This is the sixth excerpt from Jamie Carter’s biography of the mysterious counter-culture guru Jason Zodiac. The following is taken from an interview with fellow rock journalist, Simon Briggs.
So we fussed with chopsticks over spicy tom kah kai, and savored lemongrass and coconut milk-flavored curry in the 18th century listed pub that Simon told me was his current love.
“Thanks for coming up to Macclesfield,” he said.
I waved it away. “No, not at all. Thanks for taking the time to see me. How’re things?”
He shrugged. “Oh well, getting by. Can’t rest on my laurels, can I?”
“I didn’t know you had any.”
“And you, Jamie?”
“Not too bad. Except for the whole city of London falling apart, of course.”
“The whole country’s falling apart.”
“The whole country’s been falling apart for as long as I can remember.”
“Remember the poll tax riots? Or the murder of PC Blakelock?”
“What about Toxteth?”
“What about St Pauls?”
We both laughed at the same time.
The waiter came with our food and we got to work on the stuff. Simon ate sparingly; it seemed like talking was more important. “I’ve been thinking about a lot of things, after reading your articles. Thinking about the past. I’d be very interested to hear what R.J. has to say about all this.”
“R.J. Black has disappeared,” I told him. “Nobody’s seen or heard from him for a few weeks.”
He stiffened, and looked uncomfortable. “Yes … well, I wouldn’t read too much into that. R. J. was always a moody bastard. Always going walkabout when he didn’t feel like talking to anyone.”
He reached down to his briefcase and pulled something out. A hardback diary, warped with age and wear and tear. “You’re not going to believe this,” he said, “but I’m quite obsessive.”
“I can easily believe that.”
“I don’t think I told you I kept all my notebooks, ever since I started working as a journalist.”
“All of them?” I started laughing, and then stopped. It might have looked like I was making fun of him, but in fact, I was deeply impressed. Someone who kept diaries from over thirty years ago?
“Well, there’s a couple I’ve misplaced, but I’ve got them going back to the late seventies.”
I stopped chewing and looked at him in admiration. “I wish I had,” I said.
“That’s why I called, I guess. Your articles made me go through the notebooks again and I noticed something I’d better tell you.”
“And Joy Division?”
He looked up, pad thai noodles dangling from his chopsticks. “I’ve been connecting the dots, you might say.”
“That’s what intrigued me, because as far as I know, Jason knew Tony Wilson …”
“… but he never met Ian Curtis, yeah. Jason’s main link with Manchester was through Acid House in the late eighties. That’s what I thought too. Then I rediscovered the notes I’d written just after Ian’s obituary came out.”
Briggs had put a bookmark in the 1980 diary, and he opened it at the entry he wanted, slipped on a pair of thin reading glasses, and peered at the wrinkled page. Then he laid it open on the table next to the vinegar bottle.
“Jamie, have you ever heard of a drug called Telemazepine?”
I shook my head.
“In the late seventies, drugs for treating epilepsy were pretty strong and had quite a few side-effects. The drug called Telemazepine was commercially available for a couple of years, and then taken off the market. And here’s the peculiar thing; I can’t find anything about it on the Internet. It was released by a German pharmaceutical company called Bartos Klein, and I can’t find anything on them, either.”
“Was Ian taking this for his epilepsy?”
“I don’t think so – well, I can’t find it mentioned anywhere. His wife Debbie never mentioned it in her biography of Ian, Touching from a Distance, and I’ve never seen in any other source. But two days after Ian’s funeral, my editor Andy Anderson in the Sounds London office got a telephone call from Jason Zodiac. He wanted to know if Ian had been taking Telemazepine.”
I put down the chopsticks in the bowl smeared with the remains of the red curry and sat back.
“One week after Ian’s death,” Simon told me, “we had a visitor at our office. It was Jason himself. He said he’d come up to Manchester to see Tony and pay his respects to Ian’s family.”
“He’d never met Ian’s family.”
“He knew enough to realize that something extraordinary was happening.”
That figured. The extraordinary was Jason’s business.
Simon got up and went outside for a smoke, conforming to the smoking ban that had swept through all of England like a plague. While he was away I drained my lager and thought about Joy Division.
The first time I saw them on TV was on the Old Grey Whistle Test, towards the end of 1979, and it was something fascinating but deeply disturbing to watch. Ian’s dark, existentialist lyrics, and his crazed dancing, hinted at emotions that the human body and mind were not capable of expressing.
With hindsight, and having briefly met the other members of Joy Division after they became New Order, I understood the appalling drama taking place. Ian’s spasmodic, frenzied dancing on stage was a parallel for the epileptic seizures he suffered in private. Like Voodoo priests who whirl and gyrate to the drums until they reach that ecstatic state where the Loa ride their bodies, Ian brought something back from those moments when the electrical storms swept through his brain, and put it into words and music for an unsuspecting public.
In the old days, we would have called him ‘a man possessed’.
It couldn’t last. The drugs that Ian took to control his epilepsy affected his personality. One moment he was laughing, then crying, then yelling at everyone to leave him alone. In May 1980 Joy Division were probably the most important band in the UK and about to embark on a US tour – but Ian’s seizures were getting worse and more frequent, and he’d broken up with Debbie. He told the other members he wanted to quit the band, but they talked him out of it; they said he could take time off, sort out his life, after the tour.
He never got the chance. Before they went on tour Ian Curtis hung himself in his kitchen at home, in the early hours of May 18th.
When Simon came back, rain on his collar and Silk Cut on his breath, I had another question for him – something I couldn’t believe, but couldn’t keep to myself.
“Do you think Jason was asking questions because he suffered from the same thing Ian did?”
Simon nodded and grimaced. “That’s what I’ve been wondering. Of course, there’s nothing in the records to suggest Jason Zodiac was epileptic.”
“There’s not much in the records to suggest anything at all. Jason was like the Invisible Man. No national insurance number, no birth certificate … we’re not even sure what his real name was. One door opens, another one shuts, and then they’re all slammed in my face.”
He looked away. “The thing is, when people say ‘epilepsy’, they don’t really know what they’re talking about. A seizure is an abnormal electrical message, sent out by a group of neurons in the brain. This discharge results in some kind of abnormal behavior.”
“You’ve been doing your research.”
“Your fault, Jamie. And the other thing that got me thinking was something called a ‘complex partial seizure’.”
A burst of raucous laughter from the opposite corner made Simon wince. Then he continued.
“Complex partial seizures don’t cause simple sensations but complicated ones, involving thinking, feeling, emotions, and sequential movements. Most seizures are short and last only seconds or minutes – but prolonged episodes can be the result of continuous seizure discharges, which induce compulsive, aimless wandering, accompanied by amnesia. The condition’s called poriomania.”
My eyes widened. “What are you saying?”
“There are plenty of cases of people who’ve been capable of performing quite complex tasks while suffering a seizure.”
“Like getting in their car and driving to the next city. When they come out of the seizure, they have no memory of how they got there. And there are extreme cases that haven’t been classed as epilepsy because nobody can explain them yet. Stories of people walking out of their houses to buy a newspaper and disappearing – then turning up years later living and working in a different town, under a different name, with no memory of their previous identity. There’s a case of a reporter from Tacoma going missing – and then turning up in Alaska, twelve years later, with a completely new identity.” He sighed. “This kind of thing reminds me of The Idiot.”
“Iggy Pop was epileptic as well?”
He blinked. “Not the Iggy Pop album, Jamie, the Dostoevsky novel.”
I stared back at him. “This sounds too weird for me.”
“Weird?” He sniggered. “Jamie, I’m talking about epilepsy with a guy from a lifestyle magazine called Fugue. How weird is that?”
VOLUME ONE OF THE BIOGRAPHY CAN BE FOUND HERE. FOR THE EBOOK,
AND HERE FOR THE PAPERBACK.
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 saw 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. The Vespa was 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 nasty 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 son 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, gazing 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 have 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? 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 completely 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.
“Halt! Who goes there?”
Captain Martin Blake pointed his revolver at the figures moving at the end of the trench.
“Don’t shoot!” came a voice. “Don’t shoot! We’re from the War Office!”
Blake kept his gun trained on the shadowy figures, their boots thudding on the duck boards of the trench, advancing into the half-light cast by the shielded electric lanterns. Blake could feel the tense silence of the soldiers behind him as they watched and waited.
The first person to advance was a tall, sandy-haired man, in a greatcoat with a Sergeant’s pips on the shoulder, and the second …
Blake stared in shock. “Good God, what’s a woman doing in No-Man’s-Land?”
She stood blinking in the night’s last shadows, her face pale, long dark hair tied back, her slender frame wrapped in an ill-fitting greatcoat.
“We’re from the Royal Engineers,” the man said, his voice urgent.
The woman stepped forward. “We’ve brought a message for you. We have papers.”
“It’s five o’clock in the morning!” Blake yelled.
The woman sounded British, and well-educated. Blake put down the accent as West Country. The man was definitely American. The man was staring at Blake and grinning. The Captain had seen quite a few men smiling in the trenches, and some laughing. It usually meant that the war had got to them, unhinged them, cut their minds loose to flap in the wind.
Blake realized that if these two were spies, and he had accidentally captured them, he’d be a hero. If they were genuine Ministry Officials, and he bungled their treatment, he’d be court-martialed.
But either of those outcomes depended on them getting back to allied lines alive …
Blake cocked his revolver as the man slowly put his left hand into his inside coat pocket and withdrew a tiny booklet and several tightly folded sheets of paper. He handed them over to Blake, who holstered his gun and quickly scanned them, turning them over while the soldiers behind him kept their rifles trained on the newcomers. It identified the newcomers as Doctor Alan Kelsey and Miss Virginia Browning; he was attached to the Royal Engineers, and his companion was a driver to the Royal Ambulance Corps.
“These are fake,” announced the Captain. “The texture and color of the paper, they’re all wrong.”
“Would you be Captain Blake?”
He blinked. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
“Please, Captain Blake, we are here to help.”
“We weren’t able to request any help. We’re cut off from the Communications Trench and our radio isn’t working.”
“We have an urgent message and we have a machine that can help you.”
For the first time the man indicated the large black box he’d been carrying. He set it down gingerly on a pile of sandbags. He was about to click the two brass handles open, when Blake’s fear and tension returned. He drew his revolver again and waved him away from the case.
“Captain,” Kelsey said patiently, “this is a Mark V Ultra computing machine. We’ve brought it here because we believe you’re all in great danger.”
“Danger?” Blake coughed out the word in disbelief. “We’re in the middle of a bloody war!”
Someone at the back laughed mockingly, and Blake felt the situation slipping out of his hands.
“They’re spies, sir! Lock ‘em up!” This was Private Gerrard’s Welsh voice.
“He’s got a bomb!”
“They don’t sound like Germans.”
“Maybe the Angels sent them!”
Kelsey was on to the remark like a flash. “Did you say Angels?”
“Be quiet.” Blake leveled his revolver. “Both of you will be confined under close watch until we find out who you really are.”
Blake waved to Corporal Ford, and the soldier advanced. “Wait,” said Kelsey. “You must listen to us! You need to see this machine, and see what it can do …”
“And I must insist.”
Blake had turned away to give his men orders but at the tone of the woman’s voice, he looked back. The woman had a gun. A Webley self-loading pistol, by the look of it.
It was unfair. Most of the time, Blake was fighting the weaknesses of his own body. Fighting the turmoil in his bowels, the urges of his bladder; constant activity, within and without, constant stimulation. There was never a moment when he could not think, could not feel; the nervous engines within him never allowed him rest. Suffragette, he thought, his mind furiously working out possible outcomes to the situation. I see. The woman was one of those Emily Pankhurst types.
“You are not confining me anywhere,” she said.
“Madam. Put the gun down.”
Blake could tell the men behind him tensing and getting ready to fire – but none of them, he was sure, would shoot a woman. Blake himself was revolted at the very idea. He caught himself doing what he always did when stressed – holding his breath. It was like shifting gears; quieting his emotions, keeping him within range of his own sanity.
“Please listen to us,” the woman said. “We are not spies, and we do not want to hurt anyone. We are here to help.”
Blake finally drew in some of the foul, smoky air. “My men will shoot you if I order them to.”
“Your men? You don’t seem to have many of them, Captain. Where’s the rest of your squad?”
The situation was insane. Of course, the whole bloody war was insane, so Blake shouldn’t have been surprised at anything.
It was October 1917, just outside Ypres.
For the last two months, home to Blake had been an elaborate trench network, a web of trench lines, concrete pillboxes, dugouts, firing bays, and underground tunnels. Over the parapets of the trenches, and between the Allied encampment and the Germans, lay a desolate muddy wasteland strewn with rain-filled craters and barbed wire. The Germans had their firing lines higher up on the Passchendaele Ridges, closer to Ypres and overlooking the Allied encampments.
For the last few weeks, it had been like toiling in a slaughterhouse.
Three days ago, on the twelfth of October, Blake and his squad had been part of the advance on Passchendaele. Amidst the chaos of the shelling, they were cut off from the main battalion of the British Fifth Army, and forced down here, into the salient – a zig-zag maze of assembly trenches and dead-end saps perilously close to the German lines.
“Sir!” called Tate, on sentry duty. “Movement near the German lines.”
Blake shot a furious glance at the woman and decided that discretion was the better part of valor. In a way, he was grateful for the interruption. He holstered his revolver, grabbed a pair of binoculars from the shelf next to the useless field telephone and climbed up the filthy rungs of the trench ladder.
He cautiously eased his head over the parapet and into the lookout hole, protected by sandbags and steel plating.
Around him in the cold darkness before the October dawn stretched a landscape of dislocation and dismemberment, a ravaged vista of splintered trees, flattened farmhouses, and craters full of stinking water. To the right, a few yards away, squatted the massive dark lozenge of the Landship in silhouette, the ironclad vessel that was now an injured giant of clogged caterpillar tracks and useless, seized-up gears. The bombardment from heavy artillery had stopped – no, paused, for nothing ever stopped in this godforsaken war, nothing ever ended, nothing was ever silent. Blake and his men were always surrounded by noise; the crack of the carbines, the moaning of the wounded.
He saw the first flickers of morning light through shadowed coils of barbed wire. Ripped fragments of flesh and uniform hung on the wire like quavers and semiquavers on a page of sheet music. He could see, as well as hear, the music of the trenches; the shrieks and groaning, the bangs and cracks, the whistling and hissing – and with the crimson dawn would come the shells, like drums played by a berserk god of war.
A starshell burst overhead, white trails showering down in jerky, swooping rhythms. They were to light targets for night-snipers, and Blake put down the binoculars hastily, wary of reflections. The starburst trails fizzled to the ground.
He was still alive.
In the light of the flare, with his bare eyes he could make out running figures, carrying backpacks and holding rifles. Most likely a wire-cutting party, getting ready for the next bombardment and raid, running across the parapet with frenetic, marionette-like movements.
Then he saw it. The gas. Curling in from the east, a rolling cloud of thick, yellow-green smoke.
A movement to his right made him start, and he saw Kelsey, climbing up on the neighboring ladder. From somewhere he’d gotten his own pair of binoculars – the woman with the gun, maybe, and he looked nervously at Blake.
“The Hun’s got a new secret weapon,” Blake hissed. “First it was those godawful flame-throwers, then mustard gas, and now this. It’s a poison gas that … eats people. Like acid. The gas attacks have kept us here, unable to get back to the reserves.”
“And the Angels he mentioned?”
“Be quiet. I think you’ll see for yourself.”
The hideous miasma rolled along the shattered landscape. The Germans tried to outrun it, but they were too slow. The mist enveloped them. They floundered, limbs waving, their twisted, mannered figures reeling through it, the sound of their screaming voices growing more and more distant, until they disappeared.
“You told me that’s a German secret weapon,” Kelsey said.
“So why are they killing their own troops?”
Blake stared ahead, thinking. He’d been wondering the same thing himself. “The wind must have changed.”
Kelsey gave a quizzical look.
“Now look over there,” Blake said.
In No-Man’s Land, materializing at the heart of the swirling yellow cloud, was the figure that haunted Blake and his men. Shining metal, barely recognizable as human. It seemed to be composed of metal surfaces, moving in small jerks, grouping together, then splitting apart and reforming, diminishing and enlarging, forming columns and lines. The armored shape was surrounded by a brilliant glow that illuminated the churned-up mud.
“Good God,” Kelsey whispered. “Is that what you saw before?”
The figure melted back into the cloud, and Blake felt his skin crawl as he saw the opaque mist churn faster, and shift direction.
“Captain, do you see that? It’s coming this way.”
“Yes. By God, it is. We found a concrete bunker back there, and for the last couple of days we’ve been holing up during these gas attacks. It’s a room we can make air-tight.”
“Excellent. Let’s get moving!”
Blake turned his head and glared. “I am giving the orders, Dr. Kelsey,” he snapped.
EXCERPT # 5: The following is an email received by FUGUE magazine, May 20–.
SUBJECT: FAO Mr. Jamie Carter – Appeal for Information (Zodiac)
Dear Mr. Carter,
First, let me say what a great job you’re doing with the Jason Zodiac articles for Fugue. I have fond memories of both the Banana Sundial concerts and The T-Service TV series, and I show copies of your magazine to all my friends.
You gave out an email address in the magazine and appealed for information regarding Jason Zodiac and his whereabouts. Well, here I am, because I have a story about not only Jason but also Joe Strummer of The Clash, and I think you might be interested.
My name is Terence Morgan and I’m over fifty years old now. You wrote in your article on the Sex Pistols that you would never forget the day you heard God Save The Queen. Well, I can tell you there’s one day I will never forget– and that’s the day Joe Strummer died.
I was in Naples at the time, of all places. My wife Julie and I had gone to Italy for our Christmas holiday with the kids, and we’d driven over from the Amalfi coast. In fact, we’d just got into the room, put down our suitcases, and sat down on the bed. We flicked on the TV and the BBC worldwide news, and there it was. Joe Stummer passed away at age fifty after a heart attack. My wife and I jumped to our feet and screamed ‘WHAT?’ – we couldn’t believe it. I still remember the shock of it all.
You see, I knew Joe Strummer. I met him on maybe four or five occasions, enough to be on first name terms – and he and Jason saved my life. Let me explain.
I’ve been a record collector all my life. The first seven-inch single I bought was David Bowie’s Space Oddity, and the first album I bought was T. Rex’s Electric Warrior. I started buying Punk singles in 1977; it took me a while to get into Punk, but when I did, I didn’t mess about. The Clash, The Jam, The Stranglers, The Damned, The Buzzcocks, Rock Against Racism gigs; I saw them all at least three times each. I got to know Julie, my wife, through the records and the gigs. Our first date was a Clash gig at the ICA. Afterwards we went back to my student flat, I put Working for the Clampdown on the turntable and she started singing along and imitating the way Mick Jones swung his guitar about on stage.
That’s when I fell in love with her.
I studied economics at University College, London, and lived in a run-down student house in Hammersmith. In the summer of 1979 I had a part-time job in a corner shop in Pimlico. It was run by Mr. Gill, a huge Sikh with thick NHS glasses and mustache, turban, the full monty. He looked a bit scary and he was dead serious about money but as a boss, I’ve met people far worse.
Anyway, it turned out The Clash were working just down the road, in Wessex Studios. They were recording the London Calling album. They used to play football in a little park across the square and call in the shop afterwards for beer and crisps and ham rolls. Brilliant, eh? My claim to fame. I’ve got all their autographs on shop receipts and flyers – Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Topper Headon. And Joe. Poor, wonderful Joe.
Let me get to the point. On the last day of August that year I started work at five, as usual, looking forward to knocking off at ten, getting over to the Black Horse for a couple of pints and back to Colin’s flat for a weekend spliff. About seven o’clock – Mr. Gill was in the back room stocktaking, and the radio was playing I Don’t Like Mondays by the Boomtown Rats – Joe Strummer walked in. This time he wasn’t with the band – he was with Jason Zodiac. I was gobsmacked. I knew from reading the NME that they were mates, but even so, I never expected …
Joe came in wearing black drainpipe jeans, red brothel creepers, lemon yellow T-shirt and matching socks – and that famous jacket from the photo shoot, the one with PASSION IS A FASHION stenciled on it and a few razor blades and safety pins artfully placed around the lapels. Jason had never been into Punk gear, as you know. Jason’s look was instantly recognizable, and kind of timeless – the denim cut-off with the Banana Sundial logo painted on the back, the long black hair, the tanned brown skin and shades perched on top of his long, Roman nose.
