Saturday 4 February 2012

Popeye the Sail 'Er Man

I’d barely started on my breakfast when there was a loud knock on the door.

At first I ignored it. It was only eleven o’clock, and polite people aren’t supposed to visit anyone that early.  But the knock came again, more persistently, as though it would never stop. I couldn’t even keep my mind on my food.

Sighing, I pushed away my hamburger and went to open up. As I’d more than half expected, it was Popeye.

“What d’you want?” I’m afraid I was a little on the abrupt side, but in my defence I’m seldom at my best when I haven’t even got the twentieth hamburger of the morning inside me. “Hasn’t anyone ever taught you not to drop in at the crack of dawn?”

“It’s more like duh crack of noon,” he mumbled round his pipe. “Look, Wimpy, I have ta talk to yer.”

When Popeye says he has to “talk” to you, that’s usually a good time to begin looking for an escape route, but taking a second look at him, I realised that he wasn’t quite all right. He was so not all right, in fact, that both his eyes were open and he was wearing his pipe the wrong way in his mouth.

“Come in,” I said reluctantly. “I was just having breakfast, so...”

“Eating, eating,” he mumbled round his pipe, ignoring the hamburger I put in front of him. “Yer can always eat later. Here’s my world going to pieces and all yer kin think of is eating.”

“Well, I bet you’ve had breakfast,” I snapped, as soon as I finished swallowing the remaining half of my twentieth hamburger. “So it’s fine for you to talk.”

“Look here, Wimpy,” he said, tooting a cloud of black smoke into my nice clean living room. OK, I may be greedy, but I’m not a slob. “I need yer advice.”

I can tell you that that floored me. Nobody ever asks my advice on anything except hamburgers, on which, of course, I’m the world’s leading authority. I was so surprised that I paused, my twenty-first burger half way up to my mouth. “Advice?”

“Yuh,” he agreed. “Olive Oyl is leavin’ me.”

“Leaving you?”

“Yuh,” he admitted. “She told me this morning. She’s leavin’ me right away.”

“That’s...surprising,” I said. It was more than surprising; it was astonishing that she hadn’t left him already. “Did she say why?”

“Yuh, but it don’t make sense.” He looked down miserably at his forearms. “She says muh arms make me look like a freak.” He held up his swollen appendages and waggled them in front of me. “I ask yer, do they make me look like a freak, huh?”

I promptly lost what little was left of my appetite. If you find that difficult to believe, just try to imagine Popeye’s forearms, growing out of those stick thin biceps, and now imagine them wagged in your face to the accompaniment of a cloud of toxic pipe smoke. Can you visualise eating breakfast now? No?

“Is that all?” I never had a high opinion of Olive’s intelligence, but surely she wasn’t blind? Didn’t she notice his forearms all these years? “Did she say anything else?”

“Yuh,” he said, more downbeat than ever. “She said she couldn’t stand muh smokin’, said as I was poisonin’ her. I told her, I yam what I yam – you take me, you take my pipe.”

“Oh? And what did she say to that?”

“Nothin’, just began coughin’ and coughin’. Wouldn’t stop coughin’ till I hit her. And then she fell down.” He paused, aggrieved. “I tell yer, Wimpy, these wimmin’ don’t know what’s good for them.”

“Oh? So she can’t stand your forearms and your pipe. Did she have any other objections?”

“Yuh, yuh,” he muttered. “Said I was massacrin’ the langwidge, an’ cussin’. Said I was settin’ a terrible example fer all the kids we might hev had if she’d wanted them. Said I’d ruined Swee’Pea already, but she wasn’t havin’ me ruin any other kid of hers.”

“Were you thinking of having kids?” My mind boggled at trying to imagine what a child of Olive’s by Popeye might look like.

“Naw, she said she was afraid they’d all turn out to be cursin’ one-eyed freaks with swollen forearms, swillin’ spinach and beatin’ everyone up. She said just lookin’ at Pappy an’ at me was enuff ter scare her off breedin’. ”

You can understand how surprised I was by all this when I tell you that I took off my hat and scratched my head. What, you can’t understand that? Well, have you ever seen me with my hat off? No? There you are. Anyway, I removed my hat to scratch my head. “Popeye, old friend,” I said. “I can’t understand why all this should have begun disturbing her all of a sudden. Did something happen recently to set her off?”

“Yuh, thet’s whut I can’t unnerstand.” He tooted his pipe aggrievedly, and my living room nearly became a gas chamber. “Just yesterday she was bright an’ sunny when I dropped in on her an’ we went for a walk.”

“You did? And what happened on that walk?”

“Nothin’.” He brooded into his pipe. “Bluto came along and started sayin’ sweet nothin’s to her, so of course I beat him up.”

“Of course,” I agreed. It was nothing more than routine. “Did anything else happen?”

“Well, then Olive got angry an’ started chewin’ me out.” The memory rankled so much that his pipe swivelled round twice in his mouth. “Said I was overreactin’ to a harmless compliment an’ I was a brute an’ on an’ on an on’. So of course I smacked her to shut her up.”

“Of course.” That, too, was routine. “What happened after that?”

“Then Bluto came with a crane an’ snatched her up.” He muttered some uncomplimentary things about Bluto which I won’t repeat in this chronicle. “So I ate my can o’ spinach an’ smashed up the crane.”

“You don’t say,” I murmured. “What happened then?”

“Olive fell from the crane on a street,” he said. “There was a bus comin’ towards her, so naturally I gave it a tap to stop it.”

“A tap,” I repeated. I could see the pile of wreckage, the mangled corpses.

“Yuh, a little bitty tap. They don’t build these buses worth a damn.” He waved his hand dismissively. “Olive was yellin’ an’ hollerin’ fit to bust. Said why didn’t I just help her up instead of wreckin’ public property an’ killin’ an’ hurtin’ people. An’ then –“

“Yes?” I asked encouragingly, before he could release more poisonous fumes. “And then what happened?”

“Then Bluto came in a helicopter an’ snatched her up.” His pipe began swivelling round and round like a helicopter’s rotors. “So I took another can o’ spinach an’ began flyin’ after them, but Bluto began shootin’ at me with a machine gun.”

“And,” I said, knowing what was coming, “you began punching those machine gun bullets away, didn’t you? What did they end up hitting?”

“Well,” he said aggressively, “how should I know those bullets were goin’ tuh hit a Jumbo jet and make it crash? They don’t make planes worth a damn. Pappy always used ter say...””

“But you got Olive back,” I said, as he sank into another bit of baleful muttering. “That’s what matters, doesn’t it?”

“Oh, yuh, I got her back. That was after thuh helicopter crashed in thuh ocean.”

“In the ocean?” I raised an eyebrow. “How did you get her back from there? It must have been quite a swim.”

“Swim?” He looked surprised. “Why should we want to swim?”

“What? You just told me the helicopter crashed out to sea.”

“Yuh, so I sat on Olive an’ sailed her back. She makes a grand boat, and her skirts made a great sail.” He smiled reminiscently, then winced. “But wasn’t she half mad!”

