W eeping on the castle stairs, head in hands,
hunched double beneath the Count's favourite portrait of you, an abstract in
the style of Max Ernst.
Slightly irked because the potential long term
relationship between you and the Count has not materialised in the way you
imagined it might. He is nowhere to be seen now. He has dissipated. Vanished
into vapid thin air. He has left no farewell note or forwarding address.
The castle feeling a lonelier place without him.
Sleeping pills wearing off in the bathroom. Moments
after your latest suicide bid, your third, has failed. What are you doing
wrong? you wonder Should you slice your wrists lengthways next time? Or
from top to bottom? Or diagonally, perhaps? You don't know the answer. You
content yourself by studying your magnificent physique in a full-length
mirror. Your image rebounds back from the mirror: beauty personified, golden
skin, breasts like balloons.
The entire bathroom is spread out behind you like an
unknown future career in telesales.
The Count's expensive briefcase. The tan leather
briefcase is expensive and contains most of the Count's personal effects,
the kind of briefcase a travelling businessman might delve mysteriously
inside whilst seated on a train, and you are on your knees opening it,
peering in at an expanse of red baize, thinking the case is empty, noticing
something else, removing the false bottom, studying its contents and
fingering the small plastic bags and testing the identity of the fine white
powder when several men in dark uniforms brandishing weapons and credentials
enter the room and discover you frozen in this pose trying to diffuse a
potentially awkward situation by offering these gentlemen a light-hearted
smile and a congenial greeting.
But you can't.
You are drooling everywhere, uncontrollably.
Immediately after your arrest, being questioned several
times. It is only a matter of finding out who you are and that doesn't take
very long because you already know. Then someone explains that
investigations are underway into your private life and this makes you go
quiet for a while.
A lamp shining directly into the chair where you are
What is your relationship to the Count? Do you live
in the same house? Do you cook Italian food together? Do you eat Chinese
takeaway or at authentic Cantonese restaurants? Do either of you have a home
somewhere else? Do you sleep in separate rooms or the same room? The same
bed? Do you climb the stairs together at night? Do you share a similar taste
in American TV movies? Has intercourse ever taken place? Do you lay together
in the morning longer than is actually necessary? Do you have any plans to
get married in a small town registry office? Did you first meet socially or
professionally? Do you spend leisure time together? Do you go ten pin
bowling? Do you rent suggestive videos? Do older neighbours think of you as
a couple? Are either of you religiously inclined? Do you look after any
small children who are not related to you in a strictly biological way?
"What is the point of all these questions?" you ask.
It is then they start hitting you.
Reminded of similar situations you have read about in
Hubert Selby Jr and once doubted the veracity of. The violence ceases
abruptly and without explanation.
The authorities are tall with blue deep-set eyes. They
are reasonable and on the whole quite pleasant, though they prefer to remain
impolitely hidden in a kind of semi-darkness.
Your mind wanders...
You imagine a well-bred woman finding the authorities
attractive when they are alone in groups. "What an unusually striking
visage," they remark to one another.
You stare at the desk.
The teak gleams back, mockingly, triumphantly.
They want to know everything. You tell them you know
nothing about nothing. They believe you, but say things look black anyway.
They say things look so black you are likely to be imprisoned for a very
long time because of all the impressive evidence they have stacked-up
against your character. Then they allow you to see what prison would be like
for a while, so you can get used to it. You sit down on a hard bed and think
about this for several hours, the smell of stale prison food lingering
around your nostrils.
All your possessions taken away. Soon discovering that
when you live alone in a cell without any possessions, life ceases to be of
"Can I have them back?"
"You might injure yourself with them."
"That is unlikely. I never have done so before."
"That doesn't matter in the eyes of the law."
(Your request for a free sex phone line is brusquely
For the first few hours, you sit opposite the Doctor
playing parlour games, batting abstract scenarios to and fro like ping-pong.
But even sitting has become problematic for you now. Sitting in the same
manner as the Doctor would make you overtly conscious of mirroring her exact
position, as if you didn't have a personality of your own and were merely
imitating her posture. So you sit awkwardly, legs spread slightly, hands
resting on each knee, trying not to slouch or appear either too masculine or
"What can you see the Count doing now?"
"Removing his shirt."
"I see. Is he taking off his jeans?"
"No. He is still wearing his jeans."
"What colour are the jeans?"
"Blue. A deep, abiding royal blue."
"Do you see any significance in the colour blue?"
"Is he still removing his shirt?"
"What is taking so long?"
"He is being very deliberate. Lingering over each
"Is he with another woman?"
"What are your greatest faults?"
"I am easily unsettled. I am vaguely irritable. I am
"Is the shirt off yet?"
"What do you see beneath the shirt?"
"Breasts. Two of them."
"Is he with another woman?"
"How do his breasts appear to you?"
"Are they full?"
"What do they remind you of?"
"The past. Regret. The time I was an alcoholic."
"Is that upsetting to you?"
"No, I was much happier then."
The game over, you sleep for what seems like days but
could be weeks or hours.
Asked to infiltrate an international drugs cartel on
their behalf. You agree, not knowing how people actually go about such
Jogging on an indoor sweat machine. Drinking
kiwi-flavoured health shakes. Reluctantly adopting a low-calory,
low-cholesteral third world dietary regime. Quitting coffee. Not drinking
alcohol excessively in public places. Only partaking in the occasional glass
of Claret with your high-protein evening meal. Fitted with a chestnut brown
Gucci suit and a D&G leather jacket. Taught how to fire an Uzi
at people. Having your hair shaved by Vidal Sassoon. Issued with a
regulation secret service hair care and make-up kit. Handed a semi-automatic
pistol which you must keep in your handbag at all times. Your instructions
appearing mysteriously in an unlikely place...
An authentic tapas bar around noon. Sitting there for
over an hour, a couple alongside you at right angles, the woman in a blue
dress, the man in a pink suit, talking intimately about Leonard Cohen. When
your contact finally arrives, she strongly resembles Jacqueline Sassand, the
film actress. She puts a hand out for you to shake. Oddly, she behaves like
this isn't really her hand at all. (You shake it anyway.)
"I am Xandra Virago," she says and snaps a glass
eyeball out of her left socket, wipes it on the sleeve of her suit, regards
it in the palm of her hand and pops it back into its socket again with a
brutish click. You laugh nervously and sip thick Spanish sherry from
a small silver goblet.
Her story? It comes to light over a course of black
olives: a former high class call girl and CIA agent, she was happily married
in Los Angeles until she was called back into service to help free a top
agent from a maximum security Cuban jail. She has suffered mental and
physical abuse from her first husband, a senior law officer, and her many
aliases include: Victoria Wigstaff, Jo-Jo Monro, Kitty Clothmaker, Viennetta
O'Sleep, Dennis Telford, Annabella Kent, Zara Flock-Mistress, Karina Singer,
Gloria Wool, Joan Emigre, Lady Cardigan, Anna Panting, Sammi Welch, Jill
Chair, Mary Tavern, Elizabeth Shoals, Kathryn Lamarr and Deanna Winger. She
is also Gemini -- like you. (A good thing? you wonder.)
" -- I am about to open a window of possibilities for
you. A window of possibilities. In return for a little cooperation."
"I really don't think I can help you. I don't know what
you want. Look -- what is this? What do you want from me exactly?"
"I want to open a window of possibilties. There will be
considerable benefits if you cooperate in this matter. You'll be handsomely
rewarded for your assistance. I'm sure we can come to some arrangement. I'm
sure we --"
"Who can I trust?" you ask.
"No one," says Xandra, confidently.
"No one?" you reply.
"No," she says. "No one. Not even me."
You eat another slice of octopus pizza and consider the
(A secret wire runs from your inside pocket right down
into the front of your pants. Plain clothed people in a van parked outside
can hear your every word. You are vaguely aware that your current actions in
some way endanger your continuing existence on the planet. You imagine if
your deception was ever discovered you would be murdered in a highly
unpleasant manner; possibly strapped to a table with electrodes protruding
from every orifice.)
