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Nicola Barker’s eight previous novels include Darkmans (short-listed for the 2007 Man Booker and Ondaatje prizes, and winner of the Hawthornden Prize), Wide Open (winner of the 2000 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award), and Clear (long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2004). She has also written two prize-winning collections of short stories, and her work has been translated into more than twenty languages. She lives in East London.
Skipton, 09/03/07 14.00 hrs
(Package and covering letter sent by internal mail)
For attn PC Roger Topping, Ilkley
Great news, Rog, great news—
At last all those long, incalculably boring, soul-destroying hours of trudging and waiting and moping and cussing have finally paid off, and the career-making case you've been yearning for (stuck out there on your lonesome, all stiff and cross and swollen—with that haunting, blue tinge around your gills—like a huge, neglected gouty toe; a beached whale; a dour, oversized funeral director with no funeral to direct; a bad joke; a lazy error; a missed train; a dropped stitch; an unsightly stain on the perfect, white napkin of West Yorkshire's tea-cake and charity-shop capital) is about to land—not the cake, you dope—with a lovely, resounding plop! right in the middle of your capacious lap.
Oh, and it's a good one, Rog, it's a choice one! It's something that's going to frustrate and perplex that razor-sharp intellect of yours for many, many years to come. It's going to haunt your dreams, Rog, and dominate your every waking moment. It's going to confound and enrage you, Rog. It's going to challenge you in ways you never imagined, ways you never even thought possible.
Put plainly, Rog: it's going to take over your miserable, pointless little existence and turn it upside down in exactly the same way it took over (and turned over) mine (which is slightly less miserable and pointless than yours, admittedly. No, considerably less, Rog—considerably less—if you don't mind my saying so).
It's a Red Letter Day, Rog, so thump the tub! Whoop it up! Blow off the lid! Because your time has finally come! And it's an important time, Rog, a vital time, a time to cast aside 'compromise' and 'waffle' and 'pragmatism', and re-embrace all those old-fashioned principles of your gilded youth—ideas like ... like 'truth' and 'honour', like 'pride' and 'justice'. (Don't think 'mortgage', Rog. Never think 'mortgage'. Great men never think 'mortgage'. And while we're on the subject, don't think 'bun'. And try not to think 'steak pie' or 'battered sausage'. I know how partial you are to those.)
In short, this is no time for beating around the bush, Rog. It's a time for plain speaking, a time for speaking your mind, a time for speaking as you find; a time for barking out orders, for slamming doors, for shoving your way, brutishly, into tiny, tightly packed rooms, squeezing your big, meaty hand into a powerful fist and banging it down, forcefully—again and again and again and again— on to desks and tables and other hard surfaces.
It's not a time for idle prattle and mooching about and eye-rolling and clock-watching (although, God only knows, there has been time for that in the past, Rog—and, God willing, still plenty more of it yet to come).
It's time to step up to the plate, Rog (and I don't mean your dinner plate, lad), a time to gird your loins—if loins you still have (Sandy, my gorgeous wife—your ex—once told me how you liked to shed them, every autumn, the way a stag sheds its antlers. But darling Sandy—as we have both discovered, to our mutual cost—can sometimes be a little bit 'creative' with the truth, eh, Rog?).
It's A Time to Dance, Rog—as I believe the bestselling author, Melvyn Bragg, once so poetically exhorted us. Although if you do decide to break into a spontaneous quickstep—or a foxtrot, or a samba—please be sure to wear your head-brace, your shoe-supports and your corset (or else—dollars to doughnuts, Rog—those moronic jobsworths from Health and Safety will be sniffing around us, yet again, like a feral pack of constipated hyenas).
Let's throw caution to the wind, Rog! This is no time to shilly-shally, no time to test the water and teeter, nervously, on the brink. (Ah yes, I still fondly remember those compulsory school swimming lessons at Thornhill Baths: me, clowning around on the high diving board—to wildly cacophonous cheers from the boys, hysterical screams of terror from the girls—and then suddenly, with no warning, clicking into 'The Zone', striding calmly to its furthest tip, bouncing once, bouncing twice, and then performing—to assembled gasps—a near-as-dammit-perfect back-flip, barely disturbing the surface of the pool with so much as a ripple as I entered it. Incredible!
And you, Rog? You? Far down below, Rog, crammed into an under-size pair of brown nylon/viscose-mix regulation trunks, your soft belly bulging over the waistband like a generous slick of extra-thick UHT cream, the voluminous skin of your upper torso pulsing translucently—ghastly and white as a portion of uncooked tripe—your chest heaving, uncontrollably, as you shivered and whimpered and clutched on to your towel, blinking, uneasily, into the blurry half-light.
You had good reason to feel apprehensive, Rog, having just—a few moments earlier—taken the very sensible precaution of removing your glasses: you were vulnerable, Rog. You were hamstrung. You were tragically incapacitated.
Yet how could you have possibly known, Rog—except with the aid ofvery basic common sense— that your every move was being carefully scrutinized, from above, by a mischievous young prankster, svelte and bendy as a cat, in a pair of tight, bright red Speedos, who thought it would be a hoot, Rog—a veritable hoot, Rog—when the opportunity arose, to steal those precious glasses of yours and then conceal them—in an act of rare daring and audacity—behind the lifeguard's chair?
How could you have possibly known, Rog? How, Rog? Eh?
And the moral of this insignificant little tale, Rog—if moral there be, at all ...?
GROW A PAIR, ROG!!
GROW A BLOODY PAIR!!
WHO CARES WHAT THE TEMPERATURE OF THE WATER IS, ROG?! JUMP IN, YOU FOOL, JUMP IN!!
It's time to grab the damn world by the scruff of its neck and shake it, Rog. SHAKE IT!!
Because I'll make no bones about it, Rog: this case is a hard taskmaster. Remember Mr Philton, Rog? Dr Philton? With his heavy, dark green serge jackets, his Advanced Motorist badge and his chronic halitosis? Who made you wet yourself, Rog, piss yourself, Rog, in front of the entire class during Double Latin, after you forgot how to conjugate the Latin verb 'to touch'?
Pardon, Rog? Was that a 'yes', I just heard you mutter there? Was that a 'yes', Rog, accompanied by a nervous cough and a sheepish little nod of the head? It was? So you do remember, Rog? You do actually remember?
Well, for your information, Rog, this case—this remarkable case, thisextraordinary case—is every inch as exacting and fastidious as crusty old Philton was; every inch as unsparing and punctilious (with an impressive line in put-downs, Rog, just like that old bastard had).
This case is a cruel mistress, Rog—the cruellest mistress. It's a savage, top-dollar dominatrix; a natural red-head in thigh-high, black leather boots and matching corset. Wonderfully well-equipped, Rog (astonishingly well-equipped), with her regulation whip, her paddle, her rack, her cleats, her strap-on, and—naturellement!— that inevitable—almost prosaic—pair of stainless-steel nipple-clamps.
She won't take any prisoners, Rog (well, perhaps the odd one—but only with the general assurance of firmly established protocols, full legal consent, and an accepted release word).
Much as you might expect, Rog, she pays precious little heed to society's mores (that mundane index of 'accepted niceties' we all so love to depend upon). She'll just sweep into your life, Rog, barge into your life, Rog, demand to know exactly how much you're earning (to the last pound, per annum, up front), deliver a couple of devastatingly acute and haughty pronouncements (like: 'You think you're very funny, very witty, don't you? You think you're quite the card, but I can assure you that you're not,' or 'I noticed a little earlier, when we were leaving the restaurant, that you're going ever so slightly bald on top ...'), then shoot you a disdainful smile, shove you into a chair, push up her skirt, calmly straddle your lap and promptly take over.
Quick as a flash!
Just like that!
Can you see her, yet, Rog? Can you smell her?
She smells of dirty musk and aniseed balls and cheap vodka, and that oddly persistent aroma from inside a moist, well-used Marigold washing-up glove. A wonderful smell, Rog, a heady, heaving, steamy aroma. Just close your eyes for a moment, Rog, and inhale it. Go on ... just ... yes ...
Lovely, deep breath, Rog, lovely deep ...
Let it waft over you, Rog. Let it wash, gently, over you. Let it tip-toe around you and then creep—softly, so insidiously—inside your head. Let it calm your fevered mind, Rog, tickle your aching sinuses, and tingle on your tongue ... Don't stiffen, Rog! No need to stiffen! It means you no harm, Rog. Just allow yourself to trust it, Rog. Just give it your permission, Rog. Just hold out your hand, Rog, and welcome it in ... That's right! Much better! You're doing well, Rog! You're doing brilliantly! Feels really good, doesn't it? Another breath now, Rog, deep, deep breath, now, Rog ... Ahhhhhhh! Perfect, Rog. See how easy that was? Relax those shoulders, now, Rog, lower those shoulders ... Great work! Now the face. Let's relax the face, Rog, starting with the mouth. No more tension around the mouth. Feel the lips falling slightly apart ... Excellent, Rog!
Now the eyes, Rog. Relax the eyes. Feel them rolling back in your head ... Good boy! Well done!
And finally, the forehead. Release that frown, Rog. Feel all your pent-up stress and anxiety just slipping away, Rog, just lifting off you, Rog, just floating away from you ... Wave bye-bye to all that nasty tension, Rog—Bye-bye tension!—and then make welcome, in its stead, this beautiful, almost overwhelming sense of peace and contentment ...
How calm you feel, Rog! How quiet! How serene! Embrace that sensation, Rog, embrace that warm feeling of safety and tranquillity ... Just let everything go, Rog, just let ...
WAKE UP, ROG!!!
LOOK SHARP, YOU BIG PUDDING-HEAD!!
You've taken your mind off the ball, Rog (what were you thinking, Rog?!) and she is striding towards you, at speed, her heels sounding like gunshots on the ceramic tiles—QUICK, ROG! QUICK! TUCK IN YOUR SHIRT!
She is shouting something at you, Rog, as she cracks her whip—instructions of some kind, demands of some kind, but because of the blood pumping in your ears (tinnitus still a problem, Rog?) you can't actually make them out ...
What's she saying, Rog? What's she ...?
My God— just look at her, Rog, look at her! What an astonishing spectacle she creates! What Babylonian splendour! What brilliancy! What brazenness! What filth! What grandeur!
And what a figure she has, Rog! What curves! What lines! What definition! Check out those legs, Rog! Longer than Joey Barton's arrest record! And that stomach, Rog! That six-pack! Tight as the Pope's prophylactic allowance! And let's not forget those buttocks, Rog; those fragrant buns! Harder than a pitbull's forehead!
Hang on a second, Rog ... Something's not quite right here. Something's wrong. Just call it instinct, Rog, but something's definitely amiss ... What's that she's holding behind her back, Rog? What is it? A length of hose? A bat ?! Well, whatever it is, one thing's for certain: this girl is VERY, VERY ANGRY, Rog! She's absolutely LIVID! She's SPITTING TACKS! She is FURIOUS, Rog! Her rage is absolute, it's all-consuming, it's DOWNRIGHT, BLOODY MAGNIFICENT. (No. No. Put your badge away, Rog! You're embarrassing yourself, now. Get a grip on yourself, lad! That type of buttoned-up behaviour simply won't wash in this environment.)
Oh dear. Oh dear. Just a fraction too late, Rog. She saw the badge (worse still, she sensed the attitude) and she didn't like it, Rog. Not one bit. Her red lips are tangling into an ugly snarl. Her mean, green eyes are flashing and glinting like nasty slithers of candied angelica.
BEWARE, ROG!! NO SUDDEN MOVES, ROG! BACK OFF, ROG! TAKE CARE!!! Because this girl will eat you up and spit you out! She'll beat you to a pulp! She'll drip hot candle-wax into your nostrils and stamp her stiletto-heeled boot into your prodigious gut. She'll make you kneel and crawl and grovel, Rog. She'll make you fawn and cower and snivel. She'll make you ask nicely for every stupid little thing ('Please, Miss, if you don't mind, Miss ...') and then refuse you, point-blank.
She'll make you wish you were never born, Rog! She'll make you bleat like a lamb! She'll dress you up in a nappy—taunt you and tease you—demand that you pee yourself, then slap you, red-raw, when you do. She'll make you greet and shudder and howl, Rog. I know she will, Rog, Iknow she will, because I'VE ALREADY BEEN THERE, Rog! I've bought the ticket, Rog! I've taken the tour, Rog! I've used all the facilities, Rog (and left them scrupulously clean, Rog, I can assure you)!
OH, ROG! HOW I'VE SUFFERED AT HER HANDS! How I've bucked and gasped and strained at her ungodly demands! I've been her slave, Rog, her worm, her hack, her grub, her fag! I've been her fool, Rog, her fool!
And how has she repaid me, Rog (for all my loyalty and patience, my stoicism and forbearance)? What has she deigned to give me in return, Rog? By way of fair exchange, Rog?
Not a damn thing, Rog!
Look at me, Rog! Just look at me! My manhood is in shreds! My dignity is in tatters! My life is in chaos! My pride is in ruins! AND ALL FORWHAT, ROG? FOR WHAT?!
I'm no longer afraid to confess, Rog, that over the past few months this case—this damnable case, this infernal case—has pretty much taken all I've had to give. It's squeezed me dry, Rog. It's drained me. It's very nearly had the best of me: fact.
It's been a heavy burden, Rog. It's been a heavier burden than—at times—it was possible for one, lone man (even a powerfully built man, well-preserved, with all his original features still intact) to bear. In truth (and in all humility, Rog), I sometimes thought this case might break me. At points I thought it had broken me. I was like a badly made, reproduction Staffordshire shepherdess (are you still collecting the Staffordshire figures, Rog?) after a bumpy ride down the A59 in the back of a stolen Ford Transit.
My paint—once so pristine—has been scuffed and chipped by this case, Rog. My shiny veneer has been irreparably clouded. At one point—I'll openly admit—I was even in imminent danger of losing my crook.
Oh yes, I was very nearly shattered by this case, Rog. I say again: very. nearly. shattered. by. this. case. Rog.
Thank heaven for Bostik.
My hands tremble a little as I write to you today, Rog—I don't doubt that your well-trained eye has already detected the slight wobble (which is precisely why the force holds you in such high esteem, Rog, and a major reason why they decided to ship you—lock, stock and barrel, at the very peak of your powers, without any kind of warning or consultation—from the bustling, crime-ridden metropolis of Leeds, to the sedate, country town of Ilkley, where you now employ your prodigious portfolio of detective skills in overseeing school fetes, book fairs and minor traffic infractions, while maintaining a standard of service which no other qualified recruit on the modern force today would knowingly dare to replicate.
You've got huge guts, Rog, huge guts. Let no man presume to tell you otherwise—or any woman, either, if one ever gets within spitting distance).
Excerpted from Burley Cross Postbox Theft by Nicola Barker. Copyright © 2010 Nicola Barker. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted January 13, 2013
The letter style is always interesting but this needs to have the town telephone directory supplied along with the book. It is impossible to follow what exactly is happening after a while. A waste of time...Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.