“She didn’t appreciate your saving her?”

He shook his head sadly. “Said I was disrespectin’ her an’ mistreatin’ her. Said Bluto was takin’ her on a va-cay-shun ter the South Seas, which I yam too much of a cheapskate to take her, an’ I had no right to get her back. Wimmin!”

“And today,” I said, “she told you she’s leaving?”

“Yuh...said she’s going to Bluto.” He shook his head and tooted his pipe, filling the room with poisonous smoke.

“After all you did for her?” Absently, I took the hamburger from his plate and ate it. “Talk about ingratitude." 

 “I yam what I yam,” he said, through the cloud of smoke.  “I’ve always been what I yam. But wimmin...”

Let's see,” I added, through the mouthful of burger, "you beat up Bluto for complimenting her, you beat her for protesting, you wrecked a crane, a bus, a Jumbo jet and a helicopter, you deprived her of a vacation, and then you used her as a sailboat. And she still isn't grateful?"

“I don’t get them,” he admitted sadly. “I shore can’t understand wimmin at all.”

 Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

The Siege


Maybe, she thought, crouching by the screen, it will be different today.

The view through the stone filigree promised nothing, though. Below the fort’s wall, the hillside fell away down to the brown plateau, only to rise again in a further series of stony prominences like broken teeth. She had never learnt to like this landscape, so different from the green plains of her home to the north, even when there was peace. But now there was no peace.

Far below, on the plateau, she could see the lines of tents that belonged to the besieging army. The tents were dull brown on the brown plain, and difficult to see at this distance, so she could almost will herself into believing that they were not there. Almost – but not quite.

To the right she could just see the road that led from the fort down to the plain. At this time of day, that road should have been crowded with traffic – horses, camels and oxen with wickedly sharp back-swept horns, drawing laden carts up the twisting way. But it was war, and there was nothing.

Despite the heat of the summer, she shivered suddenly. It was wartime, her husband was out with the Rana’s army somewhere, fighting – and she was in the fort, isolated from him, for all purposes alone.

Each day, since the siege had started, she’d spent hours here, behind this screen, staring down at the road that led down to the plain. She’d known it was stupid, but she still couldn’t stop herself. If hoping could bring the army back again, to raise the siege and join her to her husband, then it would have happened already. The entire population of the fort – the remaining soldiers, the residents, and the refugees who had crowded in from the surrounding villages – hoped and prayed every day for the army to come. Even now, the fort’s priests were sacrificing in the temples, and the astrologers were at their divinations – and the army still did not come.

A speck of black appeared in the blue-white sky, coming steadily closer. For a moment her spirits soared, thinking it was a carrier pigeon, winging its way with a message from the army that it was on its way. But it was only a hawk, soaring on outstretched wings over friend and enemy alike.

Idly, she watched the hawk, wondering how it would be to be able to fly like it. Then she would have left this terrible place, with its stony hills, its immense forts and arid deserts, and fly home to her own green plains which she hadn’t seen since her marriage seven years before.

The hawk could go anywhere, she thought. It could fly so high that surely it might be able to see the ends of the world, to the distant blue sea of which she had heard, or to the great cities of the river valleys with their markets and artisans, their temples and mosques and palaces, where people could live as they wanted and not as prisoners within walls of stone.

She wondered, for a moment, how it would be to see the ocean. She had heard the tales of the great ships that voyaged from far and distant lands, like huge wooden houses roofed with sails, and the men and women in them had pink skins, yellow hair and blue eyes. They came from lands where it was winter all year long, and they worshipped a god who was dead and nailed to a piece of wood. It was all very difficult to believe, and she wished she could see it for herself.

But that was the problem – she never would.

It was her curse, she thought, that she’d been born a woman. It was because she was female that she’d been married off to an officer in the Rana’s army, forever to leave her green fields and come to this desert land to live out her days. If she were a man, what might she not have done. But she couldn’t speak such things aloud. Nobody would understand, least of all the other women. They never had an original thought, and she avoided them when she could.

Even her husband wouldn’t understand. She remembered him as he’d said goodbye to her before starting out on his expedition, carefully looking over her shoulder so she couldn’t meet his eyes. She knew he believed she’d failed him, by not bearing him children after seven years. But it was scarcely her fault if she was barren – and he hadn’t even touched her in over a year now. At one time she might have worried that he was going to other women, like the prostitutes who hung around near the barracks of an evening, but she’d stopped caring even about that, long ago. If he’d found solace in the arms of another woman, good for him. At least someone was happy.

For all that, she wished he was back. It wasn’t that she loved him – neither of them had any feeling for each other, not any longer. She could barely remember the thrill that had once run through her at the sight of him, just after their marriage, when the world had still been young and full of promise. But she was an old woman now, in her twenties, and her hopes were beginning to fade along with her looks and her future.

A sudden flash at the corner of her vision brought her mind back to the present. It came from the plateau near the enemy camp, where the Emperor’s troops were camped. For a moment she thought it was sunlight glittering off a piece of metal, but then she saw the puff of black smoke and heard, attenuated by distance, the explosion. Again there was a flash, and again. The Emperor’s soldiers were beginning yet another cannonade, and she wondered if this was the prelude to the all-out assault people in the fort had been nervously predicting in recent days.

The soldiers along the battlements below her didn’t look particularly concerned. One of them leaned his long musket on the wall and took aim at the enemy, but the others did not even react. They had grown apathetic, she thought, now that the officers were away with the Rana’s army. If her husband had been here, he would have seen to it that they didn’t lounge so lazily, drawing on hookahs and talking of the charms of the serving women in the kitchens. They did not know she was there, listening, or else they did not care. Though she couldn’t understand all their dialect, the bit she could made her blush.

The enemy barrage was building up steadily, the plateau ringed by flashes glimpsed through the swirling gunsmoke, the sound like distant thunder. She stood up restlessly, wondered if she should go down to the yard and try to find out what was happening but decided against it. The fort was full of rumour and supposition now, without any hard facts, and she decided to stay where she was.

Just that morning she’d heard that the Queen was planning to commit Jauhar if the Emperor’s troops broke into the fort, along with her ladies-in-waiting, rather than fall into the hands of the enemy. It was only a rumour, of course, but it had sent a ripple of panic through the women. If the Queen herself was so despairing of their chances as to plan on suicide, what hope was there for everyone else?

She thought of how it must be, to burn oneself alive rather than fall into the hands of the enemy, the pain of the fire on one’s flesh. It was of course a rumour, and it would be so unnecessary. By all accounts, the Emperor was an honourable man, for all that he was the enemy and a Muslim, and he had promised to protect the women.

But the Emperor was far away in Agra, and his generals and soldiers on the plateau might not share his liberal views.

She shivered again. What would she do if the enemy soldiers broke in? She had a knife, left her by her husband as a parting gift. Would she use it to take the fast way out if the fort fell, or would she wait to see what happened? What would she do when the time came?

The cannon were falling silent one by one, the smoke drifting away, and she wearily folded herself down again, and stared out at the broken hills. Another false alarm then – there would be no assault today. She actually wanted the assault, she thought, just so that it would be over, one way or the other. She was tired of waiting. The waiting was the worst.

With surprise, she saw that the hawk was still soaring above, circling over the fort and the battle, the fighting and dying and the fear and the waiting.

She watched the hawk, and yearned to have wings like it, and to fly up into the sky and far away, beyond the desert and the war. She wanted to fly down to the ocean, where the pink men came in their wooden ships, and the water stretched to the ends of the world, and further, beyond the edge of the world. She wanted to fly higher, beyond the sun and the stars, until the day and night were no more.

Evening was falling, the shadows lengthening on the hills. She watched the creeping shadows and thought about the hawk and why it did not fly far away, when it could. It was a stupid bird, she thought, to stay when it could get away.

At last she got up and went down into the fort, telling herself that tomorrow she wouldn’t come up and sit here through the day. But of course she would.

Suddenly impatient, she ran down the stairs, as though haste would bring tomorrow closer, and as though tomorrow would have something new to come.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Thursday 2 February 2012

Rolling Thunder

Grim Rippers MC, says the sign on the red brick wall, in large black letters on pale grey. The letters are stylised Gothic, set below the club logo of a hooded skull and crossed scythes. It’s evening, just after dusk, and the skull glows faintly luminous with phosphorescence.

“It might look cheesy,” I’d been warned, “but do not be tempted to laugh. Not even to yourself. There is nothing funny about these people.” As though I’d needed to be told that.

It’s a strange place to have an outlaw biker clubhouse, in this fairly upscale residential district with its tree-lined streets and neat houses with well-tended little gardens out front. It’s an especially strange place to find this particular kind of biker clubhouse. These streets were built with family cars in mind, modestly fashionable vehicles hushing by unobtrusively to work or shopping at the malls downtown. Nobody probably ever imagined they’d echo to the pulsating beat of V-twin cruiser engines. But then there’s nothing usual about the people inside those walls. Nothing at all.

There are motorcycles parked in a double line on the small concrete court by the gate, along with a couple of pickup trucks. I glance at them, counting quickly; there are about fourteen or fifteen. Not a full house then, because some of these will be associates’ and prospects’ bikes, but still a fair number of the full-patch members will be here tonight. I can imagine them on the other side of the wall, and I’m sure a couple of sets of eyes are watching me at this moment, sizing me up, and more likely than not checking to make sure I’m the one they expect.

Despite my training, I feel my tension rising, and pause a moment to get myself under control; but not too much, not all the way to base-level calmness. They’ll detect my nervousness, of course, and to some extent they’ll be expecting nervousness. Nervousness is normal under these circumstances. But they’d react as suspiciously to outright anxiety as they would to a dead – if you’ll forgive the pun – calm. They’re as sensitive to atmosphere as hunted wild animals, and they can be as dangerous as one of those wild animals when brought to bay.

I’m ready for my role, I tell myself, once again. I won’t screw up by making some stupid mistake. I repeat it quickly, so that I know it’s true, and walk up to the gate.

The owner of one of the sets of eyes I’d known were watching me steps out of a small wooden cubicle next to the gate. He’s a big man with a round hairless head, shining in the light pouring down on us from the floodlight on the gatepost. He crosses his beefy arms on his white T shirt and stares at me silently.

“I’m expected,” I say after it becomes obvious he’s not going to make the first move. “I’m...” for the briefest instant I have a shaft of panic when I can’t remember my code name, but then it comes to me. “Bill,” I tell him. “Bill Butcher. Roggy one-percenter invited me.”

For a moment he doesn’t react, his stony expressionless eyes gazing into mine. Then he holds out a hand. I fumble my ID through the wire mesh to him; he takes it without a word and disappears into the cubicle. After a couple of minutes, there’s a faint hum of an electric motor and the gate begins to slide open.

The big man reappears, and speaks for the first time. His voice is harsh and low, as if it is an effort for him to talk. Perhaps it is. “Roggy will be here later,” he says. “You’re to go in and wait.”

“All right. What about my licence?”

He stares at me. “You’ll get it back when you leave. Rules of the house.”

I’d been coached to look out for any attempt to intimidate or dominate me, and to resist from the outset, but it seems counterproductive to raise a ruckus before even getting into the clubhouse. So I shrug, turn away and walk up the steps to the door, which looks very heavy, as though it’s sheathed in metal under the wood. More likely than not it is.

It’s already opening, and another man appears. This one’s surprisingly small, barely up to my shoulder, and thin, almost spindly, which makes me instantly wary. His short stature means he must make up in other attributes what he lacks in centimetres. The club can pick and choose its members – it isn’t hurting for candidates – and it recruits only the best. He grins up at me, a feral smile with a lot of tooth and little else.

“I’m Rat,” he says in a flat monotone. “And you’re Bill Butcher.”


“Rat one-percenter, of course,” he says with some disgust, as though I’ve failed some kind of test. “Roggy said you’d be along.” He throws an arm round my back, as he ushers me though the door; a surprisingly friendly gesture, but I can feel the subtle pressure of his fingers as he checks me out for a shoulder holster. That’s just the beginning.

 As soon as we’re through the door it slams behind us and Rat produces a gun, which he holds to my head, and pats me down expertly. “Drop your pants,” he says when he’s done.

“Huh?” This I had not expected. “What the fuck is this?”

“Drop the pants,” he repeats in the same monotone. “Or I’ll blow your head off.”

I undo my belt and let my trousers collapse round my ankles. Rat quickly feels around my legs with his free hand. “All right,” he says, stepping back. “Now the jacket.”

“Did you think I was carrying a bug?” I ask when he motions for me to get dressed again.

“No,” he says. “If you were, it would be disguised anyway. But I needed to be sure you weren’t carrying something illegal to plant on us. It happens.”

“Yeah?” I ask, pulling up my zipper.“Roggy specifically told me not to carry any kind of contraband, so I’m not.”

He shrugs, putting away the gun. “Sorry about that,” he says insincerely. “But you can’t be too careful.  Well, come on.”

I follow him down a short, brightly-lit corridor to a large room. It’s got a bar counter down one side, and a small stage opposite. The wall behind the stage is covered by a huge grey cloth bearing the hooded death’s head with the crossed scythes, with Grim Rippers above it, MC to the side and the charter name, in the same Gothic script, below. The rest of the room is scattered with chairs and tables. It looks like a cross between a community hall and a pub, except that there are no drinks behind the bar. Of course, for these people, there wouldn’t be.

There are several of them sitting in the room, and glance up at me with feigned casualness. The casualness is obviously feigned because their eyes all have the same glittering, watchful look, and once again I’m reminded of dangerous wild animals.

“Roggy will be here in a bit,” Rat tells me. “Make yourself at home. Hey, Tiny,” he calls, “we have a guest.” Clapping me lightly on the back, he disappears through the door by which we’d entered.

