Authonomy, Harper Coliins’s website for aspiring authors, was shut down at the end of September without any fanfare, and links to my short story collection, Jack Kerouac Eats Here, and my second novel, Stop the World, I Want To Get On, were broken on Monday.
So not to be put off, it’s given me the chance to return to Stop the World. It’s still work in progress, and I’ve brought in some noirish objective reactions for Jules so he can occupy his landscape, ‘my mind was strung out like cat’s gut in a violin case,’ etc. Also, I have to up the body count to really be noir.
Here’s the new opening:
Imperial Gardens, Hackney, London
Labrinth’s Earthquake shattered the speakers of an old Mark II Ford Transit, and Jules Jewell held onto the seat in front because they were weaving through traffic at high speed, passing mauve nail bars, takeaways, and barricaded road works. His mind was strung out like a cat crossing a dark alley, and Suki Chen and Macy May high-fived in front of him. Suki, in her pale-blue overall, looked as though she’d just popped out of Good Friend Dragon, the takeaway where she was sole proprietor.
“Just like Dorothy,” she said.
Macy May, the tattooist who ran Snapdragon, opposite Good Friend Dragon, clapped.
“In the Wizard of Oz,” she snorted.
Damian Bones drummed his fingers on the wheel.
“It’s like nothing on earth,” he added, sweeping his hair back from his forehead.
Damian Bones, his thick, brown astrakhan coat rucked up at the shoulders, his mullet sticking out of the back of a beanie hat, changed up a gear.
“Watch this,” he said.
Jules was slung back against the seat, the full force of acceleration coursing through him, and he had no idea where his business partner was taking him.
One month earlier
The Marquis of Queensbury was a black and white Victorian boozer with a fake balcony covered in chicken mesh to discourage the pigeons from landing and shitting on the punters below. Jules picked flakes off the paintwork, the noise of road diggers deafening him. He’d heard of the Marquis of Queensbury, the man, the boxing enthusiast, founder of the Amateur Athletic Club, publisher of the rules for conducting bouts—the Marquis of Queensberry rules.
“The Marquis of Queensbury,” he asked, looking up and down Imperial Gardens, “as in the noble sport?”
Damian Bones stuck out his chin, and assumed a boxer’s pose in front of the caged and frosted windows.
“It’s a lucky name,” he replied.
“Why the Marquis of Queensbury?” asked Jules.
“There’s a lot in a name. You heard what Bamber said.”
The name Roland Bamber, the man who ran everything in Hackney, the man who had given Jules the option, didn’t give him a warm feeling.
“Hanging baskets,” said Damian, pushing the door open. “That’s what the Marquis needs.”
Jules blew into his cupped hands, looked up and down Imperial Gardens, Hackney, and followed his business partner inside the deserted boozer. He wasn’t impressed by what he saw. The walls hadn’t seen a pot of paint since the nineteen-seventies when purple was fashionable. The substantial cream radiators looked like Battersea power station, with pipes so large a whippet could run the full length without crouching. Floorboards were visible through the threadbare carpet, and red Anaglypta, an ancient form of heavy duty wallpaper, held the flaking plaster together. Jules saw a chipped dado rail, wooden panelling, dust on top of a battered, upright piano, and a mouldering towel draped over the hand pumps like a shroud over a crucifix at Easter.
Damian Bones clapped his hands.
“Molly would have loved it here,” he said. “Molly Madrigali? Do you know Molly?”
Jules didn’t know Molly, and he didn’t know why his business partner always mentioned Molly. His nose itched and his throat locked in the cold, motionless air, but then he saw a man’s body stretched out on a bench under the window, and he held his breath.
“Looks like they’re dying to quit the Marquis,” he said.
“Or dying from lack of drink,” Damian added, standing at the head end and shoving the body.
It didn’t move. Jules kneeled, and stuck a hand inside the man’s brown overcoat.
“A pulse,” he said.
There was a long groan, and then silence. Damian cleared the newspapers to reveal a living, smiling, shaved head and shining face.
“Let’s go, big fellah,” said Damian, hauling on one arm that hung down to the floor.
Jules grabbed a dusty bottle off the bar, opened it, and sniffed.
“Medicine time,” he said.
