[This is the first section of a short story which will be serialised exclusively in the Bustard – unless Rupert Murdoch rings with a much better offer. It takes place in England in 2030 or 2040 under the celebrated rule of Onan Hash (see various earlier postings on the Bustard), during the period of great economic and social reforms by which England became a pioneering low-carbon nation. And a happy nation.
We see here mention of three main characters: Seth Ghast of the De-urbs, a movement which wants to get people living in the country, basing their existence around farming. They are prepared to use some violence (agricultural equipment) for this end; Waldemar Kunt of the Kohlenkommando, the paramilitary group of the PFAP – the fossil fuel party of Wendelin Wiedekoenig – the Kolhenkommando goes round beating up environmentalists; and Lord Pi, whose interests are social recognition and money. His game is to weaken the current government in order to increase his political influence. He has something up his sleeve. But first there is a small annoyance to get rid of: a fourth character, Greg Gloom.]
For many years two worlds lived side by side, and peoples’ lives were like coloured threads woven into two cloths. Just as the dark medieval world gave over to the renaissance, the techno-capitalist age, born of cheap fuels and dreams of personal fulfilment, gradually melded into the Cabb Age. The old maverick Professor Rafe Cabb coined the phrase to describe his vision of a golden age of leisured living off the land, small communities working the soil, but with such technological expertise (a grateful nod back to the capitalist age) that there was still plenty of time for low-carbon leisure – the rediscovery of innocence, hopscotch and lace-making. A world where internet porn was a dark memory; for now ardent lads and lasses bounced rough and tumble in bouts of rumpty-tumpty in specially serviced haystacks. Yet wholesome capitalism still thrived – think of those that bought Haylove shares at £2!
Perhaps there was no finer example of the co-existence of old world and new than in a corner of Telford’s oldest alehouse, the Forgotten Password, where, one November night, an unusual, secret meeting was being held…
Seth Ghast, number two at De-urbs, the pro-countryside rebel movement, was a scrawny fellow in black. In his early thirties he was already bald from years of living on the edge. He was officially a wanted man, but the security forces pursued him only half-heartedly. Still, for safety he wore dark glasses even in the darkened pub.
Next to him in a polo shirt was the suave, tanned Waldemar Kunt. Kunt was the right hand man of car supremo, Wendelin Wiedekoenig, head of the Petrol For All Party; and where Wiedekoenig was the acceptable public face, Kunt was the feared head of Kohlen Kommando, the right wing vigilante group which drove around in Porsche Mephistos, beating up pedestrians, knocking over cyclists and smashing solar panels.
The third man in the huddle was Lord Pi. Failed rally driver, former rock singer and snuff addict, ennobled by PFAP, once bankrupt, now a celebrated publisher and multi-millionaire not least because of a timely investment in Haylove and floppy hair and scarlet cuffs to his white shirt as was the height fashion in those days. It took someone like that to bring two sworn enemies to the same table in Telford. For Ghast was a man who abhorred petrol in all its forms – a wicked poison whose dealers should be strung up in public places, while Kunt, every few moments, discreetly uncorked a small phial and slowly breathed in its oily contents… Lord Pi had an idea which needed the cooperation of both: he was, in addition to everything else, an inveterate and flamboyant wheeler dealer.
Yet their immediate problem was to rid themselves of the company of a fourth, Greg Gloom, head of the Telford Astrological Society. Spying Lord Pi as the latter entered, Gloom had leapt from his bar stool where he had been telling Kaz, the barmaid, to expect a new person in her life because Mars is forming a frictional, 135-degree tie to Chiron while Shropshire Gold seeped into his brain and dribbled into his beard. Lord P was an even bigger catch that evening than curvy Kaz because the Astrological Society’s Christmas bash needed an after-dinner speaker.
“Just tell him to go,” hissed Kunt. “Can’t he see we have serious business.” But Ghast was too superstitious for that – he squinted fearfully at the cards Gloom had spread over the table. “You see,” Gloom was explaining in a strong Telford accent, “when you’ve a red ace and a black king like that … let’s see your palm again.” He tugged at Ghast’s hand and unrolled the fingers. He shook his head sadly. “It’s all there really… If only Venus were a little more progniscent … Well I mustn’t be keeping you.” But suddenly he grasped Kunt’s hands on the table, quivering slabs of sinewy meat. He looked up with his eyes flickering, his own hands over Kunt’s, holding them firmly. “Oooh, well I never … a German. You can always tell them.” He winked knowingly at Lord Pi. “Stands out a mile off. Mind…” Gloom frowned. Sniffed the air. He pulled Kunt’s hands closer to his nose. “A large motor vehicle … petrochemical refining … you work in a garage… ” Kunt’s fingers stiffened.
“Gloom,” began Lord Pi. “Gloom, this is really too, too much. We’re actually in the middle of a meeting.” “Oh don’t you mind me,” smiled Gloom. “I can be quiet as a mouse. Come to think about it … rather more quiet. Not a squeak.” He put a finger to his lips. “Another drink, Lord Pi? Kaz, love, bring the Lord a pint of Gold, will you. And another for myself.” His budget didn’t stretch to the strange men opposite. “Now, what’s this secret huddle all about then?” He looked up. “Matters of state, eh? Eh? Matters of state? You’ll need your fortunes reading if you are dealing with … Now Lord Pi. There was actually something I wanted to ask you. Nothing important. No, just a little … just a little … You see-” he turned to Kunt. “You see, in ancient Rome, before important political decisions were taken, they’d regularly check the entrails of a dead cat or count the blackbirds-”
It was too much for Kunt. He stood up, reached across to Gloom and picked him up by the collar. The little man’s flailing legs sent their drinks spinning in all directions. He held Gloom’s face right up to his own and breathed on him his oily breath. “You piss off, little man,” he hissed. “Are you listening?” Gloom, terrified, tried to nod. “If I ever see you again, little freak, I will remove your entrails. And I will personally eat them. Got it?” And he flung Gloom to the ground. Gloom scuttered away, dragging a twisted ankle, whimpering and panting like a frightened puppy, crashing out of the bar, into the dark November night. He stumbled and lay on the wet tarmac looking up into the wintry sky, searching in vain for some understanding.
In the bar there was still. Kunt brushed himself down, righted the table, picked up the glasses and snapped to Kaz to bring more beer. Ghast was stunned – he had witnessed for the first time the raw elemental anger of the Kohlenkommando; his head was spinning – what the hell happens when our rabble meet these bastards? A pitchfork is no match for a Mephisto. For Lord Pi, the meeting could not have got off to a better start. His star was ascendant.