Rumours of a hurricane, p.28
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       Rumours of a Hurricane, p.28

           Tim Lott
 

  I never trusted him, not the first time I saw him, says Tommy.

  Who? mutters Charlie.

  That Peter Horn. He had that look.

  What look?

  Shifty. Scheming.

  I don’t remember, says Charlie.

  I tell you what, Charlie, says Tommy, leaning forward conspiratorially. I know some fellers.

  In what respect? says Charlie.

  Some fellers. You know. They’ll put him right. Nothing fatal. He’ll learn a thing or two. He’ll get what’s coming towards him in his direction.

  Charlie looks up, manages half a smile.

  Can they do two for the price of one?

  Well, I don’t know, Charlie. I’ll have to have a word. It’s possible that it’s cheaper for women. But I don’t know about two for one. It’s not as if…

  Tommy, I’m not bloody serious, am I?

  Tommy! Will you sort out Kylie!

  Lorraine’s voice is piercing, furious. Tommy ignores this demand from above and furrows his brow.

  Aren’t you serious?

  Of course not.

  I’m surprised. After all, she robbed you. And I know what I’d do if someone robbed me like that.

  She’s my bloody wife.

  Not any more she’s not, Charlie.

  He nods at the brown envelope that Charlie has brought with him, containing the decree absolute. It has all been over so quickly. More than a quarter of a century both contained and negated in a single tiny envelope.

  Lorraine appears in the doorway. There are specks of paint on her face and a scarf is tied round her head. She sports a thin gold ankle chain, 24 carats, around just-shaved legs, goosebumped like plucked turkeys.

  You fat useless lump! You never lift a finger.

  Blah blah blah. Tommy mimics an enormous yawn, makes the shape of a mouth yapping by beating the four fingers of one hand against the thumb. Never lift a finger, Charlie. Not me. All this house, the car, the stuff for the kid, it all falls through an enormous bloody great hole in the sky.

  You’re bone idle!

  I’m trying to talk to my big brother. He’s going through a difficult time, isn’t he?

  At this moment, the baby stops crying. Lorraine’s eyes move from side to side, soften slightly. She holds her position in the doorway for a few more seconds. Still the baby is silent. She takes a step towards where the brothers are sitting.

  That’s not going to help, is it? says Lorraine, nodding at the bottle of Scotch and pulling up a chair.

  I suppose you’re right, says Charlie, taking another mouthful nevertheless.

  You look like death warmed up.

  This is one of my better days, says Charlie.

  What’s this I hear about Maureen pocketing your life savings?

  Lorraine puts an arm over her brother-in-law’s shoulders. She smells a faint body odour, notices that Charlie is unshaved.

  There was £25,000, or thereabouts. She’s kept it all. It’s in a box.

  I can’t credit Maureen doing that There must be a reason. What did she say?

  She said I lost my right to it when I… when I… She’s going to save it for my grandson. Says I’ll just drink it anyway.

  Charlie voice falters.

  When you what? says Lorraine.

  I think I can hear Kylie again, says Tommy.

  When you what, Charlie? says Lorraine.

  Charlie paradiddles his fingers on the table. There is dirt under his fingernails. Without Maureen, his personal hygiene has been slipping.

  Charlie gave her a little bit of a slap, says Tommy.

  Lorraine withdraws the arm from Charlie’s shoulders.

  How much of a slap?

  It wasn’t just a slap, says Charlie miserably. His eyes meet Lorraine’s, then, unable to bear it, he looks away. I punched her.

  How much? Lorraine’s voice is even, cut glass.

  How do you mean?

  To. What. Extent.

  There was some facial bruising. A sprained wrist.

  What else?

  I busted one of her ribs.

  Quite a slap, says Lorraine coldly.

  He didn’t mean to hurt her, says Tommy pleadingly. He was at the end of his tether. Christ, she’s been in like Flint with his fucking neighbour for the last two years, old Magnum Force there, old Peter-on-the-horn. It’s enough to drive any man beyond the pale.

