Wednesday 23 December 2015

Making Holes in Water: Chapter One

Before we get started, let’s get something straight. You want to kill them from time to time, husband, wife, don’t worry, everybody does. Well, I do. Problem is getting rid of the body; can’t bury it in the garden, first place they’ll look. No, you need to be smarter than that. It takes attention to detail, planning. It takes the mind of an accountant to get away with it. This is It’s a wonderful life in reverse; what would your life be without them.
James Hamilton is a financial auditor, skilled in the tricks of hiding things in plain sight. He now has to hide his wife’s body as he sets about beginning his wonderful life. Keeping her in the freezer with the oven chips and the Vesta beef curry is only going to work for so long and you have no idea how tough it can be to find a free space to dump a body in Essex. No, if no-one is looking, no-one will find her. So, he takes her on holiday.
He meets Sarah, a girl looking for her own wonderful life. They drive down the continent to Greece, a place where she knows it’s easy to disappear. James deposits little bags of wife along the way while she enjoys being the new Mrs. Hamilton.
Missing persons are not dead; they’re just mislaid until someone wants to find them. And, like body parts, they have a way of coming to the surface.
James is loving his new life but how long can he keep the books cooked. How long can he resist the gravity of suburbia.

Chapter 1

The compressor worked hard trying to bring temperatures down to usual tolerances. It sent warm vibrations through James’ back, massaging the pain of his exertions. The motor shivered stop momentarily then continued; there was still some core temperature to tackle before its new contents would freeze. James lifted himself and opened the lid of the appliance. He moved a family bag of McCain oven chips and a Vesta beef curry revealing a face. She was still there. He replaced the convenient foodstuffs and slid back down to the floor.
He had woken late that morning; the events of the previous night had necessitated a little lie-in. He rolled over and watched Laura lying serene and motionless. He planted a gentle kiss on his wife’s forehead. “Nothing new with you this morning, darling.” He looked over at the clock; 8.37.
“I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to pull a sickie so we can spend the day together. I know, I know not me at all but today’s going to be different, today we’ll have fun”. He pulled the duvet back and threw his long pale legs out of the bed. Next to where his feet landed was a book-marked copy of Luke Rheinhart’s The Diceman, he swept his slippers aside and swaggered in the direction of the kitchen.
As the kettle boiled James took the opportunity to call the office.
“Jane, yes, it’s James— no, not very,” he coughed. “Well terrible to be precise— no, no I don’t think I’ll be in today”. He half covered the mouthpiece and in an overloud whisper called out, “Yes darling, you go back to bed. I’ll be there in a jiffy— yes, of course I do pussycat.” He heard the giggle from the other end.
“Yes, I’ll see the doctor if it doesn’t get any better—. Well I don’t know, but maybe wise to count on a couple of days.” Another titter. “Well, thank you, Jane—. I’ll see you in a few days then—. Yes, send my apologies to Mr. Giffin—. Ok bye then— thanks.”
He put down the phone feeling quite proud of himself. He made a pot of coffee and poured a cup. He strolled into the bedroom sipping at the hot coffee.
“So darling, what can we do today? Would you like a swim, a little gardening or a drive into the country?” He sat on the end of the bed, pondered the dilemma for a minute, took a large gulp of coffee and made his way downstairs.
At the back of the house in the utility room stood a large chest freezer. James removed the contents of the capacious appliance and put it all neatly on the washing machine.
It was time to interrupt Laura’s slumber. James pulled the duvet from Laura and turned her onto her back, her satin nightdress had ridden up to mid-thigh, which he rectified dutifully. Laura’s eyes still closed, her mouth still filled with last night’s meal. He lifted her knees and began to pick her up in his arms; his back protested. “You’re a dead weight pumpkin, any chance of some help here?”
James opted for the less dignified but far more practical fireman’s approach. Standing at the foot of the bed he pulled her right arm over his shoulder, the rest of her body followed, moving his shoulder into her waist and straightening his legs and she was lifted.
He negotiated the stairs quite well but by the hallway his legs began to tremble. His foot slipped on some paper on the floor. Looking down he saw one of the glossy brochures from the credit cards he’d missed while cleaning up; happy faces selling diamond-white-teeth and push-up-bra debt. James reached the utility room and with his strength all gone, only determination powered him to put Laura unceremoniously on top of the freezer. He leaned against the wall and dropped to the floor exhausted. Laura sat on the edge of the freezer.
James took an invigorating breath and raised himself to his feet. Laura had begun to slip down the wall, he righted her. A corner of paper peeked from her lips like feathers from a guilty cat. James pulled at it, a slightly masticated credit card statement followed by another. “No shopping today pussy cat!”
He hoisted her back onto his shoulder and lifted the freezer door. Laura fitted perfectly after a little twisting of her slender legs. The silk nightdress he had dressed her in the night before had ridden up again and James took a long look.