“Hi.” Tiny, of course, is so huge I have to tilt my head back slightly to look him in the eyes. He gives me a benign grin through a faceful of curling beard. “Welcome to the Ripper Nation.”

“Yeah, hi. Thanks.” Tiny’s hand is so large it envelopes mine. “I don’t want to trouble you,” I tell him. “I’ll just wait for Roggy. He’s to meet me here.”

“It’s no trouble, no trouble at all.” Tiny’s teeth are small and even, his cheeks ruddy above the beard. He looks friendly, happy, and so vital that apart from the slightest waxy sheen on his skin one can hardly tell he’s dead. “It’s nice to see a guest here. We seldom have any.”

“What about them?” I nod towards a couple of women in the far corner.

“Oh, them. They aren’t guests. Hey, Bonny,” he calls. “You a guest?”

One of the women grins back and waves. She’s tall, muscular, chocolate-complexioned, and her hair’s worked into short dreadlocks – as I already know, these biker gangs don’t discriminate on the basis of ethnicity. I watch the muscles slide and bunch under her skin – I wouldn’t fancy my chances against her in hand-to-hand combat.  “Guest?” she shouts back. “How I wish.” It seems to be some kind of inside joke, because everyone laughs except me.

We sit at a table and Tiny leans back, his hands locked behind his head. The insides of his arms crawl with tattoos. “Can I offer you a drink?” he asks casually.

“A drink?” I wonder if this is a trick question of some kind. “But you don’t drink alcohol, do you?”

“I meant whether you want one,” he replied. “We do have a few bottles for guests somewhere. Wine, gin, whiskey, you name it, we have it.”

“Oh, all right. Thanks for the offer.” I glance around the room, aware everyone else’s attention is on me to a greater or lesser extent. “But I don’t want it. You see, I don’t drink either.”

“Why not?” Tiny looks a bit surprised. “Don’t tell me you’re a teetotaller.”

“No,” I tell him, and raise my voice slightly to make sure I’m clearly heard. “It’s not that I’m not a teetotaller.” I wait, pausing a moment for effect.

“I’m Undead too,” I say.


Let me explain clearly,” my controller, whom I know only by the code name of Teri, had told me. She’d stood at the window of her office, back turned to the view, and stared me up and down with her markswoman’s eyes. “These are criminals here we’re dealing with. I know you’re Undead too, but you are nothing like them. You have to keep that in mind at all times.”

“I know,” I’d said. “I’m perfectly aware of that.”

“Uh-huh.” She’d shaken her head emphatically. “You don’t understand, not really. These people – if we’re to call them that – are the scum of the earth. But they can be very persuasive, very convincing. It’s easy to be taken in. And because you’re Undead, you’d feel a natural kinship with them anyway, so it’s doubly dangerous for you.”

“But you need someone Undead to infiltrate them,” I’d said sourly. “So anyone you send would be in the same boat.”

“That doesn’t mean you can afford to relax a moment. Look, Bill...” Teri had switched to what I call her ‘reasonable’ persona, smiling reassuringly and leaning earnestly forward. She doesn’t do it very well, because her eyes remain the same, those sniper’s eyes. “You need to keep in mind what you’re dealing with here. They seem pretty much jokes, don’t they? A few Undead with attitudes, motorcycles, and stickers on their backs? But they could overturn our entire economic and social system. They’re that big a threat.”

“How?” I’d asked reasonably enough. “What do you think they’re planning, an armed insurrection against the government or something?”

“I wish they would,” Teri had said almost wistfully. “Then we could take care of them.” I’d seen the gleam in her eyes, as if she was taking aim through a rifle’s telescopic sights, and I’d known what she’d meant by that. “But it’s nothing so easily countered.” She’d sat down opposite me and rubbed her face, and for the first time I realised how tired she looked. “They’re pushing Juice,” she’d said.

Juice?” To say I was surprised would have been the understatement of the year. “How can they push Juice? How can anyone even get their hands on it?”

“Nevertheless,” she’d replied, “that’s what they’re doing, and they’re distributing it on a large scale amongst the Undead. You don’t need me to tell you what that means, do you?”

“No.” I had shaken my head in bewilderment. “Are you sure the Undead biker gangs are behind this?”

“Quite sure. They don’t deal out of the clubhouses, of course. They’re far too smart for that. But they are distributing it. We need to know where they’re getting hold of it first, and then we’re going to strike hard as we can.”

“I thought there was only one source.” We’d both looked instinctively at the company’s red-white-green logo, easily visible on the building across the way from her office. That wasn’t significant – you can’t go two kilometres without seeing the logo five times. “Government-protected monopoly, isn’t it?”

“They claim there’s none missing from their stocks.” Teri had shuffled a couple of files on her desk, her long slim fingers riffling the pages. “That’s what they say.”

“But you don’t believe them.”

“The stuff has to be coming from somewhere, hasn’t it?”

“Maybe it’s being smuggled in from abroad? The Chinese and Russians make it on a large scale.”

“The samples we’ve found don’t have the chemical markers of the Chinese version, and the Russian stuff’s just a copy of the Chinese Juice. Besides they’ve a bigger demand than they can supply, so there’s nothing left over for smuggling.” She’d stared at me, making sure I’d understood what she meant. “But you know as well as I do that we can’t do a thing without cast-iron evidence.” I’d nodded, knowing the tremendous political power of that particular company, and how it virtually owns half the government, leaving the lesser corporations to fight for control of the other half. “You’re to get the evidence.”

“And the only way you can think of is by infiltrating one of the clubs? Isn’t there another way?”

“If there was, don’t you think we’d have used it by now? Frankly, these biker clubs are almost impenetrable. We don’t know a thing about what goes on there. We need an inside informant.”

“Well,” I’d asked then, “why me? You must have other operatives, more experienced ones.”

“But we don’t have another Undead agent.” Teri had slapped her hand on the table. “Look, Bill, I’ll be frank with you. I don’t like the Undead. They give me the creeps – even you, and you’re lifelike enough to pass. Say what you like, but you Undead aren’t natural.” She’d paused to give me a chance to respond. I’d kept my peace, because she’d not said anything I hadn’t sensed already about her attitude. When you’re Undead you grow sensitive to atmosphere, if only as a self-protective mechanism. “But,” she’d continued eventually, “even so, I’ve been lobbying for some time for the Department to recruit amongst the Undead. I fought hard for that, almost alone, and finally I got clearance to hire one operative. And that was you.”

“I see,” I’d said slowly. “I did not know that.”

“What would have been the point of telling you? I’m letting you know now so you realise just how important you are to this project. Without you, there wouldn’t be any chance of putting a stop to this. None.”

We’d talked some more about the logistics of the infiltration, and the training I’d undergone in bike riding. “The sooner you get on it, the better,” she’d said. “It’s going to take time, as we both know. At least we don’t have to set up too elaborate a back story for you, seeing as you aren’t alive.”

Then we’d talked about the club we’d decided to infiltrate. The biggest Undead biker gang in the state was the Death Dealers, but they had no local chapter in the city, and besides they weren’t a club with a national presence. There was only one chance we’d get to infiltrate, so it had to be good. After a lot of discussion, we’d picked the Grim Rippers as the target. They were large, they had a nationwide presence, and there was one more thing about them which clinched the issue.

“They’re the worst,” Teri had told me, shuffling her files. “They push more Juice than all the other clubs put together, and there’s a suspicion that they’re the source for the other gangs as well. The whole supply is going through them.”

I listened, thinking about what she’d said. “Suppose I have to do something illegal if...when...I’ve infiltrated them. Then what?”

“Then you do what you have to,” she’d replied promptly. “The Department will cover for you, don’t worry. We look after our own.” We’d talked for a while more, setting up codes. “Are you ready?” she’d asked at last.

“As much as I’ll ever be.” I’d risen to my feet. “Well, yeah, I’ll be in touch.”

She’d waited until I was at the door. “Bill.”

I turned my head. She was leaning over her desk, her eyes burning into mine. “Do not fail me. You don’t need reminding what’s at stake for you, do you?”

“I do not,” I’d acknowledged, and closed the door deliberately slowly. She’d probably expected me to slam it shut. It wasn’t much of a rebellion. But it was all I was capable of.

We Undead have our limitations, and are all too well aware of them.


Sorry to keep you waiting.” Roggy 1%er slips into the seat opposite me with fluid ease. “I heard they gave you a hard time.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I tell him. Roggy has a thin bearded face and intense eyes, and when he speaks he gestures with quick movements. I remember how difficult it had been for me to believe, the first time we’d met, that he wasn’t actually alive.”Your friend Rat seemed a mite paranoid that I could be sneaking something in, though.”

Roggy shakes his head. “Rat’s Sergeant-at-Arms for the club, so he’s in charge of security, and he takes his job kind of seriously. Don’t mind him. But he’s right, you know – a couple of the other clubs have had people trying to plant things, in clubhouses or even on bikes during rallies. The government doesn’t really like the idea of uncontrolled Undead at large – let alone organised into clubs. It isn’t because of want of trying that they haven’t closed us down by now.”

I’d first met Roggy at a motorcycle workshop across town, where I’d heard Rippers liked to hang out. I’d begun taking the motorcycle the Department had given me for the mission – a huge cruiser complete with fake registration and back history proving I’d owned it since before I died – for a radical customisation job. It gave me a reason to visit the workshop several times, during which I’d talked to the owner about bikes in general, and how I’d wanted to join a club but never got the chance. Finally, one day, I’d been at the shop when the owner had told me that one of the Rippers was there, and I should talk to him.

It hadn’t been difficult to strike up a conversation with Roggy. We’d talked of motorcycles and he’d warmed up to me once he realised I was Undead, like him. By the time my bike had been done for the day, we’d made plans to meet again, and after that, once more. Pretty soon we were fairly close, and it was he who finally suggested I should try out for the Rippers.

That had been a delicate balance to strike. I couldn’t look too eager, and yet if I waited too long it might have killed his enthusiasm. And in the background there was Teri, whose communications to me always urged me to get a move on, because the situation with the Juice was getting more serious every day.

“So,” Roggy says now, putting his elbows on the table, “what do you think?”

“I’ve only just got here, and I haven’t really got to know anyone.” I nod towards Tiny, who’s sitting across the room leafing ostentatiously through a magazine. “He seemed fine until I told him I was Undead, but that seemed to spook him.”

Roggy laughs. “Tiny thinks he knows everything. It’s a shock to him whenever he discovers he doesn’t.” He looks over my shoulder at the door. “Ah, Mitch’s here.”

I turn. The newcomer is a broad-chested individual with a bandanna round his head and a grey moustache which droops over his lips. He wears mirrored sunglasses even though it’s indoors and evening, and walks with a musclebound man’s awkwardness.

I know who he is from my briefings, though I’ve never seen him before; Mitch 1%er, president of the chapter.

“He runs an extremely tight ship,” Teri had cautioned me. “He’s smart, dangerous and unpredictable. If you’re going to have trouble, he’s the most likely source. Besides, he’s the club president, and what he says goes.”

“Mitch,” Roggy makes the introductions. “This is Bill. I told you about Bill.” We shake hands, and I can feel him sizing me up through the sunglasses.

“Hi.” Mitch has a surprisingly soft voice for someone with such a barrel chest. “Roggy suggests you might want to hang around with us and see how things turn out. Do you?”

“I might,” I admit. “He says I’d probably like it here. It’s not as though I have anything else to do, either.”

“Right. You don’t.” He’s still staring at me across the table, the mirrors reflecting my image. “Tell me something,” he says suddenly. “How come you’re free? Did you buy your freedom?”

I’d been prepared for the question, though I hadn’t expected it so early in the proceedings. “According to the records I’ve had access to, I had savings, and before I died I made the arrangements.” I had documents to prove it, if they asked; and more than likely they would. “It paid just about enough to buy my way out.”

He nods, noncommittally. “And how do you pay your bills now? Your bike, gear, your house if you have one...your Juice?” I know what he means. After all, as a free entity, I’d have to buy my ration of Juice, from the authorised shops, not get it given me gratis by the government at compulsory weekly clinic.

“I’ve been working,” I say with careful unconcern, as though we’re having just a casual conversation. I can feel everyone in the room straining to listen in, even Bonny and her friend in the corner. “I’m a supervisor in one of the casinos. It covers the bills.”

“Which one?” he asks as casually. “Which casino?”

“The Golden Horseshoe.” I’ve actually been working there as a cover since being revived, and the management will back me up. But it’s time to take some charge of the conversation, before it becomes an interrogation. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been in a bike clubhouse. It’s interesting.”

“You think so?” He looks around as if he’s never seen the place before, but I can sense he’s pleased. “We like it. But tonight’s a little quiet. You should be here during the weekends, that’s when the place is really buzzing. Listen,” he adds without any change of tone. “Why don’t you come for a ride with us tonight? That way we can find out how you handle a bike.”

There it is, the invitation I’d been angling for – the chance to ride with the club, the first step to membership.

“Thanks,” I reply, struggling to keep my voice casual. “I’d like that.”


The twin lines of bikes roar into the night, leaning into the curve, their headlights shining in two broad lanes of yellow light. I don’t even know how fast we’re going any longer – I don’t dare take my eyes off the road and the bike in front of me long enough to look down at my speedometer. The surroundings are a blur, trees and the occasional house merging into one another, the wind slashing at me hard enough to make even my Undead eyes water in sympathy.

In the wash of my headlight, the patch on the back of jacket of the rider in front of me glows silver, the eyes of the skull pits of infinite darkness. That’s my goal – to work my way through the selection process until I have one of those on my back. Then, perhaps, I can give Teri what she wants, what I’ve been revived for.

The thought’s strangely depressing. Criminals or not, these are Undead like me, and like me they like to ride. These two things alone make us closer kin than the people who brought me back, gave me a second birth I didn’t want and hadn’t been given a chance to choose. They and I have nothing in common.