  That’s no excuse. If I did everything I’d like to do to you, you’d be in half a dozen pieces in the waste disposal.

  Tommy snorts, swigs at his drink.

  Is she going to prosecute? says Lorraine.

  No, says Charlie, eyes downward.

  More fool her.

  That’s a bit harsh, Lol.

  Now the baby really does starts crying again. Lorraine raises her eyes to the heavens, shoots a glance at Tommy and makes towards the sound. When she is gone, Tommy and Charlie sit in silence. Finally, Charlie looks up. There are tears in his eyes once again.

  What am I going to do, Tommy?

  Tommy shuffles his shoulders, adopting a position that suggests fresh starts, positive action.

  Come on, Charlie. Don’t be a moaning fucking whassername. Minnie. OK. Okey-dokey karaoke. Let’s look at the pros and cons. There’s no use crying over spilt milk. What’s done is done. What’s the bottom line here? First, you’re going to need somewhere to live. How much are you going to get when the house is sold?

  About fifty K. The lawyer says forty, but I think I’ll do better.

  Are you going to stay in MK?

  I don’t know. I suppose so. I can’t come back to London now. The property prices are too high.

  Well, if you stay there, you’ll have enough for a deposit on a little flat and a good bit left over.

  Who’s going to lend me the money, Tommy? I got no job.

  They don’t care. What about redundancy?

  Not much. Maybe ten grand at best.

  So that’ll be sixty grand. Get another property, borrow as much as you can. The price will carry on using, and you’ll be back on your feet in no time.

  They can’t keep rising for ever, Tommy.

  Charlie, they ain’t going to go down. Interest rates are down again. There’s money all over the place. I’m in the trade, mate, I know the score. You can’t lose.

  At this, Charlie brightens somewhat.

  Perhaps you’re right.

  Think about it. Bang twenty grand down on a property. They’ll lend up to five times your declared income at the moment, plus repayment holidays, God knows what. They’re gagging for business. Get some of that money that’s sloshing about. The tumbledown effect or whatever they call it.

  I haven’t got any income.

  Tommy touches his nose.

  I said declared income, didn’t I? Declared. You don’t have to be straight about it. They have these, what are they called, these types of mortgages where they don’t check up on you. They just give you what you say you earn. ‘Non-status’. I can tell them that you’re on my firm. Adviser or something. I mean, don’t go mad or that, but let’s just say you told them you were earning twenty grand per a. Then they’re going to give you 100 Gs. They’re even doing too per cent mortgages, where you don’t have to put down any deposit. I know a bloke in the Jewing trade, he’ll sort you. You can get a lovely new place, low repayments, leave yourself plenty of capital to play with for doing whatever you want to do. Nice little shag-pad.

  Shag-pad?

  Come on, Charlie. Look on the bright side, you miserable twat. You’re free, mate.

  Tommy lowers his voice.

  It’s a blessing in disguise. You ain’t got to listen to some gash ear-aching you all day long. What a relief You’re still in pretty good shape for your age. There’s plenty of muff out there for a man of property.

  Charlie slumps again slightly.

  A man of property with no job.

  No one’s got a job any more. Work for yourself! It’s the future. That’s what I’m saying
. No deposit, no check on your income. You’ll have forty, fifty grand to set yourself up in whatever line you choose. There’s loads of little earners. Everyone’s making it, Charlie. This is your big chance! In five years, Maureen will be eating her heart out that she’s dumped on you, because you’re going to be driving around in a nice big Merc with a nice little bit of gash in the seat with her hand on your gearstick, if you know what I mean, while she’s stuck with that gourd in the back of a Mini Metro going down to Kwik Save for some cut-price deep-frozen fucking turkey nuggets. You can go into business, Charlie. It’s not the end of something. It’s a new beginning!

  Kylie pissed on my hand.

  Lorraine has returned to the room, holding her right arm in the air, and heads for the sink. The screaming has grown louder. Tommy and Charlie fall silent as Lorraine washes herself and, with a dark glare at Tommy, returns upstairs.

