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Authors: John Luxton

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BOOK: The Alembic Valise
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“When radiation is released, either by a nuclear explosion or a leak at a atomic power installation the particles bounce off the air molecules in the upper atmosphere and thus increase the radiation levels back on the ground. That’s the original meaning,” said Agim, now adjusting his belt

“Sounds like a cleaning product - I use Skyshine and my windows sparkle.”
“Just use it to make your prose sparkle.”
“Was Lorna …erm receptive to all this?” asked Joel now smiling up at Agim.

“Listen, she told me your idea. To write a new book and try and get it published here. Believe me that will be impossible. But what you can do is publish online, in instalments. People will be able to download or stream the content from various websites and our tech geeks will virally promote the piss out of it. Just write your story, upload the chapters and we will do the rest.”

Joel put the blue piece of plastic in his pocket. Then stood up and held out his hand. Joe wanted to look into the eyes of the man before him, but they were both wearing sunglasses. “We are all looking for something,” he said. “I hope you find…” he trailed off in mid-sentence. A thought had intruded on the flow of his intended platitude but now was not the time to voice it. He continued to look searchingly at Agim. The moment passed. They shook hands.

“Thanks,” said Agim, “but first we have to bring down the Blake Organisation. Then … who knows? Lorna said an interesting thing, that fantasy is the literature of subversion. If your writing can covertly expose this conspiracy then maybe we can turn the tide. It’s up to you now.”

“Me?” said Joel.
“Yes Joel, you are it, there is no plan B.”
“Only universe B, eh?” said Joel attempting some levity.
“That’s why it’s important that you get away to … where is it you’re going?”
“The Fitties,” said Joel.
“What’s that?”

“It’s the Ultima Thule, beyond the borders of the known world. AKA Cleethorpes.” Buster slept in the foot-well of sidecar until the smell of the North Sea woke him.

Chapter 37

Vale was alone in the kitchen of his home, sat at the table and preparing his latest blog post. It was tentatively called
Remember Citizen Smith.
It was the job of the protagonist of Kafka’s novel 1984 job to rewrite news articles from the past. Vale believed that the potential for rewriting history was now a given, as digital media replaced the printed word. The technology of totalitarianism he called it. That and the speed of data retrieval would, in tandem bring about the annihilation of individual freedom, unless the conspiracy was revealed. The latest revelation that had come his way was the fact that the CERN particle accelerator project in Switzerland was a cover for a global database that the New World Order were preparing. Should have seen it coming he thought. You cannot link together all the world’s super-computers without something bad happening.

The doorbell rang. Reaching the front door he saw through the spy-hole that it was not the regular postman.“You’re early. Can you leave it on the step?” he called through the door.

“Sorry I need a signature.”

Vale opened the door, then seeing the syringe in the postman’s hand turned and fled as best he could. He only made it as far as the foot of the stairs.

Chapter 38

Jada teased open the twist of cellophane paper and trickled the grains along the length of the blunt, they disappeared into the thick green Buddha that she had already laid out on the brown tobacco leaf; then roll, lick and spark.

She was sitting cross-legged on a bench on the north bank of the river, directly across from the Ice Tower. Maybe Baba was watching her with his binoculars. He would not approve. But she did not give a shit what he thought.

She had drawn a fight. Not lost but drawn. And what a crap storm had followed. Over-training, under-training, lack of focus, and on and on. Of course there was no lack of focus on Baba’s part when she had caught him drooling over the video of that Z girl’s fight. Then finding out a week later, by accident that he wanted to put the same girl on the roster, send her to the training camp on Bornholm, that cute little island in the Baltic Sea. Where sir fuck-pants himself would attend and oversee the induction, as he called it; breaking in the fresh talent she called it, with only one rule – give out or get out. Not too easy in the middle of the Baltic fucking ocean. Unless you had your own private helicopter as he did.

What the fuck! How had this happened?

She took a last sip on the cigarillo then carefully extinguished it on the underside of the bench; someone was approaching along the sandy path that weaved through the scrubby woodland, a runner. The Buddha felt like liquid menthol as it seeped into her brain, and her pussy began to tingle.

She had decided to smoke some primo in order to break the loop of pissed-offness that had infected her. This was a method of last resort but it was the only thing she could come up with to rid her mind of the toxicity produced by the poisonous intermingling of disappointment and jealousy. She closed her eyes and asked God to show her the way. Then she opened them.

“Hey sister,” she called out sweetly. “Lorna isn’t it?” Recalling as she did the phrase: Synchronicity is the mirror of God. But not recalling who said it; Jung, Laszlo, or was it Sting.

Lorna had already run past barely noticing the figure on the bench, concentrating, as she was, on the cadence of her stride pattern. She applied the brakes, stopped and turned.