The frozen prawns and ice cream fit back nicely. He touched her cool lips. “Chill out for a while until I can work out what to do with you. Sorry!” Then placed the family bag of McCain oven chips over her face. He closed the freezer and slid down to the floor.
The motor had settled into a gentle purr when the clouds parted allowing sunlight to pour in through the utility room windows.
On the driveway outside sat the red Volvo estate, its predecessor had been exchanged for a new one less than a year before as had the two before it, every two years and washed every Sunday. James leapt to his feet and strode toward the study. Opening the draw of the big mahogany desk he selected the folder marked “Volvo” and pulled the contents, log book, service history and a few other bits that he felt might come in useful. He put them into a large buff envelope and left them on the desk while he went for a long shower.
Soon he was feeling cleaner than he’d ever felt before, no worries of tell-tale damp patches under the arms, no manic mining of the ears with a Q-tip, no need to shave. In the wardrobe, right at the back he found the cargo pants he’d bought a couple of months before but never worn. Laura, in lieu of comment, had merely covered her mouth and sniggered. The quest was now a shirt, he pulled out a pastel blue Ben Sherman shirt, it had a button-down collar; he’d seen younger men wearing them. With the ensemble nearing completion he looked in the full-length mirror, he looked much better for his thirty-eight years than he had ever thought. All he needed now was footwear; tennis shoes, he’d bought some for the oh-so-dreary doubles match with a fellow auditor and his wife.
Picking up the Volvo’s life and times, he bounded to the door, stopped and caught his reflection in the mirror. He undid the top button of his shirt. In the warm spring air, he could smell every flower, hear every bird sing. He watched a little sports car passing slowly, its driver’s red hair billowing behind her, for a split second she turned and looked at the grey cocoon from which was emerging a wonderful new life and smiled, James felt himself erect quite suddenly.
The sun shone brightly and as the leafy suburb gave way to the bustling high street. He swung into a space opposite an opticians, a car horn wailed past. Stepping out of the car he resisted the impulse to lock and alarm but just bounded across the road into the shop. The young assistant flicked her long brown hair from her eyes.
“Can I help?” she asked.
“Yes, you just might!” She groaned a smile.
“I need some new sunglasses, something a little more, well, current. You know what I mean. What’s trendy?”
The assistant looked through him. “Well,” she began. “We got Ray-ban, we got Paul Smith, we got Police, we got— ”
“Could you just help me pick a pair that suit me or would that interfere with your plans!” he said through his teeth. The assistant stepped back, looked down and huffed. James looked over the young girl’s head to the older looking woman at the counter. She looked up and he caught her eye.
“Can I be of assistance sir?” she beamed.
“Yes, I think I need the guidance of a lady of taste. Would you help me pick something.”
“Of course. Sally, I’ll take over from here. What would you like?”
“Something fresh, yes fresh I want something very GQ”
“Let me have a good look at you,” Andrea, for that was the name on the badge pinned to her gossamer white blouse, looked James up and down then straight in the eyes. “Calvin Klein, this style is very popular with successful young professionals.” Andrea took a pair from the display stand and put them gently on James’ face. His eyes now shielded he took a languishing look through Andrea’s blouse.
“Mirror?” James slipped his conscious thought back into his head.
“What do you think?”
“I think you may need darker lenses, sir.” James blushed.
“Excellent, I’ll take them.” He took out his wallet and thrust a gold card into Andrea’s hand.
“Thanks, Andrea.”
“You’re welcome Mr. Hamilton.”
He didn’t hear the giggles as he left and nor did he need to.
A mile up the road James found exactly what he was looking for, Lancaster Jaguar. Pulling into the car park he saw it, exactly what he needed this time he didn’t need help choosing. The racing green XKR sat on the forecourt like a caged animal daring all comers to take her out and give her all she had. He stepped out of the Volvo and homed in on the sleek creature on her low-profile paws.
The salesman saw the longing in James’ eyes and rubbed his hands together. “Gorgeous isn’t she, no pussycat, supercharged, fully loaded, superb ICE pack.”
“ICE pack?”
“Yes sir, In Car Entertainment, look at this,” he opened the boot. “This here is the 10 CD changer, fill it up and control what CD you listen to from the front”
“Yes, just like in my car. Now run along and get the keys.”
“Yes, of course, sir” the salesman skipped up to the office and soon returned with the keys held high like a trinket glinting in the sunlight.
The salesman cleared the way for the car’s exit then went to jump into the driver’s seat.
“My money, don’t you think I should drive.”
“Well sir, it’s not company poli— ”
“You think I’m going to buy a car I haven’t even driven? You want to stop this here, young man, that’s ok with me. I’ll find another.”
“No, no of course, you’re right” the salesman held the door open like a scolded chauffeur. James was in control; complete control and he liked it.
The car purred, a cliché but it did, not like a house moggy more like a freshly fed beast of the jungle, James put his foot down gently and the scenery began flashing past the windows, the salesman’s smile grew strained and asymmetrical, so he put it down harder. A smile from deep down began to find its way to his face, not the same smile that followed a profitable bit of bean counting or even the rapture at discovering and negotiating a tax loophole, no this smile it came from deeper down, a hitherto dormant area of his being, the red-head, Andreas tits and now the Jaguar. James had the most turgid erection he could remember since his teens. He spotted the slip road and turned onto the motorway.
“Let’s see what it’s got then,” flashing the loin-laden smile at the salesman.
“There are cameras on this stretch of road, Sir.”
He knew the salesman was bluffing. “You don’t keep logs of who’s had the car, do you? And you don’t know my name.” This dog would have his day! And he pushed the pedal harder. And the scenery sped by faster. And along with it went the dust, the dust from the grey suit, the dust from the accounting, the dust from Laura’s spiteful frigidity, the dust that settles on a man who stays too still too long.
By now the salesman was visibly perturbed, a bead of sweat had broken free and was being thrusted back towards his hairline. A tinny William Tell overture prompted a frantic slapping of pockets until he found the small trilling device. “Hello,” he answered a little shakily. He turned to the driver, “They need the car back now.”
“Tell them you’re closing a deal!” The dust-free pilot barked, indicating off the motorway onto a small slip road that ended up in a large shingle car park. Small stones causing a wake as the big cat eased to a majestic halt diagonally in a parking space in front of the once country pub now traditionally themed beefery and bar.
“I don’t know about you but I need a drink.” He extinguished the beast and stepped out adjusting his new shades.
“They need the car back at the dealership!” The red tie protested.
“You want to close this deal or do you want to keep your thumb up your arse.” He remembered somebody tough and no-nonsense saying that in a film.
“Sir, I must protest!”
“You must, but you won’t.”
In a sales pitch knee jerk reaction he retorted, “The button on the key activates the alarm, immobiliser and central locking while also closing the windows.”
The car chirped, flashed and the passenger window closed. “So it does.”
James led the way into the bar and a young girl in a period milkmaid costume approached him. “Would you like a table sir?”
“No, I’d like a drink, I take it you still serve drinks,” she replied in the affirmative and scampered away.
James ordered a double malt and looking at the flustered salesman ordered a second. He spied a couple sitting in front of a stable gate partition eating. Her; pristine, manicured, pedicured, painted and puckered. He; grey, dusty, forty going on six feet under. He breathed hard on the events of the previous night, drank deeply and ordered another.
“Women!” he blurted out and the salesman agreed without knowing exactly what to. “Can’t live with ‘em.” He stopped. “Can’t bury ‘em in the garden!”
The deal was indeed closed in the pub and James was pleased to find that car salesmen could be quite accommodating when you kidnapped them. The final paperwork was done back at the dealership and the Jag would be delivered the next day.
Smug satisfaction filled the man freshly reacquainted with his manhood, like making the school bully back down in front of all the class, like telling your boss to stick his job where the sun don’t shine, like he was going home to reclaim his thrown, be King of his castle again. And he had a thing or two to discuss with the Queen.
Pulling into his leafy lane he noticed a small blue hatchback parked on his driveway, reality dropped like a lead weight in his bowel, he clenched.
Letting himself in through the front door, he repeated under his breath that he was the iceman, the diceman, Clint Eastwood’s greatest fear. He heard a vacuum cleaner humming; forensics?
“Oh! Mr. Hamilton, you could kill someone creeping up on them like that.” The ample woman held her flower print chest as if to keep her heart from breaking free. “Sorry dear, we haven’t met have we. I recognised you from the photos.”
“Mrs. Bassett.” She thrust a rubber-gloved hand toward the trembling King of the castle. “I clean for Mrs. Hamilton.”
The lead floated to his throat, “Jay— James Hamilton.”
“I know luv, dusted your picture a thousand times.” The dustless man digested the lead and adjusted his crown. “Had a bit of a party last night, eh dear? Well don’t you worry.”
“Everything’s shipshape and Bristol fashion again, never you fear. Be finished in a jiffy. Where’s Mrs. Hamilton?” Without thinking James replied that she was shopping. The rotund flower arrangement smiled sympathy. “Cup of tea dear? Hungry? I could rustle you up some egg and chips in no time at all, not proper chips mind, no spuds, but I think I spotted some oven chips in the freezer.”
He explained that he had not long had a sandwich and that they were going out for dinner that night. She scuttled around quite deftly for a woman of her girth and in what seemed like a rather long jiffy was making for the door. “Beds are changed, laundry’s done, I’ll be back on Friday to iron.” She lowered her tone and her head a little, “Mrs. Hamilton usually pays me on a Friday, little envelope on the kitchen table, ever so discreet.” She returned to her relentless tone and pace as she wished Mr. Hamilton a good day and regards to his good lady.
He turned to regard the scene. No sign of struggle. The broken glass that had hit the floor as something snapped within the grey bill-paying, Volvo driver. All cleaned away. No evidence of the thrashings of a vocational consumer, her spiteful goading stifled by her own credit card bills. No trace of the dress ripped down to reveal the silk and lace underwear that he would never take off.
Ship-shape and Bristol fashion! Mrs. Bassett, you have just become my favourite woman.

