'Savage talked about his life as a re-offender. How could someone be offended by the same thing twice? Was nothing learnt?'
Beerlight, the city of all of our futures, is not a safe place. Weaponry, rather than fast cars or designer clothes, is the ultimate status symbol. The populace is dedicated to law-breaking, politically incorrect views and hurling abuse and hand grenades at each other.
Combining elements of surrealism, film noir and punk rock ethos, Aylett creates a darkly comic landscape that's a cross between a Tarantino film and a Bosch painting, where murder is the ultimate expression of art.
The cast of hoodlums includes burglar extraordinaire Billy Panacea, conman-cum-lawyer Harpoon Specter and other fun-loving felons who hang out at the Delayed Reaction Bar on Valentine Street reading the Parole Violators Bugle.
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Read an Excerpt
The Crime Studio
By Steve Aylett
Serif BooksCopyright © 1994 Steve Aylett
All rights reserved.
Joe Solitary was a babyfaced guy with a sublime introversion and a deep self-destructive streak which endeared him to the denizens of Beerlight. Solitary got his name from a love of solitary confinement, which he said really got him into himself.
But this was not the first and by no means the most deep-seated of his obsessions. When he was at school Solitary had been chastised for a misbehaviour he did not commit, and while most of us would conclude from this that there is nothing to be gained from obeying the rules, Sol was more impressionable - he loved the martyr-like buzz of false accusation and in later life used every trick in the book to be arrested and imprisoned for crimes in which he had played no part whatsoever. Being black helped. Sol scanned the papers for whatever crimes had been accomplished lately and dropped by the cop den to confess.
At first he was smiling and reckless, claiming responsibility for armed robberies, auto thefts, political hostage-taking and even boxing fatalities in regard to which thousands of spectators could and would attest his innocence. The multiplicity of his allegations and his breathtaking lack of motive made the cops suspicious - even Chief of the Cops Henry Blince, who was known to the Beerlight community as the kind of cop a kid would draw.
Sol soon realised he'd blown the gaff. Everyone knew he was crazy and that he wanted to be sent down for no good reason. The clincher came when he claimed to be the ringleader of a gang which had achieved a spectacular bullion raid and the real ringleader came forward and indignantly proclaimed his own guilt, presenting photographs to prove it.
Sol was a laughing stock. He didn't even know the true facts of the crimes he'd put himself up for. He was a failure as a wrongful conviction.
Solitary decided to try a different approach. He knew he needed to lay out the scam to the cops before the story hit the headlines - maybe even before the crime had been reported. So he attempted to infiltrate the underworld and get the grapevine on whatever improving affairs were brewing up. He tried to get chummy with the real crooks, but when they saw him approaching - sad-eyed they'd huddle and swear, telling him to take his innocence and shove it. Everybody knew that Sol was getting desperate.
It was inevitable that at some time an antidude would have the brains to recognise Solitary's value as an alibi. This person was Billy Panacea, burglar extraordinaire, known to the denizens of Beerlight as a man who could think without moving his legs. Billy's life of crime had begun in his late teens when he broke a bottle over a guy's head and was arrested for impersonating a cop. From that day he was always on the lookout for a scam which would fool the constabulary because he knew what alot of crooks didn't - that the most important part of any crime is to get away with it.
Billy Panacea approached Sol with a proposition. Sol would join Billy and the gang on a flying visit to a premises one evening - Billy and the gang would spin-dry the safe and Sol would sit and think about the holy trinity. He wouldn't even have to carry anything. It would be Sol's responsibility to slam his prints on the safe, the window and a crowbar which they'd leave behind. Then the next morning he'd go to the cops, confess everything and implicate Billy and the gang. The cops would dismiss the whole thing as a sophisticated attempt by Sol to get sent to the state pen and Billy and the gang would be cleared along with him - if Sol said they were there, nobody would believe they were within a million miles of the place. Sol wouldn't get any time, but to compensate Billy would give him a share of the proceeds. It was a daring plan, but as Billy knew and as Billy's attorney would repeatedly proclaim, 'The law is where reality goes to die.'
