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Rebrand by James Matthews | Word Riot
Novel Excerpts

February 16, 2014      

Rebrand by James Matthews

The exquisite cadaver will drink the new wine. (Surrealist fragment)

Slab

(Mike Rebrand)

Let me count the ways I fucking hate Noalsy. Could probably sue him on more than one count as well. Defamation, if nothing else. Saying I’ve got no personality! I’ve got more than that workaday knucklefuck in my back pocket. More than most people actually. I collect them.

I mean, take this: I give a master class on how to better yourself in the blink of an eye, and he goes and seals me up in a bloody mausoleum for my trouble. And posts a pissed old tramp on sentry to boot. All over one bloody squid. Fucking typical.

I was going to give it him back. I was only fucking joking.

And, he even wastes four quid setting it up! And all for what? I’ll fucking tell you. Noalsy and his precious fucking precepts, that’s what. ‘Don’t welsh on a deal,’ he says; bruised knuckles whitening on the pulpit. Only way he can stomach what he does; smashing people’s doors in and grabbing their goods and chattels and gold teeth and goldfish. Repossess the iron from your blood and sell it for scrap he would, if there was a whiff of commerce in it. Needs that rattle-bag of mantras just to fucking sleep at night.

And if you think this a grim old fix you should see the monk’s cell he sleeps in. Makes the inside of this tomb look like fucking Disneyland.

Now, being blessed with a somewhat more evolved set of faculties, I’ve evolved my own moral standards, accordingly. Any genuinely free-minded person has to. Noalsy isn’t able to grasp the essential relativity of ethics, and see that each case is different. For him a welsher’s a welsher. Well sometimes you might have to ‘welsh on a deal’ for the greater good. I’m continually encountering such moral untowards in my line.

We make our own justice.

The world-in-itself wouldn’t know justice if it was dunked headfirst in a swirling pit of the corrosive gloop; it’d come out looking like an apple core. Otherwise that snoring, decrepit soaker on the slab up there would be down in here, ahead of the game; taking advantage of the best offer he’s likely to get all winter, and I – in my prime and with so much to offer – would be out there shaking life by the tail.

But as it is, I’m banged up in the calcium scrapyard and set to no-show for the opportunity of a lifetime, thanks to Noalsy and his blinkered moral vista. Cunt.

I make a few calls and set my affairs in order, by which time the tramp’s snoring like a bandsaw. Dead twigs fall from trees, crows scatter resentfully and the lid of the tomb vibrates. Might just work loose by itself at this rate.

Cold in the earth, and the deep snow piled above thee…

That’s my fucking blanket he’s got up there.

I’ll come up with a plan. Give me a minute. I’ll come up with something; or something will just come up by itself. Panicking’s just chucking good alpha waves after bad.

Nothing lasts; that’s the key to my equanimity; to keeping an even keel, even in the jaws of death. Time’s subjective. Especially in my line. I can make whole days, nights, pass in the blink of an eye – like I might have to now – or conversely, and this is more when I’m working really, force a gap between seconds with sufficient elbow room to work the gears and levers of misdirection and sleight. I live in the time it takes pennies to drop; to me life’s a string of such moments. Hopping from one plummeting platform to another like a Mario Bro; staying on each sinking stone just long enough to jump to the next. I’ve paid my dues and it’s a form of levitation as I see it.

Ssshh. Voices; like bobbing heads above the surface of the tramp’s grizzly din. I hold my breath to listen.

‘Hello sir,’ says a sarcastic voice. Police. I could be flyblown and at one with the earth and nature and I’d still know that frequency at the drop of a snail.

‘Scuse me mate–’ says a different voice; same tone. Partners. Bet on a pair.

‘What’s going on here then?’ says the first.

‘Having a kip are you?’ says the second. Nice one, Columbo; cracked the case then.

Up above the snoring cuts out as the tramp awakes, shuffles around and makes his own pre-verbal rejoinders.

‘No supposed to do that here are you mate?’ Cop one continues.

For every syllable they utter a flower dies, I fucking swear. A snail at my shoulder races for a crack in the granite and crams its head in, anything to shut out the nerve-rending gibberish.

‘Can’t sleep here…’

‘And is that you making all this mess with all these beer cans?’ They’ve got forty years between them, if that. I don’t need to see the puffed-out chests and puppy-cheeked frowns of self-importance.

‘Iss…sssider,’ the tramp grunts, sullenly; asserting his dignity.

‘Don’t matter,’ cub one returns, ‘– that’s an offense, that.’

‘Come on mate, let’s get ’em picked up eh? Be a good chap. There’s a bin over there.’

‘Yemmut am nossup-owzed, t’mooooov.’

‘Eh?’

‘Y’what, mate?’

‘I’m not supposed to move,’ repeats the tramp, forcing form upon his slurs. ‘I’m guarding this.’ (A tap on the lid.)

‘Oh, you’re guarding it are you? What, is there buried treasure in there or something is there?’

‘No…a THIEF!’

Pause.

‘Come on mate, pick these cans up and be on your way, yeah? We’ve got more important things to do than stand here dealing with you.’

Yeah, right. Other boneyards, other human jetsam to torment, even at the threshold of the fucking hereafter…

Of course, while this proximity to filth always brings me out in a rash of social conscience, at the same time the result’s in the bag and I’m cheering them on like it’s Ladies Day at Ascot. C’mon you plo-od! Sterling police work. Hurry up and harry the organ-hoarding parasite down the road of Calvary to…somewhere else he isn’t allowed to be. (That’s how tramps got the name, in case you didn’t know. Condemned to tramp the roads in perpetuity because wherever they set down was illegal after five minutes being there.)