“Hi,” she said looking at Jada who was still sitting crossed legged and had the extinguished half smoked blunt in her left hand

“Aw shucks, you got me,” said Jada noticing Lorna’s gaze. “Want some?”

“No thanks, would probably interfere …with my training,” said Lorna, feeling awkward. She of course recognised her, the Egyptian cheekbones, the green almond eyes, currently a little bloodshot, the goddess physique.

“For sure, for sure.”

Lorna departed with a wave of her hand; thinking,
so that is Jada
. There was a cut-through from the path to the road and Lorna emerged into the path of a white van, she quickly jumped back onto the grass verge.

“Oi darling, want to take a ride?” There were three men in the front seat. She ignored them and ran on swiftly.

Fifteen minutes later Lorna had crossed the river at Barnes Bridge and was close to completing her circuit. She could see the bench on the other side where Jada had been seated. She could see a white van drawn up on the grass near to the spot but she could not see Jada. For a few moments there was a quiet spell between the ceaseless overhead racket of the planes, and during those moments Lorna could hear screaming. The sound bouncing between the riverbanks, regular, chilling, familiar, and seeming to originate from the van: It’s Jada, she thought.

She did not hesitate; the river was low so she slid down the bank and onto the shingle. The water looked placid but there would still be a current of some kind. She dived in and kicked hard.

Approaching the van Lorna could hear no sound of any kind. She crept around to the side door and grasped the handle; it slid open easily. Inside the light was good, courtesy of a tinted skylight. Jada was naked, hanging by her bound wrists from a hook. One of the men was also naked apart from one sock; the other sock was stuffed into Jada’s mouth. The man was tearing a piece of gaffa tape from a large roll of the stuff, he was using it to bind Jada’s legs to a plastic bar, the intention being to force her knees apart. But the job was not complete and in the meantime Jada was able to kick out as she swung too and fro. The other man was trying to hold her from behind to prevent her getting any force into her kicks; he was still fully clothed.

The naked guy looked at Lorna and grunted, looking more annoyed than anything else. She heard a voice behind her say, “Come to join the fun? Uff!”

Lorna had chosen to ignore the invitation and instead punched him in his soft beer belly. He went down like a sack of shit, falling backwards out of the van. Meanwhile Jada had managed to pull herself high enough to get her legs around guy behind hers throat; she had unhooked her hands and was now able to land double handed punches to the side of his head. ‘One sock’ had dropped the plastic rod and as he tried to pick it up Lorna delivered a knee to his face. He got to his feet, blood streaming from his nose and bolted. Lorna watched him as he ran unsteadily along the towpath. Jada was at her side; she had put on her shorts and top and her trainers were in her hand.

“Let’s get out of here,” she said, looking at Lorna in the daylight. “And why are you covered in mud?”
“I was on the other side of the river when I heard you.”
“Heard me what?”
“Screaming.”

“I never got the chance to scream,” a puzzled expression now on Jada’s faces. “And you swam across the river for me?” There was the sound of a police siren in the distance but that did not mean anything.

Three days later Lorna and Jada were running along the same stretch of riverbank. They had begun training together every day since the incident.

“Cage candy, kick foxes,” Jada was running various potential names for a breakaway stable of strike girls past Lorna.
“Gash gladiators,” suggested Lorna.
Jada came back with, “snatch assassins!” Running and laughing hysterically was not good; breathing problems followed by stitch.
Chapter 39

The tide comes in, something new arrives; the tide goes out, equivalence departs. And creeping round the bend in the river when the tide is slack, when the moon is full, when the ice is cracking, when the otter is hunting, comes that messenger from the other side, like a honey bee following the earths magnetic pathways. It is Joe Canoe.

Painted on the prow of his silent vessel are the vermilion glyphs. On the right, a Crow’s eye; perpetually scanning the patchwork landscape far below, seeing through the silver meshing of the data fields hidden points of entry. On the left a Crow’s beak, following eddies of death, the stink curling across a perfumed world. Together calculating trajectory and azimuth between points of affinity.

Resting in Joe’s languid grip a paddle, fashioned from turtle shell, twitches neither to the left nor to the right. No sextant or dead reckoning required. Here where there is turbulence in the vortex, here within the covariance of flux all navigations converge. Within this fluvial flow is located the persistent world of the Loa and the task is to map the space between these dimensions. Alpha particle meet Beta particle, and may your differences inform, delight and finally set us free.

Joel stopped typing and looked through the window. At night he would see the pulse from the light ship across the estuary but since morning was now here, tussock covered sand dunes and sky were back on the menu. And it was raining, but he did not care. It had become his practice to write till dawn then go for a run along the tattered margin between land, sea and sky that had become
his
persistent world.