So anyway, I could tell they’d both been drinking. Joe saw me behind the till and came over. “Hi Terry, you all right?” He was great like that. Always remembered names. We started chatting away about stuff but I noticed Jason wasn’t buying anything. He seemed more interested in the door he’d just come through. He squatted down, muttering things like ‘far out’ and ‘heavy’, then got up and came over to the till.
“Mr. Zodiac,” I said, trying to keep cool, “you don’t know me, but …”
“No, I don’t know you. What’s your name?”
“Terry. Terry Morgan.”
“Well listen Terry Morgan, can I ask you a question? How long has that graffiti been there?”
He beckoned me out from behind the till and over to the shop’s only door to the street. I wasn’t supposed to leave the till, and we had about five customers in the shop at the time, but … well, I went over to the door and we both knelt down and he pointed to what was bothering him.
It was a weird mess of circles and criss-crossing lines drawn in black marker pen. There were words as well, two lines of what looked like Arabic, which made me think of Mr. Gill – but he wouldn’t graffiti his own door.
“How long has that been there?” Jason asked.
“I’ve no idea. Never seen it before.”
“So it’s recent?”
“In fact, do you think it was here before Joe and I came into our shop?”
I shrugged. I didn’t know what to say, so he stood up, and so did I. “Try the door, Terry.”
I did like he said, pushing the handle, expecting the little bell to ring as it opened into Pimlico High Street. It wouldn’t budge. I kept pushing at it as hard as I could, then I checked the lock, and stood back, baffled.
“It’s stuck,” I said.
Jason turned his shades on me and grimaced, the smell of alcohol and patchouli wafting into my face. “Bit more than stuck, I’m afraid.”
He walked back to the till. Both Joe and I were a bit befuddled by this time. I mean, you expect rock stars to act weird, but there’s different kinds of weird, isn’t there?
“Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen,” Jason called, raising his voice and waving his arms. “Can I have your attention, please? Can you all come over to the till?”
There were six people in the shop: me, Joe, Jason, a middle-aged gypsy looking woman, a black woman a bit younger, and a hippy guy about my age. They all looked a bit miffed as they came over to the till with their shopping baskets. Then there were seven, because Mr. Gill came out of the back room where he’d been stocktaking. “What’s all this bloody noise?” he yelled.
“Listen to me, everyone,” Jason called. “The shop has been sealed off by the sigil of an Elder God. Anyone who’s walked past the freezer and around the chocolate bar counter in the last few minutes has added to the power of the Sigil – a bit like spinning a prayer wheel, really. Anyone know what a prayer wheel is? Well … okay, forget that bit. But basically we’ve been taken out of normal time and space and pretty soon, the dimensions of this shop are going to warp and distort and … well, I’ll try to get us out before the worst happens. Any questions?”
They arrived by flying saucer ten minutes afterwards.
From the ramp leading out of the shining silver torus they stepped into the main lobby of the Empire State Building, where Lt. Cambridge and the other NYPD officers waited. Cambridge stared in shock. When the Chief had said they were sending an ‘incident squad’, he hadn’t thought it would be the heavy hitters.
There were three of them. Soldier Blue looked around her with a face unreadable through the half-mask, her red lips tight beneath the shielded eyes. Her statuesque form was sheathed in the red, white and blue costume, made of God knows what kind of indestructible fabric, and in her right hand she held her trademark torch. The torch that flickered not with fire but with a red, ghostly light that had never been put out in thirty years.
Beside her walked a giant in shining green armor; Gauntlet. He moved in smooth, precise movements, his head enclosed in a helmet that bore the stylized, minimal depiction of eyes, nose and mouth embossed on to the metal. His suit hummed with power that made the hair on Cambridge’s arms prickle with static.
The third member of the group had no costume or mask, but wore a black jumpsuit with the E.A.G.L.E crest on one shoulder, next to the holster with its futuristic looking ray pistol. He clenched the stub of a cheroot cigar between his teeth, and looked around him with shrewd grey eyes. This was Max Jankowitz, the Executive Director of EAGLE himself.
Cambridge studied them carefully as the cops in his squad muttered behind him. Jeez, he thought, how old were these people? They’d fought in World War Two, and Cambridge had seen them on TV since he was a kid back in the Fifties. They still looked younger than him. There were rumors that Jankowitz and Soldier Blue were involved in something called the ‘Over-Soldier Program’ back in the early days of the War, but whatever loopy juice they took, it sure wasn’t available to the public.
Gauntlet was another mystery. He looked like a robot, but it was a common knowledge there was a man inside, working the suit; he was officially known as an employee of Stone Industries and served as the corporation’s security chief. His identity was a strictly guarded secret.
These guys almost never have contact with the public, Cambridge thought, they’re usually hidden away in the giant pyramid-shaped Tetra-City, headquarters of E.A.G.L.E., floating out in Hudson Bay. What were they doing here?
“Who’s in charge?” asked Jankowitz, his deep, gruff voice echoing off the lobby’s marble.
Cambridge stepped forward. Jankowitz held out his hand and the Lieutenant tentatively shook it. He felt warm, firm flesh though the glove. This was Jankowitz’s real hand, Cambridge thought with relief, not the bionic arm that he’d been fitted with after a battle with the Bend Sinister.
You don’t remember me, Cambridge thought bitterly. We shook hands once before, after the Over-Human tests, but I was just a kid to you. Just another rookie cop who’d failed the tests.
Cambridge introduced himself and the team, and Jankowitz nodded quietly. He took the cheroot out of his mouth and spoke in a deep, throaty rumble. “You’ve been given instructions?”
“Something’s causing havoc with transmissions. We can’t get through to HQ on walkie-talkies or the car radio.”
Jankowitz nodded again.
Cambridge couldn’t take his eyes off the three Over-Heroes standing in front of him in the lobby. He’d seen them before – from a distance, soaring through the skyscraper canyons, and on stage at open-air public celebration services. Never before so close. Soldier Blue’s expression beneath the cowl was almost as unreadable as Gauntlet’s metal mask.
“E.A.G.L.E has declared a Code Resurgam,” Soldier Blue said in a voice of steel and honey, “which means a situation that requires full deployment of Over-Human resources. We released a statement to the media shortly before, saying that a series of lightning strikes at around 8:37 pm knocked out a tower carrying conductors between substations at Buchanan and Millwood. That led to a power surge that caused the other substations to overload and fail, cutting off power to most of Manhattan.”
Jankowitz clicked open a Zippo lighter and relit his cheroot. “The problem is, gentlemen, none of that is true. There were no lightning strikes and the substations are working normally.”
For a second, the men stood in the lobby, perfectly silent.
“Whaddaya mean, working normally?” asked Carlini.
“The electricity is being generated, but it’s being diverted. New York City consumes six thousand megawatts on an average summer night, and that power is being siphoned off and used for something else.”
“Used for what?” said Levitt.
“We don’t know.”
An electronic buzz signaled that Gauntlet was about to speak. “A TRANSMISSION FROM THE FUTURE FIVE LED TO SPECULATION THAT THE ENERGY IS BEING CONVERTED INTO MATTER.”
Cambridge and Levitt glanced at each other.
Jankowitz unclipped a futuristic-looking gadget from his belt and held it up. “The E.A.G.L.E sensors have found traces of a highly unusual radiation signature at several sites; Wall Street, the Rockefeller Center, and here – the Empire State.”
“Radiation?” asked Gonzalez. “You mean like someone’s got an atomic bomb?”
“THERE IS NO EVIDENCE TO SUGGEST A POTENTIAL EXPLOSION,” buzzed Gauntlet.
“Nevertheless, we’re not taking any chances,” Jankowitz continued. “We’re assuming overall charge of the investigation, and we’d like to ask you for any assistance we require.”
“What kind of assistance?” said Cambridge.
“S.O.P. Get in, assess the situation, respond within set parameters.”
“But this time there are no set parameters,” Cambridge said.
Jankowitz scowled. “Except the ones I’m setting now.”
“Hey look,” Carlini interrupted. “The whole of New York is having a party while we’re standing here, like it’s Looters Night Out. We’ve got neighborhoods to protect – can’t ya get some of your Over-friends to help out?”
“All E.A.G.L.E operatives have their assigned duties,” Jankowitz said grimly. “As for the Future Five, they’re fighting the Tyrant King in Central Park. He’s taking advantage of the blackout to open up a hole into the Mole Kingdom under Manhattan. The Morrigan should be here, but there was a crisis in Tir Na Nog, and she went back a couple of days ago to reclaim the throne.”
“What about Bohemiath?” Gonzalez asked from the back.
Jankowitz snorted with impatience. “Aw, nobody knows what side the big red brute’s fighting on these days. He turns up, he’ll start smashing your patrol cars as soon as look at them.”
“So it’s us,” Cambridge said, glaring at Carlini.
“This is a matter of national security,” continued Jankowitz, “so let me disabuse you of a few notions right now. The NYPD – “
It was almost impossible to stop the Director of E.A.G.L.E when he was sounding off, but the loud, booming explosion in the lobby achieved it.
Cambridge spun around in shock, seeing the other cops react in the same way; Jankowitz, Gauntlet and Soldier Blue did not even flinch. The crash and bang of tortured metal peaked, accompanied by screams of fear and alarm. It sounded like a bomb had gone off. He ran through the lobby towards the corridors holding the dozens of elevator shafts, the others behind him, past huddled groups of bystanders looking around in horror. “Christ!” he muttered.
“What is it?’ asked Gonzalez, in a tone that suggested he really didn’t want to know.
As he turned into the corridor, it really did look as if a bomb had detonated in the east reception area. A ruin of twisted wreckage lay outside the door to one of the elevators, wreathed in guttering grey smoke. Blackened chunks of metal, wood and plastic were scattered across the tiled floor.
The uniformed figure standing near the wreckage swung round, and Cambridge saw the Fire Chief had got there first. “What happened?”
“Cable must have snapped,” said O’Hallorhan. “The elevator car fell maybe fifty floors.”
“Any casualties? Anyone inside?”
O’Hallorhan closed his eyes and nodded. “Yeah.”
Cambridge waved away the smoke and leant in for a closer look. He’d seen a lot of violent death and gruesome crime scenes in his career, and this was as bad as he expected. There had been maybe half-a-dozen passengers trapped in the elevator, and now they were just a heap of arms, legs, ripped clothes, burst shopping bags, bloodied faces and dead, staring eyes.
“Madre di Dios,” whispered Gonzalez, the other two cops right beside him.
Cambridge leaned in closer. The corpse closest to the door was almost intact – a young man in a business suit, his face smeared with blood. “What the hell’s that on his hands and jacket?” the Lieutenant said.
The dead body’s hands and lower body were covered in some sort of grey gunk – not blood, not dust – something like machine oil but the wrong color. It was clear, almost transparent, and it glittered as the cops turned their flashlights on it. It reminded Cambridge, for one crazy moment, of the stranded jellyfish he’d seen occasionally on the beaches at Coney Island.
“Stand aside.” Jankowitz shouldered his way past, the gadget in his bionic hand again. He held it out over the young man’s body, and it bleeped and clicked excitedly. He grunted, put the device away, and turned back to Gauntlet and Soldier Blue. At a brief move of Jankowitz’s hand, all three of them began to walk away.
“Hey!” called Carlini, “you gonna tell us what’s goin’ on, or should we just go screw ourselves?”
Jankowitz halted and turned back. “Boy, you are really startin’ to piss me off. We’re gonna go up top in the helisaucer to take a look. I suggest you use the stairs and clear the civilians from the building, like we agreed – unless, of course, you’re inclined to refuse.”
Cambridge looked at Carlini and glared. “Shut your mouth, Carlini, for once. We got a job to do.”
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There was a smell in the air, a smell that David noticed the moment he opened the car door, leaving the air-conditioned interior to stand in the middle of the parking lot. It was the smell of sulfur. The smell of brimstone, volcanoes, geysers bubbling out of the earth.
To the west of the road they’d traveled by was a lake. “Lake Usoriyama,” Mrs. Yoshida had announced. “The lake of the spirits.” Beyond it on the horizon stood a range of mountains, their summits lost in the cloudy haze.
David and the Yoshida family stood in front of the entrance to Entsuji Temple. He stared at the grotesquely weathered stone of the three Buddha statues that reared up in front of the gate. Each of them had hands frozen in different arcane gestures, eyes in their pitted grey heads downcast, their expressions unreadable.
Around the gate milled a tangle of visiting tourists in sunhats and light summer jackets. On the other side of the waste ground sat the coaches and cars that had brought them, and a row of antique-looking wooden shops and stalls vied for the visitors’ attention.
In his guidebook, David had read that the Osorezan temple complex lay on the Shimokita Peninsula, where the northernmost tip of the Honshu mainland ended and the sea leading to Hokkaido began. The mountain was actually something called a composite volcano, with the lake inside the crater. Apparently only one species of fish could survive in the waters of the lake; the Ugui.
The guidebook had tried to describe the strangeness of the place; in David’s eyes, it had failed. Approaching the gate, David had the uncanny feeling that the stone heads of the colossal Buddha figures were watching him. He looked behind him, at the lake and the distant mist-covered mountains. The mournful sight made him think they had entered a place where natural laws no longer operated. Something just felt wrong.
At Mrs. Yoshida’s suggestion, they took a wooden bench inside one of the shops and asked for bowls of kakigori – finely shaved ice flavored with fruity, sugary syrup. The mother and father muttered their blessings and began to scoop out their bowls. The chilled sickly sweetness made David’s teeth ache. Saori picked at hers, saying nothing, looking pensive. She was out of school uniform today, wearing a black skirt and a light black cardigan over a T-shirt, jeans and sturdy-looking sports boots with thick white laces. As usual, she had only the slightest touch of make-up on her clear skin.
