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NAKED COV

September 7, 2013

“Bibberdy-bibbert” blurted some kinda faxola like it’s 1993 or something, how the fuck am I supposed to know? [“You bin outta the scribbling game too long, kid?” leered Spence, his McDonaldized bulk not so bulky as to smother the tank on his hip. “You forgedda da words already?” His accent going through five States per sentence. He calls this “humour” – like when a pregnant whore falls down a flight of stairs. Attlee picks the scum from underneath the nail of his ring-finger with a spring-loaded razor knife. “I’m a working stiff,” he says. “Passed my probation,” he says. “I’m a Hi Viz slogger in a Hi Viz world,” he says. “Protective boots must be warn at all times in this area,” he says. “Wadda I know bout words?” he says. “Words is just grunts with delusions of grandeur,” he says. Scoops a box of Disney Nightmare Princess Fetish Paedophilia Tales (“Operation Yewtree Approved!”) onto the workbench and strips off the piss-yellow agent tape with his trusty razor knife. The cardboard walls fall deftly aside revealing sixteen tatty books doubtless covered in some kinda unspeakable protoplasm, seeing as how this is a Bill Burroughs pastiche. “Fifteen hundred units per day, motherfucker,” he says. Cherry-picking bastard. Spence shifts carefully in his chair, conscious of the round in the chamber. “You should lay off the Wittgenstein, kid” he says, “it’s turning your brain to mush.” Attlee sniggers. “Ima REAL boy!” he squeaks in a voice that wants to be like Pinocchio but comes out like Jimmy Durante doing a half-arsed Micky Mouse.]

Anyhoo…

“Bibberdy-bibbert” blurted some kinda faxola like it’s 1993 or something. We establish this already. Kosmo rips the message from the computer-paper roll and scans the text. His eyes widen, magnified through the lenses of his [brand-name] reading glasses.

“Mother of mercy!” he sighs, “I’ve been sent to Coventry!” The mere utterance of this ancient Anglo-Saxon pronoun conjours visions of a concrete apocalypse. Pregnantly obese obese pregnant women gnaw Polish bratwurst from foot-long batons smothered in curry ketchup. Hoards of feral Goths huddle beneath the Brutalist punch of the flyover, deface the 13th Century walls of the ruined priory, clutching their 2 litre bottles of Diamond White like surrogate teddy bears… Petulant faces suck down one last sandy roll-up outside Cofa Court Jobcentre Plus… Brisk trade at the CEX… Four Whetherspoons, no Waitrose… Cheerfully shabby bustle in the Halal barber on the Foleshill Road… Sinisterly bland multi-purpose business parks on the bulldozed remains of car factories… Dave Nellist begging for change outside the fussily pompous Victorian Town House, leave the guy alone, he’s a ghost already… IKEA looms at the horizon like the Death Star with cheap meatballs…

Kosmo reads on and relates the gist to his apprehensive wife. “Seems like the Firm has located an unexplained outbreak of culture,” he says. “They want us to investigate.”

“Do we have an agent in the area?”

“Not as such. They closed down that wretched excuse for an operation decades ago. Ploughed salt into the topsoil and don’t call us… All we got now is a broken husk of some guy, retired without pension, divides his time between binge-drinking and intemperate internet outbursts concerning a Government conspiracy to misrepresent the music of the nineteen-seventies. I’ve seen his file; it’s stamped If you’re looking at this you must be in serious trouble.”

“We could reactivate maybe?”

Kosmo pulled a face. “Pretty thin,” he says, “but what else can we do?”

Attlee’s phone didn’t ring because Attlee’s phone had been smashed into pieces by Attlee. Orders from above – by which, of course, I mean “orders from within”. Poured himself another four fingers of Wild Turkey and resumed scribbling in his Poundland notebook:

Raising the dark… my outbreath before me… cheap boots in the underpass… footsteps in time with my heart… almost people through the bare trees… I am happy product… these people are adverts… the Sunday Atheists sniffing round the wheeliebins… new dogma from the Think Tank… I am struggling to recall the difference between refusal and surrender.

A tinny blast of Kandy Korn by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band broke the flow. It was Attlee’s ringtone.

“Goddammit!” he muttered, “I must get me a better hammer.”

He picked up a fragment of the shattered technology, gingerly clasping one corner between forefinger and thumb. There was no “accept” button to press, but it turns out that didn’t matter.

“We got you a mission, homes.” Spence’s voice, affecting an accent from south of a border that no-one had ever crossed.

“A mission?! I’m outta that game. Bigger fish to fry. Did you know that Government-sponsored pop-culture historians have been systematically and deliberately mis-locating the significance of The Mekons?”

“I’ve read your file,” said Spence in what might’ve been his own accent, for all I know. “Listen, kid, we’ve got ourselves a situation here and you’re the only boots we have on the ground between Stratford and Long Buckby.”

“A situation?” Despite himself, Attlee was intrigued and flattered.

“Some kinda Kulturkampf is kicking off right on your fucking doorstep. Rumours are circulating about a mother-ugly unholy Frankenstein folk/oompah cut-n-shunt at the Henry VIII.”

Attlee gave a long whistle. “Jesus H Christ on a bike drowning in his own tears! First they came for Post-Punk, now they’ve turned to Krautrock. Well, it was only a matter of time I suppose… But what the fuck am I supposed to do about it? You want me to blog?”

“Blog?! Oh for pity’s sake! Wise-up, kid, will ya? Listen, we’re dropping in some of our people. Top agents. They’ll do the heavy lifting, but we need you to liaise – guide them through the minefields, give them the nine-fifteen.”

“The nine-fifteen?”

“Sorry, I just made that up – y’know, to sound spyish. But that’s not important. Listen, kid, this is serious. We can’t be having culture just spontaneously springing up in Coventry. I mean, where will it end? Chess clubs in Hillfields? Poetry readings in Bell Green? Starbucks in Bedworth?”

“They’ve already got a Costa.”

A spasm of despairing rage smashed through the torn speaker. It was several minutes before Spence was calm enough to continue.

“We’ll deal with that later. First things first. Come on kid: are you in or what?”

“Will there be alcohol?”

“Of course there’ll be fucking alcohol. I said ‘liaise’ didn’t I? You think I meant maybe take them to BHS for a mug of Earl Grey?”

“The Spoons?”

“What?! Show a little class, for fuck’s sake, kid! These are serious people. The Spoons! Jesus! Take ‘em to The Establishment or… um… well… Somewhere that’s not too shit, anyhow. And not the fucking Spoons! Does this mean you’re in?”

“…”

“Attlee?”

“…”

Oh, he was in all right. His mind was already chasing down locations as he stared out at the duel carriageway, lazy Saturday afternoon traffic and behind the cathedral spires, out beyond the inner ring, towers of smoke from the various burning buildings: The Radford, Canley Social Club, The Sidney Stringer Acadamy… A city on fire, wounded, huddled in the centre of its spoke-and-hub street plan like the tarmac web of some OCD spider… They’ll be doing lines off the bar at The Rocket, where the pool table’s so warped you need non-Euclidian geometry to play… Shit-faced casual in The Earl of Mercia, telling anyone stupid enough to listen how he’d given up violence, he’d given it up. Seriously. A mug’s game. But I’ll still back myself up, like. You know: step in for a mate. I could fuck you up. FUCK YOU UP. It’d be all like “That was one you’d not seen before, wasn’t it? Go find your face; I think it’s in the toilet…” Ack! I’ve given it up. A fucking mug’s game. Take a pop at me if you want. Go on: take a pop. TAKE A POP!… “Welcome to Willenhall – Your Car is on Fire”… Where have Cooky and Stretch gone now they’ve closed Annabel’s? Or the twitchy geezer huddled in his overcoat, shiny with dirt, playing blackjack at £20 a time, losing and losing, then reaching into his filthy coat and pulling out a thick, shrink-wrapped wedge of fifty-pound notes. Payroll… The combed-back muffin-tops with shit tats wobbling on their teenage bingo wings as they scream at the Kasbah security. Check in your machete at the cloakroom, lasers cut dry ice, the walls pulsate, sweat, throb, Carling Zest £1.50 a pop… And always the feds, the plastics, the hobby-bobbies with their stupid bicycles and stab vests, hassling the drunks in Lady Herbert Gardens where Barking Mark shared a joint with Attlee one time, tipped him off about the knock-off tobacco place and told huge, ugly chunks of his sad, fucked-up, pissed-up, pissed away life story… broken relationships, louring medical staff, police cells… the doomed dream of a better life in faraway Blackpool… on and on he rasped, voice as dry as Mary Berry’s quim…

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From → Fiction

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