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Thursday 17 December 2015

Episode 39: A Fear of Success

You know me. You followed me around the country. You loved me on the TV when I had you in stitches with jokes about my penis. You followed me in the tabloids, you supported my charitable works. Then you didn't. I don't know why. You just stopped. Now, I have people who love me again. So much that they made me their mayor. This is my new story, From Under Dark Clouds.

My face felt like an over-full shopping bag, fit to bursting. My morning coffee dribbled down my face due to a can of baked beans making its escape through my bottom lip. A packet of spaghetti had broken through my brow but it was the toilet cleaner in my eye that was causing the most pain. A shape moved in front of me that caste a soothing shadow. It was Jude.
“Christ, man you took a proper pasting!”
My reply was the composition of broken clockwork stumbling over a paralysed tongue.
He shushed me and placed his hand on my chest. The toilet cleaner was a camera light behind him in the corner of the room.
“This is the girl I told you about, Veronica. She’s gonna document your campaign.” Jude pointed to the light.
I pursed my eyes but that hurt more than the light. I raised my hand to guard my eyes and she waved from behind the camera.
“Must have got a few in there, big guy, your knuckles are shredded.” How could I tell him it was from Ares’s studded belt buckle.
I waved my hand against the light. She got the message, shrugged and turned it off. “So you really mean to do this, eh?”
The camerawoman opened the curtains.
I spat a word that began with F but simply ended in blooded spit.
“Hey, Roni. The light is bothering him!”
I huffed exasperation.
I had been in the emergency ward most of the night with Socrates screaming about legal action and campaign funding. Nothing was broken but getting the crap kicked out of you on prime-time fractures deeper than bones.
Socrates burst through the door, still yelling, his arms windmilling the way only Mediterraneans can.
“They are going to fucking pay!”
I looked up but Jude said what I was thinking. “You’re going to sue the Golden Dawn?”
“Are you fucking mad? We won’t get a drachma from them!” He raised his hands, palms slightly apart as to explain something to a child. “We’re going to sue the channel.”
The camera was rolling again on Socrates, at least the light was out of my eyes.
“The fucking security didn’t raise a finger—” He paused in thought. “Private security contractor— we’ll sue them too!” He turned to me and started waving again. “Get yourself out of that bed and into the shower, you smell like you shit yourself!”
The channel had laid on a private plane to get us back up north but we’d need to hurry.
The shower of shards left me fresh but sore.
The Lear-jet, or whatever, was well furnished but like riding a limo down a farm track. Every shudder and bump made my features bounce around my face.
Jude pulled out an iPad. “Manic Street Preachers, eh?” He swiped and tapped until a video began. It was last night’s scene dramatically slowed with If you tolerate this your children will be next dubbed over it. “A mate of mine knows James Dean Bradfield, he’d be stoked that you used his words. Might be able to get him on-board.” He scribbled some notes in his moleskin.
I replayed the video, the warped power chord at the beginning was the glass on its trajectory, the drums came in as it smashed across my face. I watched his arm swing the glass of water, maybe just intending to soak me, then his sneer snapped into something else and he released it. The whole motion had been a flinch of time but like this it contained moments. Moments that you only see when adrenaline is coursing through your veins.
Roni handed Jude a bag of ice from the mini-bar. I put it to half my face so I could watch the video again. She resumed filming. When I stood at the end, staring into the lens you couldn’t see how much I was shaking. My words came in English, under pressure I was more common Essex than New Greek.
The wife was waiting at the airport. She looked at me and drew breath to ball me out then just threw her arms around me, it hurt but it was worth it.
“You stupid bastard, now you’ve made another enemy.” She huffed. “Don’t know who’s worse, the Vatican or the fascists.”