The Fitties was an old word for salt marsh, here in the sand dunes there were assorted shacks, some dating back to the Second World War. In the estuary were two forts that had been manned by soldiers, their job to fight off enemy aircraft from above and U Boats from below. The U Boats prevented from slipping up river and causing mischief to the important ports of Hull and Grimsby by the use of a five-mile steel net slung between the forts. After the war the clapperboard buildings that the soldiers had constructed began to be used by holidaymakers. Even so it remained a bleak and forgotten place.

He was however grateful for the peace and space the location afforded and grateful to Big Vern who owned the shack and had suggested he retreat here to begin his Great Work.

The scope of Joel’s project had expanded greatly since its conception. It was no longer a serialised book but a vast concept that would alter all realities. Skyshine had now become Project Skyshine and the world would soon be crashing down around the Blake Snake Org, as Joel now called it.

A sliver of moon was still bright in the morning sky as he cleared the dunes and began running along the beach.

Chapter 40

Displaced in both time and space, several days and many thousand miles; Vale could understand the former, after all he still felt the effect of a powerful narcosis occluding his thoughts and numbing his limbs, but why bring him to another continent? For that is what his inner compass divined. There was a steady drawn out howl in his head and it took a while to realise that it was the drone of the wind being funnelled through an aperture of some kind. Meanwhile his senses and his mind struggled for congruency, but found no traction.

He was immobilised, his wrists and ankle bound, but in an upright position and this was accompanied by the sensation of being wheeled along a smooth surface. There was a sound of a door being opened and he then felt the heat of the furnace on his face. The bag was pulled from his head and he was staring into the void. The furnace was the sun and impaled by its flames his eyes could surely see a thousand miles. There was no horizon. He looked down; saw his wrists duct taped to an office chair and then a million yards of space below, the ground so far away it was entirely without significance…

“A hundred and seventy stories high.” A voice behind him said. It was a voice he knew. “The site has been evacuated, there is a sand storm coming, sweeping in across the Arabian Peninsula. Usually this place is crawling with construction workers but just now we have it to ourselves, luckily.”

Vale could not speak, his throat was constricted and his mouth, beyond dry. His captor seemed unlikely to offer him a glass of water and he was sure that any moment he would be launched over the edge, so he kept silent. Then to his surprise he was pulled backwards into the shade to see the bare concrete walls and floor of the interior, a half finished project.

“I have a clinic here that is the outlet for my organ harvesting franchise in Manila. I usually keep my distance from the whole ghastly operation but I had to come out here and I thought – hey why not bring that old Vale gent along? You won’t be posting that juvenile blog of yours any more, but I thought perhaps it would be the perfect location for you to tell me a little about your core beliefs, mission statement, marketing paradigm, strategy forecast, and any fucking accomplices you may have.” Baba walked around and stood in front of Vale, looking down at him pityingly. “But I needn’t have bothered, the drugs don’t work and you have told us precisely fuck all. Would you care to change that situation right now?” Vale shook his head. “I thought not.” Baba then stepped to one side and nodded.

Vale felt him self being propelled forward, back into the sunlight and over the edge, as he began falling he could see an orange wall in the distance; must be the sandstorm he thought. Then he blacked out as he began to spin downwards.

Baba looked at his hands then took a large white handkerchief from his pocket and began tie it around his head, covering his nose and mouth. The storm would be here in minutes and by then he wanted to be clear of this place. He looked around, this empty shell was supposed to be a luxury apartment by now but the construction had slowed to a crawl, investors were pulling out, taking losses if they had to, just to be out of property. Never buy off-plan had been his accountant’s advice, he winced thinking of the hit he had taken.

“Never buy off-plan,” he said to the other man. Then seeing the incredulous expression on his face added, “I know, I know. Just killed a man and here I am bitching about my investment return shortfall.”

They got into the lift. As the doors closed the other man spoke for the first time. “I gave you what you wanted, remember we have a deal.”

“Half right, twice wrong.” Baba was wearing a shoulder holster and he quickly reached into his coat, pulled out a gun and shot the other man two times in the chest. “And all because there’s not enough love to go around,” said Baba to the dying man, “according to Mr Vale, anyway.”

When Baba reached the ground, the leading edge of the sandstorm had hit, filling the air with orange grit. He dragged the body out of the lift over to the twisted remains of Vale and the office chair. Taking out his gun he wiped it clean of prints then place it into Vale’s hand and pulled the trigger, discharging the shot into the air. As he walked towards his SUV he laughed, thinking of the confusion ahead for the investigator. With his headlights on full-beam he was able to find his way off the site and onto the six-lane-highway leading back into town.

BOOK: The Alembic Valise
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