As David tried to finish the sticky confection dissolving in front of him, he glanced around at the other customers. Not many seemed to be below the age of sixty. He looked around at dulled faces stained with liver spots beneath almost identical cloth sun-hats, hunched figures with sticklike arms poking out of their short polo shirt sleeves.
“Entsuji Temple,” Mrs. Yoshida was saying. “It is the very famous temple of Osorezan, do you know? It was founded long, long time ago by the monk, Jikaku Daishi. He had gone to China and in the China, he had a dream. The very powerful dream told him to come back to Japan and walk east for thirty days, and he would come to a special place, a most sacred place. And so he did that.”
“So he discovered this mountain? Osorezan?” David guessed.
“Sono tori desu.” That’s right.
“One thing,” Mr. Yoshida confided, leaning over his plate of blueberry slush. “Gomen nasai, David. We are sorry but this place has no beer.”
David couldn’t stop his face from dropping its smile. “Oh.”
“A temple, you see. Buddhist. No meat, no alcohol.”
David nodded sagely, shrugging his shoulders. “Well, not to worry. That doesn’t seem to deter the crowds, does it?”
Mr. Yoshida followed David’s gaze to the line of elderly tourists with backpacks and walking sticks, standing in front of the cashier’s desk. “We have a saying in Japan. Heaven’s nets are large, and they catch everything.”
“Otsukare, David-sensei,” Mrs. Yoshida said. “You must be very tired! Let’s check in to the hotel.”
Leaving the shop, they wheeled their suitcases away from the main temple entrance, down a path that led to a modest three-storey concrete building. The path was lined on both sides with blue tarpaulin tents; something to do with the Itako festival, David guessed.
“I thought we’d be staying inside the temple,” he whispered to Saori.
“We are,” she whispered back. “Wait and look inside.”
The reception desk was manned by monks. Some of them had the customary shaven heads, some had hair with the short tidy partings of businessmen, but all of them wore the brown and orange robes of the temple.
Mr. Yoshida gave David the keys to his room. “Wash your face, David, and meet us here in the lobby.”
As he’d expected, it was a room of tatami straw-mat flooring, a low table coming up to knee-height set in the center. Floor cushions were arranged in a corner. Along one wall stood the wardrobe with sliding doors where he knew the futons were kept. He unpacked the change of clothes he’d brought, washed his hands, checked his hair in the mirror and returned to the lobby
Mrs. Yoshida was busying herself with the parasol that she’d brought. Even though the day was overcast, she wore clothes that concealed every inch of her skin; a thin cardigan that stretched to her wrists, a white skirt that went down to her ankles.
“David-sensei, shall we take a walk? While we try to make an appointment for tomorrow, perhaps you would like to see the grounds? Saori will walk and talk with you for while, desu sho? Jya – dozo.”
Leaving the hotel and turning right, Saori led him back to the main concrete path to Entsuji Temple. The path was lined by massive stone lanterns, each one twice the height of a normal human being.
In front of the solemn green pagodas of the temple, Saori stopped and pointed to the left. He saw an open gate of the same leaden stone, and beyond it canyon-like surfaces that blocked the view, and on the other side a steep narrow flight of wooden steps led up a muddy hill. A volcanic, sulfur-laden mist wafted through the air. There were no trees, just anemic-looking shrubs up on the hill. A sign in kanji told them this was the beginning of the walking course. David looked around and peered through the gate.
“Shall we go in?” asked Saori hesitantly.
“The Osorezan Legacy” coming soon!
Read more of Zoe Drake’s work here:
“Dead Hand Clapping” – a psychological thriller set in Shibuya, Tokyo
“Dark Lanterns” – a collection of Yokai-inpired short stories
The following is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Jamie Carter’s biography of Rock legend Jason Zodiac.
With those memories running through the projector of my mind’s eye, I jogged up the stairs of Leicester Square tube station and headed out into the discordant Soho dusk. RJ Black had agreed to meet me at his favorite watering hole, the French House on Dean Street, one of the Bohemian bars that resisted commercialization and remained a fond meeting spot for the West End’s stage and TV luvvies. I pushed open the door, stepping into the misty, yeasty warmth, ignored by the clusters of eclectic-looking men and women ferociously busy in conversation.
I moved through the pub, and caught sight of a man about my age propping up the bar on his own, reading The Guardian. He was dressed in black from head to foot, leather jacket, turtleneck sweater, jeans, black winkle-pickers, black trademark trilby hat jammed onto black shoulder-length hair.
He put the paper down as I stepped in front of him. “Oi, mate!” he yelled at me. “Did you just punch out Timothy Dalton?”
Private joke. Once I’d drunkenly bumped into some random bloke in the French House whose face I half-recognized, thought was an old friend of mine, and insisted on buying a drink for him. It was only when I got back to my own table that I realized who the guy was when RJ said in puzzled awe, “Did you just buy Timothy Dalton a drink?”
Ever since then it was our ritual greeting. “Did you just have tea with Timothy Dalton?” “Did you just grope Timothy Dalton?” – you get the picture.
“Are you still drinking that real ale?”
“Nothing but,” he said. “They’ve got Woodforde’s Wherry as a guest beer this month, I’ll have a half of that.”
We eventually got served and propped our glasses on the wide windowsill near the side door. Somewhere, the PA was attempting to pipe John Coltrane into the pub’s atmosphere, but the rising hubbub of drunken conversation made it totally pointless.
“I’ve been reading your articles,” RJ said. “They’re pretty good. I was talking to Jake the other day and your name came up and we both said, yeah, they’re the best pieces on retro culture we’ve seen in a long time.”
Considering the reputation RJ had for being grumpy anfd scathing in conversation, this was praise indeed. I couldn’t help smiling. “So you know why I wanted to speak to you,” I told him.
“Jason’s punk days. Oh, yes indeedie.” He sniffed, flicked the fringe out of his eyes, preoccupied with swishing the beer around in his glass.
“Personally, I think you should drop it,” he said finally. He said it so quickly, in this low mumble, trying to avoid eye contact, that at first I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. I asked him to repeat it.
“I think you ought to stop,” he said, some of his famous belligerence rising to the surface. “You’ve written enough. Let the rest be a mystery, it’s better off that way. People don’t need to know the truth.”
“But RJ,” I said, “This is just starting to get interesting. Old footage of the TV show has turned up, archive recordings, bootlegs, people are talking about this kind of stuff again . . .”
“But it doesn’t go anywhere,” RJ said, taking a deep swig of his ale. “Look, these are the facts. There was no death certificate ever issued but when the cops investigated, they found no birth certificate. No social security number. No permanent address. The guy didn’t even seem to have any family. Jason Zodiac was the stage name of Jason Hawkshaw, but there’s no official record of a ‘Jason Hawkshaw’ ever existing. If the cops couldn’t find anything back in 1999, what makes you think you can?”
I shifted uncomfortably. I didn’t want RJ to think . . . no, he wouldn’t, would he? This was just a job.
“Well, the actors in the old show . . . Gerald Moore, Mike McKenzie . . . they seem to know more than they’re telling.”
RJ closed his eyes and pursed his lips. It was an old habit of his, or more like a facial tic, a grimace he made whenever he heard something he classed as bollocks.
“I’ve had anonymous tips,” I pressed on. “Someone’s got hold of my personal email address.”
“Yeah, well, rock on with that.” He knocked back the last of his ale and sniffed again, a deep snort like he was trying to clear a double decker bus out of his sinuses. “My round, ace reporter. Same again.”
I took a few deep breaths, checked my cell phone and sent a text to Katy while RJ was at the bar, scanned the crowd for any celebs in tonight. Nobody I knew. I tried to make sense of what RJ had told me. He was notorious for being a contrary bugger, but even so . . .
“Listen,” RJ said when he got back, placing the beers on the windowsill. “Do you remember the Sex Pistols publicity stunt the night before the Jubilee?”
“The boat trip down the river Thames,” I said straight away. “You and Tony Parsons covered it for the NME. They were all on the boat; the Pistols, Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood . . . and Jason Zodiac.”
“Let me tell you what really happened that night,” he said, a grim note of confession in his voice.
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The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of “Dead Hand Clapping”, a psychological thriller by Zoe Drake.
First, mountains were mountains, and rivers were rivers. Then, they were all one. And in the end, mountains were mountains, and rivers were rivers again.
The phrase went through Ian McKenna’s mind as he stared at his father’s coffin. It was one of those Zen sayings that had fascinated him the first time he came to Japan, back in the day. Not this, not that. Now it’s something, now it’s nothing. One week he’s out with his Dad for a few beers, on their annual Christmas get-together in London. The next week . . .
He was standing, fidgeting with his prayer book, stumbling his way through the tune of an unfamiliar hymn, trying to shut out the muted falsetto of the woman next to him: Eri, his late father’s girlfriend. Anonymous in the Japanese mourning uniform of black twin-set and pearls.
There wasn’t much at all to show that McKenna was back in Tokyo. The name, St Alban’s Episcopal Church, could have meant anywhere in the UK, even though it was standing in the shadow of the Tokyo Tower. The pastor standing up in the pulpit was British. The seventy-odd members of the congregation were his father’s business partners and friends – people from the Embassy, the Consul, the St Andrews Society, the Japan-Scotland Society, The Tokyo Football Club, staff and customers from his father’s favourite Irish pub, the Fiddler. The only things that told him he wasn’t still in London were the higher ratio of Asian faces in the crowd, and the signs written in Kanji characters on the back wall.
McKenna’s hangover was well and truly kicking in and his guts were in an uproar. I need some air, he thought, the heat in here’s doing my head in. He’d only been in Tokyo for two days and it felt like he’d spent most of that caning his late father’s Scotch collection. Staying in Dad’s apartment, sleeping on Dad’s sofa; he couldn’t bring himself to use the bed.
As the hymn came to an end, the priest asked them to sit and then related, in his precise Home Counties English, what an honorable man Leonard McKenna had been, an upstanding member of the expat community working tirelessly to improve links between two great countries. He had equal amounts of praise for both Eri and Leo’s ex-wife, and was suitably regretful that that she could not be present. If only you knew, McKenna thought ruefully.
“And now,” announced the priest, “Leo’s son, Ian, has kindly agreed to say a few words.”
Ian McKenna got to his feet, trying to ignore the eyes turning in his direction. Eri leant over in her seat and whispered to him: “Ganbatte kudasai.” Do your best. He walked slowly to the pulpit, climbed the steps and stood behind the lectern. A change of perspective. He wasn’t part of the crowd anymore, part of the mourning. He was leading it.
“My father, Leonard Charles McKenna,” he began, running his tongue around dry lips, his eyes fixed on the creased paper and the scrawled lines of his speech. “My father spent a total of over twenty years working in Japan – first as the Asia rep for Universal Distillers, and then with his own company, Glenroyal Consultants. He lived – and he died – in the Japan that he loved.”
A movement at the back of the hall caught McKenna’s eye. There was a figure standing behind the congregation. A man who hadn’t been there before. He must be a latecomer, must have entered the church a few seconds before, McKenna thought, but nobody seemed to have noticed him.
“To try to enumerate my father’s contributions to the Scottish community here,” he continued, “would take up the whole of this service. But for most of us . . . for most of us, Leonard Charles McKenna will be remembered for his kindness and his sense of humour – as well as the time and devotion he showed to everything he was involved with. He’ll be remembered for the simple things. Simple things that showed his everyday generosity, like offering his apartment for Japan-Scotland Society meetings, for hauling cartons of wine to the British Club for a St Andrews Society giveaway promotion that he’d sponsored . . .”
McKenna paused, looked up again. There was something very disturbing about the figure at the back. The man was wearing a big winter jacket over white clothes. Strange white things that looked like filthy hospital pajamas, and his long hair was matted and greasy. Had some homeless bloke wandered into the church? Why wasn’t anyone doing anything?
A sudden noxious chemical reek made McKenna’s gorge rise. There was a hot, prickling sensation under his armpits. The heating’s turned up too high in here, he thought. I can hardly breath . . .
“Dad – Leo McKenna will be remembered for all of these things. But more than this, he will be remembered as a good friend and the best father . . . a fine man, who took the time to do good, wherever possible.”
He looked up again. The figure had gone. McKenna stopped, looking from left to right to see where the figure had gone, how he’d managed to move so fast. People in the congregation stirred, looking behind them, wondering what he was staring at.
He hurriedly got back to his speech, bringing it to its conclusion. “It was Shakespeare who said . . .‘Death makes no conquest of this conqueror, for now he lives in fame, though not in life.'”
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In 1972, I was seventeen, just discovering girls, booze, and music. Good music, which in those days I considered to be Led Zep, Black Sabbath and Lynard Skynrd. Swanning about Brentwood with my Afghan cut-off and arguing with Mum and Dad every time Love Thy Neighbour was on the telly.
I bought the T Rex singles but I never called myself a Glam Rocker because it just seemed too poofy. Not for me the likes of The Sweet, or Chicory Tip, or Slade, thank you, because they were all over the radio like chickenpox.
But then there was Bowie. And Jason Zodiac. And Jerome Jerome Smith.
Jason Zodiac had left the BBC when The T-Service series came to an end, but in 1971, he drew up a deal with ITV – and he turned up on the kid’s TV show Magpie, saying he was planning a comeback. He starred in Children of the Revolution, the 1971 solo Jason Zodiac Christmas special, and in 1972 he went on tour with his new band – the Pale Angels – to promote their first and only studio album, Space Voodoo. Unlike his old band The Banana Sundial, he wasn’t the vocalist/guitarist, this time. He was the manager. The face of the band and the star of The Pale Angels was…Jerome Jerome Smith.
How can I describe J. J. Smith? A sequined footnote in history, a treasure lost down the back of the big fake-leather sofa of pop culture?