“Ain’t much in it, love.” I managed.
Socrates walked ahead, the yelling and flashing started before we entered arrivals. He drew their fire as we slipped out to the waiting car. I couldn’t answer their questions if I wanted, all that came out was spit and bile. Jude and Roni with her camera soaking up every moment followed, she tried to get into the front passenger seat but Socrates pulled her out and pointed to the taxi rank before slipping in himself. He instructed the driver to drop the wife at home but she insisted on coming with us to the town hall. He still couldn’t argue with her.
The familiarity of the scenery calmed me. The wife held my hand, I was safe again. She kept asking me how I felt and if this hurt or that. I just squeezed her hand in reply.
“This is bad. These bastards don’t wear suits! What are we going to do now, where can we go?”
“The boys?”
She hadn’t sent them to school, they were safe with her sister.
I lifted her hand to my knee and turned, slowly. “We are not running!”
We pulled right up to the entrance of the town hall, there were more press waiting for us. Socrates told the driver to get out and help with crowd control, which he seemed to relish.
Two suits and the well-assembled secretary were waiting for us in the main conference room. She crossed the room and ran her fingertips around my face.
“Brave, brave Sir.” It wasn’t often she spoke to me in English. Her hand recoiled as the wife entered the room.
Mike’s juddering avatar was on the main screen on the wall. “I’ve taken all Golden Dawn and sympathisers sites down. They have no channels of communication. The only narrative is ours.” I waved to the screen. “Please don’t ask him to come down” the avatar said.
I didn’t.
The suits were lawyers. They began hitting me with questions before I had even sat down. They had established the studio’s culpability and were working on the exact wording of the complaint, adding a list of laws and liabilities. Socrates added the security firm’s liability and another list began. A photographer came in to take pictures of the damage. I overheard Roni ask for copies. I didn’t notice them arrive until the wife swatted her away.
Socrates even called for a doctor to come and examine me. He winced as he poked me, shook his head as he shined a torch in my eyes and hmm’d when he asked me what I remembered. We had a copy of the hospital report but he felt that they had understated the extent of the damage and suggested some much better symptoms. The lawyers asked him some questions and another list began, titled with the name at the bottom of the medical report.
By the time the police arrived to take my statement, I felt like a bargain bag of ground beef. They noted all my answers along with a few from Socrates and the lawyers. One looked over the officer’s shoulder insisting that all the answers were written as mine. I signed all the sheets and initialled every correction. One of the lawyers scanned a copy with his phone and they were gone.
The door closed and finally it was just me, the wife and Socrates. And the journalists.
“There’s something bothering me.”
Socrates raised his hand and told me everything was under control.
“No, something else.”
He patted his chest and repeated himself adding that those fascists wouldn’t get close again.
“No!” I said.
He was losing his patience.
“That economist—”
“What about him, the fucking neo-liberal!” He stood to leave. “Want me to order some food?” He looked from me to Jude and Roni who smiled enthusiastically.
“He said we had no economic strategy, no viable manifesto.”
“Fuck him! After last night we are on every channel across the globe. You’ve gone viral.”
“BUT! Socrates. If we do get elected, what are we going to do?”


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Friday 11 December 2015

Episode 38: If you Tolerate this...

You know me. You followed me around the country. You loved me on the TV when I had you in stitches with jokes about my penis. You followed me in the tabloids, you supported my charitable works. Then you didn't. I don't know why. You just stopped. Now, I have people who love me again. So much that they made me their mayor. This is my new story, From Under Dark Clouds.

