Wednesday, April 04, 2007

4 April 2007: Death, Privatised

Imagine that, living among the djinns. Taylor wished the court had just given him community service like most people got for minor offences like speeding and driving through a shop window. It had been a heavy night, a bad night, but surely he didn't deserve treatment like this.

He wandered down the dark street, the solitary sodium lamp ahead glowing starburst in the thickening fog. It had stopped raining, but the fog was hanging low, making him feel safe, somehow secure. A blanket.

His mind went back twenty-four hours. Celebrating with Jake and Tenbo in the Frog And Afterlife following the crunching victory of his Calamitous Rangers over the neighbourhood rival Caskets Albion in the annual 'National Warmonger Championships'. Taylor himself had played a significant part in that victory, managing to start three small conflicts in west Africa and getting a bonus for converting a civil war to an international incident in south-east Asia. He had been particularly proud of that one.

That really justified the whole change, too. Ever since Death had been privatised, the rates had just gone up through the roof. Now Taylor and the other Civil Servants in Death's organisation had been broken up into separate corporations, each of whom sponsored sports-style competitions to increase the overall rate of human death. War was the favoured method, although smaller specialist companies had emerged which developed the niche markets such as natural disasters and pandemic diseases. One of the privatised companies, Utterly Facile, had specialised in causing the deaths of quite utterly stupid people, and had been so successful that even the human population (those who remained) had begun publishing the so-called 'Darwin Awards' in honour of them. Utterly Facile had won 'Best Original Methodology' at the Gravey's five years running, and were still the talk of the town. But this day had been the championship of the big boys. The War Premiership. And Taylor, Jake and Tenbo had led from the front as the Calamitous boys had come up winners yet again.

So the celebrations rolled into the early hours, the drink flowing freely, the revelries unending. Then the bet had come. Fifty deaths before chucking out time, the old man on the barstool said. Who could manage that? Fifty in just under forty minutes. Faces had turned away. Nobody thought it was possible.

Taylor had just laughed at first. The old man had smiled back, a knowing smile, eyes piercing from their setting in many years of wrinkled flesh. Grey, thinning hair and a scraggy beard, the upper lip moved with the smile, revealing yellowed teeth, decaying. You'll do, he said. You'll do it.

Taylor had taken the challenge. Jake shook his head, Tenbo just said no way man, no way will you get fifty. Two hours, maybe, and you could get something going in Kashmir, but forty minutes? No way.

But Taylor had been swept up in the moment. The drink, the adulation of the day just gone, the look in the man's eyes. Fifty wasn't many. Not too many at all.

He stumbled out of the bar into the night air. Fifty not many. Fifty ok. He went to the window of the Estate Agent and looked at the properties on offer. Iran was starting to look a hot bet for the summer, and Sri Lanka was on special offer. But the place was shut. Of course it was shut! It was three in the morning. What an idiot. How was he going to get anything before half past if all the shops were shut?

Only one thing for it. Taylor ran home, got in his '98 convertible Vauxhall Catastrophe and sped back to the High Street. Fixing his old jousting pole to the front, he got back in the car and turned it to face the Estate Agency window. Turn of the key, into gear, down with the accelerator...

Looking back on it now, a day later, he had to admit it hadn't been the wisest move. He'd smashed through the window successfully but the police had arrived before he'd been able to even get the ticket safe open. He awoke in the cell the next morning with only patchy memories of the night before. The win, the pub, the bet, the old man's eyes, haunting.

The magistrate had been harsh, he thought, especially as it was his first offence and he *had* been working all day in the public service. But no mercy, there was his sentence, a month in the City of Djinn. Living in among the alcohol players, the squatty evolutionary off-shoots of his own species. The Gin boys, with their fog, their little caravans, their disgustingly wide lapels and flowery ties. Taylor shook his head in disgust, stared at the empty street and wondered if he should get back to the motel.

"You didn't do it then," said the voice. A creak in the tone.
Taylor turned and saw the old man's eyes right in front of him, piercing, tiny diamonds of intensity embedded in the pale layers of folded skin.
"No, I didn't," said Taylor, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "Funny, that. I was just about to set off World War Three when the police came."
"So I win," said the man, the yellowing grin appearing at the corners of his whiskered mouth.
"Yes," said Taylor brightly. "You win. Now get stuffed, I'm going home."
"No, no," replied the old man, holding a hand up. "You don't see, do you?"
"See what?"
"I win, so I get your body, you see."
"Umm, no, you keep yours. It's done the rounds, hasn't it?"
"But I wish to have yours. With yours, you see, I can do my job more successfully. This body was okay as a starting point, but I need to work among the major players now. I don't have a lot of time left. Your body is mine."
"Look," said Taylor, "It's mine, how can you claim it? I never agreed to those conditions, that was never the bet."
"I'm afraid it was," replied the man, red scorched hands drawing a folded piece of paper from the pocket of his long, black coat. Taylor read the document and saw his signature at the bottom.
"I need it, you see," continued the old man, "I need your body. I need your position in Calamitous. If I can infiltrate from there, then maybe I still have time. Maybe there's still a chance for me to stop everything, to sabotage from within."
Taylor looked at the man, and then back to the paper. Next to his own name was the scrawl of the old man's hand. He looked closer but couldn't make it out.
"Who *are* you?" asked Taylor. The old man's grizzled face leaned in closer as he whispered his reply, barely audible.

"Peace."

Postscript: Saw the title of William Dalrymple's travel book 'City of Djinns' on the shelf and out came the above.

4 comments:

Becky said...

... and there was I thinking your next post would have to be something involving Saints' 6-0 drubbing of Wolves on Saturday - how wrong I was!

DuncMcRae said...

The 6-0 (actually 0-6) game was a weird one for Saints fans.. they were all getting set for a disappointing season and speculation was that Lowe or A.N. Other was preparing for another takeover bid. The 6-0 win was a shock and seemed to briefly remind the fans that Saints are, essentially, a football club. Didn't last long though!

Becky said...

Hmm, technically 0-6, I suppose ... still sounds sort of wrong though. It can't be all bad if you're hovering around the play-off places. With Argyle's recent form being nothing short of woeful, I'd look on any bright side possible, if I were you.

BTW is there any way you can subscribe to this blog like you can with MySpace, for example? As I'm very lazy, I'd prefer to get e-mail notifications of when you post a new message, rather than actually having to come and check myself.

Speaking of which, I have now been bored enough to set up a MySpace page if you'd like to come see. I imagine my blog will be very boring, but hey, we haven't all god such fascinating things as "This AKTing Lark" to blog about!

DuncMcRae said...

Ah, I don't know these things. There's a linky link at the bottom of the page now which is all about Atom RSS feeds, and there's a LiveJournal syndication at http://syndicated.livejournal.com/duncmcrae/ - maybe that's of some use? I haven't a clue really. Maybe I could do it through a MySpace wotsit, but I haven't been bothered to do that yet. What a lazy bum I am!

BTW, wasn't it Noddy at that Shrewsbury game 10 years ago who, when Argyle took a 2-1 lead and thus ensued the song "two one to the ar-gy-le", wandered round the bottom of the terrace shouting "no, no, it's one *two* to the Argyle, innit?"