The raid started out like a dream. Billy's gang at this time consisted of the cracker twins Brailleface and Hangerhead. They were so easy with the dial they spent the early part of the breakin sniggering fiercely at Sol, who didn't mind. He watched from an armchair, a beatific smile splitting his features as the door swung. Billy stood at the window on the lookout, now and again turning to the twins and snapping commands like a harassed sniper. Sol pawed the premises, plastering his fingerprints over anything sturdy enough to hold them. By the end of his rounds he was looking tireder than Al Pacino and slumped into the armchair again.
'Unless I am sadly mistaken this is no time for a rest,' shouted Billy Panacea.
'Don't worry about me,' said Sol. 'I'll be alright in a minute.' But he was clearly nodding off.
This calibre of exhaustion in such a huge guy was a cause for concern among Billy and the gang, and they began to fear that they'd be collared by a friendly neighbour or patrolling cop. 'Let's get out of here Joe, or we'll be in the soup until the rattle in our dying throats relieves us.'
But Sol was asleep. Sol was snoring. Billy and the gang grabbed ahold and tried to lift him out of it but Sol was as heavy and loud as a whale that had swallowed a foghorn and Billy was getting nervous. Sol was snoring loud enough to wake up Billy's dead grandmother and right now that was the last person to whom Billy wanted to explain himself. Every attempt at waking Sol was met with cow-like inertia.
'It aint no use,' whined Billy, 'we'll have to leave him and hope he stays dumb.' Billy Panacea and the gang cleared out, leaving Sol sound asleep in a corner.
The cops had a field day. There was more evidence than they could comprehend, and god knows he had a motive. 'So you finally did it eh Joe?' said Chief Henry Blince.
'That's right Chief,' said Solitary, beaming. 'I did it alright. My prints are all over this premises.'
Sol was sentenced to twenty years, and he sat in his cell chuckling at what could be achieved with a well-measured dose of sleeping tablets.
Two weeks later Billy Panacea and the gang brought Sol's contentment to an end when, in a fit of remorse and criminal fraternity, they nitroed the jail and busted him out.CHAPTER 2
Brute Parker ran the all-night gun shop on the corner of Dive and Ride, and it was a valuable service he offered. Anyone needing a gun fast at three in the morning ran round to Parker's store to view the extensive range. But nobody ever haggled with Brute Parker - half bastard and half bastard, his philosophy was 'Well whatever it was, it's dead now.' He shaved with a blowlamp and was the only guy I knew who wore a denim tie. He had a polaroid in his pocket of a moment when he was calm.
There was only one guy in Beerlight meaner than Brute Parker - a guy called Auto-Rhino - and he was in maximum security for cannibalising his fellow passengers in an elevator when it stopped between floors for five minutes. With Auto-Rhino out of the picture, Parker was the biggest professional shithead in town.
Now it was amazing to the denizens of Beerlight that Aggie Swan the head should have any dealings with Brute Parker. Aggie Swan was a toxic beauty who had perfected the 'wasted angel' look to such a pitch that people shielded their eyes against the expected atomic blast of her ascension. Chemically she was more than human. Her eyes were all the colours of the spangled banner. Her hair wasn't just blonde, it was transparent. It was a right hook to the glass jaw of the underworld when she and Parker stepped out as a couple to stagger the imagination. Beauty and the beast - when they approached, nobody knew whether to laugh or cry. Someone might have dared ask Aggie what drew her to Parker, but in the presence of Aggie's loving eyes anyone with a guilty secret would become ashamed, with the result that almost nobody in Beerlight ever spoke to her. Meanwhile in defiance of all the principles of a learning relationship, Aggie and Brute caused a scary ballooning of one-another's characteristics - Aggie grew more and more angelic, while Brute no longer bothered even to look at who he was knifing.
It came about that Brute got in the soup with the city council and, putting on a suit, addressed Aggie like this: 'My rent is under intense review and I must go before the panel of this fair city and defend myself due to the charges of disturbance of the peace surrounding my boutique, what with people testing the merchandise in the small hours. I have tied a string to my finger so as to remember not to mention the ten simultaneous people I shot all at once in the Delayed Reaction Bar last year. You must take care of the boutique while I'm off, seeing as my regular front man Lou is not available due to a friend having unfortunately strapped him to the front of a locomotive just when he was least expecting it.'
So as Aggie minded the store and day moved into night the first customer arrived - Billy Panacea, burglar extraordinaire, who dashed into the shop in a black outfit having just fallen through the skylight of a townhouse on Chain Street and landed amid the silverware of an elegant supper attended by the Chief of the Cops and the Mayor's wife. Now the cops were on him and he needed a knife at least. But confronted by the smiling and innocent expectancy on the face of Aggie Swan, he found himself as meek as a lamb, unable to shriek his predicament and, bowing his head, asked for a refill for his lighter. He was in an alley clutching the lighter and sobbing when the cops arrested him for dressing in black and scaring the Chief. Customer number one.
The second customer was Sammy Vale, who ran out of the night in fear of death at the hands of Kicker Charlie to whom he owed a thousand smackers in gambling regret. But seeing Aggie's calm, eager-to-please tilt of the head, Vale turned pale. Ignoring the revolvers, he sheepishly took a handful of lemon-drops from a tub by the ammunition cupboard, doled out five smackers he could ill afford and backed out. The next day he was in a wheelchair. Customer number two.
It was three in the morning when in came a guy whose face resembled something glimpsed through the porthole of a bathysphere. This gentleman was none other than Auto-Rhino, who had just incidentally busted out of maximum security and was now under obligation to shoot the life out of anyone who came near him. He was all fired up to tear Brute Parker's head off and select firearms at his leisure but he was totally thrown at the sight of Aggie Swan, who looked up from a copy of Mondo and regarded him with eyes that wouldn't quit. There was something about her that made him want to pour out his heart, or at the very least someone else's. But Auto-Rhino could only speak in words of less than one syllable. How could he explain to her that it was due to his mother's neglect that he had eaten those eight people in the elevator? He was mortified that a woman like this should see him wearing these tasteless widestripe pyjamas.
At twenty-five black minutes past four in the morning Brute Parker returned hale and hearty to the gun shop. He'd remembered not to mention his participation in the Delayed Reaction Bar Massacre with a suavity he had not known he possessed, and with everything on the up and up he had caroused until this very hour. Pinned to the army surplus tub was a note which read like this: 'Darling Parker - I have gone with Auto-Rhino where no one will ever care to find us. Do not think badly of me. There is no good without bad, and I have always needed a bastard to balance the energy in the relationship deal. It is for this reason that I came to Beerlight. It sure beats going to Tibet. Seeing as Auto is badder than you, what with him eating all those unfortunate people, maybe this time I will attain total enlightenment. Be well. Aggie.'
Parker was out of sorts for days, and once neglected to shoot someone who had it coming. At one point I myself thought I saw Parker looking at the pattern on a fallen leaf, though I wouldn't swear to it. The denizens of Beerlight were worried for him, but within a fortnight he was back on form and had even returned to paying proper attention to who he was knifing. I figured it was the passage of time but it turned out Parker was chuffed - Auto had walked back to stir with his own legs, leaving Aggie high and dry. 'Whenever I was gonna flatten some guy,' Auto whispered to the warden, 'she would look at me, and I found I didn't have the heart. Then she would give me the back for being soft. It was a circle of vicious shape, warden, and I tell you one thing - the sooner I am locked up the more harm I will feel free to do.'CHAPTER 3
I bumped into Tony Endless at the Delayed Reaction Bar on Valentine Street - he was sat in a booth drinking a shake that was built so badly all the drugs had risen to the surface. Tony was looking more depressed than someone due to attend the opera and I was grotesquely surprised, as in all the years I'd known him Tony Endless had been the happiest man in the nation. He once tried scream therapy and found he could only whistle. Seeing him in a gloom at the Reaction I feared the worst.
'Tony Endless you bastard in a million,' I enquired gently, 'what is the cause of this grim exterior.'
'My exterior is all it should be,' Tony Endless replied, 'considering what I have just experienced.'
'I will order three more shakes,' I told him. 'Relate to me in finely-crafted detail what is bothering you.'
'Well,' said Tony Endless, and described the following events. 'I had landed the righteous job of pest controller, that is, a character who exterminates unwanted creature infestations in the houses of the denizens of Beerlight. Now I'll have you know as well as I do that it is difficult enough for me to keep a job due to my general inability to look fearful and depressed in the workplace. And so I was determined to keep this post. This very morning I visited my first customers, a happy-looking couple in a big house out on Chain Street. Well no sooner had I entered the premises than I discovered a dog right there in the living room - naturally I dispatched it right off. The occupants let out a yell, and I explained to them that the report they had heard was just a cough from my handgun. I proceeded immediately to the kitchen, where after a cursory examination I detected a housecat sitting real quiet on the window ledge, so I gave it a quick burst from the old Thompson my daddy gave me - the one Brute Parker wanted to buy? - took it out with one squeeze. There was a glass water tank in the bedroom, and I tell you it was swarming with every kind of fish with a name. What an eye-opener - this place was infested. I got out my sledgehammer - the big one? - and bust in the front of the tank. The occupants came in and screamed, seeing the water and weeds on the floor, but that's the price you pay for hygiene, right?
'So next I go up onto the roofgarden - real nice roofgarden - and almost straight away I perceive this big ugly goddamn tortoise lumbering around, draggin' a piece of lettuce. Well by now I know how the gun startles people and I don't want to scare the whole neighbourhood, so I put on an oven mitt, pick this tortoise up and throw it over the edge. Right about then the occupants come out on to the roof, see - the wife's crying, out of gratitude I thought, and carrying that damned dog in both arms like damp laundry. "Don't think nothin' of it lady," I say. "I'm just in it for the cash."
'Well the guy of the house proceeds in the activity of rolling up his sleeves and advancing toward me, inexplicably bent on destruction. And since I am now lying on the garden chair in the knowledge of a job well done, I do not have my equipment right to hand and I am caught unawares. Now it is a practice of mine never to punch a man whose face is redder on the outside than mine is on the inside, and so I leapt up and ran as fast as my arms and legs could carry me. When I got to the office and told my employer of these incidents he nearly punched me with his knife and told me right out to never darken his life again. It seems that bad luck will cling to me like a dry fern for the whole of my formless career.'
Well after Tony Endless had finished relating all this to me, I advised him to go home and forget that these fashionable events had ever happened. After all, he wasn't the first guy to have shot a dog, especially in Beerlight. Tony agreed without enthusiasm and left the bar under a cloud of dejection.
It was four minutes past one the next afternoon when Tony Endless reentered the Delayed Reaction with a new exuberance.
'You know my unfortunate social gaffe yesterday morning?' he said to me, sitting down. 'The news of it has swept this town like a pestilence and been the catalyst for a most unexpected opportunity. When I got home yesterday after conversing with you, the phone did not stop ringing. It seems there is a great demand for the absence of dogs and the like in certain homes, and here is the man who can provide that absence.'
Excerpted from The Crime Studio by Steve Aylett. Copyright © 1994 Steve Aylett. Excerpted by permission of Serif Books.
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.
Table of Contents
GUILT COMPLEX, 14,
BLOCK WAR, 42,
HARPOON SEASON, 53,
BACK AND TO THE LEFT, 60,
NO MORE SORRY, 65,
DONUT THEORY, 70,
AUTO EROTICA, 85,
FAIT ACCOMPLI, 92,
AWKWARD INSTANT, 98,
LIKE HELL YOU ARE, 103,
AUNT MAGGOT'S LEGACY, 130,
ROPE AND RICTUS, 138,
FALL OUT, 151,