Saturday, 30 May 2009

The Day They Tore The Dark Room Down - Part 1 of 3

‘I still like Bathory’s Loving Trio,’ said Bobby in yet another attempt to rename the band ‘It sounds kind of dangerous--’

‘Dangerous like a sandwich,’ replied Jenny, beginning to regret ever challenging him to come up with a better name than hers, ‘Besides, there’s four of us.’

‘Exactly! There are four of us!’

‘That’s what I said.’

Jenny looked optimistically up at the screen above the platform – still a couple of minutes until the next train, which unfortunately gave Bobby time to explain himself.

‘No, see that’s what people will think it means,’ Bobby started, ‘but the trio part doesn’t refer to how many of us are in the band.’

Thankfully the sound of the train roaring into the station drowned out Bobby before he could explain what exactly the trio part of his genius new band name did refer to. After an eight hour rehearsal Jenny could barely string two words together, but lack of sleep and exhaustion seemed to work the opposite way for Bobby than it did for everyone else. It wasn’t the only thing that was different about Bobby Eck.

Not having a face was a big difference. His whole head was featureless – no hair, no eyes, nose, mouth, ears…he was a surprisingly good guitar player considering he had no ears. Jenny had made him a mask out of electricity and rhythm that worked well enough for him to be seen out in public. As a result looking at Bobby was kind of like looking at someone through a camera that’s out of focus – you can see that it’s a face but you can’t quite make out any features. Luckily they lived in London, where no one looks anyone in the eyes anyway so it didn’t matter that there were no eyes to not look into.

When they stepped onto the train Jenny realised what time it was – 6am. Laloo, their drummer, had the best rehearsal space and couldn’t be bothered lugging her drums across town anyway so they always went to her’s. Unfortunately she also lived the wrong side of the river and Jenny and Bobby often ended up heading back into the city at this time of the morning – commuter time.

The train was packed full of smartly dressed men and women in suits, some reading newspapers but most studying countless pages of stapled reports. Jenny had worked in offices – she knew how that world of money and bureaucracy worked. Some of them were probably people like her, well, like she used to be. Then again, this was the early-bird crowd – the ones who would be in the office for 7 and then wouldn’t leave until midnight. Then they’d go out on Fridays, get fucked up on coke and cocktails, spend Saturday puking blood and cum and be back at work by Sunday afternoon. That was the life.

‘What do they all do?’ asked Bobby.

It was a good question, one that Jenny had also been pondering, but did Bobby realise he’d said it out loud? The way he was leaning over the shoulder of the woman next to him to read her report suggested he did realise and he intended to get an answer.

‘Excuse me, what’s your job?’

The woman ignored him – the first stage of the regulation response to communication on the tube. The second was turning away, then maybe she’d throw him an evil look and finally she’d move down the other end of the carriage. That was if Bobby pressed his enquiries to that point and Jenny nudged him in the hope that he wouldn’t.

Bobby turned away from the woman, but he wasn’t done. He was looking for a more responsive target. He found one – a large, burly man who looked like he’d inflate to twice his already substantial size if his shirt buttons were undone.

‘You, sir. What is it that you do?’ Bobby continued.

The man just stared at Bobby, skipping stages one and two and going straight for the evils. But Bobby’s out-of-focus face confused him so he moved back a stage and turned away.

‘Bobby, stop,’ pleaded Jenny quietly, ‘They’re in commuter mode, you won’t get an answer.’

Bobby continued to scan the faces of the commuters on the train for his next victim. One of them, a thin, handsome man in his mid-forties with a briefcase on his lap, was looking straight back at Bobby almost daring him to ask the question.

Bobby went for it, ‘How about you? What’s your job exactly?’

‘I’m a bricklayer,’ he said, with a straight face.

This made Jenny laugh, mainly due to the effect on Bobby who was lost for words for the first time that day. She looked at the man more closely this time. He was good looking for his age, and seemed a little more at ease than his fellow commuters, although he clutched his briefcase between both hands as if his life was in there. Then his eye’s met her’s for an instant and she found herself thinking of Dante.


The man from the council wasn’t even looking where he was going, let alone looking Dante in the eye when he told him they were tearing his nightclub down. Dante was used to this – they had been trying to clear him out ever since he signed the lease. The fact that the building was old and ugly perplexed their computers. They could do so many things with it if they were allowed.

They were not allowed. Dante had signed an agreement that said so, and it didn’t matter that he had the only copy, that the officials who put that agreement together were long dead, that it was written in a language that was no longer recognised and referred to laws that had been in effect since the dawn of time and had been forgotten for just as long. It was an agreement signed in the blood of the earth by the blood of the earth. And if they knew what would happen if he broke that promise they would not be trying to shut him down.

‘I’ll show you,’ Dante offered. Worth a try, ‘I’ll show you why we have to stay here. It’s not far.’

‘No, thank you,’ was the response ‘I was just supposed to give you notice, that’s all, I’m leaving now.’

As the man from the council scuttled towards the door Dante considered reaching out and grabbing him, digging his thumb and forefinger into the neck at the base of the skull and then ripping his spine out, fully intact, with the brain bobbing around on top…

‘What’s that you got there?’ asked Gabriel, lugging a stack of crates over to the door.

Dante looked at the thing in his hand that Gabriel was referring to and was rather disappointed to see the letter he had been given and not the man from the council’s spine.

‘They’re knocking this place down,’ said Dante.

‘Again?’ Gabriel dumped the crates and snatched the letter from Dante’s hand, ‘They bloody well are too. Didn’t you show him downstairs?’

‘He didn’t want to see.’ Dante watched the door shut behind the man from the council, trying to convince himself this was okay, ‘Maybe we can convince the men with the machines.’

‘Do they use machines? Don’t they just blow things up?’

Dante thought for a moment.

‘I honestly don’t know.’


Django was up on the roof, looking out over the city, or what you could see of it from on top of the club. Technically it wasn’t even the roof of the club – it was the roof of the archive building that sat on top of the club. The long abandoned archive building that didn’t archive anything much anymore. It was a wonder they hadn’t knocked it down. So there he stood, staring across at two building sites, wondering how they worked.

One of them wasn’t a building site anymore. It was a fully finished building now. It still had the condom of scaffolding wrapped tight, still had the odd builder wandering around on a fag break, but it was there, it was done, it was finished. It wasn’t finished yesterday, he swore it wasn’t. It had sprung rapidly into its erect state overnight, prompted by the gentle touch of…of what?

‘Dante wants to see you,’ Gabriel stepped up behind him and said, ‘There might be some trouble tonight.’

‘There’s always trouble tonight,’ replied Django, and then ‘Do you know how buildings work?’

Gabriel looked at Django for a moment, considering how best to reply.

‘I don’t know. It’s all pipes and wires and stuff. Go ask a builder.’

Django gestured to the skyline, ‘Doesn’t it worry you that you don’t know where all this came from?’

‘I can see where it came from,’ said Gabriel, pointing at a couple of workers on a lunch break in the scaffolding of the unfinished structure, ‘They’re built by overweight, chain-smoking monkey-men like that lot.’

‘They’re not though, are they?’ argued Django, ‘I’ve been watching them. They just sit there all day, talking. Then sometimes a man in a suit comes and they pretend to move bits of scaffolding round.’

‘Well they must work sometimes.’

‘I’ve never seen them build anything, and I’ve really looked. See that one?’ Django pointed at a third, brand new office building on the horizon, so new it was only out of its steel chrysalis, ‘It was a building site for weeks. No progress, nothing. Then one day I come up here and it’s all done. Finished. Just like that. As if it was built overnight. How does that happen?’

Gabriel was just trying to decide if Django’s innocent curiosity was endearingly cute or just rather annoying.

‘I don’t know,’ he said, deciding it used to be cute and had since become annoying, ‘All I know is that Dante needs to see you right now because there really is trouble this time.’

‘What kind of trouble?’

‘They’re knocking the place down,’ said Gabriel.

Django shrugged and turned back to the buildings. They worried him. Sometimes the city felt oppressive, with all the buildings closing in around him, new ones being put up every second. If he knew how they were built maybe he’d understand how they worked and maybe then they wouldn’t seem so terrifying in their masses.

A thought occurred to him, ‘Do they send the same people who build the things to knock them down?’

Gabriel had given up and was already heading back down into the building. Django looked back one last time at the builders. As if they knew they were being watched they had started to move bricks from one pile and stacking them somewhere else. Django hoped they didn’t have to knock the things down. It was depressing to think they might spend half their lives creating things and the other half destroying them. That’s if they even did create the things in the first place.


The meeting was in full swing by the time Jenny arrived, if you can say that about three people sitting around a table in confused silence. She’d only managed to grab a couple of hours of sleep at home before Dante had called and asked her to come over early and she was not in a good mood. Jenny didn’t like getting involved in the day-to-day running of the club. Technically she was on the payroll and if she was free she worked behind the bar. But tonight she was playing a show, and when she was playing a show she liked to pretend she was just visiting The Dark Room rather than spending every waking moment in there.

She kissed Dante on the cheek as she sat down next to him and he smiled, which made her forget all about being tired. He only smiled for her.

Django and Gabriel were sitting at the table also, Gabriel looking more tired than she was, presumably having not slept since the previous night, and Django looking as perpetually perplexed as always.

Dante handed her the letter from the council.

‘They’re knocking us down,’ he said.

‘Is that all?’ replied Jenny, starting to get annoyed again – this better have been worth getting out of bed for, ‘They’re always knocking us down. We’re still here aren’t we?’

‘Dante thinks they may be serious this time,’ said Gabriel.

Jenny scanned the letter. It looked serious.

She asked the obvious question, ‘Did you show them downstairs?’

‘He was just the messenger,’ said Dante, ‘They’re sending their men over tonight.’

‘Possibly with machines,’ added Gabriel, ‘We don’t really know.’

‘They’re coming at night?’

She checked the letter for her answer. It stated quite clearly that the building was scheduled for demolition at midnight.

‘It must be a mistake,’ she decided.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Dante, ‘I think maybe they’re not sending the regular crew this time. We’ve been through that before. We’ve shown them what’s downstairs and they never come back. I think they’re sending something else.’

Jenny thought about this for about as long it took for another, more relevant thought to replace it.

‘What’s this got to do with me?’

There was a moment of silence. The others seemed to be looking to Dante for the answer.

Then Gabriel said, ‘You fucked a builder once.’

Jenny glared, first at Gabriel, then at the estimated source of the revelation.

‘That’s not what I said,’ protested Dante, ‘I said you were once courting someone in the construction industry and perhaps he passed on some knowledge of how these things work…’

Jenny knew who he meant, but still had to think for a moment, until she had the face, then the body and then finally, ‘Barry?’

‘Yes, Barry,’ nodded Dante, ‘Barry the builder.’

‘That was years ago. How do you remember stuff like that?’

‘Did he ever say anything about knocking things down?’ asked Dante, avoiding the question, although Jenny already knew how. The fact that he had an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of her former lovers made her feel both secure in his jealousy and slightly disturbed by his possessiveness.

‘Gabriel was closer,’ answered Jenny, ‘We fucked once. During that fuck I never thought to ask about the exact details of his profession. Anyway, he was a builder, not a…what do they call people who demolish buildings? A demolisher?’

‘We don’t know,’ said Gabriel, ‘That’s why we’re presuming it’s builders what do it.’

Jenny thought carefully before she said, ‘I could call him.’

‘You still have his number?’ asked Dante, which is exactly why Jenny thought carefully before she said it.

Then Django asked, ‘What’s downstairs?’


Down in the cellar Django immediately wished he hadn’t asked. He’d been down there before – Gabriel sometimes had him changing the barrels if it was quiet on the door – but he had never liked it. There was something in the dark, something alive. Worse, it felt familiar and reminded him too much of his own otherness.

Dante led Django over to the damp, brick wall at one end of the room. He snapped open his lighter and moved the flame towards a small opening in the brick, just large enough for a fist.

‘Put your arm in there,’ he said.

‘Fuck off,’ he laughed nervously, ‘You put your arm in there!’

Dante just stared at him. Django was beginning to learn that was what Dante did when he wanted something. He would stare at you, looking vaguely disappointed until the silence became unbearable. He often wondered if that was how he had convinced Jenny to be with him.

As if catching the thought Dante changed tactics and said, ‘Just do it.’

Django pushed his hand tentatively into the hole. It was wet inside and he felt something crawl over his fingers.

‘Go on.’

Django pushed his hand in further, up to the elbow. The inside of the hole seemed to be getting more and more damp the further he pushed his arm inside. Then his fingers found something soft. He looked to Dante for approval.

‘Push it.’

Django pushed his hand into the soft, fleshy growth inside the wall, and the wall gasped. Slowly, the bricks began to move inward, widening the opening as they did so, only stopping when it was wide enough for a man to enter. The only sound inside the black was the heavy breathing of the wall, or what lay behind it.

‘After you,’ said Dante.

Django stepped through the hole and into the darkness the other side. Then he stopped. There was another sound, very faint, but there all the same. It sounded like the beating of a heart.

‘What is that?’ he asked.

‘It’s what I needed to show you,’ replied Dante, ‘It’s the heart of the city.’


Jenny had to practically hold Django’s hand as she led towards Holborn tube. And he hadn’t even seen the heart of the city. The sound of it beating had been enough.

‘Jesus, it’s just a big fucking heart,’ she said, ‘Like what we’ve got, only massive.’

For a moment it was like Django hadn’t heard a word she said, for more than a moment even, then finally, ‘But what’s it connected to?’

Jenny looked up at the sky, at the buildings towering over them.

‘All this,’ she said, ‘It’s connected to all of it.’

Django also looked at the buildings.

‘Is that it?’ he asked, ‘Do they just grow, like people do?’

Jenny had expressed some confusion at Django’s decision to accompany her on the visit to Barry the Builder, but Gabriel had helpfully explained Django’s fascination with buildings. Unlike Gabriel, she did still find Django’s lack of knowledge and therefore cynicism somewhat endearing. To a point.

They didn’t speak again until they crowded into a packed lunchtime train, Django thinking about where buildings came from and Jenny preoccupied with thoughts of lost loves. Had she loved Barry the Builder once? Would it ever have worked out? Could she have married a builder by now and be living in a house built to order with three kids and a flatscreen TV?

Django broke the thought in two, ‘Each station is right next to the next one; in the dark, London belches dirty air and heat, rattling our carriages for its amusement before we emerge just metres away from the space we left in a place unrecognisable every time you visit.’

‘What’s that from?’ asked Jenny, guessing that he was quoting something.

Django look confused for a moment, then, ‘One of your songs?’

Jenny shook her head, ‘I like it here.’

‘Maybe it came from the heart,’ he suggested, then looking her in the eye, ‘Does Dante scare you?’

His childlike way of switching topics without warning never failed to confuse or unnerve her.

‘He scares everyone,’ she replied.


They resurfaced at Liverpool Street and walked half a mile to the brand new office building where Barry the Builder was working. She had to call him to get him to meet them outside the site. He kept them waiting about fifteen minutes then stepped casually out through a door in a temporary wall – so overly casual it was almost as if he’d been waiting there the whole time. He had cultivated a rather dubious moustache, which made Jenny happy. He looked like he’d stepped off a porn set – far too ludicrous to qualify as an actual regret.

‘This your new bloke then?’ he said, looking at Django.

‘Yes,’ said Jenny. It was easier that way.

Django shook Barry’s hand, looking at him in awe like a child seeing the fake shopping centre Santa Claus for the first time. What wondrous secrets you must have, he was saying with his eyes.

‘We want to know how you build things,’ she said, wanting to get this over with, ‘Or more specifically, how you go about knocking things down?’

Barry looked at her for a moment, then asked, ‘Do you want a tour?’

Django nodded eagerly. They followed Barry inside where he showed them piles of bricks and occasionally scaffolding. They watched other builders move stacks of bricks and occasionally scaffolding from one end of the site to the other. It all looked like hard work but Django noted that he had yet to see anything actually getting built. Jenny wanted to go up higher but Barry told her it wasn’t allowed. This was fast becoming a wasted trip.

‘Fancy a cuppa before you go?’ asked Barry.

One last chance, thought Jenny.

While Barry was boiling the kettle in the portacabin Jenny discreetly searched the fridge and hid the milk in a filing cabinet. When Barry left the cabin to get more she stuck a needle into her palm and bled a little into the boiling water. Django watched, about to say something.

‘Shut the fuck up,’ said Jenny, ‘Don’t drink the tea and don’t say anything weird, okay?’

Django nodded, as Jenny reached into her bag and added a pinch of organic matter and a few strands of glowing fibres into the mix. Then she shook the kettle like a cocktail and put it back down seconds before Barry re-entered, waving a carton of milk victoriously.

Minutes later Django was staring at his tea suspiciously, as Barry necked his. Jenny nudged Django and he tried to play along a bit more, sipping air from his mug. Jenny was chewing something that made her teeth black.

‘I’m sorry, Jen,’ said Barry, ