I slap my arm thrice and press the needle into my exposed vein. The prick is jagged, not as sharp as it should be, but fuck knows how many times it’s been used. I press the plunger slowly, exhaling deeply.
Indy looks across at me, tipping back his bowler hat.
“What are you staring at you fat fuck?” I spit.
“You don’t need to do that shit man.” He says, fiddling with his cufflinks.
I tip my head back, laughing raucously.
“It keeps me warm.” I snigger, “And I’m not here to fuck rats and cobwebs am I?”
Rosa turns around to face me, her long blonde hair swishing over her breasts.
“What are you trying to say, Ice?”
I sneer at her, “I’m trying to coax another hardon out of my cock, what are you saying?”
Rosa stands up, “I wouldn’t bother if I were you,” she says, “You’re useless when you’ve had a spikeful of that.”
Rosa walks away, her naked body covered in goosebumps. Fuck she looks good when she’s cold.
“Looks like you’re in the doghouse, Icepick,” Indy sniggers, bending down to pick up a bottle of whisky from the floor.
“Drop a penny, pick it up!” I say, watching him hunched over, “Drop the whisky, get fucked up!” Indy plucks the bottle up, twisting the lid off and swigging deeply.
I watch as Rosa disappears through the door, barely a single eye is not fixed on her luscious naked body as she meanders through the grimesters.
“She’ll be back,” I say lying back on the blanket, “she always comes back.”
I sprawl out on the faux-mink blanket, and stare up at the ceiling, as the chemicals begin to drown my brain.
“You want to be careful Pick,” he says, “last time you passed out on that shit, I had to stomp on a rat that was trying to gnaw your toes off.”
“Bullshit,” I snigger, “you probably ate the fucker.”
My eyelids begin to feel heavy.
“Hey boys!” a voice shouts over from across the warehouse. I push myself up on my elbows to see Little Stones, massaging Petroline oil into his Mohawk.
“Watch this!” He says, pulling a lighter out of his pocket, “I call it the Glohawk.” He says putting the lighter to his hair and sparking it. At once, his mohawk erupts into flames. Little Stones begins banging and shaking his head, spraying little drops of flame about the squat. I laugh uproariously, as the grimesters around him spread out. The flames quickly burn down, and Little Stones begins patting the top of his head frantically.
“Fuck me!” He shouts, as the flames begin to burn his scalp.
“Hey Stones!” I shout, “I always thought you were hot-headed!”
Virus stands up, picking up a blanket from the floor and covering Little Stones’ head, dousing the flames. The smell of burnt hair permeates the warehouse. I chuckle, lying back on the ground as my mind begins to sink into the warm intoxicating embrace of Virginia brown. I close my eyes, and drift into twilight.
A panicked scream tears me from my opiate slumber.
“Icepick, wake up!”
The thump of boots clatter up the stairs, the splintering of wood burst asunder by iron. My eyes are glassy. I wipe them hastily –not just to clear my vision- but to attempt to shake off the numbness of the opiates. I look down, Indy is face down in a pile of his own drool, his bowler hat loosely clinging to his head.
I rise to my feet as the door smashes off it’s hinges, and the Big Boots come charging through, shotguns at the ready. Bleary eyes. Barrels side by side. Broad spread shot, this is the end. No. There’s always an escape. Always.
The fading light on the horizon pours in through the windows of the warehouse, glinting off their helmets. The grimesters rise to their feet, grabbing whatever weapons they have nearby. Little Stones grips a bottle of whisky from the floor, hurling it towards an approaching Bootman, before turning to flee. The bottle shatters off his helmet, and the Bootman turns his gun towards Little Stones, a deafening boom rings out as Little Stones is projected across the room, collapsing on the floor, his neck torn open by the shotgun blast.
Stanley the knife lies in an inebriated pile on the floor, unaware of the raid. One of the Bootmen steps towards him, aims his shotgun at his head and fires.
I look down at Indy, kicking him sharply in the ribs.
“Get up now!”
My words are drowned out by the sound of the third shotgun fired. I turn to see the damage. Virus. Chunks of skull everywhere.
I look around for a weapon.
My knife, my knife! Your kingdom for my knife!
Indy rises to his feet, bleary eyed, clutching his bowler hat.
Another shotgun blast, and another.
Screaming grimesters, the thumping of another body hitting the ground.
Where is Rosa?
I look down. No knife, just a small glass pebble. My last Akris Bomb. I reach down for it, as the boots charge towards me.
“This one!” he says, pointing to me.
They’re going to bag me. The Bootman lifts his visor up.
I march towards him, raise my hand and break the Akris bomb over his face. The glass brakes and acid leaks all over my hand, soaking into the skin.
The pain is immeasurable, even with the opiates in my blood.
He falls to the floor, screaming in pain as the flesh is stripped from his face.
I turn quickly to the window, smashing it through with a few sharp kicks. I grab Indy by the waist, lifting him with all my strength. The acid on my hand soaks into his waistcoat.
“What are you doing Icepick?” he shouts, as I shuffle him towards the broken window.
I throw all of my weight into him, pushing him through it. He screams as he falls. I hear him land with a dull thud. Perhaps he’s dead. Definitely injured. I take one final look. No sign of Rosa. Just Vollo, with his face in a black bag, being beaten with truncheons.
I leap through the window, falling for a second. The ground comes up on me like a freight train. My ankle snaps as I land.
