Monday, December 18, 2006

Jason Phereus: A final extract (or two)
No time for the Tube they grab a taxi, the Koolhunter seemingly summoning a black cab up with a click of his fingers.
In the back. “We’re going south of the river, mate. Alright?” the Koolhunter says with a laugh.
The taxi driver, middle aged, Indian, Gene Pitney on the in-car CD player, nods back. “Something’s gotten hold of my heart,” playing. The Koolhunter scowls at the back of his head and turns up the volume on one of the iPods, the one attached to his left ear, the headphone that he hasn’t taken out all evening, as rooted in there as a six-inch catheter in a vein. Barney can hear a thin clanking coming from the other headphones, straggling loose from the neck of his coat now. He asked him, as they came out of the pub, why he had two I-Pods and the Koolhunter replied, old stuff and new stuff, old in the right ear, new in the left.
“ South where?”
“Peckham, mate. Head for the station. I’ll direct you from there.”
South of the river? Barney’s puzzled. He eases his blue rucksack off and sets it down at his feet, settles back in his seat. Maybe New Cross he could understand, he knows that’s getting trendy now, he went to see a couple of friends of his play there a few weeks ago, the band he might join one day when he decides to reap the full rewards of the glorious destiny that has been promised him, but Peckham? Peckham, that’s ironic given all the times Duncan’s tried to make some kind of capital out of the fact that he lives there, when really he just lives on the border of Peckham and changes the location depending on how hard he wants to appear. Peckham’s got a bad reputation, though, hasn’t it? Isn’t that where Damilo…. what was that kid’s name, but anyway he was killed there wasn’t he, or was it the other one, the other……at the bus stop. Or both. Anyway, he knows it’s a very, well… black area, isn’t it? But it’s not white guys getting stabbed there, as far as he knows, so… Maybe they’re going somewhere else after that. He coughs. Instinctively he checks in his pocket for his mobile. It’s there. He pats at the wallet in the breast pocket of his faded denim shirt. It’s there still….of course. Maybe he should put them somewhere else. Shifts his feet in so they are in contact with his rucksack. He hasn’t even got there yet.
“So what are we going to, exactly?” he asks. He has a sudden panic–flash of some downstairs basement, some back street in Peckham, and his is the only white face in there, taking photos, having to interact, trying to understand, sometimes it’s not so easy to understand people if they have heavy accents, use a lot of slang or speak patois and the minute he opens his mouth they’ll know him for what he is, if they can’t tell from just looking at him. A white, middle class, University boy. Not that he’s ashamed of that, and not that he’s a racist, but they might not like it. They might look upon him as an easy target.
“Exactly?” the Koolhunter asks and lowers his head to snort a small mound of white powder off the side of his fist. “You know Craig?” he asks, then licks the spot on the side of his fist and dries it with a swipe at his jeans. “ Stush, stush, stush, stush stush!” he says, drums his hands on his thighs.
“Craig, well, not exactly, I mean I know him through knowing Dave, really”
“ We were at Uni at the same time, ” The Koolhunter says. “ I used to fuck his missus,” he folds another stick of chewing gum into his mouth. “She was fucking everyone. Anyone and everyone, you know what a mean? A freak. Still is. He’s still in love with her. She’s going to screw him over, now. She’s got dirt on him, she’s got money and she‘s going to take his kids off him. He’s a loser, you know what I mean? A victim. A victim.”
Barney nods, unsure how to respond. Looks at the Koolhunter’s face, in profile, his jaw set hard for a moment between sudden bursts of furious chewing and snapping at the gum, pale with a yellow-ish cast. Horns blare, motors rev and idle, people shriek and yell, music wafts and thuds outside the window and for a second, sealed into in the back of the big black car Barney imagines he’s in a hearse.
The Koolhunter looks at him.
“ What you into at the moment? Music. What you listening to?”
Barney hesitates. “Oh, a bit of everything.”
The Koolhunter’s gaze is unwavering. “ Like?”
Barney demures. He’s been listening to Smashing Pumpkin’s solo stuff recently Auf de Mar, Zwan, Perry Farrel’s solo stuff, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Hole. Nothing he feels comfortable mentioning. “ Mostly guitar stuff.”
“Like, like, names man, names,” the Koolhunter waves his hands around.
“Franz Ferdinand,” Barney says, though he’s only heard that one single, everyone seems to be talking about them, he thinks back to last year’s Mercury music award. “ and Dizzee Rascal, of course” though actually he has no interest whatsoever in that kind of music. Obviously he has got a compilation of the Beastie Boys and a Run DMC compilation with “Walk This Way” on. The Koolhunter keeps staring at him, his lips slowly twisting as he chews, screw-facing him. Five seconds, ten seconds. Barney is about to break out in a nervous smile when he sniffs, nods, rolls his head round on his neck. Breathes out heavily. Starts to chew, stares straight ahead again, his hand flicking angrily at the buttons on the iPod nestled in his lap. “Got to keep ahead, ahead, ahead. Y’know. Fuck. Soldiers. Soul-Jah.”