You’ve been in the playground when the school bully walks in with his goons. We all know what that feels like, unless you were the school bully. Everyone tries to continue playing, maintain the nonchalant appearance of normality while being desperately aware of every skip, every jump, every word. Movement in the studio became stepped, metered. Trakas, the New Democracy Finmin played the denial card.
“Here come the goon squad.” He said just low enough to believe he couldn’t be heard.
But the studio had gone churchly quiet. “Traka! Show some respect. You’ll be begging at my table soon enough.” Ares answered, not loud but with entitlement.
There is a reason that teachers cannot combat bullying. It doesn’t start in schools and it definitely doesn’t end there. People who need recognition force people who need to follow to victimise people who need protection. If the meek ever do inherit the earth it will be after many more heads are flushed down toilets and a lot more lunch money is taken.
The entourage made its way through the middle of the room and everyone found jobs to do on the peripheries.
This wasn’t the first time I had met Ares, first time I was the fat kid of the class and he made me piss myself. I strode over to introduce myself. One of the shaved gorillas stood in my way. I smiled and Ares waved him aside. He looked down at my outstretched palm. ”I know you, mongrel. I read your file. Your own people don’t want you, you think my people do?”
“You have a file on me? What an accolade.” He looked straight through me, I doubted that he could pass the Turing test. I implored him to be nice, after all this was just a bit of telly.
“Enjoy your little skit, comedian.” He turned and continued through the studio. Needless to say he was the only one who did not address me in English. The host walked with him onto the set. Only there did his entourage break, positioning themselves behind their leader on three sides, just out of shot.
“Ladies and gentlemen, to your places.” A production assistant gently lead me by the arm to the set and placed me at a low coffee table opposite my new friend from the Golden Dawn. I crossed my legs and relaxed in my chair. My pissing days were long over.
A jingle played and the host began his introduction.
“With the elections upon us we give the spotlight to some of the minor candidates and ask if they have a new perspective to offer.” He introduced Ares who wished the viewers a stoic good-evening. “And a self-professed New Greek from England who surprised everyone by winning the mayoral elections.”
I smiled and added that I was not the least surprised at that one.
“The minister of finance, Manolis Trakas, to outline the government’s strategy, should it get re-elected.”
“We also have the renowned economist, Panayiotis Karaletsos who will give us his views on the causes and possible remedies of the crisis that grips our economy.”
He nodded.
“And it is with you, Mr. Karaletsos, that I’d like to begin. What do you think is the root cause of the present situation?”
He began with the European central bank’s incompetent appraisal of Greece’s qualification to join the single currency then accelerated to the austerity and bail-out plans that have only managed to get the country in more debt. I followed it quite well and found myself nodding, more in comprehension than agreement. He seemed to have omitted any mention of Greece’s role.
The host then opened the question to each of us to offer our manifesto to a viable solution. According to Trakas, New Democracy proposed more of the same, we were on the road to mend, we just needed more time and cooperation with the European union and the good will of the creditors. Ares proposed freeing the country from its immigrant burden. Then to me.
“Well, Stelios. I think we need to get businesses doing business. We need to build a business environment unencumbered by bureaucracy with clear, consistent taxation so that they can plan ahead and compete in the world market. This would provide jobs and stability.” Sounded like a plan.
“How would you go about addressing the huge problem of tax avoidance?” Karaletsos countered.
“Yeah, well people and businesses fiddle their taxes all over the world,. You only need to look to Starbucks, Amazon and Apple with their funnelling of money through Holland, Lichtenstein and Ireland. And, they’re only the big names. I think a fair stable tax system, staffed by understanding public employees who would be more empathetic to local industry would make businessmen and women more willing to give their fair share, right?”
The economist sipped his water and coughed into his fist. “So you propose that a nice fair tax system would turn round an economy that has shrunk by almost thirty percent in four years. With a debt to GDP that has gone from seventy eight percent to a hundred and ninety four in the same period.”
“I’m sure everyone would be more willing to contribute if they could see the sense in it.” Surely he could see the wisdom in that.
He smirked at me. “Capital is leaving the economy faster than we have seen since the junta period and your strategy is empathetic taxmen? May I ask if you actually have an economic strategy in your manifesto?”
I chuckled at this. “If we didn’t, would I be here now?”
“I haven’t managed to find it!”
“I’m sure you can understand that we need a stable tax environment to attract outside investment and let’s be honest, when we go to the tax office we feel loathed to give our signatures let alone twenty three percent of our earnings.” I checked the cheeky step. Done. Now in lieu of flirting with the host I turned to the Golden Dawn representative. “Now your people, Ares. I hear you do a lot in the community to help the old and needy.”
“The Greek people know that we are their true supporters—” he said slowly building pace. But I cut him short.
“Yeah, all well and good. I’m sure you are aware that this is one area where we agree. We have worked hard to give our citizens their dignity back. But we need to work with the international community, not against it.”
The finmin nodded in agreement.
“We don’t need your foreign money and your foreign laws!” Ares sneered.
“As far as the Euro is concerned, I think we are agreeing again.” I leaned over and touched his knee. ”The UK did not adopt the single European currency for just that reason. But the world is a family that must work together. We must embrace our neighbours.”
“We have been taking care of our people in the community with food and protection. The old and the children look to us for help. We are strong because we don’t look to others for charity.” His fists were tightening.
“Yes, and once again we find ourselves agreeing, Ares.” I leaned over again but he was just out of reach. “He’s not so bad after all,” I said looking at the host. “I have implemented initiatives in my town to help local businesses thrive and provide jobs and welfare for local people. Where we do disagree is—”
“We don’t need foreigners to dilute our Greek blood.”
“Now that is an interesting point there, young man. And, were my wife here, I’m sure she have have a lot to say on the matter.” I smiled at the camera. “You have a particular problem with people from other countries, don’t you?” I gave him time to answer but his eyes just went blacker. “I couldn’t help noticing the tattoo on your man’s neck here.” I invited the camera to pan to the bodyguard standing behind his master. “It’s a swastika, right?” The camera didn’t move. “An Indian religious symbol adopted by the German Nazis when they tried to subjugate Greece, with help from the Bulgarians and the Italians.” I didn’t see it coming but it came nonetheless, first the splash then the smash of a glass impacting with my cheekbone.
He was across the table and on me “MONGREL. FAG. FOREIGNER!”
His knee went into my balls, my hands sprung to defend my face but his taught abdomen got in the way. All I could do was scream to get this madman off me but it was he that rose above me, drool running from his lips. I scowled as defiantly as I could, trying not to flinch too cowardly. He spat and landed one across my jaw before swinging his head at the goons and walking out.
The studio security were still planted by the door.
The production crew fell on me with cloths and tissues, they came away blooded.
I pushed them away, stood and looked the camera square on. “If you tolerate this, then your children will be next!”


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Wednesday 11 November 2015

Episode 37: Nowhere to Hide

You know me. You followed me around the country. You loved me on the TV when I had you in stitches with jokes about my penis. You followed me in the tabloids, you supported my charitable works. Then you didn't. I don't know why. You just stopped. Now, I have people who love me again. So much that they made me their mayor. This is my new story, From Under Dark Clouds.

Youtube stats have become a bit of an obsession, I must confess, dear Blogees. I tried to find a way to get my account to let me know of any updates but they were too slow so I just check in on a regular basis to find that nothing has changed.

The campaign video is only creeping into triple figures. At least the Greek version, the version in English was doing great for a few days and it’s still ticking over. That said, the kid playing Thunderstruck on his bouzouki has got nearly four thousand views already. Fortunately my name is tagged on the video and the edit even left a few moments of my speech. Well, mostly me shouting THUNDER! Socrates got his number and I think we should have him as a regular. I must admit though, piggybacking interest from a high schooler with an ethnic instrument is a new low for me. Some of my old stand-ups and TV appearances are into the millions and one where I made a US news anchor turn bright red on live TV, nothing to the colours I made her turn later off camera, is getting on for three. But, getting a few thousand locals to watch me promise them a brighter future, albeit dubbed, seems to be beyond me. Maybe my charisma just doesn’t translate.

The family were still sleeping so I indulged myself for a couple of hours with those old videos. Watching the guy in the golf trousers and Punisher t-shirt that used to be me made me a little me-sick. Not for the booze and drugs and fast-food sex, just the me that had something to say to people who understood. I’m telling them I’m a New Greek but I’m getting the feeling that all they want are new cars and new phones. Greeks are better when they’re vintage.

Socrates had me booked for a TV interview later. We were flying down to a studio in Athens, shouldn’t have been too taxing. I flutter my eyes at the hostess, be a bit cheeky and tell them to face up and claim their country back. Simple recipe but it works. It worked pretty well back home until the church got involved. I didn’t get how much people still listen to them.

I got an email from Jude but only had time to skim it. The people back home. Should stop saying that, here is my home now. Anyway, they were divided by my foray into saving Europe’s hardest doneby, divided but interested. He’s coming back to get the inside story, follow me around for a while.

The family were waking up for the school run and Socrates called. I refreshed the Youtube page. Nothing. He gave me the itinerary for the day. I had a two-hour Greek lesson then we were off to the airport. He warned me that this may be a bit of a challenge and to have my wits about me.
In my office, I opened a box of index cards where I wrote my vocabulary for a last minute refresher before the tutor arrived. I’ve been enjoying the lessons and the wife says it shows. The kids still won’t speak to me in Greek.

In the cab down to the airport I vigorously practised hypothetical speech with Socrates. It had been the subject of the lesson and the tutor deemed it an important skill given the task of the day. Socrates answered me in a mixture of hypothetical and definite which confused me a little. Not as much as I confused the cab driver asking him what would happen if we took that road or this.

He pulled to the side and leaned over the seat. “You want me to go this way or that? If we go that way,” he pointed out. “We will not get to the airport and you may not get your flight.” His syntax was textbook. Socrates was smirking behind his fist. “If you were to allow me to get on with my job, we might get you to your destination!”

“Were I to do that, would you be able to get us there on time?” I asked.

“I would have no doubt about it.” He turned and pulled back out into the midday traffic.

“We are definitely getting our money’s worth from the tutor,” Socrates said. “But, if I were you, I would shut up for a while.” I think he was just a little proud of me.

“I was a philologist before I had to start cabbing.” The driver bemoaned. “It would seem that you are getting good instruction.”

I wasn’t sure If he meant Socrates telling me to shut up or my Greek tuition. He enquired where I was from and what I was doing here. He knew of Essex, it used to be a brand of washing powder here, but he had friends who had studied at the university in Colchester. When I told him that I was the mayor of the one-horse town where he picked us up and my political ambitions, he nearly stoved the car into a queue of traffic at a red light. “Yeah, I saw you on Youtube!” At last someone. “Fantastic! It’s about time we had some fresh blood in this political circus. You really showed them.” He turned his attention back to the moving traffic. Socrates nudged me to get into campaign mode. Not that I needed telling. He pulled a left into the final straight to the terminal and I started talking about claiming the country back from the bankers and eurocrats. Greece was a debt colony that had fallen into the role through apathy and malaise. Playing the sympathy card would no longer cut the mustard and we needed to fight back.

“I was at a march only last week…” the driver said.

“If I could stop you there. You can march and chant all you want but unless you have allies up top, in Athens, in Brussels, no one is listened.” The driver corrected my verb use. “You need a new regime, a meritocracy. Get these self-serving politicians out of Athens.”

“So who do we vote for?”

“Vote for me! Tell your friends and family, tell everyone who gets in your cab! If you are still going on marches a year from now, don’t blame me. You saw what I did in my town, you saw the youtube video. Spread the word!”

We arrived at the terminal and the driver helped us with our bags. As we walked away from the cab I turned and wished him happy trails, he raised his fist in the air and cried, “THUNDER!” Maybe he saw the wrong video.

The Palaver of check-in and boarding is longer than the flight from Thessaloniki to Athens and I managed not to get into any conversations. Conversations on planes are so awkward, if they go well, you have to exchange details and go to baggage reclaim together. If they don’t, you have nowhere to hide.

Athens airport is in the middle of a desert, the harsh, bare terrain that surrounds it is a juxtaposition to the heaving metropolis that neighbours it but all that bustle is just a facade over the same scenery. The Parthenon sits aloft a bare rock jutting from the city, alluding to its ancient antecedents as well as the barren landscape that it attempts to conceal.

The taxi dropped us at a concrete box dressed in pollution and peeling paint. Polished marble cladding surrounded the revolving door to the studios and a vagrant slept in the corner to the right, I suppose even tramps get to siesta. I pulled a note from my pocket and slipped it between his cardboard bed and his nicotine-stained beard. I turned just as a camera clicked.

The studio was like any other, dark but blindingly bright. The host, I had expected a woman, introduced himself. I shook his hand and he politely enquired about my journey.

“I hear you’re doing good work up there.” He said in English that he could not have acquired here. I thanked him and he left.

Socrates introduced me to one of the guests, Panayiotis Kara-something, an economist who told me he had studied at Essex.

“Did you attend Essex?” he asked in an overly deliberate English accent.

I told him I hadn’t had much time for academia due to the pressures of the real world.

He hummed and said, “Shame. Fine place.”

The second guest was Manolis Trakas, the government’s finance minister. Another of the Euro-lackys who had Swiss bank account written all over him. I offered him my hand. “Ah! The comedian.” Why was everyone speaking to me in English?

I replied in Greek taking pains to get it just right. “No, sir. I am the Mayor.”

“A mayor,” he corrected.

A girl with an iPad shuffled around inviting us to take our seats for sound and lighting checks. The doors to the studio opened and two broad men in identical bomber jackets and shaved heads bowled in and told everyone to stand. Behind them was a young well-dressed man in sharp suit and a frown. Behind him was another clone of the two in front and two members of studio security at a safe distance. I recognised the young man as Ares, the democratically elected MP from The Golden Dawn.


If you enjoyed this episode, you should SUBSCRIBE and get the whole of book 1 for your iPad, Kindle or Android device.

Also, we are working on a Podcast which you will get before anyone else.

Go on! You know you deserve it!

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From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY