nasty, brutish and short fiction from the late, great Derek Raymond

The shorter man put his lips to Gust’s ear. ‘Pain,’ he whispered. ‘You got any idea what pain is?’

‘You bet,’ said Gust. ‘It’s like bad breath or an old pouf, and it hangs around too long the same way you do.

—from Derek Raymond, “Brand New Dead”


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Derek Raymond (real name Robin Cook) was born to privilege and by his 20s had sunk to the bottom, whereupon he began recording the manners and mores of the English from the 1950s to the 1990s, often in the form of crime fiction. According to his Wikipedia entry, Raymond/Cook was the eldest son of a textile magnate and attended Eton, which he later characterized as “an excellent preparation for vice of any kind”.  He spent most of the 1950s abroad, including residency in the Beat Hotel in Paris, where William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg were his neighbours. His entire artistic output can be summed up thusly:

Existence is sometimes what a forward artillery observer sees of enemy lines through field glasses. A distant and troubling view brought suddenly into focus with a wealth of obscene detail.

The Hidden Files, p. 121

The first and last spot to go to for information about Raymond on the Web is this excellent post from Dennis Cooper (a writer who, like Raymond, has the eye for the essential, existential detail).

Published as a stand-alone story in London Noir, ed. Maxim Jakubowski, (Serpent’s Tail, 1995), the following originally appeared in Raymond’s novel Not Till the Red Fog Rises (Time Warner Books UK, 1994).

 

Derek Raymond, “Brand New Dead

At about midnight two men suddenly came up and stood right beside Gust at the bar in Marly’s club, pressing against him as close as they could get. The place was packed out and after a while both of them started looking at him sidelong, nudging each other in a snide sort of way and laughing half in his direction as if his cock was hanging out or something. Only it happened to be a night when Gust didn’t want any interruptions; he had a lot to think about and so he paid no attention to the men which seemed to get them choked, because finally one of them, suppressing his laughter, gave him a good shove. Whether that was intentional or not Gust couldn’t say, it could have been just the domino effect of various drunken dancers, but Gust took a hard look at the man all the same whereupon they both turned away, but not in a manner to indicate they were bothered.

Gust reckoned that in their place he would have been bothered on the whole, even though they both looked heavy. One of them was taller than the other with red hair, a rash and love/hate tattoos across his knuckles; the other had straight brown hair and eyebrows that met across the bridge of his nose like Hess. They both wore tired blue jeans, their boots were on their second lap round the clock and Gust had never seen either of them before; the only thing he was certain of was that they had both done bird.

The taller man nudged Gust again and this time he actually said something. He said: ‘Is your name Gust?’

‘Yes that’s me all right,’ said Gust pleasantly, ‘what about it?’

‘Well it’s this,’ said the man. ‘We’d like to let you live if we could, we’ve no personal grudge, see, only we can’t, so instead we’re going to give you a terrific beating and then you’re going to die outside round the back would you believe?’

‘Sounds great,’ said Gust, ‘cheaper than going down to the gym for a work-out anyway.’ He didn’t move except to set down his glass; he always liked to see what other people did first in case what they did was a mistake. Anyway there was no room for him to move yet; a dozen bottoms were squeezing hotly into the three of them and everyone was drinking and looking at the dancers and the music. The music was blasting out in a way fit to rupture an eardrum; you couldn’t have heard a lion roar six inches away.

The shorter man put his lips to Gust’s ear. ‘Pain,’ he whispered. ‘You got any idea what pain is?’

‘You bet,’ said Gust. ‘It’s like bad breath or an old pouf, and it hangs around too long the same way you do.’

The taller man stared at Gust. ‘You’ve just asked to be taken apart,’ he whispered. A reverent look came over him. ‘Massacred.’ He had large dark eyes like pits with a lot of shit floating at the bottom of them.

Around them, meantime, life in the place was cheerfully continuing the way it does. Marly was singing, and two travelos up on the stage were having a cuddle against the gold tinsel curtain behind the piano, one of them with the seams of his net stockings askew. Someone photographed them from the floor; the flash and a champagne cork popped together. Marly was drunk; the crazy song he was singing chain-sawed through the crowd, and the minute he finished it he sat down with a bump by the piano. Someone got barred on the door and burst into tears on a gorilla’s chest; outside in Brewer Street a squad car screamed its way through a siren and a set of tyres and a Colombian crack dealer left suddenly with his driver. The scene was set; the music was turned all the way up for trouble.

The phone on the bar rang. One of the naked waiters scooped it up and stood on tiptoe, looking inquiringly over two hundred or so heads. ‘Chris?’ he trilled in a high contralto. ‘Is there anybody here called Chris? Phone call for Chris.’ No one wanted to know, so he banged the phone down. He said to an old queen: ‘My poor voice, this sort of work is agony for it, my voice is the same as it was when I was ten, did you know, it’s simply never broken.’

‘Working in here’ll break your fucking heart, darling,’ said the old has-been, ‘never mind your voice.’

‘Are you doing this for money?’ Gust was asking the taller man meanwhile, ‘because if you are I’d charge a great deal of money if I were you. I hope your insurance policy’s up to date with a clause for funeral expenses too; your widow will find it was money well spent.’

‘Yes it’s for money,’ said the beetle-browed man, ‘money and fun, have to think of my jollies, and this is a knife, see?’ It certainly was. It was a flick-knife, Gust saw. He could hardly help seeing it, really; the point had just gone through the skin that covered his liver.

‘OK,’ said Gust, ‘well I’ll just go to the karzi first, I read the other day in the paper it was unhealthy, dying with a full bladder.’

‘No,’ said the red-haired man. ‘No.’ He shook his head, smiling.

‘Is all this scenario anything to do with a certain delivery?’ said Gust.

They didn’t say no.

‘I can’t see what all the fuss is about, it was all delivered.’

‘No,’ said the man with the knife again, ‘no, that’s the point, it wasn’t.’

‘Well why fix on me anyway?’ said Gust. ‘It was a long chain.’

‘Because the gear vanished after you had it.’

The other man joined in and said: ‘And besides, why bother? We’re here to do a job.’ He said to Gust: ‘This is pay-day, there’s no explaining necessary.’

His mate said: ‘At least you’ll die with money on you. You won’t mind if we whizz it afterwards, will you, because you’ll be brown bread.’

‘So your wages are in my pocket,’ said Gust, ‘is that it?’ A girl from the Tiara Club patted his shoulder as she went by and said: ‘Hi, Pete. You OK?’

‘You bet,’ said Gust, ‘I’m going like a bomb, I feel terrific.’

Now, even though there were fewer people jammed round them than before because the place was slowly starting to empty, the bar was still much too crowded for the man with the knife to jump as far as he wished he had when Gust stamped on his feet. He brought his heel down on each of the man’s arches twice with all the strength he had behind it; Gust wore steel heels, and wasn’t it lucky the man enjoyed pain so much, because here he was getting as much of it as he could possibly want. He went over like a badly felled tree, squealing, across a lot of sweating backs, dropped the knife which Gust kicked across the dance floor, and fell on the floor bent double and clutching his feet.

‘Now you can’t get away, can you?’ said Gust.

The beetle-browed man tried a right to Gust’s head; Gust blocked it easily and kicked him on the tibia where it was sure to break, and indeed he heard the crunch as it did break. The victim dropped to one knee like a suitor in a Jacobean play, his lips parted adoringly as he gazed up at Gust; then, as the pain hit him, his expression changed to a sneer like a poisoner inquiring at the post office about his victim’s mail.

‘You’re not very good at it, are you?’ said Gust, ‘they ought to have sent heavies in.’ He thought the man very likely could have got a job playing Hess in this new TV series they were doing on the war, and he would have had a word with a few directors he knew in Soho if he had been a mate of his. But, as he wasn’t, Gust kicked him in the stomach as he tried to drag himself up on one leg with the help of the bar-rail, then turned back to the other man.

‘You all right?’ he said. ‘How are you feeling now? Chipper?’ He took one of the man’s ears in his thumb and forefinger; the ear was tiny, considering the size of his head, and it had little hairs inside it. Gust picked up a cocktail stick out of a dirty glass on the bar and jabbed it down into the eardrum as far as he could; when he pulled it out the stick was half-way red, and there was some grey stuff in it as well. He shouted down his ear: ‘I think I just broke your foot!’ but the man wasn’t making sense any more; he was wailing with his hand clapped to the side of his head, swaying up and down from the waist like a bereaved widow, or else perhaps he just didn’t hear, or maybe the music was too loud. Gust realised then that he had pushed the stick in too far and that the man would probably die.

Dirty cocktail-stick in the brain? What a bleeding way to go!

Now the man with the broken leg tried another naughty stroke; although he only had one hand free because he was using the other one to hold onto the rail, he still managed to smash a glass and try putting it in Gust’s face.

