Authors: Gwyneth Jones
Copyright © Gwyneth Jones 2005, 2009
Frontispiece © Bryan Talbot
All rights reserved
The right of Gwyneth Jones to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act I988.
First published in Great Britain in 2005 by
An imprint of the Orion Publishing Group
Orion House, 5 Upper St Martin’s Lane,
London WC2H 9EA
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library
ISBN 0575070439 (cased)
ISBN 0575070447 (trade paperback)
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Typeset by Deltatype Ltd, Birkenhead, Merseyside
Printed in Great Britain by
Clays Ltd, St Ives plc
Thanks, as always, to my editor, Jo Fletcher, my agent, Anthony Goff, my illustrator Bryan Talbot, and my home team, Peter Gwilliam and Gabriel Jones, for invaluable support. Special thanks to Gabriel Jones for helping me with my guitar masterclass, and to Peter Gwilliam and the insiders for research assistance on the Montmartre, Parliamentary and Metropolitan Police fronts. Thanks to the Insane Stupid Behaviour Crew, (Newman chapter) for the loan of their name, and Skin Candy of Baker Street for advice. There’s an account of Paul Thompson’s 2001 study of the “forest fire effect” in early onset schizophrenia at http://www.loni.ucla.edu/~thompson/thompson.html: needless to say my use of this clinical study is entirely fictional. 50 Berkeley Square has the reputation of being “the most haunted house in London”, and was the house that inspired Bulwer-Lytton’s classic story ‘The Haunters and the Haunted’, “Wallingham”, although entirely a fictional creation and used fictionally, bears some debt to Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire: many thanks to the Rothschild Archive for their assistance. ‘Ruin is the devil’s work’ from Emily Dickinson, 997 ‘Crumbling is not an instant’s act’; ‘Is My Team Ploughing?’ AE Housman, from
A Shropshire Lad
. ‘For I dipt into the future…’ from ‘Some Day’, Alfred, Lord Tennyson; ‘Out of this nettle, danger…’ Wm Shakespeare, Henry IV Pt One. The curious cardgame described in Chapter 7 is called poo-head, and was devised by Jon and Pat Mayes; used with permission. More sources, bibliography, discography, picture archive, in the Band of Gypsys scrapbook, www.boldaslove.co.uk
The location for the frontispiece is the Oscar Wilde Memorial, Père Lachaise cemetery, Paris: Lachaise cemetery, Paris: original photo, Bryan Talbot
’Tis dangerous to take a cold, to sleep, to drink; but I tell you, my lord fool, out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety
Henry IV Pt 1;II;iii
The Ploughshare And The Harrow
In a bar in Washington DC, not far from Capitol Hill, two smart young fellows met one evening for a little status display and a few drinks: covertly rating each other’s tailoring and accessories while the snow fell thick and fast outdoors, turning all the mighty public buildings into bridal confectionery. Conversation became pleasantly indiscreet. They were both in positions to be indiscreet about great affairs, but Frank could see that tonight the other guy had the good story. Without haste, he drew his friend to speak. Businessmen came and went, beautiful women sashayed by; the neat, discreet waitresses plied refills, and in due course it came out. Lavoisier. Something about that awful secret bubo on the body politic that the Pres had been revealing to the select behind closed doors, audiences from which Fred Eiffrich’s friends and enemies alike, emerged grey in the face and shaken.
These two, along with a few other smart folks around the citadel by now, were savvy on Lavoisier, without benefit of one of those solemn need-to-know sessions. A desert nest of terrorists. Manson familyoids caught on the edge of going critical with the new, weird, occult superweapon. And the raid, how about that raid! The FBI and the National Guard were going in with a Division of Infantry, in their chemical suits and their breathing apparatus, Deep Stealth, Full Metal Jacket, you betcha Bob—
‘—meanwhile these two English guys dress up as cowboys, ride over there on
, and shoot up the town—’
‘It’s hilarious,’ agreed Frank: waiting to be told something he didn’t know.
‘It’s a scream. It gets better, bro. We have live coverage.’
Frank stared, truly impressed at last. ‘You’re
‘I’m not kidding.’ The man with the story leaned forward, into the safe space that every one who talks in bars around Capitol Hill believes can be found, directly above the mid point between their two drinks on the polished mahogany tabletop. ‘This Baal guy, the Black Dragon, had the town wired, hidden cameras everywhere, and he has the true-life movie of what went down… He’s dickering with our acquisitions guys right now, from his undisclosed place of detention.’
‘Protective custody, mister.’
‘Whatever, he’s open for business. Detainees’ rights are a wonderful thing.’
