I was born, I suppose. I’m told most people were. Not that you would have known it from mother’s puckered mouth and youthful skin, of course, she was a model of chastity and virginity. From across the street, at least. Coming nearer, that marvellous plaster facade was marbled with blue and a little more rough than you first thought. Coming right up to us, dropping a penny in the cap on the stand and glancing up, as casually as you like, at her prim and silent in the shelter of the newspaper stand, and all the cracks becoming apparent, like crazy-paving, unpredictable lines fracturing that powder skin, showing something ruddier and more raw beneath the lead face paint. I’d watch the regulars who never tired of staring, smile and nod at her wondrous horror, and the new men who’d crossed the street to lech and flirt at the pretty young lady, reeling in their eyes as they smiled and nodded, shakily turning away. I could see their postures twisting, always wanting to glance back, to weigh what they’d seen against the reality they carried with them. I enjoyed my mother’s unsettling presence, and I’m fairly sure she did too.
I wasn’t born on the corner of course. Yet I spent years on it, and others like it. Finding the rough corners of the rough corners, watching the world go by. Spend your early lifetime on a street corner and the whole world passes by you eventually. Be garrulous enough, with your terrifying, silent mother as a lure, and people, any people, will stop and talk, their eyes slipping sideways in distraction at that ethereal disaster standing in the shadows. That distraction was useful, for all sorts of things. Stupid boys, the old dodgers would have attempted to become artful in the old ways, train long fingers to slip down gentlemen’s jackets and reach for wallets, long limber digits hummingbird’s tongues frantically maintaining poise and innocence, as that tongue strains for the nectar… and they would have been caught. Their lumpen mitts, untrained except in their imagination would have been grabbed. If not caught immediately, the hue and cry, the regularity of the faces would mean they never worked that corner again, and they would have had no opportunity to learn. A stupid, arrogant trick, to pick a man’s wallet.
I picked their minds.
Whilst they stared at mother, as subtle as iron railings, I’d probe gently, about their lives, their families, their jobs. I’d find out what they did, who they were, what they knew, draw gently at that silken purse heavy with golden ideas. There’s no laws against taking ideas that are freely given, and after years of endless, purposeful chatter I had a fairly good idea what the bits I should be reaching for were, and how to find my way there. There were currency these ideas, stuff I could swap with the other fine gentlemen who came that way, a bartering system of permanent inflation, where every transaction left me wealthier and them no poorer. It’s true what they say about information being power – but it’s also true that it’s power that when shared is utterly disippated, to the benefit of all. To keep any information in the head of one man is theft from all, so I guess you could call me a proto-communitarian, a modern day Robin Hood… ah, that might be stretching it. I’ve not told you what I did with the ideas, have I?
I got me an education.
Not much of one, mind, but enough to study and understand all the pettifogging nonsense that goes on in those big companies, the needless scurrying and balancing to frustrate theft, corruption, sloth, and defection. So inefficient, this system of stitching together a hundred unwilling men, to make one lazy staggering, swaggering giant. Once I’d understood that, it was fairly easy to pick apart those little threads and push these dear, befuddled suitors one way or another. Call me Telemachus, mother Syrene.
Say here comes the obnoxious Cyril. He’s not said as much, but he hates his wife. Doesn’t beat her, doesn’t shout, doesn’t threaten. Just abandons her at every opportunity, in the house, without a word. Wanders off and drinks, and gorges, whilst her dinner goes cold, then pleads “long hours at the office” and tuts at her quiet complaints. Late nights, he’ll wander past mother and I, pick up a copy of the Evening Rag, and have a quick gossip. Tells me about his cases, his techniques, reveals more than he means to, they all do.
He works as clerk at Legleman’s & Juniper, fine law firm. Not quite sure what the law is myself, though I’ve scraped enough of it together to make a fine advocate I’m sure. Now if I just bend old Legleman’s ear when he comes round one morning (and there’s a fine old gentleman, all yellow Pugin-print waistcoats and dusted hats fifty years out of date. Yes, a fine man, even if it was profit all from the misery of others), now if I whisper sweet somethings into his ear, nothing fantastical, nothing direct, he might go back to the office and have a think. All that talk of mine about ditchwater and clear ponds, getting your home warm for the winter, might make him take a quick gander at his clerk’s accounts. He won’t quite know why, and I’m not always sure of the workings myself, but you get a nose for the sort of language a man is hiding in conversation, the words not said. I just say ’em.
So old Legleman thought he’d get his house in order, way ahead of his usual Christmas accounts, which didn’t give the fragrant Cyril, time to correct his errors or hide any lazy shortcuts he’d taken early in the year. Or the money he’d taken for drink. And when he came in the following morning, bleary-eyed, Mr Legleman called him into the office, and the office thugs (Hurr, they call ’em) were waiting, and now Cyril doesn’t drink any more, and the books are clear, and it’s old lazy Legleman who’s working late over those books, and Cyril at home, sober and being forced to get to know the woman he married from love again. As I said, I’m bloody Robin of Loxley himself.
our villain, the blackguard of the economy. initial story to set up abilities. longer story, the quality of men changing, the greed and teeth sharp in every face. Wrongs to be righted, downtrodden to be uplifted. let’s knock the whole system down at once. Pull up the props under every man, nudge their ankles lightly, outward, so the whole cow sprawls on its inbred belly.