‘This is just self-defence after all,’ Gust said to himself. He stamped on the man’s feet again; this time he definitely felt bones go and the man screamed, dropped the glass and let go of the rail; but instead of letting him fall Gust took him round the waist, ripped his fly open and searched inside his pants till he found his testicles, which he yanked right out into his hand. Their owner can’t have been much into baths because they smelled like something tepid from a canteen counter. Gust wrung them like the devil having a go at a set of wedding bells with all the grip he had, until the man was shrieking on the same D minor as the music.

‘It’s nothing personal,’ said Gust, ‘but I’m afraid you’re going to have to learn to fuck all over again.’ He wiped the blood off the man’s prick down his face, then pulled the face towards him and drove his nose into his brain with his head. The music boosted into E major on a key change, and the man doubled up under a bar-stool, leaving a lot of blood behind him while Gust receded into the half darkness towards the black drapes on the walls.

The waiter who had taken the call for Chris, naked except for a frilly apron which he was holding to his mouth, rushed up and stooped horrified over the casualties, squashed between five or six ranks of uncaring people. ‘Oh!’ he kept shrieking, ‘Oh! Oh my God!’ His voice still didn’t break and he didn’t do anything else much, like calling for help; he had already found out that Marly’s wasn’t a place where people ever showed any interest in the police, no matter what was going on.

Gust stood for a moment on the fringe of what had been the action. ‘It’s all right,’ he said to the young man who passed him wringing his hands, ’looks like they won’t be wanting the other half after all, just a minicab.’

’A hearse more like,’ he sobbed. He felt for his friend’s hand, and they disappeared together, making for the staff door.

The short man had managed to get one of his boots off somehow and was holding one of his feet in his hands wondering what to do about it. Gust could have told him that taking the boot off was a silly thing to do; if he was going to try and hobble home he would never get it back on again. The foot was fractured; it was twice its normal size already and turning black, blue and lemon-yellow.

The manager appeared and said: ‘There any bother here? I don’t want no trouble.’

‘I don’t think you’re going to get any,’ said Gust, ‘doesn’t look likely, does it, anyway not from them.’

‘You see what happened?’

‘Me? No,’ said Gust, ‘I wish I had.’

‘Oh well, as long as it’s just a fight,’ said the manager.

‘Yeah,’ said Gust, looking dispassionately at the bodies on the floor, ‘that’s all it looks like, they must have really had it in for each other.’

‘That’s OK then,’ said the manager, ‘no sweat.’ He returned to his friends at a table at the back where they were drinking iced Guinness and playing hi-low.

As somebody behind Gust said, there were always fights in Marly’s club.

The law arrived and Gust made for the exit, pushing his way without ceremony through the dancing couples. ‘Sorry,’ he muttered into their indignant faces, ‘I’m a bit pushed suddenly, just need some fresh air, feeling a bit sickish.’ That parted them fast. Marly waved at him across his vodka: ‘You going, Gusty? Stay for a drink!’

‘No thanks, Marly.’ He nodded towards the law. ‘You’ve got visitors, and besides I’ve got to be up early.’

‘OK, night, then!’

‘Night,’ said Gust, ‘Night all.’

It was 2.30 when he got outside. The rain was dying out, foxtrotting away from him round into Wardour Street, the north wind that carried it making the leaves patter like your last friend running for a cab.

He ended up at a bus-stop in Regent Street but the night bus didn’t come – nor did a taxi, even if he had known where he wanted it to go; he couldn’t go to his own place. It was bitterly cold, the end of October, and an old lady in two overcoats beside him snoozed and stirred, surrounded by Waitrose bags. His knuckles felt sore and he sucked them, leaning against the bus-stop and watching the deserted street bend away like a frozen scimitar towards Oxford Circus, its cutting edge blunted by to let and for sale signs.

He knew no night bus would ever arrive in time to get him away. The sound of running steps coming towards him from the Soho side echoed in the silence; a man shouted, there was a pause, then a woman screamed abuse. Presently it began to rain again, scattered drops with the tart sting of ice in them; he couldn’t stay there.

In any case, besides his other problems, he remembered that all he had on him were half ton notes, seventeen thousand quid in all, and he didn’t see how, even if the bus did come, he could pay the fare and expect change for one of those from an empty vehicle. He hadn’t anything small on him except for a single pound coin; he had knocked all his change out at Marly’s. He had a fifty separated out from the rest in their rubber band in his pocket all the same; but offering the note might make the driver remember him anyway.

That was the last thing Gust wanted; what he wanted most right then was to be forgotten, ignored, to go unnoticed somehow, anyhow, as if he had never lived, never been seen, never existed.

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