Wafting the bottle of gin around the giant’s head caused a giant arm to reach out into thin air, but nothing else stirred. Jules leaned over, and swallowed hard at what he saw.
“No nose,” he gasped.
“No nose?” Damian asked.
But the giant sat upright, and wafted the air as though he saw a fly in front of his face. The giant swung round and planted two huge feet on the threadbare carpet. The nose-less monster found what he was looking for—a pair of thick, black-rimmed spectacles. He pushed them on, and blinked.
“That’s better,” he said, pushing his glasses up with a finger. “I live here, thank you.”
“Nobody lives here,” Jules told him, slapping an ancient, tasselled lightshade, and causing a dust storm.
“Monty Blomqvist,” he said, “and I do live here.”
“If you live here,” Jules said, peeling a scourer off the sink, and throwing it at Monty Blomqvist, “you can start cleaning now.”
But he knew that the syrupy stains caused by layers of nicotine, really needed an industrial steam cleaner.
“There!” snapped Monty, docking on a bar stool, his face red.
“There?” Jules asked. “What’s there?”
“There,” replied Monty, pointing towards the dark wooden door of the Gents. “Have you been in there?”
Jules hadn’t been in the Gents.
“Be my guest,” said Monty.
His spongy words dripped in the air, and Jules scratched his head, and smelt the damp carpet invading him.
“And the year is?” Damian asked, placing a newspaper quiz on the bar. “Kylie and Jason.”
“They walked right past here,” Monty added, making walking figures on the bar with his fingers, “hand in hand. Shoulder pads out here.”
“The Majestic Bananas rail,” Damian continued.
“Stone-washes,” Monty added. “Tight as fuck.”
“Hitch them up,” Damian told him. “Tuck your jumper in. There you go, my son. That’s the ticket. Nothing wrong with snake belts, and the year is?”
“1989,” Jules replied, leaning on the bar, “when the Marquis last saw a customer.”
“That was Andronicus,” Monty added. “Tight arse Andronicus.”
“And?” Jules asked.
“That’s about it,” replied Damian.
“So the crowd’s thinned out,” Jules groaned.
“That’s one word for it,” Damian replied, sucking a pen top. “Not the most discerning of crowds, but the Marquis is just right for you, Jules. You’ll never look back once you’re settled in the Marquis. Give it time.”
“With one new bar opening every week,” Jules interrupted, “time is what we don’t have.”
Damian took the pencil out of his mouth, and tapped the dark brass rail that ran around the bar.
“We have a second chance with the Marquis,” he said, holding a foxed print of a bearded Victorian boxer in a striped tunic, “and it’s Bamber’s money we’re losing here. We can go forward. We can flourish. What do you reckon to this sturdy fellah?”
But Monty, the giant, went rigid and seemed to grow in front of Jules.
“So you want me to sing?” he shouted, his arms rotating like haymakers. “You want the sound of breaking glass? You want death metal?”
Jules took cover behind the bar, but Damian licked a finger, and turned a page, ignoring the whirling giant.
“At the end of the day,” he said, shaking his head. “You only get a decent read in a glossy magazine.”
Monty struck a power chord, the bar stool pushed low in place of a guitar. His influence was clear to see: Marillion T-shirt, and ripped denims several sizes too small.
“That’s why Kindle will never take off,” said Damian, tapping the side of his nose. “No page turner.”
But Monty was banging his head on the bar.
Damian leaned towards Jules, hand over mouth.
“Any theories?” he whispered, tapping his nose. “About the nose?”
Monty swung the stool, and Jules ducked.
“They say he was a circus performer,” Damian continued, blowing the pages of his magazine, “high wire artist … the rope slipped one day.”
But Monty stopped spinning, and hopped backwards on one foot, his eyes wide open. He replaced the stool on the same patch of bare carpet, and stretched the front of his T-shirt.
“M-a-r-i-l-l-i-o-n,” he said, pointing at each letter, “and if you ever want to know what’s going on round here, I’m your man.”
“We have a part share in the Marquis of Queensbury,” Damian told him. “We bought it off Roland Bamber using Bamber’s own money.”
“And now it’s payback time,” said Monty, clicking his fingers in Damian’s face.
(You get the drift. More to come.)