Bundled into the back of a white stretch limo -- the
plot thickening around you the way a good pasta sauce should. "My abduction
from Piccadilly Circus was a particularly painful experience," you later
Inside, an elderly man in glossy evening dress. If
pressed you could only describe him as severely physically disabled: the
head of a tiny man, the body of a jellyfish. His arms are stunted-tenticles,
his ears dwarfish, unusually angled, and he seems capable of breathing only
through some antiquated ventilation apparatus attached to his mouth by a
rubber mask. On his lap is a small hi-tech digital device with a keypad, its
tiny screen streaming with a frantic rush of shooting stars. Xandra Virago
is here too -- which throws you a considerable distance emotionally. "I
apologise for the strong arm tactics," she says. "But I told you that you
couldn't trust me. Anyway, meet Mr Baltimore..."
Mr Baltimore doesn't move.
"Hello," you say finally.
The white stretch limo pulls slowly into traffic.
(Mr Baltimore still isn't moving.)
"You and Mr. Baltimore are both involved in an
investigation of sorts. A remarkably similar investigation. An
investigation into past experiences of people. Painful experiences. Strange
experiences. Vivid experiences. An experience so wounding that whether it
happened yesterday or twenty years ago doesn't matter. These events in a
person's past can remain vitally important regardless of their distance from
them time-wise. It is an investigation not into motive or means. An alibi is
not being established. It is an investigation into meaning... meaning, do
you see? Mr Baltimore has a hatred of the limelight, of publicity. He also
has an extreme prejudice against photographers. He has nothing to hide, as
such. If he did have something to hide, what would it be? No, he has nothing
to hide but everything to lose. From adverse propaganda. If Mr. Baltimore
wants to find something out or if Mr. Baltimore wants to get something done,
he often goes about it in an admittedly unusual, idiosyncratic way. Mr.
Baltimore is descended from the landed classes, you see. Mr. Baltimore is a
multi-millionaire and as is the way with multi-millionaires he can do
absolutely as he pleases. Now Mr. Baltimore has become aware of you and your
UNICEF work and your new assignment. Mr. Baltimore likes you. Mr. Baltimore
believes you can help him in a certain matter. Mr. Baltimore doesn't like
the authorities. Mr.Baltimore doesn't like officials. Would it surprise you
to learn Mr. Baltimore has a past? Mr. Baltimore likes honest individuals:
honest individuals always come with a price tag. Usually dangling from their
back passages, wagging eagerly like a curly piglet's tail..."
"I see," you say. (You are totally confused and
She is tapping lightly on an elegant unisex briefcase.
"We are offering you the key to a whole new world, a world you can only have
previously dreamt of or glimpsed on TV. A world where your wildest dreams
can come true. Where you can fulfil your darkest fantasies. You will have no
time for light entertainment. Interested?" She is all smiles: all perfect
gleaming teeth; the limo making a sweeping turn, careering (dramatically)
round a corner, then veering away in a completely different direction,
passing through a darkened underpass, everything (momentarily) smothered by
a thick blouse of darkness...
Feeling dazed and semi-lethargised, you have oral sex
with Xandra Virago on the floor of your hotel bathroom. Unclothed, she
reminds you of Julia Roberts in The Pelican Brief. "I come from a
place where inspiration, sight and meaning are one," she says. "A place
where you carry your experiences with you, on your head like your hair, or
on your back like a small rucksack."
"Where?" you ask, confused.
Meeting Mr Wint and Mr Kidd in rented Kensington
accomodation. Negotiations are watched over by two Kalashnikov-toting
heavies. They zealously guard the complimentary breakfast buffet of assorted
In a dazzling tuxedo at the Ritz. After the wine waiter
leaves, conversation passes from Kevin Costner to Christian Slater to Tom
Cruise to Kevin Bacon to Patrick Swayze to Tom Hanks to Denzel Washington to
Dustin Hoffman and back to Tom Cruise again. You share the taxi home with
Lara Flynn Boyle.
Various disguises. A Porsche-driving chartered
accountant, a boring computer salesman, an out of work law lecturer. An
eye-patch, an occasional hat, an unconvincing Scottish accent. All
strategically employed at appropriate moments.
The opening night of Orpheus! The Musical with
Parker Posey. In Notting Hill you meet Alicia Silverstone, Will Smith and
Chris O'Donnell. In West London you are lured into the ladies cloak room by
Racquel Welch. At Dancerama you find yourself discussing the later works of
Immanual Kant with Toni and Bamboo, the latest Scandinavian underwear
A quandary. You have become so popular and
successful that you now enjoy your drug-dealing career and don't know which
side you are on anymore. You have been drawn into a world of corruption
where you occupy a morally ambiguous middle-ground. As a result, you wrestle
hourly with your conscience in the Ladies room.