‘What, he had the stuff when they brought him in? On an eyesocket chip or what? And our great Homeland Security experts let him
‘Naw… He knows where it is, though. This is the real deal, Frankismo. I’ve personally seen the trailer. You want to see Mr Ax Preston
a poor misguided Gaia-loving martyr? You want to see the expression on our rockstar peacemaker’s pretty face, when the kid’s windpipe cracks?’
‘You want to see holier-than-God reformed bad boy Sage Pender dealing with the soft-bellied little geeks at the hideout’s back gate? Some of them women?’
‘You have to be shitting me—!’
They contemplated the potential mayhem. It was
‘You know, Jude,’ said Frank, measuring his words. ‘Joking apart, this could be a serious bummer for that Kill The Evil Research, Ban The NeuroBomb program. This sounds like bad doody for Mr Fred Eiffrich alltogether.’
‘Yeah, well. Don’t know about you Frankie, but I voted for the other ticket.’
They laughed, immoderately. Then they had one more drink and went their separate ways, as the hour was getting late.
Sage had fallen asleep with Fiorinda tucked against him, his chin on her shoulder, his arm around them both. A good place to be: in many ways, the best place the world can hold—but they’d moved away from him in the night. Had to have their fucking personal space, he couldn’t cure them of the habit. It hurt his feelings. Slighted, and also
, he lay with the morning light seeping through his lashes, frosting his eyeballs: thinking about his great-coat, which was on the floor on the other side of the room. In the end it was the pressure of a full bladder, slowly becoming insistent, that forced him to make a move.
‘Was’matter?’ mumbled Ax.
‘Need a piss.’
The chemical toilet was behind a screen, in one of the garret room’s slope-ceilinged corners. They hunkered down on either side of the pot, grinning at each other. They liked pissing together.
‘We could make tea with that much,’ said Sage proudly.
It would be quite a coup to wake her with a cup of hot tea, which they could not otherwise provide until somebody went to fetch the drinking water. Ten minutes in the treatment jug would do it: but Ax was secretly squeamish, and preferred a little distance from the details. Let the arondissement do the instant recycling.
‘It could be read as cheating, unless we knock it off our fifteen litres.’
‘Oooh, no cheating, we can’t have that.’
The cold in the room was intense, but somehow pleasurable once you were out in it. It had been storage space, the conversion for human occupation was minimal. They moved to the window, which had a sheet of solar insulation taped over it but no curtain, and sat on dusty boards. Slate roofs, tumbled together, pigeon-breast shades all crusted in frozen white, rose into a grey, laden sky above Montmartre.
‘Looks like more snow on the way.’
‘Nah, it’s too cold.’
Like London, Paris was shrinking and compacting as the outer sprawl fell apart. The artists’ hill was crowded. Though no traffic murmur reached them, only stillness like a doubtful blessing, and the rumble of a single car traversing the cobbles of the Rue Des Dames, Ax could feel the weight of numbers out there. So many people huddling together in these doomed inner cities, in Europe and in all the world beyond: waiting and wondering,
what the hell’s going to happen to next?
He turned from their roofscape—for which they’d developed a profound affection—to the greater beauty beside him. Ax had always loved human bodies, and loved
particular human body more intensely every day: a feat he would not have thought possible before this strange winter. Indigo muscle-shadows on white skin, yellow curls like a helmet of coiled gold. The blue-eyed
, the big mouthed clown, verging on caricature, unbelievably perfect. He reached out—asking permission with a glance—and slipped his hand under Sage’s shabby tee to trace the ropes of scar, where the magician had torn up his friend’s liver. Sage smiled, accepting the caress with the forebearance of a kindly pet tiger. He hated those scars, but he’d come to like the way Ax touched them
They hold your life inside, thought Ax. They tell me we came through.
‘This is a
‘Weirdly good, yeah. You do realise, babe, we are starving in a
foreign garret, in daily danger of being deported, nothen’ to look forward to but a tedious, annoying career of bein’ the greenwash for a bunch of gangsters—’
‘Details. We’re in excellent shape.’
trying to talk french, an’ our girlfriend is pregnant?’
Ax stopped laughing, suddenly focused. ‘You think she’s pregnant?’
‘Yes. Forty five days: no, forty-six. I think she could well be pregnant.’
They looked to the bed, where their girl was sleeping.
‘We need to plan for the future,’ said Ax. ‘It’s on my mind. We are
condemned to a life in public office, I never said I’d do that. One day we’ll be free. But I don’t see us making a comeback as rockstars.’
‘Fuck, no. Codgers’ Cabaret, I
‘I want to live like this here, forever, but kids needs security.’
‘Hm. I veto white collar applications.’
‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to try and make you work for your dad.’
‘Tha’s a relief, Sah.’ Sage stretched and refolded himself. ‘Okay, what are our skills? We could be drug dealers, but we’d need start-up capital. We could be mercenaries. We have experience, an’ God knows there’s plenty of openings—’