His hat has fallen off, and he lies on his front, moaning in pain. The feeling of searing flesh on my palm keeps me alert just long enough to escape the roof, dousing my hand in a puddle of rainwater. We flee into the surrounding woods. I turn to look back on the warehouse. The twilight of the evening is lit up with the flashes of shotguns, punctuated by the screams of grimesters.
“Rosa…” I splutter, hunching over in agony.
“Don’t stop Pick,” Indy says, gripping my forearm, “We’ll take it back.” He grunts.
“We’ll take it all back.”
I pace about anxiously, counting how many steps it takes to cross the width of the alleyway and back again, then folding that number over into how many times I’d made the crossing. So far, I’d taken 481 steps. This seemed like an unusual number of steps, considering it takes six paces to cross the alley, and twelve if you include the return journey. I must have taken an extra step or miscounted somewhere.
Blood will spill tonight, that much is certain. I don’t know what we’re chasing or why it’s so important to Zero, but the jaws of the war machine are oiled with the blood of soldiers. All I can do is fight, and hope that I don’t get caught in the cogs. Zero needs the case and the Big Boots won’t let us take it without a fight. Somewhere in the night, the armoured van is slouching towards its destination, carrying with it the weapons that will give birth to a new age of subjugation. Here in the alleyway, a small pocket of resistance will convene to break the jaws of the beast before they can clamp down.
I’m counting my paces. I don’t know why. Like a shark, I can never stop moving. I’m thinking about Rosa, and her milky white skin, wondering if she got away. I’m thinking about the searing flesh on my palm, and wondering when the pain will stop.
They couldn’t have picked a worse place to meet. The alleyway is open at both ends; a narrow corridor which blasts cold air all over you and up your sleeves every time the wind blows. I tug the sleeves of my jacket impatiently; the leather tightens across my back slightly before relaxing again. I stop pacing, having lost count around the 490 mark. Fuck it. I glance briefly at my comrade as he toddles about casually, swaying from side to side in no particular direction, his bowler hat clinging to his head immovably. He holds a bottle of whisky, which by this point is nearly empty. Intermittently, he pushes the bottle to his lips and gulps insatiably.
They should be here by now. I know we didn’t get the location wrong. Maybe Pyrus got it wrong, dozy fuck probably got the time and date wrong too. He never was much good at -well anything- but a job is a job, and this one must be important. This is just what I need to get back into it.
The alleyway is littered with old bags of rubbish, many of them torn and split or flattened down by cars. I finished reading my paper -The English Standard- some time ago, and had cast it to the ground. I stamp my heel on the image of the flag, grinding mud into it. Broken glass glistens along the edge of the walls, and the whole place stinks of stale piss. Underneath a layer of topsoil -blackened by motor oil and tyre tracks- old cobbles protrude sparsely, revealing the original level of the street and betraying the age of the alley. Cobblestones; who knows when they were first lain. Could have seen three wars for all I know, could have seen four.
“Pogo” Brass grunts, “You’re in the back.” He says, slipping a brass knuckleduster onto his right hand, “Keep your head down, and keep an eye out for anybody following us, you hear me?”
Pogo smiles broadly, making the dry blue paint around his mouth splinter and crack.
“Do you hear me, Pogo?” He scowls.
“Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir!” Pogo giggles.
“Just get in the car” Brass orders, “And keep your head down, anybody sees the clown in the back seat and the police will be on us like flies on shit.”
Brass sneers at Pogo in disgust, before turning to face the girl.
He spits into the palms of each hand, rub his palms together, then uses the saliva to straighten his Mohawk.
“Sadie, you’re in the front with me.”
Sadie winks at Brass.
“Lucky me” She says mockingly, walking around the car to the passenger’s seat, “Oink Oink! It’s Friday at the abattoir! Let’s kill some fucking pigs!” She shouts as she climbs into the car.
Pogo’s face lights up like a child, excitedly climbing into the back seat.
“This little piggy went to market! This little piggy got fucked!” he sings excitedly.
Brass stubs his cigarette out on the ground and climbs into the front seat.
He starts the engine and revs it heavily, before leaning back to face Pogo in the back seat.
“Fuck this up, and I’ll fuck you up.” He growls, “Crystal?”
He turns back to face the road, grips the steering wheel tightly, and accelerates rapidly into the night.
I hold out my hand to my comrade and motion for him to hand the bottle to me. Greedy fucker will end up finishing it before I’ve had a swig otherwise. He hands the bottle to me reluctantly and eyes me enviously as I open my gullet and swallow as much as I can. As the initial sourness fades from my tongue, the alcohol hits my stomach, and an illusory internal warmth spreads upwards from my midriff to my oesophagus. I peer across at him, as he stares on expectantly from under the tip of his bowler hat.
I close my eyes and choke back two more mouthfuls, which is more than I can usually hack in one go, but I force it down anyway to spite him. The sourness of the drink is quickly washed away by the feeling of thick saliva creeping up from my throat as my stomach churns in protest. I thrust my arm in his direction, handing the bottle back to him, and spit the excess saliva onto the ground. The warmth of the alcohol, and the mild nausea it brings, mellow together into a strange release of queasiness and relaxation. I close my eyes and exhale deeply relaxing my arms, welcoming the sharp wisps of cold air, savouring the bittersweet feeling.
I once again survey the inhospitable, ugly alleyway. The local councils invested a great deal of money into removing, blocking off or paving over areas such as this. The entire architecture of a conurbation could be chopped and changed, to remove any pockets of darkness, grime or obscurity. Modern dormitory towns were made up of cul-de-sacs; houses circling a central hub of grassland, so that each house could be seen from every other. The idea is that such architectural design would minimise criminal activity, and ensure the safety of the common man. In reality, the design is to create an almost panoptic system of self-surveillance, coercing conformity and compliance, and minimising any recalcitrance amongst the working classes. Alleyways like this, though inhospitable and dead, are -in essence- a breeding ground for insubordination. In these grim and filthy pockets, obscured from prying eyes, men can truly exercise their intrinsic human right to independent thought, free assembly and affirmative action against the dominant ethos.
“Got any fags?” I ask motioning with my finger.
“Fuck off Pick, you’ve had shit-loads of mine” he protests
“So fuck! You got any or what? I don’t fight without a fag” I snap at him.
I watch him as he reaches into the inside pocket of his waistcoat, pulls out a cigarette packet and throws them to me aggressively. I catch it, thumb one out and throw the pack back in his chest. He tries to catch the pack in vain, and then hunches down to pick it up off the ground. I snigger as he hunches over, gripping the grimy bowler hat on his head to stop it from falling off.
“Drop a penny, pick it up.” I say, putting the cigarette in my mouth, “Drop the soap, and then you’re fucked!”
Indy stands tall once more, having retrieved his cigarette packet.
Mr Industry, or Indy to those who knew him, always wore a bowler hat, a loose tie, and a grubby frayed waist coat. It wasn’t really a waistcoat, at one point it had been the jacket of a luxurious Italian suit. He’d ripped the sleeves off some time ago, revealing the yellowing sleeves of a white shirt underneath, which he’d clumsily sown cuff links to. On the left sleeve he wore a Deadeye Totenkopf emblem, on the right, a twisted Ankh. He bulged out of his clothes -they were salvaged like mine- and were at least two sizes too small.
The mock-formal wear ended at the top and the bottom of his person. His shoes were steel toe-capped leather work boots, though the leather had peeled and cracked at the toe, revealing the metal underneath. The bowler hat –lined with steel- sat clumsily on a crown of short and spiky blood red hair, flecked sparsely with splashes of orange and purple. Stocky in stature, Indy was often mistaken for being flabby and out of shape, because although he was deceptively strong -more so than myself- his muscle lacked any definition whatsoever, giving him the appearance of being somewhat doughy.
“Got a lighter Indy?” I ask, as he returns to an upright position, having retrieved his cigarette packet.
He looks at me apathetically.
“You don’t even have a lighter?”
“Aw fuck this!” I spit, “when are these faggots getting here?”
Indy fumbles with the bottle and the cigarettes to find his lighter.
“Shut up with your fucking whinging Pick, it takes as long as it takes, this isn’t a weekend break in the Cotswolds” he says mockingly.
“It’s not a wank in a wind tunnel either. I’m not waiting all night”
Indy hands me a lighter and I hastily light my cigarette, put it in my mouth and tug again at my sleeves. This jacket is too small, the sleeves end partway down my forearms. Another gust of wind runs up the sleeves, hitting my chest sharply. The cold doesn’t bother me that much, I‘m always cold. When you live in squats for years on end, you learn to cope with it. It’s the waiting I can’t stand, makes me irritable. But I owe much of my success to my itchy feet and impatience. Ducks sit, crows fly and vultures pick the bones; that’s how Indy and I had stayed off the radar for so long.
“Who are we meeting?” Sadie asks, as Brass accelerates.
“Fuck knows” he says, “There are two other groups from other squats in the area.”
“Anyone we know?”
“How the fuck should I know?” He says angrily, “I just hope they can handle themselves.”
“Don’t worry about that B.” She says reassuringly, “Zero wouldn’t set us up with cripples.”
“Yeah” He nods, “I’ll cripple them myself if they don’t put their bollocks into it.”
“Bit of a sexist statement there Brass, don’t you think?” Sadie chides.
“Sorry Sadie, I didn’t mean to cause offence” Brass says spitting out of the window, “You know that political correctness is my number one concern, bar nothing.” He says sarcastically.
“Don’t you worry Brassy boy, you didn’t offend me one little bit” She grins, “Besides, I’ve got more balls than any of you lads.”
“How do you figure?” Brass grunts.
“Because I keep them in a jar of vinegar”
Brass laughs heavily at this, winking at Sadie.
“You’re a sick fuck, you know that?”
Nowhere is safe for guys like me and Indy. X faction soldiers, Grimesters, Insurgents, Anarchists; whatever the fuck they want to call us. For us, life is war, a constant perennial conflict. We remain separate, individual in action but collective in our struggle. A loose fraternity; X faction soldiers -the real ones I mean- live in and out of slums and squats, remaining transient, uprooted and anonymous. We travel by night, hitch lifts, steal cars or ride the rails. We never stay in one place for too long; the first one to lay his head is the first one to lose it.
I unzip my fly and let loose a stream of piss, aiming for the muddied flag of The English Standard. I watch as the urine soaks into the paper, and the colours of the flag fade into sepia.
Much is said about the ideology of the X faction, the media demonised us, the police and government hated us, and the general public feared us, but to say we followed a single ideology was erroneous; it would be more fitting to describe us as anti-moral. We have little in the way of a prophetic vision of a world after the war is won, nor any plans to seize power, or sanction any kind of great change. We are not politicians, nor philosophers. We simply detest the state of the nation, the draconian government which fosters it, and the indifferent, apathetic majority who suffer it. To us the war is everywhere; to us the enemy is everyone. Anything we can do to break the party’s control, upset the balance of power, or disturb the established order is a victory. It doesn’t matter much what it was we do, nor whom we target.
Everyone in England, even those who refuse to believe it, is being repressed. Our civil liberties and human rights have been steadily eroded by the new government since the end of the third world war. Reckless abandon and wanton destruction, to me seems like the only action to further the cause of sanity, in a country swept up in a fever of madness. What else could I do to battle an authority that cultivated a culture of constant trespass upon the right to live in decency and dignity? What else could be spawned from such trespass but loathsome, undignified creatures such as ourselves?
I zip up my fly, watching the steam rise from the puddle, dissipating into the night air as the stream meanders around the cobblestones and broken glass.
Our emancipation from central leadership gives us the freedom to act autonomously, completely independent of command. There is no hierarchy to break, no ranks to infiltrate, no head honchos for the Big Boots to bag and drag, no documents to burn, no stratagems to foil, no territory to invade, no castle with which to lay siege. The only victory anybody can hope for is to shut us down one individual cell at a time. That is how our movement survives. The individual may die or disappear, but the collective consciousness lives on.
A gust of wind causes an ember to break away from the end of my cigarette, landing on the palm of my hand. I wince in pain momentarily as the ember dies. The sensation of searing flesh on my palm is an all too vivid memory, briefly reanimated by the ember.
Indy notices my momentary pain, looking across at me sympathetically; an uncommon sight from a man so wholly without empathy as Indy. I squint back at him bitterly, resentful of his pitying looks. The faction has time for camaraderie, and even to some degree compassion, but never sympathy. A true Grimester could hobble into a squat, sick, hungry or injured, and he would be taken care of to the best standard available, but no level of emotive compassion was wasted on one another. In part, this was to weed out the weak; those of soft heart who would rat out their comrades to the Big Boots if they got captured, but it wasn’t just that. The life of a Grimester meant that you could be sitting in a warehouse getting fucked-up with your closest allies one minute, and be running for your life the next. Comrades came and went, and it wasn’t just the transient lifestyle that precipitated it, people you knew personally could be literally dragged away with a bag over their head, and in an instant they were never seen again.
The hum of an engine approaches in the distance. My ears prick up. It is a petrol engine. That’s something. The police and the Big Boots always drove vehicles with diesel or Acerrafin powered engines. There’s a slight but noticeable difference in the sound of the engine, knowing that is the difference between being bagged and dragged, or making a stealthy escape.
A car pulls around the corner into the alleyway. The headlights are off, and I can see that the thing is falling to bits. It was either stolen or abandoned, it doesn’t matter -no vehicle is ever maintained- once they stop moving we leave them where they stand.
A man with a red Mohawk and a leather jacket not dissimilar to my own sits at the steering wheel. He locks eyes with me, grimacing, then climbs hastily out of the car. He is quickly followed by a young girl with dark hair. Another man of similar build to Indy remains in the car. I glance at first at the man with the Mohawk, then at the man who is still in the car, and from his misshapen yellow teeth I realise quickly that I know who he is. The girl is not familiar, but I eye her up from head to toe and suppress a grin.
“You here for the job?” The man with the red mohawk asks impatiently.
“No” I spit, “we’re selling rainbow coloured unicorn spunk. You took your fucking time.”
“And what? Stop fucking whining” He imprecates, turning to Indy, “What do they call you?”
“Indy.” He nods, “Mr Industry for short”
“And your girlfriend?”
“Pick. Short for Icepick.”
He turns to look at me, sniggering.
“Icepick?” He laughs, “Look at him, all skin and bones,” He says turning to face the girl, “and no bollocks.”
“Fuck you” I scowl, “I’ll skin your bones if you carry on like that”
“Settle down, Toothpick.” He mocks, “What are you even doing on this job anyway? You look like a skinny faggot.”
“Don’t worry about Pick” Indy says coming to my defence, “Pick can be a cold-blooded fucker when he needs to be.” He nods reassuringly, “What do they call you?”.
“I’m Brass.” He nods.
I take a moment to examine Brass. He stands at about 6 foot and 5 inches, with a thick red mohawk adding an extra foot to his height. His height is in proportion to the broadness of his shoulders, and although his jacket is made of thick cowhide, it can be presumed that he has a muscular physique. His face is clean shaven, or perhaps he does not grow much facial hair. The tops of a spider web tattoo can be seen encroaching on his neck, where a thick steel chain hangs loosely, tucked into his jacket. His right ear is adorned with an earring in the shape of a twisted Ankh and a Yin Yang twisted into the shape of an Infinity symbol. His hands seem to be permanently clenched into fists, and I can see that this is because he is wearing chrome-plated brass knuckles. His jeans are black and ripped at the knees, tucked into a pair of thick leather stomping boots, one of which has been bandaged with electrical tape. Lines form on his face, making him seem as if he is permanently snarling and frowning.
“And this is Pogo” He says, pointing to his comrade whom I’d noticed earlier; a portly man with a snarling contorted face. I’d seen pictures of him in The English Standard and other newspapers. He was shorter than the papers made him look, despite this, no still photo or video clip could do him justice; his whole character exudes a palpable dread, so much that I struggle to focus on any one part of his face. His lips twitch intermittently, revealing a set of jarred yellowing teeth. His eyes dart about rapidly as though he is constantly sniggering at something. His face is plastered in thick white make up, or maybe it’s paint. Around his eyes and lips, sharp shapes are painted in blue, with thick black outlines. His hair is bright blue and spikey, like a demonic jester. His clothes are baggy and striped vertically, splattered randomly with various colours, mainly blue and red. His hands are almost as white as his face, and his fingernails are long and sharp, as if they’ve been filed into talons.
Brass points his thumb backwards towards the girl.
“And she doesn’t go by any name.”
“Yes I do” she snaps.
“Yeah, but not one anybody cares about.” Brass sniggers.
I look at the girl. She looks decidedly unamused. Her hair is black and jagged, and hangs in long limp strands in places, and is cut nearly down to the scalp in others. Her eyes are dark and heavy, her face smeared with roughly applied makeup, and bright red lipstick which is smeared around her mouth. Her clothes are predominantly black and lacy, frayed and ripped at the edges, a black leather strap hangs over her shoulder, attached to a small bag which hangs at her waist. She is petite, and holds a look of vulnerability about her, which I’m certain is put on deliberately. She’s attractive in a rough sort of way.
“You all know the plan?” Brass asks, cutting my thoughts in half.
“Yes” everybody murmurs in unison.
“Well that’s fucking funny, because I haven’t even told you what it is yet.” Brass spits on the ground.
“Where are the others?” He grunts irately.
“Others?” I ask, frustrated at the thought of having to wait for more people.
“Yes, the others.” Brass says, “There are three groups of us.”
“Ah fuck waiting for them.” I groan.
“We’re waiting, and you’re waiting with us.” He retorts, “We’ll need more muscle. Can’t go to war with a toothpick and a fat cunt can we?” He sniggers.
“Hey! We’ve put the field time in,” Indy affirms “we’re more than capable of taking down a van.”
“Oh, so you must be the brains of the outfit eh?” Brass responds poking Indy in his forehead sharply and flicking the tip of his hat. He turns to me.
“And fuck me, I guess that make you the beauty, doesn’t it Ice Prick?”
Pogo lets out a cackle, as the girl rolls her eyes and looks away impatiently.
I raise my eyebrows and fix him with a pitying stare.
“Your woman looks embarrassed.” I nod towards the girl.
“What’s the matter sweetheart? Not getting enough of the good stuff from handsome over here?” I say, tapping Brass on the chest.
“Get fucked.” She spits at me, “Scrawny faggot, you don’t look like you could fuck your way out of a paper bag.”
“That’s fine, you look like you’ve sucked your way all the way down the soup line at the city mission many times.” I snigger.
“Handbags away ladies, can we focus on the task at hand, please?” Indy interjects.
“And what task is that, Indy?” I ask , “Right now, all we’re doing is waiting on yet another group of grimesters, who are probably too busy dry-wanking themselves to sleep in a warehouse somewhere to have even made the effort to turn up.”
“Actually” a voice comes from above, “I’ve been waiting longer than you have”.
I look up to see a stocky African man with a shaved head standing on the roof of the building above us.
“What the fuck?” Indy says in shock.
“Somebody had to keep a look out” he says smugly, “It seems that you guys were too busy measuring dicks to keep focused.”
The man dangles from the edge of the roof, then drops to the floor among us. He is tall and reasonably muscular, wearing little more than a black denim jacket, a plain black t-shirt and jeans. His image is less than distressing, as would be expected from a Grimester. With no visible tattoos, piercings or attire, he could have passed for a civilian.
“You the boy?” Brass asks irate.
“I’m the man.” He winks, “Prince Randian. And you are Brass, Pogo the clown, Mr Industry and Icepick.” He responds, highlighting our failure to sweep the area for prying eyes.
“Your name I didn’t catch.” He says, pointing to the girl.
“That’s Sadie.” Brass says, “Sadie by name, sadistic bitch by nature.”
Sadie smiles wickedly.
“You can come out now, Brain” Randian shouts.
A man appears from around the corner of the back alley. I look him up and down. He is a dejected, apathetic man. His hair is long and scraggly and his clothes baggy and plain. His mouth hangs open slightly and his arms swing low by his side.
“Who the fuck is this?” I turn to Randian.
“This is Brain”
“Brain-fucking-dead if you ask me.” Brass adds. I chuckle softly at Brass’ comment and our eyes meet briefly, our mutual dislike of Brain becoming our temporary common ground.
Brain continues to stare vacantly, as though unaware he is being ridiculed.
“Right”, Brass says stepping forwards, asserting leadership, “If that’s all of us, let’s get a campfire meeting underway, we’re already short on time.”
Ah, the campfire meeting. The ritualistic smoking of Menstrual Minstrel, or some other cannabinoid, followed by the talking of shit. Theories differed on why we did this; some related it to the actions of the Hashshashins in 11th century Syria, who would smoke Hashish after committing murders. Personally, I think that story is bollocks, made up by posers trying to make their recreational drug use seem profound and deep. I think it’s done to root out undercover spies. A true X insurgent comes into regular contact with drugs, and won’t lose their head. A police officer gets piss tested every week, and the Big Boots can’t even drink, but most importantly, when you’re under the influence of Minstrel, the memories you have are so vivid, it feels as though you’re reliving every second of it in real time. It can be seen on your face, in your eyes, and in your voice. An undercover spy couldn’t put on that kind of performance.
Brass pulls a joint out from his jacket pocket.
“Who wants to go first?” He says, brandishing it about like a dagger.
“Fuck that Brass” Indy snaps, “Why’d you pre-roll? I don’t trust it. Roll one right here, right now.”
“I did it to save time.” He snaps.
“You were the ones who were late, we got here on time. Roll a new one.”
Brass reaches into his pocket and throws a bag of Minstrel, along with various pieces of smoking paraphernalia at Indy, who catches it clumsily.
