be alone again.
I wait, move across to close the bedroom window, try telephoning Paris and Madame Burgalat. There is no response.
Brigitte suddenly pulls me toward someone she has spotted. "Dan! Hi." The Polytechnic is dark and smoky and crowded with young people who have just erupted into applause as a rock band finish their last song and step down from the stage. I stand to one side as the singer - a serious-looking woman wearing a t-shirt advertising a car electrics workshop, brushes past me - followed by some youths from the audience who notice Brigitte and kiss her. "Oi, you. It's been months."
The drummer from the band rolls his shoulders and pauses to kiss Brigitte. I look around for Leopold Me. He is here, I know.
I look on as someone peels off a bandage to show Brigitte a tattoo and she shows someone else a magazine article and she smiles and they chat in their slang about many things I am finding quite useless. I feel that I am wasting time. She looks at me once, disappointedly.
I approach the bar, begin my investigations.
"Leo Me? You didn't miss much. Christ, he was awful. He's over in that alcove nursing his ego. Give him this, cheer him up." The barmaid hands me a second beer.
I follow her finger to a blue-lit alcove. I adjust myself. He knows I'm here. I know he does. And I know he wants to play this coolly. I'm fascinated and start smiling, but I begin to lose my composure slowly crossing through the Polytechnic. A pair of knees in chequered Prince Of Wales. Trainered feet uncrossing under the table. Some ringed fingers drumming on the wood suddenly stop drumming. I stop too, take in a breath and do it.
I slide across the opposite seat and hand him the beer. "From the bar. Pity I missed your act." At a guess I would say that Leopold Me's son Leo is twenty two years old.
"The vibes weren't vibey enough. People don't realise, kids on e are bastard hard to hypnotise. Fuck it. There's my anchor in life's ocean over there." He gestures out towards some girls wearing thongs that can be seen over the top of their loose jeans. He looks me up and down and those fingers begin drumming again.
"Don't know you. Let me know if you need introduced to anyone. You recently divorced? Don't get me wrong, this place gets all sorts. Thanks for the beer but I don't get off on men."
Bachelors of my age, even Parisian ones, should be prepared for certain accusations on occasions. "I'm interested in magic. Interested in you. I found the right woman once but she didn't want me."
"Well you've come the right place. You look .. lonely. Not a good start. I'll get you laid. What sort of girl do you like?" I'm glad he's in the mood to talk.
Brigitte is throwing back her head and laughing and wiping some beer from her chin as the drummer of the band says something amusing into her ear. She raises her eyebrows at me. Anne was the sort of girl I like. But I can recall a very simple joy at holding Julianne's hand in the taxi through Jura. "I can't - I don't judge people on how they look. I'm a policeman, Leo. I.."
"So? Something must blow your whistle. I've got a real backside thing at the moment. Nothing ouch, just tongue and groove. Yes indeed, the great curve of good booty half kills me. First time I ran the tip of my tongue up a girl's bum I thought 'You were born for this Leo Me'."
The pounding music which has replaced the band is beginning to give me a headache. The drummer is showing Brigitte some CDs. "It somehow seems to mean a girl must be special but in a thoroughly modern way. Slightly illicit but definately affectionate. Kiss about, nuzzle gently. The first wet probe, flex around, gets.." He seems perplexed, looking for a word. "..vampire-like."
Leo Me sighs, takes a swig of beer, produces a wrap. "Yes indeed. Wanna lick some whizz?"
Just as I am wondering what to think or say he leans close to my head. "I know someone who hasn't been able to keep her eyes off you."
I want to ask him where his father is or ask why. But - "Who?"
He nods to the other end of the bar where the singer of Queen Of Swords Reversed is staring into a glass of brandy she is swirling around in one hand. She looks up. "Be careful. She blows whistles so hard peas have hit the ceiling. Turned me into the happy Dracula you see before you. If anyone can dust off your bell and shake it, she can."
He looks at me again. "Even if it's the kind you find in a second-hand store."
"Leo. I'm actually in London to investigate your father."
He looks about and then at me. His expression changes. "That scum can fuck himself. Can't make a phone call or show up unless it serves him. He's a laugh." I seem to have shaken young Leo's bell.
"One minute he's face down in anti-depressants cos the world is all me me me and the next Paul's Xbox gets sold to my own best mate for blow. No no there's no love in this world for him - us lot, his own blood, are all me me me but now and again he's all changed and Paul let's him in and the gas bill's gone on a race. Fuck hasn't got the balls to get a fucking job or step outside that pigsty of tricks and newspapers. Three years mum hasn't spoke to him. You see him, tell him his son says 'Go fuck yourself'. No - you see him, just tell him the world is all me me me but at least some people have the fucking balls to show up once in a while to say it to their family's faces. Tell him to come round and take it! Take whatever he fucking wants. It's his, we don't want it. It'll give us a nice warm glow - remind us of the winter he went and Paul was too ashamed to walk to school cos we had to share a fucking coat." His words are choked out three or four at a time through an opening wave of tears and a bubble of nose fluid which he blows onto the floor aggressively. I press the back of my hand to my lips. "Stupid Austrian fuck. You bore me. I'm going to lick some whizz."
Leo Me slams back off the bench and disappears through the crowds on the dancefloor.
I look at the unpainted walls of the alcove, study a world in the thick plaster swirls.
The Queen Of Swords Reversed touches me. "You alright?" She makes a worried face, takes Leo Me's place.
"Got something for a headache?"
"Let me guess, you prefer soul. I think this is called happy hardcore."
Happy hardcore. I press at my temples and look at her face. "I'm just a cop asking questions about a maverick anti-monarchist and I don't need any weird help from a spooky singer."
She seems upset. I apologise but she smiles and turns to leave. "I heard. Speak to Mandy, Leopold Me's wife."
I take a drink. "I'm sorry. Please. Stay. Who are you?"
She lights a cigarette, considers. "I just like asking questions too. And I like love stories with a twist. You've been through a lot today. You looked like you needed to talk to someone."
I look at her hands. I do. "A girl I recently proposed to, her husband wants to kill me and I'm worried about her. That's my love story. But. If that's it - if that's my story - I'd prefer a woman called Marianne kill me like she's meant to. That's how it should end, I can tell any reader."
"You need a clean slate. What age are you? You know what the Chinese say - your ideal girlfriend is half your age plus seven."
This is ridiculous, but I find myself calculating. Julianne.
"We all need someone compatible."
"It could happen, Inspecteur. But not here. You're French?"
French. Until I came to London I only thought of myself a Parisian. I tell her this. She has an odd accent. "And you?"
"My country's not there now. A man-made thing dreamed up after some treaty no-one's heard of. More an idea. Then they changed their minds. Whatever - it makes no odds to me. Black kids and Jews were Egyptians, a Mycenean before every Greek, the Romans just dropped 'Etruscan'."
She swirls her brandy. "New breeds come when people feel the need to assert God again - at whatever river's edge they find themselves. So flip open the history book and pick me any name you like, they're just new shoes from the catalogue. Africa."
I smile, thinking of the history books I used to read on Granny Corbeau's knee. "I'm told that the Corbeaus may be Huguenot."
"Still bitter from the massacre of St Bartholomews day?" She finishes the brandy.
This woman is very calming. The beer and my clearing headache and this conversation all come together to make me feel quite transparent. I laugh. "It gives me sleepless nights."
Brigitte then taps on my shoulder, staring hard at the singer's hands and face and then at my smile. "We're going on to an all-nighter up in Hoxton. Coming?"
"I'm a little tired, Brigitte. Will you be alright with your .. friends?"
She doesn't even look, struts away. "'kay."
The Queen Of Swords Reversed is sitting on the edge of my hotel bed, her eyes follow me around the room.
"I haven't done this for a long time. A long time. Actually I don't know why you're here or what I want or even who you are, really, and I think I'm a bit drunk and that it was crazy to ask you back here and the more I think about it the more I think that you should .. go."
I am sitting on the edge of my hotel bed. She pulls her t-shirt off over her head.
Her shoes have been removed and there is a moment when she looks down and begins unbuttoning her skirt when I start to do the same. She turns to look in the mirror as she puts her hands behind her back to unhook her bra. She stretches, watches her own body, turns back and slips out of her skirt. "Please don't fall in love with me on the basis of this. We're both adults."
She slips under the sheets and puts her hand behind my head. She laughs. "Your heart is beating so fast."
I touch her. I feel a sweat rise on my back. I move to kiss her but stop. "You are very warm."
She is right, my heart is beating incredibly fast. She moves her hand across my legs.
"What's wrong? It's like an arrow inside isn't pointing in my direction. Don't you like me all of a sudden?"
I sit up, shocked. "You're beautiful."
"What is it then?"
I'm not sure myself. I sit back, try to find that arrow inside, point it in her direction. I run my hand down her body and kiss her.
She takes her hand off my legs. "Don't think of beauty as coming out of particular things. Think of it as something separate. Something we can put into things, like light."
She smiles, draws my hand up and down her belly. "What else can I say? I'm all yours."
"Shhh." She pulls my head to rest on her shoulder. "Your heart's not in it. You should sleep." She kisses me on the forehead. I want to raise her knuckle to my lips to kiss it but I'm asleep.
...dream of...Granny Corbeau...sitting on her...knee, reading book of...Balistique...love Granny Corbeau but...tells me that her son...is coming to collect me...throw the book down and tell...I hate her...run and lock myself in the bathroom...
9:50 am. I am sitting on the edge of my hotel bed, still staring at the door, wondering what the hell that beautiful singer saw in me. I should check on Brigitte. I reach into my pocket and pull out an old playing card - 'Judgement' - I found tucked under a gun on my pillow this morning. I read the loose handwriting on it again.
You're new here and so wrong about how your story ends. We meet again at a river's edge. And your heart will be in it. Trust me. QOSR x
PS - Remember who gave you this. Things get rough?
I draw a Catullus semi-automatic 9mm out of my right-hand pocket. When I look in the mirror I have bruises around one side of my left eye and on my arm. Nightclubs do that.
Suddenly I am shocked by three confident knocks on the door. I jump back, check that the gun is set and approach.
"Corbeau?" I open the door by fractions.
An angular stoop - Sir Sebastian Nitrate. Some Met officers.
"Where under Nelson's scrubbers have you been? Come on, mon pote, a body's been found in the Thames."
Sir Sebastian leans through, flicks his walrus moustache and winks. "Royalty."