Barney keeps looking out of the window, registers the tramp, the tramp who’s always sitting there, outside Benjy’s with his mangy dog and feels a faint twitch of irritation. Not at this guy specifically, though he can’t understand, really, why people who can’t even find a way to feed themselves would get an animal that they have to feed too, maybe it’s just like the untouchables in India who actually deform their kids in order to make them more pitiable. People give you money if you’ve got dependents. It’s a more general irritation at the tramps he feels, the winos and junkies that litter the center of town. Not that he has any problem with people who take heroin or have alcohol addictions, that’s their prerogative and also, yes, he does think unlike Duncan that they should be given help and medical care at the taxpayer’s expense if necessary but it bugs him that they do annoy other people as they try to go about their business, not just with the begging of course, and he never gives money on principle as everyone knows that the money just gets spent on more drugs, which isn’t a solution for anyone, but also, well, a couple of times when he’s come into Charring Cross in the morning after crashing the night at someone’s house there is always a big group of them, of homeless, playing football on the square outside the National Gallery, wrecked, barging into pedestrians as if they weren’t there, holding up traffic. Last week, on Friday morning after he’d spent the night on a friend’s sofa over in New Cross, having been to see a band that one of his old University friends had started up, a kind of nu-Grunge thing, and late for work already with a pretty bad hangover himself, the half-flat football they were using for a kick about came galumphing across the road, hit the kerb just in front of him and sat wobbling in the gutter. All the tramps started shouting for him to kick it back over to them and he ignored them, went past because, well, he’s never been a very confident kicker of footballs, especially publicly and besides some people have a job to get to, some people had to stop drinking at two-thirty, some people had to get a few hours sleep, and so he went past, just didn’t have the time or the inclination to be kicking a football at that time in the morning and then was showered with abuse for, you know, having responsibilities to meet. So it’s fine, enjoy yourself, he‘s not going to moralize, but don’t disrupt other people’s lives, y’know, have a bit of personal responsibility, too, have some limits.
He breathes out. He’s tense. Already this seems to have been the longest taxi journey of his life. “So where exactly are we going?” Barney asks again after a pause. He is a little bit more nervous now, though he tries to be cool about it. He’s not used to people doing coke, that’s all. He’s never done it. He’s never been around it. Not his kind of circles. More booze and dope in his crowd. He’s never taken E, he was never into Rave, went to one in a field once, didn’t dance and had to wander around on the periphery for five hours waiting for everyone else to come down so they could give him a lift back home. He doesn’t want to end up in the middle of nowhere, in South London, which is mostly uncharted territory for him, what with his tiny, super-cluttered room in St John’s Wood, a room so tiny he has to have the wardrobe on the landing outside. But it’s cool anyway because the people he lives with are all around his age and very nice, very relaxed.
As they hit London Bridge, the cab rattling, picking up speed, he feels suddenly as though he’s breached a boundary, as through there was a moment’s resistance, some integument that the cab passed through, so infinitesimally fine, so lucent and attenuated that it seemed to be a border in both time and space, the fault-line where the two collapse into each other. The quality of the light shifts, grows darker as the grain of things is brushed back the other way, as though, if he checked his watch now it would be ticking back, counter-clockwise. Barney glances behind him, out through the back windscreen, sees the dome of light set down over the centre of town ringing slightly, as though struck, bright and brittle as a bell jar, and he feels a soft and unexpected pang of loss rise in him, suddenly feels something like tears welling, something vaporous, nostalgia, thick in his nose and throat, itching at the back of his eyes. He tries to cover it, coughs, asks, “And what are you listening to at the moment?” What was that? Weird
Well, what is it Barney, what is it?