“You fucking roll it then, Mr Impotent.” He growls angrily.
Indy opens the baggy a little, and sniffs it deeply.
“What kind of Minstrel is this?” He asks.
“It’s not Minstrel, it’s Lucipher’s Pubes.” Brass responds.
“Ah, I don’t like pubes, kinda burns my throat.”
“I don’t give a flying fuck about your throat, roll it up and smoke it, before I fuck you in the throat.”
A few minutes pass in silence, whilst Indy layers tobacco and the red herbs together, and rolls it into a joint.
“Roller’s rights I suppose, so I’ll go first.” Indy says holding the joint between his thumb and index finger.
“Rock out with your cock out.” Brass responds vacantly.
Indy puts the joint in his mouth, lights the end and inhales sharply. The effect can be felt immediately, no matter how much you smoke; part of the popularity of Rougecannabinoids are that the effects of tolerance are minimal. Indy holds a lungful for about ten seconds before exhaling.
Brass fixes Indy with a stern look
“What do they call you and why?” Brass asks.
“My name is Mr Industry” He replies in a hoarse voice, “I get my name because I burnt down a factory in Hammersmith, and because of my Captain of Industry attire.”
“What did the factory produce?”
“Automotive parts for armoured vehicles”
“How did you do it?”
“I used to work there when I was a civilian. I stayed back one night after work, hid in the changing rooms. Started the fire using petrol and oil soaked rags.”
Brass raises one eyebrow, as if he suspects Indy might be lying.
“What have you done lately?”
“Smashed up a set of traffic lights at Piccadilly circus. Firebombed a lorry depot. Shaved off my pubes and mixed them into the coffee grounds at CoffeeGo.”
Pogo chuckles lightly at this.
“What weapons do you use?”
“Molotovs for destruction, knives and clubs for fighting, whatever I can get my hands on. Bottles, whatever.”
“Why did you join the X Faction?”
“Because the Industrial revolution created a war machine. Post-Industrial nations are stuck in a state of perpetual, unwinnable war, fuelled by the debt-driven rat race. The only way to free humanity from war and economic slavery is to break the whole system apart.”
“Pass it on.” Brass nods, convinced Indy is legitimate.
Indy hands the joint to Brain, who put it to his lips and draws hastily.
“Name?” Brass asks curtly.
“Brain” He replies softly.
“Why do they call you Brain?”
“Because my name is Brian, and it got spelt wrong.”
“…As if you just told me your real name!?” Brass shouts viciously, “What is wrong with you? Your mother drop a brick on your head?”
Brain looks at the ground dejectedly.
“Answer me!” Brass demands.
“No she didn’t” He mutters submissively, “It got spelt wrong.”
“What have you done for the X faction, Brain?”
“I put a piranha in a public fountain once”
“And what else?”
“I shat in a golf ball cleaner at the country club and it got-“
“-And what else?”
Brass fumes at Brain angrily, gripping the brass knuckles tightly.
“-You’re not ready for this Brain. This is balls-to-the-brick, hammers in the air, ready to smash, you understand? No fucking about. This is the real shit. This is insurgency. You’ve got to have big brass balls, are you prepared?”
“I think so”
“Are you prepared!?” Brass snaps angrily.
“Yeah, I’m prepared.” He responds with a little more fervour.
Brass sighs wearily, straightening up his Mohawk with his hands.
“What weapons do you use?”
“I’ve got a Luger from Germany.”
This seems sparks Brass’ interest, and he leans forward slightly.
“You have a Luger?”
“Yes, I got it converted in Hackney, from a replica, but now it fires real bullets.” Brain grins, “It’s one of those revolvey-type ones.”
“Show it to me.” Brass demands, holding his hand out.
I step forward from the circle.
“Luger’s don’t revolve, Brain-Bollocks” I shake my head in disappointment, “You own a revolver. The clue is in the name, fucktard.”
Brass nods his head in agreement, before turning back to face Brain.
“Where is your gun Brain?”
“I left it at the squat.” He murmurs.
“Oh fuck me…” Brass presses a hand to his face.
After a moment, he asks the final question.
“Why did you want to become an X faction soldier?”
“It’s the only thing I’m good at doing.” He replies softly.
“Right” Brass says, unimpressed, “Pass it on”.
Brain looks around at the circle vacantly, passing the joint to Sadie.
“What do they call you, and why?” Brass asks.
“Some people call me Scalpel Sadie.”
“-And why?” Brass reiterates.
“Because I’m a fucking surgeon.” She giggles, sticking her tongue out at Brass.
“And what have you done for the insurgency?”
“I hitch-hike. I wait for my white knight to pick me up from the side of the road. Then when he tries to collect his fare, I get surgical.”
“What do you mean?” I ask intrigued.
“Sometimes it’s just a little keyhole surgery, or maybe a circumcision, but some dogs need to be fully snipped, otherwise they’ll never learn to behave.”
“You cut off men’s dicks?!” Indy blurts out in awe, before succumbing to a fit of giggles, “That’s fucked up!”
Brass, evidently already aware of this, nods along unamused.
“You hear that Brain?” I nudge him in the ribs, “You might get lucky, Sadie might drain your main vein Brain!” I laugh.
Brain shuffles away from me nervously.
“Need we ask what weapons you use?” Brass grins.
Sadie slides two scalpels out from each sleeve of her jacket, stands in the centre of the circle, and twirls around playfully with her arms out at her sides and the joint in her mouth, before returning to her position.