We’ve been riding for hours now; it must be close to midnight, and we’ve been far from town and are curving homeward again. I can see the lights ahead, glimmering in the darkness like a chain of jewels. It’s gratifying that I’ve been able to keep station in the pack – they’ve pushed themselves, and hard, testing their own skills as well as mine.

We rumble through the streets back to the clubhouse. The noise of eight large motorcycles will undoubtedly be making some residents lie awake in their beds, but nobody throws open a window, cursing. The Rippers’ dominance over this part of town is total.

The same shaven-headed prospect in the white T shirt throws open the gate. This time I’ve got the right to park with the club’s bikes, having officially gone on a run, but he doesn’t like it, and doesn’t take his eyes off me all the way in. I’ve heard him called Gunny – I don’t know if it’s a real name or a club nom de plume, but I’m sure I’ll find out soon.

The biker behind whom I’d ridden all the way shakes my hand and claps me on the back. “You aren’t bad,” he says. “You kept in place all the way, and I was trying to shake you all the time. You aren’t bad at all.”

“Thanks,” I say, looking at him curiously. I’ve heard him called both Deadly and the Priest. He’s very dark, of medium height, and his curly hair is cut short enough to show his scalp. A vicious scar loops from the right corner of his mouth, cuts across his cheek, touches the right eye and vanishes into his scalp. He looks very, very tough and yet at the same time curiously vulnerable, with careful black eyes and smile lines at the corner of his mouth. “Kind of you to say so.”

“Hell, I was just trying you out.” He claps me on the back. “Next time I’ll really test you, huh.”

Mitch lumbers up to me with his bodybuilder’s walk. “Good job,” he says. “Planning on turning up tomorrow afternoon? We’re going for another ride.”

“I’ll be there,” I reply. “I’d better be leaving now, though. I’m due at work in half an hour.”

On the way out, Gunny hands me back my licence as reluctantly as if it had been his own.


Fuckin’ Romero.” Tiny 1%er sights down the barrel of his gun and fires. The long room which serves as the club’s gun range echoes deafeningly with the shot. Nobody in the gang has apparently heard of ear protectors.

“Fuckin Romero,” Tiny repeats, when our ears have stopped ringing. “Fuckin’ Romero, man.”

“Good shooting,” I tell him, peering through the scope. The blown-up picture of George Romero has a target drawn on the pelvis. Tiny’s bullet has nicked the edge of the bull’s eye centred on the crotch. “If that had been Romero, you’ve just castrated him.”

“I’d like to castrate him,” Tiny growls. He’s begun to loosen up towards me in the past days, cautious wariness giving slowly away towards acceptance. “Fuckin’ pussy.”

“Is it true,” I ask casually, “that one of the clubs has put a price on his head? Word on the street says so.” The rumour says that Romero has had death threats, but is too frightened to complain to the authorities. Teri had ordered me to find out what I can.

Tiny snorts. “Why would any club put a price on the bastard’s head? He thinks so, though. You know the pussy hides in his apartment all the time now? He never comes out, because he thinks we Undead are going to get him.”

It’s no secret that the clubs hate Romero. They blame him for ruining the image of the Undead in the eyes of the public with his zombie films. The general populace has never really been able to accept that we Undead aren’t ravening living corpses wanting nothing but to snack on brains. And no matter that the Undead now constitute a steadily increasing segment of the population, they’ll never be happy about letting any of us live free.

And it’s all because of Romero.

“It’s funny,” Tiny says, after putting three more bullets into the poster’s crotch. “He’s worse off, actually, than if we’d killed him. He’s scared all the time now – never any peace, jumping at his own shadow by all accounts. Why should we want to kill him? He’s putting himself through worse than we could ever do!”

“Yeah.” I walk past Tiny to the gym, where Roggy, Mitch and a couple of others are straining at weights. It’s difficult to keep up muscle tone when you aren’t alive and your metabolism is practically at a standstill, and they work out three or more hours a day.

“Hey, Hot Stuff,” Mitch calls from the Nautilus machine. “Why don’t you join us and cool off?” For some reason this strikes him as funny, and he laughs at his own joke. But it’s a command, not a suggestion, and I strip off my shirt and for the next hour bench press and squat half my own weight. I needed the workout anyway.

On the way back from the clubhouse I stop off at the authorised Juice supplier for my monthly ration. I’ve got my card with me, and the money. Tonight I’m almost certain I’m being followed. They’re good, and very unobtrusive – I haven’t actually seen them yet, but they’re there, trailing me.

Not that it matters – I know the club has already made inquiries at the casino and I’m sure they know where I live as well. It’s something I’d known would happen, which is why my contacts with the Department are limited to Teri and there, too, kept to a minimum and by highly devious ways.

I only have a short wait long in line outside the Juice supplier – there aren’t that many free Undead, and the number’s been dropping over the years now that the government’s tightened up regulations on buying one’s freedom. It’s almost impossible unless you’ve bought it in advance when you’re still alive, and even then of course you have to have enough left over to pay your way afterwards, for clothes and housing and above all for the Juice.

I’m still waiting when there’s a rhythmic chanting and a small group of protestors appear, waving placards demanding that all of us “zombies” be destroyed. We’ve all encountered such protests before, and shuffle inside one by one when our turn comes. I’ve often wondered why – since we never actually retaliate verbally or otherwise, and there are no police to intervene – the protestors don’t physically attack us. The only explanation I can think of is that they’re too frightened by their own ideas about us to actually come too close.

The Juice outlet has a staff of six or seven, all Undead of course but for a live manager. The Undead are typical Slave class, with the identifying tattoos on their foreheads – shuffling around, unwilling to make eye contact, but healthier-looking than us, with glossy hair and smooth skins because they get higher and more regular supplies of Juice. The one who hooks me up to my Juice drip is an attractive female who can’t have been more than twenty when she died; the sort who would normally have been prized as a salesperson at one of the major department stores. I wonder, casually, what she’s done to be put into this dead-end job where her looks are wasted on us fellow Undead. I could ask her, of course, but she wouldn’t have replied.

My monthly Juice shot always makes me feel completely exhausted, as though I’ve been wrung out and hung up to dry. I’ve heard from others that they feel energised by Juice, as though they can go for days without resting, but it’s not like that for me. Each time, I can only last a couple of hours before collapsing into what approximates sleep for us Undead, a dreamless unconsciousness.

When I wake this time, I’m sure at once that my apartment has been searched. Things are just a little awry, moved around just that little bit from where they were, the curtain drawn a little further back on one side than the other. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to copy my keys while I was working out or towelling off at the club, so it’s not a mystery. Nor is it worrying – I have nothing in the flat which will compromise me in any way.

All the same, I decide that I’ll make a stand on this point. It’s one thing to make inquiries and follow me around, quite another to enter my home – and also they ought to know that I’m not utterly oblivious.

Mitch is quite unfazed when I mention it to him though. “Oh yeah,” he says. “Standard security precaution where prospective members are concerned.”