The Koolhunter is staring straight ahead and breathing heavily. His fists clenched in his lap. “Sons of Hagar, Mujahadeen Team, Shiek Terror & The Soul Salah Crew, Al Kaeda Krew, Diwali Riddim Mob, and that whole Jihad-hop, rap, crunk-bashment-break-core mash-up, shit, you know, “ Shia Warrior” by Hasan-i Sabbah, “9-11 Ain’t No Joke,” Kuffar Killer. It’s so fucking underground that shit, even getting a mix tape out of these guys, even finding out where you can get a mix tape from is like getting into Fort Knox. Most of these guys are being watched, most of them are illegal, they get in, they agitate, they stir shit up, they’re fucking radicals man. You know….. their pirate stations keep getting closed down, moved around. I‘ve got contacts, contacts, a lot of those rap guys are Five Percenters, you know what I mean, me too, me too, Wu-Tang heads, a lot of British guys are into that you know and some of them are drifting over to the more hardcore, the realer shit, realer than real, you know, and that’s where I’m at, that’s where I have to be, you know what I mean. It’s all about the Real shit, the hardcore shit, the real stuff. Hardcore Reality. I mean Public Enemy are back man. You know the biggest tune of 200X, man the biggest mix is that off the hook, fucking bugged out Diwali Riddim Crew mix of “ Party for your Right to Fight.” Everybody’s looking the wrong way man, everyone’s looking at grime and that’s played out. This is the raw stuff, the raw and the real.”
Barney hasn’t understood a word of it, really, except for the part about Public Enemy. Who he’s heard of because they did that song with Anthrax that a lot of his friends used to dance to at the Zodiac Club back in Oxford. Where are they going? What are they going to see? Jihad-hop? He coughs. “Aren’t they kind of.. anti-Western? These errmm…..” He struggles for the right word. “These… guys?”
The Koolhunter’s shaking his head from side to side. “I’ve seen one video man, of a meeting, you know. Kuffar Killer, you know, busting some hardcore, shit y’know, some real gritty stuff and the fucking beats you know with all that fucking Arabic wailing over the top, it’s heavy, heavy shit for the bredren, you know,” he laughs coldly, mechanically. “Fucking guys with machetes, you know, cutting their own fucking heads up and stuff and NO drugs, man, nothing, you know what I mean. Straight edge.” He digs both hands into the left-hand pocket of his jacket, fumbles around, pulls them back out with a small mound of the same white powder nestled in the loose flap of skin between the thumb and index finger of his right hand. He pushes it toward Barney. “ I’ve got to get rid of this shit before I get in there.”
Barney looks at the powder glistening in the streetlights that strobe slowly by, not exactly white, a kind of dull, light absorbing off white, like a pinch of pewter.
“ Is it coke, or?”
“Coke?” the Koolhunter snorts, “Do I look like a coke-head, mate? Is that what I look like to you?”
“No. I just thought…”
“ Stellarc Four. Four. Four mate, do you get me?”
Barney hesitates. Well, he wants to be cool, but… he hesitates a moment too long. “Too slow mate,” the Koolhunter huffs it up, licks the last few grains off the skin webbing thumb and finger. His irises contract, expand then settle and for a second as the car accelerates along the Old Kent Road he seems to be broken down into a million tiny points of colour, momentarily and minutely disassembled and then reconfigured.
“Ffffuckk!” he breathes out. “ foreal, foreal, foreal, froeal foreal, foreal”


Those guys want in.
That’s what the Koolhunter’s telling Barney as the taxi turns down what looks to Barney like a pretty dodgy, dead end back street, heading for what also look like a pretty dodgy bunch of disused warehouses at the other end. Is it safe down there? he wants to ask, but, of course, he can't…
“What do you think? Think they wanna destroy us these guys, think they wanna KILL us, fuck no, man. They want IN, IN everybody wants IN. They want it on their terms right. It’s the same with everyone. Man, everyone. Same with you,” he jabs a bony finger in Barney’s face, “ you want the world on your terms, right? They’ve got their pride right, they don’t want to come crawling to us, they pretend to hate us, they pretend to hate what we stand for, they pretend they think they’re underground, they think they hate us,they think they want to destroy us, they think they can’t be bought, they can't be touched, but they’re kidding themselves and trying to kid us, too, They Want In. T.W.I. never forget it, never doubt it. T.W.I. They Want In. You know what heaven is mate, Allah Akbar and blow yourself up and you get your forty virgins and you can drink ambrosia up there in paradise, you know what paradise is man, it’s a Dr DRE video, I know it, YOU know it,” the finger comes up again, the tip a few inches from Barney’s face. “In the Jacuzzi sipping Cristal with the light-skinned honeys hanging off your dick. When these guys close their eyes and see the heaven they’re going to, that’s what they see, and it’s Paris Fucking Hilton giving them a blowjob while J’Lo and Britney fight to be next in the queue, right? They’re already in. What they want is what we want them to want, they way they think about what they want is the way we tell them to think about what they want, they’re in but they’re not in far enough yet, that’s the point, they know, right now, that some DRE action is just not going to happen to them right? No-one thinks Arabs are cool, that’s what they’re pissed off about man…”
Barney’s staggered by the guys ignorance.“Surely it’s more that that, Israel..”