“Why did you join the X Faction, Sadie?” Brass asks impartially.
“The world fucked me.” She laughs, “So I fuck it harder.” She says, slashing forwards with the scalpel towards Brass.
“Pass it on.” Brass nods unflinching.
Next in the circle is Pogo. I’d anticipated this since I saw him exit the car.
Pogo clutches the joint in his jagged teeth, and widens his eyes in anticipation.
“What do they call you and why?” Brass says hastily.
“They call me Pogo!” He beams in a voice that almost sounds bi-tonal, as if two people are talking at once, one tone is deep and gravelly, whilst the other is a shrill whistle.
“The magical mystical musical clown, entertaining every town!” He chuckles.
Brass hesitates a little, as if he is a little nervous about speaking with Pogo.
“Right.” He says dropping his eyelids briefly, “And what have you done for the X Faction?”
I step forward once again, unable to contain myself.
“We all know what he’s done! He’s Pogo the fucking clown, the Dead jester.” I say, turning to face Pogo himself.
“If the devil himself walked the streets of London, he’d run from this sick cunt!” I laugh in star-struck awe.
I lock eyes with Pogo.
“You killed Violet Tate-Jones”
“She was walking down the stairs, wearing lacy underwear, unaware of Pogo there. Oh she screams and how she stares! Scream the house down, no-one cares!” Pogo sings whimsically.
The murder of Violet Tate-Jones had sparked a day of mourning in England. Every tabloid newspaper was filled with tributes to the one they called ‘Hollywood’s answer to Princess Diana’. Not only was she an A-List actress, but also fancied herself as a peace ambassador to the breakaway states of Eastern Europe and South East Asia, frequently visiting war zones to carry out humanitarian aid and deliver peace talks. One day at her home in London, she was violently murdered by an X faction grime punk, known to the police and papers as the Dead Jester. To those of us who frequented the sub-cities, he was Pogo the clown, a notorious serial killer and cannibal. I’d always had a fascination with the darker side of the human psyche, and Pogo was about as fucked up as you could get.
“How did that Yankee bitch scream?” I ask, leaning my face towards Pogo.
A wicked grin spreads across his face, cracking his white makeup.
“Like a banshee.” He giggles.
“I am a mechanical boy, I am my mother’s toy. Don’t do anything illegal, always beware of the eagle!” He sings menacingly.
I furrow my brows and lean in towards him.
“What does it mean?” I ask in a hushed tone, optimistically hoping for a deeper insight into the machinations of Pogo’s mind.
Brass grips my shoulder and pulls me backwards.
“I’m asking the questions pencil dick!” He growls.
I return to my place in the circle, as Brass steps into the centre once more.
“What weapons do you use Pogo?”
Pogo withdraws a machete from his trouser leg and waves it around in the air haphazardly.
“Pogo likes toys that make no noise.” He giggles, replacing the machete.
Brass breathes deeply, relieved that Pogo had replaced his weapon.
“Why did you join the insurgency?”
Pogo closes his eyes and sticks his tongue out.
“Pass it on.”
The joint is passed to Prince Randian, who wipes the roach with his coat sleeve before placing it in his mouth and inhaling lightly.
“What’s your name and why?”
“Prince Randian.” He nods, “Ever seen a man roll a cigarette and light it using just his lips?”
Brass squints at him, confused.
“Prince Randian can.” He nods.
“Whatever.” Brass shrugs “What have you done for the cause?”
“I hacked into the computers at the Bank of England, altered the software and produced GrimeNote” He says conceitedly.
GrimeNote was considered by some to be the X Faction currency. In reality, it was little more than a novelty or an ornament, but it was used occasionally by Grimesters, not so much for trade, but more as tokens of appreciation for acts of camaraderie. Grimesters rarely use money at all. There’s little that couldn’t be manufactured or stolen. The GrimeNote story hit the papers when a number of bank notes entered circulation with an image of the King’s head, decayed and burning, with a Deadeye Totenkopf carved into his forehead, and a twisted Ankh protruding from his head; the symbols of the insurgency. Much of the currency was seized and destroyed, but a lot of the notes are still circulating. The action lead to many grimesters defacing bank notes on mass to replicate the original GrimeNotes. I held a few original £40 GrimeNotes myself, but it had always perplexed me as to how the notes had made it from the Royal Mint directly into the hands of the public without detection.
“So you’re one of those neo-techno-cyber-anarchists or whatever” Sadie chides.
“Primarily yes” Randian responds, “Economic terrorism can be just as, if not more effective, than shitting in golf ball cleaners or murdering innocent celebrities.”
He nods towards Brain and Pogo.
“But if your concern is that I haven’t had time in the field, you won’t leave here in any doubt that I can fight.”
“What weapons do you use?” Brass interjects, growing weary of Randian, “You’d better have brought more than a laptop.” He says, sniggering.
“I use my hands and my feet.” He grins, “I don’t need a knife to make a man bleed.”
This level of brash arrogance irritates me.
“Oh fuck off” I spit, “Tough as old boots are you?” I say, stepping forward and jabbing Randian in the chest.
“Let’s see how hard you are when the Big Boots are stamping your face into a concrete floor.”
Randian rolls his eyes mockingly.
“I bet you can’t fight for shit.” I say raising a fist in the air, “Make me bleed, you little bitch.”
Brass reaches his arm out, knocking me backwards.
“He’s in.” Brass hisses, “I know who he is, and so should you.”
“Yeah, I bet you do” I retort, “You know everybody, don’t you Brass?”
Brass shrugs dismissively.