But with such a redoubtable brace of White Ace under his belt, London’s finest have got their work cut out, and after a few more exchanges we’re down to the hauling and mauling. During which the lid shifts slightly, and a crack of light has me making like a leftover chip.

The lid continues to travel, shoved by the tramp who’s momentarily broken free.

‘Zseee? Theef!’ he hollers in righteous self-vindication, jabbing his finger in through the opening.

As the sunrays come lancing towards my eyes like hungry needles to a ripened and preponderant boil, I ease into landscape position; folding my hands upon my breast and silvering over; accentuating my greasy pallor. Sheen-on, Johnny!

If I can stiff this one out I might just rescue my day after all. It’s all in the balance; one careless breath between the foyer at Claridge’s and a tatty interview suite; with rather less sparkling company.

I wonder what the charge’d be. Impersonating the dead?

Under the tramp’s bug-eyed perseverance, the two lawmen are eyeing me askance.

‘Well he looks pretty dead to me,’ says cub one; plunging me into an emotional maelstrom of optimism, resentment and pride.

‘Why isn’t he in a box?’

‘Dunno; do they bother if you’re going in one of these things?’ Cub one slaps the mossy side of the tomb.

‘Dunno. Maybe not…’

‘Cos like, that’d be two boxes wouldn’t it?’ Brows knit tight and some intense figurative head-scratching gets underway.

‘One inside the other…’

‘See what I’m saying?’

While this funereal conjecture ensues, the tramp is ranting himself into conniptions; swearing by all that’s holy that I’m in rude health and guilty of daylight robbery not two hours and twenty yards from here. His act’s got a certain Old Testament quality to it – fire and brimstone by the bucketful – but he ain’t got old Abe’s gift of the gab. The ‘ring of truth’ has nothing to do with a thing’s being true; and you learn that young or not at all.

This is my time now; it’s just a matter of waiting. I’m on a winning streak. Any second now they’ll pronounce me dead, prod the tramp on his way and give me back my freedom. Any second … now … come o-o-oohhnn … !

But the bobbies’ bovine meditations drag out so long that my own mortal form betrays me at the last. I’ve just got to exhale, and I’ve held it in so long there’s no hope of a controlled release. Need to switch tactics. Emergency mode.

(O-o-o-oh … hold on … slipping … … no… no … no… Ppfff-phhhhh …) NOW!

At the last possible instant I leap up with all the élan I can muster, shattering their cow-eyed trance. With all the pent-up air inside me I deliver the best line that springs to mind just then. It comes bursting out of my chest like Ridley Scott’s Alien:

‘BOO!!!’

I know. (Time, and all that…)

Having started, there’s nothing for it but to press home my advantage while they’re on the back foot, windmilling for Harry, England and St George as I leap from the crypt towards them, waving my arms similarly and making appropriately ghoulish noises with my mouth. Somewhere in the background the tramp’s got his own St. Vitus number going on and the four of us could be a talent-show quartet. One of the cubs reaches for his radio, fumbles it off his jacket and drops it.

And with that I’m away, bounding over the graves to freedom as the burly constabularians give chase.

May make Claridge’s yet, I think, as I leapfrog an angel. Cigars, brandy…

As I make good my escape it becomes apparent that I’m holding that officer’s radio. Must’ve inadvertently swiped it off the ground. Didn’t even register. Pure instinct. I’m minded to drop it now as a sop to them, but it’ll be plastered with my dabs. Better hang onto it till I can dispose of it safely. Besides, you never know when a thing like that might come in handy.

As I weigh these thoughts on the hoof, it crackles to life:

‘This is Charlie 3 to any patrol cars near Mabel Morton Cemetery. In pursuit of a suspect, IC1 male. Suspect is heading towards the main road all made up like a zombie and in possession of a police radio.’

‘What’s he doing with a police radio, Richards? –Over.’

‘It’s Robbie’s, Sarge. Suspect leaped up out of a tomb what this tramp was kipping on and we had a public order situation Sarge.’

‘Of what sort? –Over.’

‘Suspect committed a Section 5 Sarge, causing Harassment, Alarm or Distress, Sarge.’

‘Who to? –Over.’

‘Robbie, Sarge. He dropped his radio and suspect nicked it and ran off Sarge. Over.’

‘Bloody get it back! –Out.’

They’re not exactly runners, these two. They never are. I wonder if even the Bow Street Runners were runners.

Pretty soon they’re just a spluttering, puffing speck on the horizon of memory. Richards and Robbie. A spot of R&R. Might as well take the rest of your lives off, you muppets…

As for our good sheriff’s man, well, he should stick to dispossessing the living. Not even the grave can hold me for long.

About the author:

Before turning to writing Jim Matthews was a graffiti artist, during which time he Stopped the War, emancipated Palestine and brought capitalism to heel; all through the power of political street art. Now he broods in his crumbling mansion, having capped those achievements by writing the Great American Novel (which is neither American nor great).

Like its eponymous hero, his book is striving to vacate an early grave – having been signed by a publisher who subsequently gave up the ghost. As for Jim himself, he’s planning an expedition out east to install himself as godhead somewhere or other. Interested parties can apply through this site.

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