“Whatever. These kids grew up with MTV right? Even over in Saudi they all know Tupac and The Jigger, man, in Yemen man, they’re in, but they are fighting to get further in, and part of that process is making yourself cool right. And what’s cooler than terrorism man? What’s more hardcore, what’s REALER than that, man? Fuck, they want it so bad they‘ll kill themselves to get it. Maybe they’ll kill you too. They want recognition.”
“Is this safe?” Barney tries to keep the note of fear out of his voice but it’s there, unquestionably there. The Koolhunter isn’t listening anyway, he’s too fired up. He turns to look at Barney and his eyes roll back in his head for a moment the iris almost disappearing before they flick back in to focus on him. He raises his finger to Barney’s temple and starts to tap it slowly there. The tip of his finger is cold and porous, like bone.
“I know what’s in their heads, just like I know what’s in yours, in yours. Who put it there? I did. You can’t get away from me. I’m IN you.”
Then he turns back, eyes drilling into the back of the cabdriver’s skull.
“You can try and get away, you can try and hide, you can kid yourself that you don’t want to know me, but I’m going to find you and give you what you want, even if you don’t want it.”
The taxi has idled to a standstill and the driver turns to them. “I can’t get any further on this road,” he says. There’s a pause as the Koolhunter composes himself, stretching his legs and arms out, cracking the bones in his neck with sharp twists of his head, the song on the radio that Barney hasn’t even been aware of until now fading out suddenly with the words, crooned and shivering as the song dies “..and I can never, never, never, go home again…”
“ I can’t go any further on this road,” the taxi driver says again, his face in exactly the same position, his voice inflected exactly as before.
“We’re fine here,” the Koolhunter tells him, gives the guy a fifty and waves the change away, pulls his hood up over his face and steps out of the black cab, slamming the door behind him on the driver’s repeated, “thank you, thank you…”
Barney exits more cautiously, more considerately, looking around him at the squat, red-brick buildings, the portacabins, the fencing, the barbed wire, the CCTV cameras on sticks, the broken Pils bottles, burger cartons and plastic bags as he pulls his blue rucksack on.
He gave him a fifty, just like that.
“Where are we?” he asks. He tries to keep his voice light and unconcerned but to his own ears it sounds suddenly strangled and anxious.
“Where we need to be,” the Koolhunter tells him. He kicks a plastic Pepsi bottle that’s lying at his feet and sets it spinning. It slows, stops, points at Barney. Truth or Dare? The taxi has reversed back along the narrow stretch of road to the turning now and he glances back at it as it pulls round onto the road and then accelerates off into the night
The Koolhunter checks his watch. Five minutes early. Time for a fag and another toot of Stellarc Four. He waves the Marlboro pack at Barney who hops across a thick wodge of tire–tracked mud, doesn’t want to get his nicely roughed up Converses too dirty and slides one from the pack.
“First,” the Koolhunter tells him, “we’re going to meet someone who’s going to take us somewhere to meet someone who’s going to take us to meet someone who’s going to take us somewhere else. All that shit.” Barney lowers his face to the lighter, holding those enchanting golden curls back up off his face and away from the flame with his left hand. Puts his head back, has a drag. Marlboro are strong, it hits him straight away, the blood booming in his forehead. He needs a drink, more than anything. A drink would sort him out. He takes another drag and almost immediately feels the need to shit, shifts his whole body around it, the flesh on his back ruffling, his neck extending, getting a solid grip on it, then settling into himself like a big, egg-bound hen, as the Koolhunter, sucking on the filter pinched tight between thumb and forefinger eyes the surrounding area. He can tell that Barney’s frightened. Should have had a bit of Stellarc when it was offered him, but the Koolhunter himself, well, he couldn’t give a fuck. He’s been lost in Favelas at four in the morning, broken down in Townships with gangs of hardcore, known criminals in his car, been caught in the crossfire inside and outside dances in Kingston, Port au Prince and Puerto Rico. The fact is this, somewhere in this mass of half-used factories, empty car parks and boarded up office space, the Real is waiting for him to take possession of it. He squints, he sniffs at the slight breeze that has set the remnants of a piece of plastic sheeting snagged on the barbed wire in front of them fluttering. He can smell it, taste it, see its faint glow, feel the distant spit and crackle of its pulse brushing past him in thin, almost imperceptible waves. “Just call me the great white hunter,” he announces to the air, his eyes on the gently undulating scraps of plastic sheeting, semi-translucent, smeared in dirt, ghostly, shroudlike, panicking, and then he takes the last of the Stellarc Four up off his fist, feels himself shudder and surge up to another level.
Fifty foot tall, world eating, bulletproof.

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