To commemorate the 1914 Christmas truce, the story “Dulce et Decorum est”, from Volume 1 of “Tales From Beyond Tomorrow!”, is free on Wattpad for the holiday season. To read it in its entirety, go HERE!
On Tuesday night, I was mildly surprised to get on a carriage of the Yamanote line, Tokyo’s equivalent of the Circle line, and find that the entire train (inside and out) had been decorated with promotional advertising for the miniseries “24: Live Another Day”. This included video screens above the seats and overhead banner posters going all the way down the carriage (and presumably the entire train). I tried to get a shot of the inside but unfortunately the crowds of passengers prevented me from doing so.
“24: Live Another Day” airs on Japan’s Fox Channel early next March.
What’s the story behind the cafe in Kanda (central Tokyo) that has set up a display dedicated to the works of Philip K Dick, especially Blade Runner?
The secret is that the cafe (The Christie Cafe) is right next door to (and is owned by) the Hayakawa publishing company, which specializes in mystery, suspense, fantasy, and science fiction. Until Dec 26th, they’re running an exhibition that features a special menu (Do Androids Dream of Mutton Mixed Grill, amongst other dishes), a Voight-Kampff Empathy questionnaire form (in Japanese) to find out if you’re a replicant or not, an origami sheet of instructions on how to fold the trademark chicken and unicorn, and nightly screenings of PKD film adaptations. Soundtracks (such as the seminal Vangelis Blade Runner soundtrack) are piped through the PA from 5pm to closing time.
Go and see it …because otherwise those two months of the display will be lost … like tears in the rain.
Continuing until the 4th of January 2015 in the Roppongi Hills Arts Centre Gallery, is “The World of Tim Burton”, an exhibition dedicated to the King of all Weird-looking Misfits with a Heart of Gold. It’s divided into fourteen sections, and contains hundreds of mixed-media exhibits, some of them instantly recognizable from his hit movies, some of them never seen before.
The sections are divided up along the lines of media and themes. There are sketches of characters such as Edward Scissorhands and Jack Skellington, accompanied by pages from Burton’s scrapbooks, showing how they proceeded from idea to screen reality. There are also models and maquettes of characters such as the Oompa Lumpas, and original sculptures and a series of outsized Polaroids by Burton himself. Video screens show a few adventures from “The World of Stainboy”, a series of flash animation shorts that Burton created with Flinch Studio in 2000 – as well as the Disney “Hansel and Gretel” TV special shown once in 1982 (and never repeated on mainstream TV – wonder why?)
Of particular note are three sections. One is Unrealized Projects, with 90 works of art hinting at what darkly glorious works could have reached the screen … if only the conditions had been right.
The others are Influences and The Carnivalesque, containing a total of eighty artworks in various media. It’s common knowledge now that Burton’s trademark is the misunderstood freak, the shunned outsider who hides a heart of gold beneath a bizarre appearance. His signature designs are based on German Expressionism and old-time sideshow carnivals (that get a whole section to themselves), as can be seen in his movies right from “Edward Scissorhands” to “Frankenweenie”. What impressed me personally, however, were the influences that I wasn’t expecting, but seem only logical considering Burton’s work as a whole. One of these is the influence of H. P. Lovecraft. The painting “Surrounding” is a clear nod to Lovecraft’s universe of Cosmic Horror, where our world is bordered by fathomless voids of time and space filled with intelligences beyond the scope of human comprehension.
Another nod goes to Ralph Steadman – curiously enough, when I was looking at one of Burton’s scrapbooks I had the sudden feeling I was reading the paperback of Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”.
The World of Tim Burton, then. Go and lose yourself in it. You might not find your way back to your previous reality … and you might not care.
All images copyright Tim Burton, natch.
Two awesome illustrations from “The Invention of God”! The story can be found as a stand-alone “e-short”, or in the collection “Tales From Beyond Tomorrow” – Volume One. The images below will be displayed for a limited time only!
TIME’S UP – YOU’LL HAVE TO BUY THE BOOK!
Get the e-short HERE:
Get the Kindle collection HERE:
Get the full illustrated paperback collection HERE:
Excerpt from a Steampunk thriller featured in “The Futurist Manifesto”.
They lifted him out of his opium dreams and carried him down into the smoke of Hell – which was, he eventually realized through his struggling and sweats of terror, a private compartment of the District line moving out of Limehouse beneath east London. The wood and glass doors were tightly closed, but the vapors of sulfur, coal fumes, oil lamps, and tobacco from the pipes of the second-class passengers seeped through and stained the air. He was held down by two muscular servants in frock coats and silk cravats, who kept him from escaping, but even so mopped his brow and kept him from yanking open the door and hurling himself onto the tracks outside to escape his misery. Through his delirium, he realized they were under instructions to keep him in one piece; in that case, they were obviously not the Turks.
By the time they had arrived at Hyde Park Corner Station, he had recovered some sense of gentlemanly decorum. They forced some vile-smelling salts under his nose that chased the last of the phantoms away, and he felt almost human.
They frog-marched him out of the gateway and across the street, to the coarse laughter of the flower-sellers and thimble-riggers behind their wooden stalls. “Our friend had quite a night of it,” one of his bodyguards said to everyone in general, tipping his hat. “Not too steady on his pins.”
The cold of the February afternoon prickled his skin and reinvigorated his senses. He blinked the tears out of his eyes, took in deep breaths of air laced with stink from the nearby Thames, feet plodding in mechanical fashion as he was half-carried by his burly companions. He realized where they were taking him. Tall iron gates loomed up ahead; the Crystal Palace.
He twisted around in their grip and tried to dig in his heels. “Tell me honestly, sirs,” he croaked in his rusty voice, “How much danger am I in?”
A broad, mustached face stared into his and winked. “Not much, Mr. Gregory.”
The Crystal Palace stood at the heart of the British Empire, a heart constructed of glass and iron and filled with air and light. The crowning glory of Victorian engineering, over three times the size of Westminster Abbey. Almost a million square feet constructed over the space of a few months, with nine hundred thousand square feet of glass hung supported by thousands of cast-iron girders and pillars. John Gregory and his attendants entered the Hyde Park South gateway, and walked at a steady pace through the colossal structure toward the giant elm tree in the center of the complex, a tree that stretched up towards a vaulted roof seventy feet high. A rattling and whirring above made him look up; in the daylight-filled rafters, a pair of mechanical sparrow-hawks glided, hunting for the sparrows, thrushes and pigeons that had infested the galleries.
Gregory’s bodyguards sat him down at a metalwork chair and circular table at an open-air café. At this time of the afternoon, it had only just opened, and there were only a few customers; he now realized how cleverly the meeting place had been chosen. It was private enough to have a confidential talk, but public enough to give Mr. Gregory a feeling of security.
Not a false sense of security, he hoped.
The bodyguards even gave him a comb, so Mr. Gregory could straighten his short, sandy hair and his straggling mustache. He now became fully aware of his appearance; his cravat had gone missing somewhere in the opium den, but his black frock coat and trousers did not seem to be too stained or dusty. He fastened his collar and volubly coughed, taking in more of his surroundings.
Walking through the cafe towards his table at a sedate pace, with an entourage of statuesque men and women following, was a figure he noted with resigned recognition. Of course. It had to be her.
She came closer, her eyes fixed upon Gregory. She wore a pale blue Battenberg city gown and touring hat, and carried a furled, carnation-colored parasol and matching lace fan. Her face was delicate, compact and fringed with immaculately coiffured, reddish-gold hair.
Lady Florence Padbury, the head of Imperial Counter-Intelligence, seated herself in genteel fashion at his table. “Mr. Gregory,” she said, “let’s try to behave like the ladies and gentlemen we are reputed to be.”
He breathed in deeply and attempted to match her confidence. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“First, there is something I wish you to see.” She waved a kid-gloved hand at the massive stone slab that dominated the cafe, fringed by ferns and palm leaves on either side.
“This is Mr. Garfield’s new memorial, that portrays the great automobile race of 1845. It fascinates me. You see the bas-relief of the Cugnot automobile’s steam turbine viewed from the front, and behind it, the mufflers and goggles of the driver and navigator. Carved in stone. Does it not seem dreadfully absurd, Mr. Gregory? Does it not seem a contradiction in terms?”
“I do wish you would get to the point,” Gregory said with a cough.
“A stone automobile, sir, that is my point. It is a logical contradiction. Marble is cold, brittle, silent, mineral. Automobiles are fast, noisy, warm, metallic.”
“The world is full of statues of the human form.”
“True, but we have had hundreds of years of becoming used to the convention of human sculpture. We do not find it queer to see a stone human figure and expect it to move and walk.”
Gregory indicated the swarthy fellows standing behind him. “Oh, I don’t know. Your bodyguards are doing a pretty good job.”
“And there’s always the tale of Don Giovanni, ma’am,” one of the bodyguards added with slight bow.
Lady Padbury tapped the spike of her parasol on the flagstones. “We need a new way of seeing, Mr. Gregory. A new way of expressing this world of metal, of steam, of speed, of power. When I was a child, I remember my tutor showing me the daguerreotypes taken by Mr. Danelek from his hot-air balloon. The farms and the factories, the forests and the aqueducts. It was like looking at a completely new world. Soon construction will be finished on the Blackpool Tower, and this new world view will be available to all.
“Unless the French beat you to it, with that replica they’re planning.”
Lady Padbury smiled.
A nervous waiter drew near and placed afternoon tea upon the filagreed ironwork of the table; scones, wafers, almond and vanilla slices, and crustless sandwiches cut into triangles. The waiter gave a nervous glance at the smiling men behind Gregory, bowed, and beat a hasty retreat.
“You should eat something, Mr. Gregory. You need to keep body and soul together.”
There was silence while Lady Padbury daintily poured tea into two china cups and applied marmalade and clotted cream to the scones.
“We have been very worried about you, Mr. Gregory,” she continued eventually. “ You could have let us know where you were … or simply that you were still alive.”
His stomach groaned and his nausea ebbed and flowed. He tried to restrain himself from cramming the tiny sandwiches into his mouth.
“I have a proposition for you,” she said softly.
“With respect, Lady Padbury, I am not interested in the slightest.”
“I assure you, Mr. Gregory, you will not be spending weeks being poked and prodded by physicians or engineers.” She raised a gloved hand. “There is someone I would like you to meet.”
At her gesture, a member of the entourage stepped forward. Gregory noted that the tall, wide-chested newcomer wore a black three-piece suit of a cut and material that he wasn’t familiar with, and held himself very straight. His skin was leathery and brown contrasted with the white and black of his tombstone shirt and cravat, as if he spent a great deal of time outdoors. He doffed his felt derby hat and bowed deeply, displaying his unfashionably long hair.
“May I present Mr. Alexander Lentz, of the Universalist Church of Massachusetts,” Lady Padbury announced.
“At your service,” Lentz said with a broad Colonial twang.
“Good Lord,” muttered Gregory.
Lentz picked up the remark at once, and with no trace of irony. “Yes, He is, is He not?”
Gregory snorted with mirthless laughter. “You are indeed a long way from home, sir.”
The Colonial seated himself next to Gregory, his smile intensifying. He seemed about five-and-thirty, perhaps the same age as Gregory himself; his features were finely-chiseled and handsome. “Mr. Lentz has a very interesting story to tell,” Lady Padbury said.
With a strange gleam in his eye, Lentz launched into his tale. “I belong to a small sub-group of the Universalist Church, based in the city of Lynn, Massachusetts,” Lentz began. His voice was deep and mellifluous, Gregory noted; at least it was easy on the ears. He just hoped that the frights of opium withdrawal would not return, and paint the man’s face with horns, huge bulging eyes, or similar phantasms.
Lentz produced a daguerreotype from his waistcoat pocket and laid it on the table. The image was of a middle-aged man dressed in severe clerical style, who in profile showed a thoughtful, and somehow kindly aspect.
“Our division of the church was led by a man named John Murray Spear. A great, benevolent, and principled man. He was a reformist; his views on slavery, suffrage and temperance were considerably ahead of their time. He even operated a branch of the Underground Railroad, helping renegade slaves escape to Canada.”
“You are using the past tense, sir.”
“Yes, you are guessing what I am about to say. But hear me out, sir. Seven years ago Mr. Spear received a visitation from the Holy Spirit that revealed his powers as a trance medium, and he converted to Spiritualism. He consulted with the Fox sisters and Daniel Dunglas Home, and founded the church that I am proud to be a member of. The spirits guided him – and us – to towns where he cured the sick with the laying on of hands. In trances, he spoke to the spirits of Swedenborg, Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, and divulged to us messages of hope and salvation, from beyond the veil.”
Gregory sighed. “So where did it all go wrong, Mr. Lentz? Because if it had not, you would not be talking to me.”"
Lentz took a sip of tea to moisten his throat.
“Spear was given a vision of a great machine. An invention like no other; a conception that, if realized, could transform the world in the way that the steam engine has.”
“In his trance, Spear was given the knowledge of how to broadcast electrical power by radio waves,” Lady Padbury interjected. “This is the information Mr. Lentz has brought to Her Majesty’s court.”
Gregory could not stop himself guffawing. “It’s fantasy. We’ve got a few water wheels up and down the country that can light arc lamps, but sending electrical currents through the ether? You insult my intelligence, sir.”
“Be patient, good sir. Last year, we moved the Church to the town of Randolph, in New York, where we began our experiments. Spear received the plans for the mechanism in his trances, and we purchased supplies, and began construction … and then the tragedy struck. A hysterical, misinformed mob broke into the church, smashed the machinery, and destroyed the plans.”
Lentz came to a halt, his countenance visibly upset.
“And Mr. Spear?” Gregory prompted.
A strange, distant look came into the Colonial’s eyes. “The father of our church was killed. Trampled by an ignorant, hate-filled crowd.”
Gregory stared. He noticed for the first time that beneath Lentz’s long hair, at the point where the top of his ear joined the hairline, there was a fine crosshatching of delicate white scars.
“Mr. Lentz was sent here as a delegation of the Church,” Lady Padbury added. “Naturally enough, they felt they had been shamefully treated by their own countrymen. They offered the secret of broadcast electricity to the Church of England, and the British Empire … and just think, Mr. Gregory! Think of the potential!”
Gregory leant forward, keeping his voice low. “I understand that you want to see your leader again, Mr. Lentz,” he said, “but this cannot be done.”
“Yes, it can.” Lentz seemed to recover his wits, and spoke in a blunt, matter-of-fact voice. “You just have to go far enough in to reach him.”
Mr. Gregory shook his head. “Not possible.”
“Lady Padbury gives me to believe that you were, at one point, the finest Spiritualist medium in the British Empire, and you have done this many times before.”
“Look at me. I’m a wash-out, a discarded rag. Do you really think I can do it again?”
Lady Padbury tapped the point of her parasol sharply upon the flagstones. “Her Majesty’s Government is not giving you a choice, Mr. Gregory.”
The Cugnot waited at the entrance to Hyde Park, hissing contentedly. It was the larger version, the variety that seated up to six within its chocolate-brown wood and brass carriage, the barrel-shaped high-intensity coal turbine at the front. Mr. Gregory had always thought it amusing that these automobiles were decorated by a brass horse’s head above the bonnet. An unnecessary, but somehow very British form of ornamentation.
The assassin was also waiting.
He looked like the typical bon vivant, with his satin-trimmed coat, highland trousers and silk puff tie. He sauntered towards the Cugnot as if he was simply out taking the air, and as the bodyguards scowled at him, he doffed his John Bull top hat in a friendly manner and raised his silver-headed cane.
Lady Padbury was even faster than the bodyguards. Before they could throw their bulk in front of her, she had snapped her parasol open and held it up before herself, Gregory and Lentz. Gregory heard the ziiippp! as the spring-fired poison dart sliced through the air and embedded itself in the parasol.
The bodyguards swarmed upon the assassin, wrestling him to the ground beneath a heap of worsted, wool and leather, while Gregory, Lentz and Lady Padbury were politely but firmly bundled into the carriage, three valets accompanying them. The engine hissed and spat, and the Cugnot pulled away from the curb at the breakneck speed of thirty miles per hour.
Inside the carriage, Lady Padbury fussed and smoothed her garments down. “Well, really. I must invest in new bodyguards.” She held up the remnant of the steel dart between her gloved fingers. “And a new parasol; this one’s got a hole in it.”
Mr. Gregory was looking out of the window, back at the struggling human knot on the pavement. “It’s no use, you know. He’ll have one of those cyanide pills that the Turks give all their agents.”
He turned away and sat back. He noticed that Lentz seemed curiously unconcerned at what had just happened. While talking about the father of his church, he had been moved to tears. But for his own personal safety …?
“The Lord hath a task for each or us, and it is vanity to speculate upon its nature,” Lentz said at length.
Gregory scowled. “Is it vanity to speculate whether the Lord will get my gentlemanly posterior out of this mess?”
Lady Padbury leaned forward, her violet eyes twinkling. “Her Majesty’s Government will, Mr. Gregory. Although your task may be arduous, and the secrecy of its nature means that none shall know of your achievement except the Lord, Mr. Lentz, and the agents of Queen Victoria, rest assured – that will be sufficient.”
Gregory could not resist smiling. “Very well,” he said, nodding assent.
His confidence was short-lived, however, as he saw through the windows the looming destination of the Cugnot.
“Waterloo Bridge Station?” Mr. Gregory cried. “What the blazes do you think you’re doing? Every station and locomotive in London is going to be crawling with enemy agents. It’s why I went to ground in Limehouse in the first place.”
“We are not entering the station,” Lady Padbury said smoothly, as the Cugnot puffed its way past the Victory Arch, “and we are not taking a train. Not a public train, at last.”
They turned a corner and made their way down a small, quiet road leading around the back of the main station. A gloom fell upon the carriage interior as they entered a vast, echoing shed ribbed with iron girders and walkways. On either side sleek black locomotives waited, their polished metal and brass glowing warmly in the gaslight. Huge ornamental clocks suspended from the rafters measured out departure times in regimented seconds.
The Cugnot pulled up outside one locomotive and halted, bubbling quietly to itself. Gregory dismounted with the others, his boot steps echoing in the vast interior, his breath frosting slightly in the chill. He glared at the copper-plated inscription upon the locomotive’s door.
“But this is …”
Lady Padbury was clearly enjoying this. “Yes, Mr. Gregory, this is the Necropolis Line. An express journey from Waterloo Necropolis Station to the metropolitan cemetery at Brookwood. The driver is one of my finest men, and our agents will collect you at Brookwood and escort you to the safe house. So, you see, there is nobody to witness your escape from London, Mr. Gregory. Nobody among the living, that is.”
At her gesture, he climbed aboard the train and entered the carriage. Inside, coffins were arranged in smart rows leading away into a hushed, murky darkness, the papered walls of the carriage lit softly by gas-burners.
In front of him, one coffin lay with its lid swung open.
“You cannot be serious.”
“What do you have to fear, Mr. Gregory? Surely, as a spiritualist, you are familiar with the dead?”
“I do not particularly wish to travel with them,” he muttered. “At least, not just yet.”
He looked down at the coffin, with its smooth walnut lid and red satin-lined interior. Lifting his legs, he climbed inside, and lay down. He stared up at the faces of Lady Padbury, Mr. Lentz, and the bodyguards, smiling in sympathy.
“Things could be worse,” said Lady Padbury. “We could have put you with the coffins in Second Class.”
The lid swung down, and Mr. Gregory lay flat, encased in darkness.
To read the rest of the story, go HERE.
To read the whole collection of lavishly illustrated science fiction stories, novelettes and comic strips …
go here for KINDLE.
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Gods and Monsters from Japanese Mythology! Super-Heroes! Sword-wielding schoolgirls! Steampunk and Dieselpunk inventions! The latest two releases from Excalibur Books have got them all!
Tales From Beyond Tomorrow -
This lavishly illustrated collection of short stories, novellas and comic strips will take you on a mind-blowing tour of alternative history, where alterations of events and technology have produced worlds eerily different from our own.
From a traumatized Spiritualist medium trying to redeem himself in a bizarre Steampunk London, to otherworldy angels that haunt the trenches of World War I … from a team of super-powered vigilantes fighting to keep order in a seventies New York City gone mad, to a TV evangelist preaching to an environmentally devestated Europe … these stories will propel you from one reality to another, like a giant cosmic pinball machine.
Buy the ebook HERE
Buy the print version – HERE
Book Two of the YA “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” trilogy!
Japanese-American teenager Reiko Bergman is hoping to get back to a normal life, after helping defeat the alien Kagetori in their attempt to steal one of the mysterious and unbelievably powerful Imperial Treasures of Japan.
Her hopes are dashed when the Nine Star Division, the branch of Japan’s police force that deals with otherwordly threats to the nation, inform Reiko she is involved in a Kagetori threat to sieze the second Imperial Treasure – the mystic mirror known as the Yata no Kagami. Not only that, Reiko learns of a secret two-hundred-year-old scroll relating the history of the mirror and its guardian; the half-Japanese warrior and shamaness known as … Reiko Bergman.
In a journey into the past to try to save the future, Reiko will experience mind-bending battles fighting the Kagetori alongside mythological creatures such as the Tengu, Kappa and Kitsune, but the strangest ally of all will be … herself.
Buy the ebook HERE
Buy the print version HERE
Sunday September 7th, Kinokuniya Bookstore. I attended a live appearance and book signing by author Barry Lancet, who unveiled his new novel “Tokyo Kill”, the second in the series featuring private investigator Jim Brodie.
Having read the first book in the series, “Japantown”, I was very interested to see what the second would be like. Lancet combines the elements of a best-selling thriller with an accurate portrayal of current Japanese society; the main subject of the talk was the painstaking efforts taken to make sure that everything was authentic and every character was believable. In the wake of certain big-budget books and films that made a mish-mash of Japanese and Chinese culture, this was something quite close to the audience’s heart. Lancet has lived in Japan for twenty-five years and now divides his time between Tokyo and San Francisco, so if you’re looking for the real, gritty, sweat-and-blood-stained Japan, this is it.
The story kicks off just after the conclusion of “Japantown”, when Brodie is looking for a little downtime after the case that nearly destroyed him and his family. What he finds, however, is the son of an elderly World War II veteran, with a fantastic tale of lost wartime treasure and Chinese Triads. Brodie is still considering the case when the son is viciously murdered … and from then on, it’s personal.
Although it’s true that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, this one is worth a special mention. Along with the strong visual appeal of the font and color scheme, the cover features an excellent depiction of the Sumida river at night. This, according to Barry’s presentation, refers to a speedboat chase scene in the novel that I’m looking forward to reading when I get that far (Reviews will follow!) There’s another first, for readers of this blog who are interested in my Shitamachi news and explorations. Apparently this is the first English-language novel to feature the Sky Tree on the front! Result!!
And here’s a close-up …
Jimmy Diamond leaped onto his Vespa GX2000 scooter, kicked the antigrav engine into life, and rose into the skies above Hammersmith. He straightened his skinny tie, wiped the last remnants of egg and bacon from his chin, and pushed in the punch-card that gave him access to the DAIR (Driver and Aid Information and Routing) master computer. A light flashed above the slot, and the Vespa ascended, easing into the traffic of the main airlane.
He picked up speed and turned onto the Central airline that took him cruising over the Bayswater Road. Soon, through the clear morning air, he could see the aerocabs and buses zipping about high above the rooftops, around the Churchill Monument, the Monico Tower with its rooftop crane that reminded everyone of a huge propeller, and the municipal airship moored to the Post Office Tower. Jimmy’s parka fluttered in the breeze, and the muted sun glimmered though his Wayfarer sunglasses.
It was a great day to be a Mod.
He’d bought the Vespa earlier that year, and it was his most prized possession. Italian-made, a light but sturdy frame of pressed steel painted in red and white, the front shield curving up to the headlamp and handlebars. It could drive conventionally on the ground with the two wheels and newly purchased Dunlop tires at a top speed of 45mph, but airborne it could fly at 75 mph – the speed limit decided not by wind resistance, but the DAIR regulations hardwired into every metropolitan vehicle. The anti-grav generator was directly underneath the leather seat, and controlled by the tiny dashboard just under the handlebars. Jimmy’s pride and joy, customized by the dozen or so mirrors fastened to the handlebars and the Union Jack he hung from the back aerial when he flew down to Brighton on weekends.
The scooter dropped out of the fast lane into the transition zone as Jimmy neared Tottenham Court Road and his awaiting office. He flicked the butt of his Woodbine away, and took a big lungful of fresh air before he kicked the Vespa into parking mode. Below him, on the rooftop aeropad, the cars of the building’s occupants were neatly parked inside the painted white lines, and Jimmy lowered his Vespa skillfully into the space reserved for scooters.
As he was switching off the engine, the door to the main stairwell opened and a short figure rushed onto the roof, clad in a silver jumpsuit and goldfish-bowl helmet, pointing his toy ray-pistol right at Jimmy. “You’re a goddamn Commie!” the figure shouted. “Zap! Zap! Zap!”
Jimmy reeled back and clutched his heart. “Nyet! Nyet! Dosvedanya Vodka Sputnik!” he yelled in fake agony.
Right behind the boy was Mr. Gill, the building’s landlord, looking natty in his two-tone Nehru jacket and matching turban. He ushered his boy back down the stairs and smiled an apology.
“Now then Mr. Jimmy, if I could have a word about the office rent …”
Sure enough, every Monday, regular as clockwork. Jimmy had the bees-and-honey ready this time. He peeled a roll of notes out of his wallet and handed over a Lady Godiva. “I’ll have the rest by the end of the week, Mr. Gill, I promise.”
“Well, it would be nice if you didn’t have to leave everything until the last minute, isn’t it? I have overheads, Mr. Jimmy. I have a business and a family. Overheads.”
Finally getting away, Jimmy ran down the two flights of stairs and paused outside his office door to unlock it. He looked again at the sign stenciled on the vitrolite window;
Then he was inside.
This was Jimmy’s office, crammed in on the fifth floor between an insurance investigator and an employment agency. Two green filing cabinets on the back wall on either side of a wall-mounted TV screen (for the Satnews channels), two white metal cupboards on the left side, a second-hand desk of genuine wood facing the door, and his Elektra espresso maker next to the window and the Venetian blinds.
Plus the bottle of Jameson’s and the jazz mags in the bottom drawer.
He crossed the short space to the back wall, moved around his small second-hand desk, and opened the windows, letting the fusty weekend air out and the city summer smells in. He switched on the espresso maker and it started bubbling away to itself. He put two packets of Embassy Filters and a copy of the Daily Express on the desk, and stared out through the open window. It was that sort of July morning that made the aluminum parts of his coffee machine glow like they were alive.
He was just sipping the second espresso of the day when a shadow fell upon the window. A distinctly feminine shadow, followed by a knock.
Usually, Jimmy’s clients were old geezers in tweed jackets and balding hair pasted across their bony skulls with smelly Brylcreem, or frustrated housewives in frumpy John Lewis coats. Evidence of infidelity and serving divorce papers, that was Jimmy’s bread and butter. He kept telling himself that one day, he’d have some gorgeous bit of stuff come in with a handbag full of cash and a mysterious mission. Especially now, because he’d run out of active cases at the end of last week.
Today was his lucky day.
She wore an Op Art print linen dress from Tuffin and Foale, the sort of thing every dolly bird on the King’s Road was sporting this summer. A really sweet face with the latest Mary Quant sheen, fake lashes making her eyes look huge. Dark hair cut in a shiny Sasson bob. In a word: fraggin’ gorgeous.
Jimmy hurriedly took his Chelsea boots off the desk and stood up. “Do take a seat, Miss …?”
“Radcliffe. Georgina Radcliffe.” She stood in the middle of the office, gazing around nervously. “Are you Jimmy Diamond?” she said, in a tone of vague disappointment.
“That’s what it says on the door,” he said with a cocky grin. Easy on the jokes, he told himself. The married birds like to have a laugh to relax them but the younger ones – you have to fight to get them to take you seriously.
“I heard about you from my uncle, Victor. He said you helped him out in Blackpool last year.”
“Oh yeah, I remember him! Come in and make yourself comfortable.”
“You look a bit young to run a detective agency,” she said, fluttering her eyelashes like an Italian starlet. She might have looked Kensington, but her accent was pure Wembley. “How old are you? Twenty-one?”
“Yeah,” said Jimmy defensively, trying to keep his posh voice from slipping. “Well, no. I’m twenty, actually. A little bit older than you, by the looks of it. And it doesn’t matter how old I am because I’ve got the experience and I’ve got the brains, haven’t I? I’ve got it up ‘ere.”
And you’ve got it down there, he thought, looking at the nice pair of Eartha Kitts filling out the top of her minidress.
“Have you got references, or something?”
Jimmy pointed to the framed licensing certificates on the walls.
“Well, that’s all right, I suppose, but I don’t know anything about private eyes. What are your charges like?”
“Well, as they say – I’m not free, but I’m cheap! It sort of depends what I’m employed to do, innit? Listen, er, why don’t you sit down, Miss Radcliffe?”
“You can call me Georgie if you like.” She lowered herself into the second-hand Magistretti chair and fidgeted with her handbag. “Your name isn’t really Diamond, is it?”
“No.” Jimmy loosened his collar, and quickly changed the subject. “If I could haver some specifics, erm … Georgie?”
Jimmy nodded in sympathy. “Have you contacted the police?”
“Yes, and they said it’s too soon to do anything. They said I should …”
“Wait for twenty-four hours before filing a crime report, yeah, I know. That’s what they always say, but I can appreciate you don’t want to wait. Okay, it’s two pounds a day, plus expenses, and I’ll get to work on your case right away.”
“Well, that’s a bit steep, innit! You must be raking it in.”
“Oh no I ain’t, doll – er, Georgie,” Jimmy said, trying to get back on the right foot. “I got overheads, see? And this is how I make a living.”
“Are you the only person who works here?”
“Yeah. That’s me, all on me Jack Jones. I employ other people – experts, like – on what you might call a freelance basis.”
“Oh, freelance basis! You do sound la-de-da, don’t you? How much do you want up front?”
“Well …” Jimmy gave her the nicest smile he could manage. “Look, just tell me what it’s all about, yeah? We can work out the small print later.”
She tightened her grip on her handbag, hesitating, a catch in her throat. “My father didn’t come home last night,” she said.
Jimmy sat back and breathed out. He was most likely looking at marital infidelity. The poor girl’s dad had run off to Torquay with his secretary or some other bit on the side, so he was in for a week of taking dirty pictures on the pier. Well, at least the weather was nice.
“Tell me more,” Jimmy said, reaching over to switch on the reel-to-reel autorecorder.
Georgie turned the handbag over in her lap with her long-fingernailed hands and looked at him with a gleam in her eyes. “Mum passed away a few years ago, so it’s just the three of us, me, Dad and my younger sister Rita. Dad’s been a real brick, he takes care of us, and he’s so dedicated to his work. He wouldn’t just go off somewhere without telling us first.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a scientist. He’s doing research over at the Docklands Science Park.”
That made Jimmy sit up and take notice. The DSP was an exclusive place, full of Oxbridge boffins and public school throbbing skulls. Dr. Radcliffe was either a genius or loaded – probably both.
“You leave it to me,” Jimmy said, looking as businesslike as he could. “I’ll bring your father back to you, no problem.”
Georgie sniffed and fished a crumpled roll of one-pound notes from her handbag. “You’d better,” she said, “I took this out of our life savings.”
The Docklands Science Park was the latest product of Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s “white-hot technological revolution”. It sat in what used to be the West India Docks over at Tower Hamlets, and was the place where university science departments and private corporations did research on stuff that gave Jimmy a headache when he tried to read about it in the papers. Flying in from the west on the Jubilee airlane, the DSP took shape as a huge transparent dome. Within lay a sprawling collection of smaller geodesic domes, concrete sculptures in wave-like organic forms, and plastic and steel Populuxe towers, all connected by covered walkways through ornamental gardens.
A forged aerocab punch-card could get Jimmy into most places; the real work was in avoiding getting thrown out. Once through the dome’s main gates, he followed the flashing neon maps along the almost-deserted avenues that showed him where Dr. Radcliffe’s office could be found. It was a self-contained high-tech lab, Georgie had said, that he shared with his research partner, Dr. Henry Primble.
Arriving at the fibersteel bubble reception area, outside the detached golf-ball shaped main lab, Jimmy got the uneasy pricking sensation that told him something was wrong.
Facing him was a standard servo-bot receptionist. It was about six feet tall and roughly humanoid, a steel column tapering down to metal blocks with tiny wheels underneath. The chest held a TV monitor with tuning knobs on either side – but the screen showed only static. Two flexi-tube arms with pincers on the ends hung loosely down by its sides. The cube-shaped head held a metalwork grille where a human mouth would have been, and two round, protruding camera lenses for eyes.
Jimmy coughed and stepped forward shyly. “Erm … Speedee Taxis? Someone made a booking.”
The robot didn’t speak, didn’t move, and he noticed there was no light showing in the twin camera eyes. It was totally switched off. Jimmy cautiously moved in for a closer look. He walked around the robot’s cylindrical body, and noticed something that made his skin crawl; the control unit attached to the robot’s back was almost melted into scrap. It looked like someone had given it a right going-over with a ray blaster.
All kinds of alarm bells started going off in Jimmy’s head.
He looked around and wondered what to do. The sky outside was grey, even though the weather computer had slated no rain showers for today. Par for the course. If the Soviets really did want to invade the UK, all they had to do was permanently switch the master computer to ‘rainy” and the British would grumble themselves to death.
Jimmy walked past the reception area and along the short corridor that led to the lab. On the walls were framed photographs of the usual science superstars – Turing, Rutherford, Grindell-Matthews, Brett, Travers, Watkins, Crick, Watson, and a bunch of other egg-heads Jimmy didn’t recognize.
He thought of Georgie, and decided to explore further. Girls needed to be impressed; good news or bad, the job had to be done properly. The corridor ended in a walk-up ramp, and as soon as Jimmy put his size nines on the first step, he realized something was badly wrong. The sliding security doors were half-open, and wisps of black smoke were curling through the air.
Bracing himself, he slid the doors fully outwards. He coughed as puffs of greasy vapor wafted past his face. Along with the smoke was a smell far worse than any burnt toast Jimmy ever had the misfortune to make. Holding his breath, he stepped into the lab. Somewhere inside, a radio was playing; The Coasters were doing their best with Poison Ivy, but there were more than the usual pops and crackles mixed in with it, like it was a really bad reception.
Jimmy waved the smoke away, peering into every corner of the lab. It was full of benches holding glass tubes and chrome pipes and squat metallic boxes, for uses that Jimmy could only guess at. The floor was decorated with a mosaic showing an atom with electrons whizzing around it. It was all dead scientific.
The back wall had something on it that looked slightly like mold and slightly like modern art – but it was clearly the source of the smoke hanging around the lab. As Jimmy got closer, the alarm bells rang in his head even louder as he realized the ‘thing’ was a huge burn mark scorched into the wall, and it was in the shape of a human. Specifically, a man with his arms raised.
Jimmy had a nasty feeling that he’d found Dr. Henry Primble. Or what was left of him.
He was just reaching for the office phone when the three blokes in suits burst through the door, holding Vickers-Armstrong ray pistols.
OR: Following the Trail of Katsushika Hokusai!
The day started by saying goodbye to the crowds swarming around Sensoji Temple in Asakusa and walking across Azuma Bridge into the heart of the oldest part of the shitamachi (downtown) part of Edo (as Tokyo used to be known).
Behind the Sumida ward city hall and the famous Golden Turd on top of Asahi Beer head office, lies Mukoujima – the name means ‘the island over there’. This area is historically famous for a number of reasons, one of which is that it used to be the home of Katsushika Hokusai. Readers of this blog will know that he’s the Ukiyo-e artist who plays a major part in Book Two of my urban fantasy trilogy, “Sword, Mirror, Jewel”. So, during the dog days of Japan’s O-Bon vacation period, I thought I’d scout a few Hokusai locations that I hadn’t been to before.
If you turn left before the Asahi golden turd, a road takes you along the Sumida riverbank, and under the Shuto highway flyover. A short walk brings you to the peaceful green haven of Sumida Park, and a shrine that featured in a few of Hokusai’s prints – Ushijima Jinja.
On this day – August 15th – the shrine was conducting a ceremony to commemorate the end of WWII. A big Keep Out sign had been placed across the front entrance, but it was possible to see inside the courtyard … white-shirted veterans sat patiently on folding chairs under electric fans working overtime, while Shinto priests in full regalia blessed them with the sacred sasaki paper wands in the blinding sunlight. No photos, sadly, because it seemed kind of disrespectful.
To the right of the main building is a hut that used to contain a black stone cow called the ‘caressing cow’. It was given to the shrine in 1824. It was believed if you stroked the part of the cow’s body corresponding to your own ailing part, you would be cured. This is why the old name of Ushijima used to be Ushinogozen – ‘before the cow’.
I left the park and headed for the next Hokusai-related shrine. Between the river and the main road running through Mukoujima lies Mimeguri Jinja (the name means Shrine of the Three Circles). It’s home to three deities – Daikokuten, the god of wealth and the household; Ebisu, the god of fishermen, luck, and workingmen, and Inari, the god of rice.
Daikokuten and Ebisu are two of the seven gods of good fortune in Japanese mythology and folklore (the other five being Hotei, Jurōjin, Fukurokuju, Bishamonten, and Benzaiten). Inari is commonly depicted in the figure of a Kitsune, or fox, and is deified in two small shrines behind the main building. The atmosphere in this outer sanctum is redolent with mystery; the larger of the shrines is guarded by a family of moss-covered stone Kitsune, a tunnel of orange torii gates, and two blackened statues depicting a pair of Edo sorcerers said to have the gift of speaking the secret language of the foxes. In Hokusai’s day, this part of Mukoujima was mainly rice fields, so it was vital to have a shrine where folk could pay their respects to the god of rice.
The next shrine featured in Hokusai’s prints is Shirahige Jinja, and it’s quite a long walk down Mukoujima’s main road. The name means “Shrine of Whitebeard,” mainly because it’s devoted to Jurōjin, the god of long life and health. One problem was, I didn’t feel too healthy after being out in the sunshine dodging from one patch of shade to another. I had UV spray, sunglasses and a Panama hat, of course, but even with them Tokyo in August is a pretty uncomfortable place to be. Other problems were mounting up; after Shirahige Jinja, I’d got lost in the meandering streets of Mukoujima (okay, it was an educational experience, not really a problem).
It was also lunchtime and many of the little noodle and sushi shops were closed because of the O-Bon summer vacation. Eventually, I came to a crossing between two main roads that looked promising, and down the street I saw a big sign with SOBA painted on it. Saved!
This was a shop named Kamimura, an old but spotlessly clean establishment which had only three customers inside (including me). I decided to cool off with some chilled mori-soba and a big glass of lemon-hai filed with ice. It was the best thing I could have done.
After a relaxing lunch and a chat with the staff, I found out that Kamimura was very close to Higashi Mukoujima station on the Tobu line – as well as the Tobu Transport Museum. It seemed to be a good idea to take a break for a while from the Hokusai trail and get out of the sun – so a five-minute walk and two hundred yen later, I was inside again doing some steam train spotting.
The Tobu Transport Museum has some vintage steam and diesel trains from the thirties, forties and fifties, but it’s not in the same league as the London Transport Museum. I was looking for some vintage Art Deco posters and displays – the kind that British transport was so good at, back in the day. Sadly, I couldn’t find any. Not even postcards.
By this time it was three o’clock, and I was close to a train station. From looking at the map, it seemed that the next stop on the line was very close to the last stop on the Hokusai trail – Sumidagawa Shrine. I decided to cut to the chase and take the easy way out; the afternoon heat showed no sign of slackening off.
The next stop in question is called Kanegafuchi, and Sumidagawa Shrine is located ten minutes walk from the station in the middle of Shirahage Park. The park in question lies between a huge suspension bridge and equally huge danchi – tower blocks of public housing complexes that look like something straight out of Truffaut’s “Fahrenheit 451″. I wonder what Hokusai would have made of these, I asked myself.
Sumidagawa Shrine and Shirahige Park is the location of a TV samurai drama called “Kenkyaku Shoubai”: although the series is filmed in the studio and in distant parts of the Japanese countryside, the house where the central character lives is named as this part of Mukoujima.
I reprint the following information from the blog null-entropy.com, with permission:
“Here we reach the farthest point north in the progression along the Sumida River that began in number 55. The view is from the west bank, looking across to the northeast at the point where the Ayase River flows into the Sumida. This isolated site, called Kanegafuchi, was known for the planting of silk trees, a kind of mimosa, along the bank. Hiroshige has framed the view with one of the trees in full bloom. The silk like filaments that give the tree its name are expressed in light pink lines accented with black. Beyond is a boatman whose bold garment echoes the pattern of the blossoms. [..]
This view looks at the point where the Ayase River flows into the Sumida; due to its curve and convergence with the Ayase, the water here was deeper and the flow more rapid than elsewhere on the Sumida. The story is told of a temple bell which fell into the river during a flood, sinking to the bottom and giving the name Kanegafuchi, “bell depths” for the stretch of the river. This location was also known for its silk trees, a kind of mimosa, growing along the bank. This scene shows one of the trees in full bloom with its silk like pink flowers accented in black. The boatman below is dressed in a bold patterned garment and a heron flies above the reeds. In 1887 the Kanegafuchi Spinning Company was constructed on the south bank of the Ayase River (the area to the far right), a joint venture of five Tokyo cotton-thread dealers, known as “kanebo.” In time it became Japan’s largest cotton-spinning firm and has since diversified into cosmetics.”
“Two well-dressed ladies disembark from the boat by which they have traveled up the Sumida River into the inlet known as Uchigawa. Their destination is one of Edo’s famous suburban restaurants, seen in the upper right. Located within the precincts of Mokuboji Temple, which lies out of sight to the right, it specialized in dishes of taro and clams and was much prized among stylish residents of Edo. The area to the left with pines was known as Gozensaihata, or “The Honorable Vegetable Garden.” Beginning in the 1650s, fresh vegetables for the shogun’s table were produced there. It is unclear, however, if that practice still continued in Hiroshige’s day. [..]
Two ladies are seen alighting from the boat in Uchigawa Inlet on their way to one of Edo’s famous suburban restaurants, known as Uehan (named after the owner, Uekiya Han’emon) which specialized in taro and clams. The nearby Mokuboji Temple, not shown here, originated in the year 976 when a young boy (Umewaka) was kidnapped by a slave trader when he lost his way on the road near Kyoto and was brought here, where he finally died of sickness and exhaustion on the banks of the Sumida River. A wandering priest erected a mound in his memory, which grew into the shrine-temple complex of Mokuboji. The mound survives today and services in his memory are held each year on April 15. The area on the left by the pine trees was known as Gozensaihata, or “the honorable vegetable garden,” which produced fresh vegetables for the shogun’s table. This area was obliterated by bombing during World War II; both sides of the Sumida have been leveled and construction has begun to provide high-rise housing and emergency evacuation in case of flood or earthquake. Mokuboji was relocated to a site closer to the Sumida in the middle of what was once the mouth of the Uchigawa Inlet.”
Regarding the curious temple named Mokuboji, just a short walk across the park … I would dearly like to know the reason for the cube-shaped building that dominates the precinct … and I would also like to know the story behind this snake-bodied Yokai here!
The story ends here …
with yakatori and beer!