A collaboration with Allen Ashley
She kept me waiting only because winter daylight was so short. Her words, not mine.
She did apologise between her gritted teeth, and I was gentleman enough to accept her apology. However, I remained irritated, especially when she said that darkness gave her the willies. Again, not my words.
At the time, the shaky logic of her position escaped me. In fact, given her excuse, she should have been early, not late. In any event, we proceeded with the business of our appointment without further ado. She was not a lady with which to be messed. And I don’t mind saying that.
"I am interested in party-giving. There is a lot of mileage in parties especially during economic recessions."
I nodded, still bemused by her turns of phrase. What was more, her manner left a lot to be desired, bearing in mind that her aim was to sell an idea to me. I was representing a Venture Capital investment outfit, one to which small businesses appealed for funds when the more customary sources of finance had not proved viable. It was my job to identify worthwhile, if superficially precarious, businesses and, then, take back the necessary information to my Board for a decision. People who invested in Venture Capital wanted the best of both worlds—security and above average returns. A hard act to perform. And the Board would need every i crossed. The lady I discovered was indeed into parties. Running shindigs. Planning gigs. Providing the disco and the balloons and the Dracula masks and the strippergrams and so forth. Angela and Co., her firm was called.
"Have you brought details of your track record?"
Ignoring this question, she averted her face for a moment and, upon turning back towards me, she had apparently plugged into her mouth two gruesome vampire fangs.
I was flabbergasted. So much so, I lost all concern for syntax and style.
Hey, parties were essentially concerned with the art of frivolity. But here we were meant to be having a hard-nosed business meeting, with tough bargains to be forced. Instead of which, she was acting the goat. I couldn't believe it. How could I tell my board that it was a promising concern, simply on the evidence of her fancy dress? Most of the Directors, I knew, would stand no stuff and nonsense.
My thoughts were even more flabbergasted than the thinker of such thoughts.
Indeed, I tried to put myself in Declan Denton's shoes, particularly, when interviewing a Venture Capital prospect, because, after all, Declan was the chairman of my Board. And at that precise moment, Declan's shoes were pacing up and down in a disused and rather stinky shop-doorway.
The half-warm early streetlight cast little illumination upon his workaday clothes and scurrilously ordinary face. By contrast, he had a good view of what was once the spanking-bright offices of Shark, Lizard and Lizard, Loan Arrangers. How much longer would Angela be? If the building, as it seemed, had been decked to mimic a hotel, would Angela come out dressed like a chambermaid, with a crocodile of disturbed sleepers in tow? His thoughts, not mine.
He stubbed out his cigarette before he got down to the worm in the filter, kicked the butt out into the rain-swept road. There were so many things to worry about lately. Shoe polish in chocolate, weevils in the tap water and the Old Bill trashing all the West Side dens. On top of which the weather had gone completely haywire and Angela had been noticeably frosty whenever he dared lay a hand on her shoulder or display a set of yellowed teeth in her direction.
From about a mile away he heard the klaxon calling cockneys to the comparative safety of the dome of St Pauls and the upper floors of Centrepoint. The Thames had burst its banks again and already the street was an inch deep in flood tide. Angela had better hurry. She didn't like crossing water at the best of times. Denton reached for another cigarette but this time the worm had awoken from its pupa stage and chewed through the paper and impure tobacco. Denton tossed it carelessly into the street stream.
Through the drizzle he saw the 'hotel' door open and a darkly-clad figure emerge. It had better be Angela, he muttered as he stepped out into the rain. Forgetting to look both ways, he was several steps into the road when he heard a whoosing noise approaching from the right like a runaway steam engine.
With jaws. Like doors. Swing ones.
I sauntered self-consciously through those swing doors to escape from the hotel lobby. The cocktail I had shared with the lady from Angela & Co. had gone to my head. Declan Denton may have been my boss, but he had no right to use my own thoughts against me. I snatched the half-smoked cigarette from where I had it poked behind my ear and tried to light it in the newly sprung rainstorm. The darkness was thus touchable like ink. I moved into the temporary shelter of another doorway which, I hoped, did not interconnect with the hotel. The lady wouldn't follow me into a night as dirty as this one, especially in view of her phobia about the comparative lengths of black and white. Out here, it was not only monochrome, you couldn't even get a signal at all. Yet I managed to tune into Denton's footsteps again. I wasn't very far behind—I could even see vague imprints on the shiny pavement.
"Have you brought details of your track record?"
I repeated over and over again the question that had stirred up more ancient fears in my mind than if I'd been a young maiden tied to sleepers and a whole trainload of weird monsters on a night-trip to Clacton-on-Sea coming at her.
I now stumbled through Limehouse, hoping for a station with some semblance to one called Shadwell. I wanted back to basics. Then, belatedly, I saw I, too, was leaving glosspacks behind me, with groove-patterns off my shoe-bottoms. And other patterns—thought-patterns—were off away on their own version of soul-searching...