  Tommy speaks again in hushed tones.

  See what I mean? Women are a bloody vexation. The times I’ve wanted to do to Lolly what you did to Maureen.

  Charlie looks up at his brother’s red, densely packed face.

  Why didn’t you, then?

  Why?

  Why?

  Well.

  Tommy screws up his face as if making a huge effort to uncover the answer.

  It would have been wrong, I suppose.

  Charlie nods. The thick knot of sickness that has hardly left his stomach since the day he split with Maureen seems to tighten once more.

  Anyway, never mind that, Charlie. Never mind me. This isn’t about me. You’ve got what everyone wants. You got freedom. Now it’s down to you.

  Some light at the back of Charlie’s eyes flickers. He feels some faint pulse at the centre of himself, some emerging core of possibility.

  Think about the future. It’s Pennies from Heaven, Charlie. Every time it rains, etc.

  But what am I going to do? What kind of business could I set up?

  Whatever you like! There’s money out there slopping around all over the place. Someone somewhere has spilled a big bucket of it. It’s therefor the people who have the guts and the get up and go to reach out and take it. The thing is to think of something you enjoy, try and find a market for that thing. It’s A, B and C – it’s arse, bollocks and cunt.

  There’s nothing I enjoy I can make a living out of. What am I going to do, open a card school? Start an off-licence?

  A tobacconist’s maybe, says Tommy, seeing Charlie reach for yet another cigarette.

  Yeah, or my own railway station, laughs Charlie, his first laugh of that day.

  Somewhere upstairs, Kylie has started crying again. A dog barks in the street.

  Your own railway station, says Tommy. Now there’s a thought.

  Charlie stops laughing. His eyelids flicker.

  Model railways, says Charlie, with a tone of dawning amazement. Model railways.

  Hobbies and games… It’s a massive market. People have got more money to spend than ever before. There’s millions of the bastards out there who’re into those toy trains.

  Model trains.

  You could get a lease on a shop outright with your capital, have plenty left for stock. With those sorts of bananas in the bank, they’ll lend you even more. It’s a goer, Charlie, I’m sure it’s a goer.

  I don’t know. I’ve never run a business in my life.

  You’d never owned a house before in your life either, had you, and I remember how you moaned and groaned and dragged your feet before you bought that one. Now look at you. Five years down the line, you’ve got fifty, maybe sixty grand in the bin. If you’d played it safe, Maureen would have got the key to the council flat, cos they’re all lesbians at the local council, and you’d have been living in a bleeding bedsit in Earls Court, surrounded by a bunch of koala-fuckers. You got to move up and move on, Charlie. This is a big opportunity.

  Charlie nods, amazed at the simplicity of it all.

  Maybe you’re right, he says.

  When you’re right, you’re right, says Tommy.

  Tommy! Get your fat behind out of that chair! calls Lorraine.

  Tommy doesn’t move, but pours Charlie another glass of Scotch. He winks at Charlie.

  Charlie goes to the lavatory and Lorraine comes back in, harassed, chewing her own teeth.

  What did you tell him?

  That he could start his own business.

  What? That… loser?

  There are worse things than being a loser.

  Not any more there aren’t. Not in this day and age. Not in 1987.

  Anyway, he’s not a loser. He’s going to be OK. Just you wait and see.

  Lorraine yawns theatrically, shakes her head and turns towards the kitchen. Charlie reappears with a vague smile upon his face.

  Here he is, then. Donald Trump, says Lorraine with a snort.

  Charlie simply looks puzzled.

  Who’s he?

  15

  15 October 1987. Margaret Thatcher has been elected for a third term this summer and she is triumphant, resplendent, invulnerable. She has cut taxes, and cut taxes again. Oil money flows into her coffers from the cold wastes of the North Sea. Interest rates are the lowest anyone can remember. The financial pages are sexier than the page-three girls, and the sell-offs of state property, the family silver, serve to top up coffers already overflowing. It can’t last… but then again, maybe it can! Anything is possible! Even stupid people, mediocre people, undeserving people, are walking around with labels that announce their extraordinary, unprecedented success.

  And suddenly… labels are everywhere, labels that were once reserved for the tiny layer of society at its pinnacle. There is Mulberry in Milton Keynes, there is Lacoste in Luton, there is Chanel in Chingford. Even Charlie has happily caught the bug, proudly wears the insignia for his new Ralph Lauren polo shirt, which sits this winter under a brand-new, pale yellow Pringle sweater.

  Things have worked out exactly as Tommy has predicted they would. The house realized even more than they could have hoped, and there was a small pay-off from News International, and Charlie, at one golden moment, had £68,000 sitting in his deposit account, even though Maureen took close on 60 per cent, as the lawyer had predicted. Charlie has bought a new house, smaller but nice, a Barratt home, five years old, five miles away from the old one. He has a 100 per cent mortgage, but the house’s value is rising so fast, the mortgage seems to be disappearing as he sits, eroded by the distant wash of larger forces. He is carried, like all the lucky ones, dipping and bobbing on a blue and green sea of banknotes.

  It is the day of the opening of the Milton Keynes Model Railway Centre (prop. C. Buck). The lease cost him a £10,000 premium, then another £10,000 to fit the place out. He’s spent £25,000 on stock and has borrowed £25,000 more from the bank. Tommy tells him he has to have a logo, and Charlie gets one designed for a grand – a railway engine with the name of the shop spelt out in steam. There’s rent of £100 per week plus the rates, plus God alone knows what else. He’s spent a few K advertising in the local paper, another on local radio. He’s got accountants, book-keepers, a solicitor. There is a two-year-old silver-grey Mercedes saloon outside, which Tommy found for him, a bargain. Charlie would have been happy with some little Japanese job, but Tommy has explained that you’ve got to walk the fucking walk. No one’s going to take you seriously if you don’t take yourself seriously, says Tommy. So he got the Merc, and it feels good behind the wheel, it feels real, it lends him a dignity that he could never have imagined.

  Sometimes Charlie thinks back to his days at the council flat in Fulham with Maureen, and thinks that it cannot be true that the same person occupied this skin, this same ghostly tenant who owns a shop, and a German car, and a lovely new house, and is single and very much available and open to offers, not that any have been forthcoming as yet.

  And as he stands behind the plate-glass doors and gets ready to unlock them for his first day of trading, he realizes two things simultaneously. First, that he doesn
t have a clue what he’s doing. Not… the… first… damn… clue. But – Jesus God Almighty! – instead of frightening him, this thought uplifts him, amazes him with the power of his own resources in the face of such ignorance. And second, and connected to this, that this is one of the most exciting, most satisfying days of his life. He turns the key in the lock. Immediately, an ear-splitting alarm sounds. He scuttles to the control panel and punches in the code. The silence that follows resounds, feels sacred. Now Charlie sits behind his counter and surveys his empire. At the front of the shop, a giant garden railway arranged around replica fields and a single, four-foot-high snow-topped mountain. There are low waiting rooms, precisely copied signals, railway crossings where stationary model cars wait for moving trains to pass.

  The railway is G Scale, and there is some sixty feet of track snaking around in an extended oval. A Lynton and Barnstaple tank locomotive sits at the miniature station, which is in this world called Chelfam Station, made of simulated stone with a tiled roof and bargeboards. A modular lattice foot bridge crosses from one platform to another. An Edwardian family awaits the train, a tiny but perfectly finished driver waits for the engine to be stoked. There are signal boxes, a station clock showing the real time: 10.03 a.m. A lone woman, who appears to be from an entirely different time zone, perhaps the 1940s or 1950s, waits for the train a few inches along from the Edwardian family. Charlie recognizes the inconsistency of these details, but views the creation of model universes with a catholic eye. He knows that artificial worlds do not need to correspond to actual ones.

 
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