“I get around.”
“What makes you think you should be campfire leader anyway?” I ask cynically, “Half the people here are your buddies anyway, and Randian and the drugged up remedial? They were here before we even knew it. How do I know you aren’t all spies?” I say, waving my finger at them all.
“I fucking dare you to say that again!” Sadie shouts.
“Fuck you Sadie” I growl, “and that’s another thing Brass, who brings their girl along to a job like this?”
“She isn’t my girl, we were just in the same squat.”
“So maybe she’s bouncing on the Pogo-stick, whatever.”
“Fuck that, are you serious!?” Sadie says outraged, gripping a scalpel tightly in her hand and thrusting it towards my face, “I don’t think I like your tongue Icepick, maybe I’ll like it more when you’re wearing it like a necktie.”
I look down at the scalpel and grin.
“Bigger cunts than you have tried.”
“Reign it in Pick” Indy shouts, jabbing me in the chest firmly, “they’re legit Grime soldiers -you already knew Pogo anyway- you saw his picture in that paper you’re always reading.”
Indy moves between the scalpel and myself.
“So shut the fuck up.”
I pick up the bottle of whisky from the ground and point it towards Randian. Indy, who still stands in front of me, shakes his head.
“Still want to fight, Randian?” I glare at him.
A moment passes and I lower the bottle, breathe deeply, unscrew the lid and put it to my lips, swigging deeply.
Indy was right.
“Listen to your girlfriend, Toothpick.” Brass growls, “You really think the Big Boots would go to this much effort just to bring you guys in?”
I lower the bottle, and meet his gaze.
“You aren’t exactly notorious.”
My face twitches a little, irate at Brass’ belittling comments.
“And what makes you think we trust you two anyway?” He continues.
I raise my hand, exposing the palm.
“Look at my scar” I say, displaying it to the group.
Brass looks at my burned palm keenly.
“How’d you do that?” he asks inquisitively.
“Big Boots raided a squat we had down in Brighton. I was sleeping.”
Brass nods for me to continue.
“I had my ackris bomb, but I didn’t have my gloves.” I explain, “I got roughed up, grabbed my ackris and smashed it over his face. Burned my hand.”
Brass lets a wry smile cross his face.
“Me and Indy escaped by jumping from a window. Turns out one of the Grimesters was a spy, let the Boots in through the back door.”
“Shit man” Brain says in awe, “that’s nasty”
“No.” I say facing Brain, “Nasty leaves no marks. Nasty is disappearing into a black bag and being dragged into van, never to be seen again”
“He’s right.” Indy says, holding his hands up “Pick saved my arse that day, almost everyone else got bagged.” He pats me on the shoulder in gratitude. “Forgive my comrade for his issues with trust.”
“Enough!” Brass orders, “Normally I’d love to prance down memory lane with you, but we have precious little time. Let’s finish this meeting and get our arses in gear, agreed?”
A murmur of agreement comes from the group.
“Randian, pass the joint to Pick, you’ve had way more than your share.”
Randian dutifully obeys, holding the significantly diminished joint.
I fiddle the joint in my fingers and inhale in a short wisp, carefully avoiding any possibility of another ember burning my palm.
Brass sighs impatiently.
“What do they call you?” he grunts.
“You know what they call me”
“Why do they call you-”
His sentence is cut short when I raise the bottle in the air and bring it crashing down over Brass’ head. He tumbles backwards, loses his footing and falls to the floor.
“You want to know why they call me Icepick you fucking pussy?” I bark, leaning over him with the bottle outstretched.
Pogo bursts into fits of shrill laughter, screeching and hollering like a man possessed.
He looks up at me, his eyes rolling, trying to regain focus from the stun.
“Answer me!” I spit, kicking him sharply in the ribs.
I glance across to Sadie, who rolls her eyes unamused.
Indy steps forward, gripping my arm roughly, twisting the bottle free from my hand.
“For fuck’s sake Pick!” He growls, “You’re spilling the whisky.”
I relent, stepping backwards. I turn to Indy.
“Give me a cig” I pant.
Indy reaches into his pocket and thumbs out a cigarette.
“I want half of that Pick” He says as he hands it over.
“Where’s your lighter?”
“You had it last”
I reach into my jacket pocket and find the lighter, spark my cigarette, and hand the lighter back to him. I inhale deeply, then stoop down, extending my arm to Brass, who grips it, and I help him up.
“Sorry about that Brass” I grin, “sometimes I overreact.”
Brass rubs his head.
“You’re not fucking wrong” He chuckles dryly, straightening his Mohawk out with his palms, “But don’t apologise” He grins, “our whole game is overreaction”.
I hand Brass the cigarette and he inhales deeply, as a small trickle of blood escapes from the swelling bruise on the top of his head.
“Good” I say, “Because I dropped the joint when I did that, and now it’s in that puddle.”
I point down to the spot where the remainder of the joint floats listlessly.
“Are you alright?” I ask.
“It’s a beesting” Brass says, lightly rubbing the swollen patch on his head, “But do it again and I’ll skull fuck you”
“So what now B?” Sadie asks, “Do we carry on with the campfire thing or what?”
“Nah, fuck it.” Brass responds, handing the cigarette back to me “We’re all grime, I know it.”
“So what’s the plan, funny man?” Pogo asks.
“Right” Brass says, puffing his chest out to reassert his authority, “A blue cash-in-transit van will be passing under the bypass bridge at around 2am.” I nod attentively.
“And we are going to stop it.”
© JC Axe 2014Follow @jc_axe