This was Declan Denton's theory: stuff Venture Capital for a while, he wouldn't go short of a few bob with his dosh. He had to solve his identity crisis by going back to his East End roots. Seek out the ghosts of Michael Caine and Bob Hoskins. But things had broken down so much recently that all manner of crap had come out of Pandora's Box with the collapse of the Sterling currency and now seemed to have seeped back into my own corner of the universe.
There was a crowd of youths one window up from the video store. They seemed unbothered by the rain. Probably lager louts. But such bigotry was bad for business. He glanced at the new releases. Certificate 18 was a short short called "Angel or Demon". He liked gripping plots and happy endings. This one promised gripping thighs and a snappy ending.
There were two Shadwell stations, steps apart. One was the barely populated East London Lines, sort of sub-underground. Up on the bridge was the Docklands Light Railway, hand-driven by computers and as reliable as Arfur Daley's motors. The train was red, white and blue—all the colours you'd expect it to be. Denton sat next to a balding business-man sporting a walkman. There was so much leakage he could hear every whoop and scream of "O Bondage, Up Yours" by X Ray Spex. He moved to the other end of the carriage, waving his travelcard at the train captain. The system stalled just outside Cyclops Wharf. Apparently there was a young maiden tied to the tracks up ahead. Denton joined the other passengers peering through the front window but all he could see was building sites ... and tracks.
Track Records. That had been The Who's label. But they weren't East End lads, were they?
Eventually the doors swished open. It was like exiting a lift into a hotel lobby. Too late he saw two shapes in Halloween costumes with the vamp fangs and stuff. Always touching him for money, rain or shine. An Ark would be more useful than cash if the Thames burst its banks any wider.
Oops, they'd spotted him—but luckily the rain had turned heavier and icier and he was able to dodge behind a low-flying skyful of it. Indeed, each dotted slat of sleet stretched right back to God's tilted palm ... and then he thought: "Angela and Denton" must have been the title. A miscegenation of word and meaning. Also, why on earth was he being pursued by black and white holograms—and strippergrams, horrorgrams, X-ograms, all dressed up as real people?
I was one of those so-called people. After trekking for what seemed hours, I had Denton in my sights. Angela's trial sample of the type of virtual reality she marketed was certainly proving more than a mere nightmare to pass the dark time. She was sure proving that my company's investment in Angela & Co., were it made, would be more than mere zootropes: in fact, a lot more than feeding lizards or tugging mindless crocodiles through bouts of sleeping. I only needed to convince Denton. But who had heard of Board Meetings outside of Whitechapel? What was more, there was something tangibly evil in the air around Canary Wharf? Pixels of snow across the eyescreen. Blotting out Deptford, let alone New Cross. Still, think global! Seize the night! Denton stood alone, with a face like Roger Daltrey's (Who?), a face he had often sported during our company's Quality Control sessions. All I had to do was detrack my Angela body and lay its mind on him thick...
I was nearly home. I had lost Declan Denton in the murk. He was welcome to it. Along with his anti-smoking fags and his one-eyed monster in the tower, I just hoped someone would release the woman tied to the railway line so that my plan B escape route was clear.
I paused on the parapet, feeling the usual disorientation after a VR trip. The venue had been called Angela Arcades, the machine "One Track Mind". I spent half my waking hours there these days. Prosaic thought; the old story cliche went: "He woke up and yes it had all been a dream." Modern version: "It had all been a virtual reality experience." Denton would call that progress!
The waters already licked at the top of the wall, running over the chalked graffiti, "The Willies rule, so don't mess boys!" I had my boat ready, intending to take the Regents Canal through Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Camden Lock right up to the zoo. Two by two I'd save only those animals who had something to contribute to society. Locks of any description would not hinder my crest of the wave progress.
"Hello, dear, had a nice day at the office?"
Already in mode as a new neanderthal, I merely grunted in reply to my wife. I was just a tad nervous about explaining to her that I was ditching her into the ditch water, leaving her behind because I was in love with a construct.
She dished up a chiaroscuro tea. The darkness was the brown sauce and the burnt bacon; the light was an anemic egg and over-cooked mashed potatos. She'd made sure these last were not only dead but eradicated from history. Eradication awaited her, too. And awaited that serpent demon Denton. I pushed the plate away. I'd kill something later on the Ark.
I thought to myself: say nothing. Keep mum. No, forget mum, I didn't want any Freudian stuff in my new Eden. I would set my alarm for 2.31 am, high tide. Just scarper. Blimey, words escape me!
The flood waters were already seeping under the kitchen door. Most of London would be adrift by midday. I ignored the outdated goggle box pulsating steadily in the dampest corner of the living room.
I went fully dressed to bed, flabbergasted fangs and all. “London, after all, is the greatest Venture Capital in the world”, were the words I dozed-off with.
Yet no Hackneyed ending, this. Not a dream, not alien impregnation of his mental processes, not even a virtual reality device, but something far more astounding had invaded his mind: His own thoughts.