Flying out to Jamaica with Neil Tennant on a scheduled
BA flight, you discover Paul and Linda McCartney with all their children,
Mick Hucknell and his entourage, and a Channel 4 film crew filming a
documentary about Placido Domingo are all on board. During the flight you
eat small portions of pre-packaged broccoli then watch Brecht In
Love! the latest Oscar winning biopic starring Joe Pesci and Sandra
A dentist is shot dead in South Africa.
Berlin. Taking Julia Ormond to a Kandinsky
retrospective, discussing its meaning afterwards over diced crayfish in
coconut milk. By chance you managed to pick out his early watercolours,
although you actually know little about his work. Then, that same Easter,
visiting Sidi Bou Said with Kate Moss. "Kate Moss!" the one-legged beggar
boys cry, hopping up behind you. "Kate Moss!" (Skateboarding with Wesley
Snipes in the Alps, you decide, is not your bag.)
In Amsterdam, an old lady is pushed into a canal.
Standing at a 35th street New York deli counter with
Liz Hurley. Dean Martin's "Ain't That A Kick In The Head" suddenly shudders
out of the store radio and your mobile starts to vibrate forebodingly in
your back pocket: "Don't answer it, please," pleads Liz. "No," you say. "I
must. It's vibrating."
Paris, city of myths: city of light, of romance, of
culture, of fashion, of gastronomy, of architecture, of gay and lesbian wine
bars. Strolling along grandiose avenues, magnificent monuments resonate with
the echoes of a turbulent past. Everybody here wears black: especially the
girls, their skirts short and sexy. What could be more seductive than
walking by the riverside quays on a summer evening as dusk thickens under
the lime street lamps, sipping cognac in the early hours, slowly and
significantly turning up the lapels of your knee-length silver trench
"... Ou est le Metro le plus proche?... Ou sont les
toillettes?... Je cherche une auberge de jeunesse... L'addition, s'll vous
Juliette. A pretty and gifted young cellist.
Sitting by the Seine together witnessing the rare and mysterious final
moment of the setting sun, the Green Ray which makes it easier to better
understand your own feelings and the feelings of others. "Lawns in Paris are
meant to be looked at and praised for their greenness, not sat upon," she
Returning to your room with Juliette, you shut the
windows, lock the doors, turn off the phone, unplug the clock. You wear no
clothes for days. You sleep standing up. You eat horizontally on a small
Persian rug. A romantic affair follows during which you discover there is no
greater fulfilment in life than listening to Bach's Art of Fugue
together in empty churches. (Also, you acquire a taste for cunnilingus. You
have never experienced cunnilingus like this before: so sickly sweet, like a
yam.) The pretty and gifted young cellist called Juliette is shot by an East
European hitman from a third floor window. A strange doctor takes her body
away for further forensic tests. Awkward questions nag at the back of your
head. Leading an unbearably lonely existance among the low rent prostitutes
of Lyons, not one day goes by when you don't think about her. (Juliette...)
Juliette. A high-speed chase through the streets
of San Francisco. Later, several thousand feet above the Grand Canyon, you
confront an ex-Soviet bomb guy on top of a cable car. "My name is Yuri," he
says. "But that is unimportant. This isn't the time or the place for small
Arriving at the Warbucks Hotel only to be struck from
behind by a blunt instrument in the laundry room. Waking in a strange
bedroom and finding yourself strongly implicated in the murder of Teddy, the
gay son of the wealthy hotel owner. From the shape of the indentation in
your head, guessing you have been assaulted with a monkey wrench. A
situation as grave as this one has not arisen since your mother last walked
the earth. Phoning Interpol, the man on reception not believing a word of
your story. Soon pursued across America by everybody from foreign agents and
Mafia hitmen to the CIA and MI6. The Tel Aviv flying squad become involved
at one point, although admittedly not for long.
Wearing false beards and cleaning dishes in unfamiliar
fast food outlets. In poorly lit surroundings, you are struggling to unravel
the truth behind your mysterious situation. (You suspect you are struggling
because you always conduct your investigations in such poorly lit
surroundings.) One afternoon your cover is exposed by a maverick cop,
possibly the sickest individual in the whole of the 15th precinct. Oddly he
believes your story and wants to help.
The cop is called Marcello. He is impotent and wears a
Frank Zappa moustache. At first sight you hate each other, but later you
become close friends.
Marcello is thrown from a speedboat and drowns. Only
his filofax of criminal names and addresses survives, conveniently floating
back up to the surface.
Heathrow. Rio. Lisbon. Brussels. Bruges. Rome. Venice.
Barcelona. Madrid. Prague. Parma. St Petersburg. Moscow. Cape Town. Then
Heathrow again. A coincidental 747 terrorist hijack. Feeling like Bruce
Willis. Bare chested and gleaming with sweat. You keep a .45 colt automatic
down the front of your pants in case of such emergencies and a sash of
bullets over one shoulder because you like the masculine effect it creates.
You discover a happily placed parachute. The plane explodes loudly, filling
the sky with pieces and falling luggage. Who is going to clean up this mess?
Travelling down Tottenham Court Road, your eyes catch
sight of someone who looks remarkably like the pretty and gifted young
cellist Juliette sitting in the very next bus. You disembark, grab a cab and
give chase. You lose her under the statue of Eros at Trafalgar Square where,
weeping, you encounter a friendly Doomsday cult of shaven headed former
Kidnapped and held hostage in a Wiltshire mansion.
Chained alongside an autistic boy. The cult is a "front" for Mr Big's
various international drug operations, you discover. Time passes in a series
of long slow dissolves. You help the boy come to terms with his disorder and
he dies quickly in your arms, having learnt things. You escape, blowing up
the mansion on your way out.
Battersea Power Station. Finally meeting Mr Big. It is
a dark night and you are sitting in a gloomily lit warehouse-style location.
In person Mr Big is actually quite small. A dead man sits in the chair next
to him. Throughout the meeting you remain scrupulously silent. Mr Big is so
self-absorbed he thinks he is actually carrying on a conversation with you.
(His confession is secretly recorded on the latest DAT equipment you have
strapped between your legs.)
Ambushed. On the waterfront... later... yardies,
yippies, yakuzas... streaming everywhere like wind... a form of gangland
etiquette... brushing them off... one by one... bare-knuckled... like Bruce
Lee... a pink Ferrari swerving through a stack of boxes... the driver... a
golden blonde... beckoning over like a powerful feminist subtext... you
don't know her... you leap in anyway... bullets rebounding from your skin...
not puncturing your body the way bullets should... tyres screeching...
zig-zagging through Central London... the golden blonde... casually raising
her Ray Bans... revealing... oh, the horrorŠthe horror... the face of
the Count... smiling... slyly checking his eye-liner in the rear view
Casanova's Chinese Restaurant (original wood flooring,
huge dressers, 40 ft aluminium light rig): the Count wearing a red tube
dress, red neck tie, red python boots and long blonde wig. Sitting opposite
the Count, sipping an Oriental Martini, glancing at your watch. He is more
feminine than you now, you note, prettier, more attractive. Warmer also. His
clothes exude the emphatic air of outlandish expense. His breasts are fuller
than yours, beautifully enhanced. His teeth are perfectly straight. "Prawn
crackers and plenty of them," he bids the waiter in a wanton tone. He is
"vivacious" and "bubbly" now. What did you ever see in him? you wonder. And
what does the future hold? The sea bass on your plate is frightening. Not at
all what you expected. Silently you try the weightless potato sorbet
"It all began while I was tracing the
history of scrambled eggs... a thankless task... meanwhile discovering my
sexuality... in a green tin box I kept in the loft... so I split for South
America... took up driving Red Cross ambulances... wearing a roseate chiffon
gown... through war-torn Peru... nobody looked twice... it beat the
conservative life back at the castle..." The Count is demurely slicing a
lightly grilled, richly stuffed guinea pig. He is currently writing his
autobiography, The Countess of Monte Cristo, at the table, while he
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
, 32, lives in the North
of England. Since he started writing in 1997, he has had more than half a
dozen short stories published in Ambit
. He is currently working on a
novel entitled The Man Who Would Be Mute
. Visit The Swank Bisexual Wine Bar
, the official HP Tinker website.