“Standard security precaution?” I snort. “Who do you imagine I work for, the fuckin’ government?”

He shakes his head, his thick moustache twitching with amusement. “No, no. Since when does the government hire Undead agents? But there are the other clubs, and the Mafia. None of us would put anything past those fuckers.” He claps me on the shoulder. “Not to worry though, hombre – you’ve checked out fine. If you want to join the club, once you’ve done your time as a prospect, you’re in.”

Just like that, it happens. Just like that.


It’s once you’re a prospect,” Teri had told me, “that you have to be careful. That’s when you’re under observation, close up, all the time. If they want you in the middle of the night, you’ve to go to them in the middle of the night. If they want you to turn somersaults, you’ll turn somersaults. They’ll really put you through the grinder then.”

And that’s how it turns out in the next months. Often, I become convinced that the only reason I‘m able to go through all this is because I’m already dead and I don’t need food or eight hours’ sleep. Even an Undead needs rest, though, because wear and tear doesn’t get repaired so easily as in a live person, but said rest comes in snatches during the day.

Often I’m the guard at the gatehouse, or I’m sent out on shopping trips for spares and furnishings, and on these occasions I’m almost always followed, and not too discreetly at that. Once or twice they’ve dropped in to my home in the middle of my rest period, as well, just to “make sure I’m all right” as Tiny once put it. I’m under observation, and they want to make sure I know it.

One of the things I’ve been ordered to find out is just how the club makes its money. Teri suspected that they pushed drugs on the side, but the drug business has pretty much dried up after the Great Legalisation five years ago. Now only the most exotic synthetics still have an illegal market, and they are pretty much the Mafia’s monopoly. Even an Undead bike club doesn’t tangle with the Mafia.

There’s a rivalry between the bike gangs, though, that can’t be dismissed as just friendly competition. The other gangs hate each other even when they have to co-operate, but they all hate and fear the Grim Rippers out of all proportion to the club’s actual size. Obviously there’s something going on there, some way the club has the others by the short and curlies. But, as a prospect, I have no idea what that is.

One evening, Tiny, Roggy, Gunny and I go with Mitch for a meeting with officials of the Death Dealers. The Death Dealers are a much larger club, but unruly and disorganised compared to us and have never been able to spread outside the state. They are allegedly Grim Ripper allies, but there have been rumours of dissension and conflict in recent times, and the meeting is to iron out those troubles – or so I’m told. Mitch and the other club’s president are there to talk; we four are bodyguards.

The Death Dealers president is an enormous man, as much bigger than Tiny as Tiny is to me. His face looks as though it’s cut in half by a scar which divides his thick beard in two, and he’s got a machete in a scabbard slung over his back. When he sits down opposite Mitch in the bar chosen as neutral territory for the meeting, his head is still at shoulder level to me. His bodyguards – six of them – are hardly any smaller.

My orders are simple and direct – to keep a watch on the other side’s guards, and to be ready for any violence. I’ve been given a weapon for the job, too – a huge knife that I’ve stuck in my belt. Against Undead, a knife is a far better weapon than a gun as long as it’s big enough to hack off a limb. But though I’m supposed to be giving all my attention to the men standing opposite me, I know that this is my best chance to listen into a private high-level conversation, and I do my best to eavesdrop.

Most of it is above my head, because it refers to people and deals about which I have no information. Both Mitch and the big man talk about money, though – money which the Dealers owe someone, which hasn’t been paid. From what I can hear, the creditor owes the Rippers money, but can’t pay until the Dealers pay him – and it’s all part of some complex transaction involving a lot of people.

I can tell Mitch is getting angry by the way his voice deepens. In no other way does he show it, though – he’s still looking absolutely relaxed, his eyes covered by the sunglasses and giving nothing away. A quick glance shows me that my fellow bodyguards are still focussed fully on the other bikers and haven’t noticed what’s going on, and I can’t let them know, either. Quietly, knowing things might explode any moment, I sidle closer to the Dealers president.

Suddenly Mitch sits back and crosses his arms on his chest. “You make that payment,” he says, “or we’ll blow your fuckin’ club apart. You don’t know who you’re messing with here.”

I’m just close enough, and I have the advantage of surprise. The Dealers president must have thought he had the forces to carry the day, and he was slow. He was still reaching for the machete in his back scabbard when my knife was pressed to the side of his throat.

There’s a moment of absolute and frozen silence. Then Mitch removes his sunglasses and smiles. Even I, who know him, find that smile terrifying.

“Make the payment,” Mitch says, his voice soft again, and silky. “Or my prospect will go to work.”

Slowly, making sure not to spook me into slashing, the Dealers giant puts the machete back and nods. “We’ll make the payment,” he says.

After that I don’t feel so much like someone on the outside anymore.

One day we go right out of town, on a trip the purpose of which hasn’t been explained to me.

There are six of us: Deadly, Roggy, Rat and I on bikes, and Gunny and Bonny in one of the pickup trucks. Bonny I’d found was almost a full member, sitting in on meetings which even prospects couldn’t attend, even though she was a woman. She and her friend, whose name I haven’t found out, ride too – as well as any of the men, and go along on runs. I have not the faintest idea what she’s doing out with us today, though.

We drive out on the highway until the last of the city has long since disappeared, and then turn off onto a secondary road. A half hour later we take an even narrower path which degenerates into a track winding through scrub forest, trailing such clouds of dust that I can feel it in my mouth and between my teeth even though I’m not breathing.

The house we stop at is small and set well back from the track, screened by bushes and weathered until it’s almost indistinguishable from the landscape. Someone is watching from the window, and when we park outside in a cloud of dust, opens the door and steps out to meet us.

It’s a man, tall and thin, with a bald head and a prominent nose. He looks live, and it’s only when I see him close to that I realise he’s Undead – I’ve seen live people who look far more dead than he.

“Mark,” Rat greets this individual. “All ready?”

Mark nods slowly, his eyes sweeping over us, lingering on me for a bit. “Who’s he?” His voice is lifelike too, without the usual monotone. “I haven’t seen him before.”

“Bill,” Rat says curtly. “New prospect. If it’s ready, let’s roll.”

“Yeah, it’s ready all right.” Mark’s still looking at me, and I wonder if we’d known each other in my former life. Not that it would matter if he did, because when you come back from the dead you start with a clean slate. “The same quantity as usual, I take it?”

And now suddenly it makes sense to me. I know why we’re here, and where the Juice is coming from. They’ve found a way to reverse-engineer it. Somewhere, probably not too far away, there will be a laboratory, churning the material out. No wonder Mark looks so good; he must be his own best customer.

“Stay here,” Rat snaps at me. “You and Gunny keep an eye on the vehicles.” He’s nervous and on edge today, looking ready to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. “Come on,” he says to the others, and they follow him into the house.

Left with Gunny, I examine my options. This is the big break, this is what Teri is waiting for. When I get word to her, she’s going to come down on the club like a ton of bricks with everything she’s got. No more black market in Juice. No political complications with the company. Teri will be so happy.

I stand there in the dust, waiting for Rat and the others to return, making plans.

Planning my betrayal.


I lean into the turn, feeling the thrumming of the engine in my blood, like a celebration of life, joy hammering up at me through the wheels.

At the head of the line, Mitch signals the stop with his hand, and one by one we slow down and turn onto the parking lot. It’s a day of brilliant sunshine and blue skies, the perfect weather for a run. Though, today of all days, I’d have gone out even if we’d had a thunderstorm breaking overhead. It’s a special occasion when you get your full patch. I’m Bill 1%er now, and it’s like coming truly alive again.

Mitch and Rat are talking together, leaning over a map and deciding on the route for the next leg of the journey. I feel a sudden rush of affection for them – they’re undoubtedly not nice people, they’re undoubtedly criminals, yet they and I are now together, for better or for worse, and there’s no turning back now.

My association with Teri is history now. I’ve quit the Department, and I’ve made sure the government can never infiltrate the clubs again the way they did with me. I’ve told Mitch and the others all I know – I’ve held nothing back, and after confessing it all I’d ended by offering myself up to whatever justice they’d thought appropriate. I’d thought they’d blow my head off, or at the least throw me in a hole in the hills somewhere until I rotted.

Instead, they’d taken me in, made me one of them.

In the end, it hadn’t been a hard decision to make. I sometimes think I’d made the decision subconsciously long before, and only acknowledged it to myself later.

It had happened when I’d been standing in the slowly settling dust with the silent Gunny hulking nearby. I’d been thinking about the Juice, and how it means literally everything to us.

Without the Juice, the Undead can’t exist – it’s our substitute for food and drink, the source that keeps us from rotting away, and the way we’re controlled by the powers that be. Work for them, as literal slave labour, then you get your Juice and you survive. Don’t get the Juice, and you’ll rot away, little by little until you’re a skeleton – but you still exist, you can’t even die. We Undead will do anything for Juice, even sell ourselves back into slavery once we have no other way of getting it. The government knows this, and the corporations who own the government exploit this.

A separate, unregulated source of Juice – that would mean the difference between freedom and slavery for uncounted numbers of Undead, set them free to look for happiness the second time round. The corporations might even have to hire live workers again, and pay them union rates. We might even see some social justice once more.

Yes, I’m a criminal. I acknowledge it to myself. I’m an enemy of society. But when society is sick, there’s no other way to be.

Mitch and Rat are folding the map up, and we shall soon be on our way. Roggy has made use of the break to do some minor maintenance on his bike, and there’s a smear of grease on his chin. He feels my eyes on him, and he looks up, grinning. I grin back.

Yes, tomorrow there will be problems, hurdles to overcome, and the authorities to contend with. But today I’m with friends, and I’m happy, and I’m free, and I’ll settle for that.

Happiness is rare and precious enough to enjoy it a day at a time, I think, and swing my leg over my bike.

All around me, the thunder of motorcycle engines is rolling.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Sunday 29 January 2012

How to Save Indian Cricket

The President
Board for the Control of Cricket in India

Sub: How to save Indian cricket

Dear Mr President

You know as well as I do how the team your Board put together has fallen apart so comprehensively that they have now lost eight matches abroad in succession, being blanked  four-zero in two consecutive series. You know as well as I do, too, how the fickle Indian people are betraying their bounden duty to support the team through its time of trial.

Probably, at this moment, you’re tearing your hair out by the roots in anguish at the thought that corporate sponsorship might dry up and advertisers move away to other sports, leaving the Board high and dry. Perhaps, too, you’re wondering how to keep the lucrative TV deals. After all, the TV channels are as mercenary as the advertisers, and as faithless as the fans.

Well, sir, please don’t worry any longer. I’m here to solve your problems for you.

As far as I see, Mr President, your problem is the fact that the team has lost all the matches it’s played – that it’s been whitewashed in two consecutive series. That kind of thing sticks in peoples’ craws for some incomprehensible reason, and they’re liable to stop paying money for the privilege of watching their cherished national heroes lose everything in sight.

But if the national heroes weren’t to lose quite everything, I think you’d find that the attitude of the fans, and so the sponsors and the channels, would be drastically different.

So, Mr President, the focus should be on this: that the cricket team should not lose everything. But how is this to be achieved, you ask? No, I have not gone crazy. It is quite possible to arrange things that the team will never, ever, lose everything again.

Mr President, sir, have you forgotten a little something? You still sit in the controlling chair of the richest cricketing board in history, which can still browbeat and blackmail the rest of the cricket-playing world (all seven or eight or twelve countries) to fall in line with its demands and requirements. If your Board doesn’t like a law, it’s not adopted. If your Board wants a particular TV sports commentary team, which has no pretensions to anything but rabid jingoism, all TV channels will hire that team, whether they like it or not. Whatever your Board wants, it gets, and the International Cricket Conference can only bleat ineffectually in protest before meekly falling into line.

Well, Mr President, while there is still time, use that clout.

In every series featuring India, before it ever begins, there are some things you must ensure:

First, the turf of the pitch is to be flown in from India, and only Indians are to be trusted with preparing the wickets. This will ensure that the conditions are familiar to our players, and since they are more equal than the rest, they deserve the best.

Then, the umpires. This is a no-brainer. We have the largest population of the cricket-playing world; ergo, we have the largest number of umpires in the cricket playing world. (What do you mean, figures? Who cares about figures, unless they’re the ones on a balance sheet, Mr President?) Since we have the largest number of umpires, then, the level of competition is greatest amongst them, and therefore we have the best umpires. The logic is irrefutable – after all, our captains of capitalism use it every day. Any match involving India must have only Indian umpires, who are paid by the Board. No other solution is acceptable.

Then, there must be a handicap system. The Indian team should be allowed to be a win over the opposition before any series even starts. Therefore, even if the team loses every single match it actually plays, it’s still got a win on the board. And in a multilateral cricket tournament like the World Cup – especially the World Cup – the team should automatically get a place in the final match, with the other teams slogging it out amongst themselves to qualify to be the opponent. That was just the way chess used to be, and what chess could do, cricket can do better. Right, Mr President? Then, India will at least be Number Two, and everyone’s happy.

Well, almost everyone.

I need scarcely tell you, Mr President, that there are malcontents who will still go out of their way to make disparaging comments about our heroic cricket players and about your great Board. There’s a simple way to checkmate these vermin: please have them declared dangerous anti-nationals, the equivalent of Maoists, environmentalists, liberal human rights activists, and suchlike traitors. In fact, you can even call them Maoists who are attempting to sabotage the national morale. Who will dare oppose you then?

Also, you can ask for cricket to be declared an official religion, alongside the more established ones, with your Board (and at its apex, yourself) as the Supreme Divine Authority. As we all know, that will henceforth protect you from any interference whatsoever, since you can deter any criticism by calling it an affront to your followers' religious sentiments. Problem solved!

With best wishes, and hoping I have calmed your mind and soothed your fevered brow,

Yours helpfully

                                                                                   Bill the Butcher