Even for the standards of the time, he looked weird. In press appearances, he always had the same pale face glittering with painted stars. He had no eyebrows, just finely sketched black lines filled in with red eye shadow. He tottered around with long, skinny legs on platform boots under huge bell-bottoms, a feather boa wrapped around his alabaster neck. Strangest of all, he had deformed hands; he seemed to be missing a few joints in his long, thin fingers, which made people at the time wonder if he’d ever picked up a guitar in his life before.
The copy-fax machine hummed and I stood up to collect the pages. Scanned copies of Melody Maker for 22nd January 1972.
The typeface was too small, the paper had stained brown with age, but it was still readable. This was the longest press interview J. J. Smith ever gave, at Jason Zodiac’s own studio in Notting Hill, with Jason standing behind him the whole time …
The following is an excerpt from Chapter One of Jamie Carter’s biography of Jason Zodiac.
I took the M5 Southbound, past Bristol, to Junction 23 – and Glastonbury. I was due to meet Screaming Lord Smith on top of the Tor at eleven o’clock, and it was best to get an early start as the roads are always shite. Why Glastonbury Tor? Well, Matt Mackenzie always did have a flair for the dramatic. That was his real name, Matt. Matt Mackenzie. Member of the T-Service.
As the cult TV buffs out there will already remember, the TV drama series ‘The T-Service’ was a drama series that ran for three seasons between 1967 and 1969. It was a sci-fi horror comedy thriller about a super-team backed by the British Government ,a group of eccentric characters saving the world from a different threat each week. This was the BBC’s answer to the colorful psychedelic spy shows that ITC were putting out, like The Avengers and The Prisoner. The ‘T’ in the T-Service stood for Terror. The star of the show was Jason Zodiac, a real flamboyant swinger with a command of occult magical arts and a knack for pulling dolly birds. The other regular characters all had their own back stories and super powers too: Screaming Lord Smith, Tangerine, Uncle Jack, Camera Obscura, token American liaison the Someday Man, all led by the scientific genius Doctor Chess, receiving their assignments from a shadowy government contact known only as The Minister.
Great names. They don’t make TV like that any more, eh?
One reason why The T-Service had gained such notoriety is that it had fallen victim to the BBC video-wiping purge in the early 1970s, and only a handful of episodes actually existed. The stories where The Beatles and Mick Jagger had co-starred were still around, of course, but classic stories like ‘Rock and Roll Circus’, ‘Scavenger Hunt’, ‘Death By Chocolate’ and ‘Festival of the Damned’ were lost forever.
Or so we thought, until Matt Mackenzie contacted Fugue magazine, claiming to have unearthed an 8mm film copy of ‘Festival of the Damned’.
I got to the Tor just before eleven, parked the car, and trudged up the hill to the famous artificial mound, with its signature spiral path winding around it and the beautiful stone tower on its crown. There was a cold February wind blowing, but I was wrapped up warm in quilted jacket, scarf, sweater and gloves, so it wasn’t too bad.
When I got to the top of the hill Matt was standing by the stone tower waiting for me. I could recognize him from his publicity shots; he’s put on weight and lost a bit more hair, but his face was still the craggy, lined, handsome face that had got him the part on the show. Screaming Lord Smith’s super-power on the show was a jacket he had designed himself that could emit psychedelic blasts of coloured light that could confuse, blind or hypnotize the baddies. Which is pretty funny when you remember that the first T-Service series was filmed in black and white. Today, though, there was nothing psychedelic about him. He had a long black wool coat that almost stretched down to his feet.
“Good morning, Mr. Smith,” I said. “Or can I call you Screaming Lord?”
He laughed. We shook hands. “Hello, Mr. Carter.”
“Call me Jamie.”
We stood on top of the Tor, the solid reassuring presence of the tower behind us, buffeted by the wind as we looked out across the rolling Wiltshire countryside. The stubby hedgerows, the scattered farm buildings, the roads carrying their ceaseless loads of traffic.
“I’d forgotten how far away the Tor is from the town,” Matt said.
“Yeah, it’s quite a way. Have you been back here since the filming?”
“I went to the Glastonbury Festival a couple of times in the 70s. saw Pink Floyd headlining one year and Thin Lizzy the next.”
“Me too. I saw Pink Floyd here,” I said, thinking there was not much I could remember about it. Most of what I could remember was the sheer paranoia of having my stash stolen or being arrested because of it. Ah, youth.
Matt pointed away across the fields. “We filmed ‘Festival of the Damned’ down there. The director put down flat wooden supports for the cameras, because he wanted to recreate the effect of filming in studio. Several cameras filming the action at the same time, from different angles. Cameras and arc lights moving across the wooden planks on wheeled tripods. All the cameramen had headphones on so the director could speak to them.”
“That episode had quite a strong opening scene, I remember.”
“Yeah, that got quite a reaction. The first thing you saw was Agent Teapot being chased across those fields by the Morris Dancers from Hell.”
“All the spies from that department had tea-service code names. Agent Sugar, Agent Milk, all that stuff. Teapot sends off a message in Morse code before he’s murdered by the Fool with an exploding pig’s bladder on a stick.”
I remembered watching it with my own mum and dad on Saturday teatime when I was about fifteen. It was a scene that was pretty scary and graphic for the time, and most people agree it was in influence on the writers of the classic 1971 Doctor Who story The Daemons, where menacing Morris Dancers almost burnt Jon Pertwee at the stake.
“I could never look at Morris Dancing again after that,” I said.
“Shame,” he said. “I was going to ask you to nip down there and join me for a dance.”
“I think I’d rather have a pint.”
We both laughed.
We carried on the interview at the King Arthur (Matt’s idea of a joke, considering all the legends surrounding this place), a nice comfortable pub on Benedict Street in Glastonbury town centre. Matt opted for the ploughman’s lunch, but after being out in that wind, I needed something piping hot. I finally chose the steak and kidney pie in gravy with a non-alcoholic beer to wash it down.
“Here it is,” Matt said, taking a videocassette wrapped in a plastic Sainsbury’s bag out of his attaché case. “The long-lost episode.”
I took it from him and peered at it, all kinds of thoughts going through my head. Front covers of Fugue magazine. DVD releases. Behind-the-scenes specials.
It had been a long-standing mystery in TV circles why The T-Service had never had the classic status it deserved. The shows that existed had never been repeated on TV and never released on video or DVD, and were never shown abroad. One theory is that Mary Whitehouse had angrily reacted to what she had called the ‘Satanist’ elements of the show – it was pretty edgy stuff, even for the late 1960s. Mary Whitehouse had even claimed in an interview that Jason Zodiac had conducted a Black Mass on-screen, but I couldn’t remember ever seeing that.
I talked it over with Matt, as well as the curious fact that all the cast of The T-Service had left the acting profession after the show was finally cancelled. The actor who had played Uncle Jack had died in the late 70s and Someday Man had passed away in the mid-80s. Matt Mackenzie himself had gone into record production; in fact, not many people know he was the producer on The Blobs’ best-selling debut album, We Are The Blobs.
“But what you really want to know,” Matt said with a sly grin, “is what happened to Jason Zodiac.”
Now we were getting down to it.
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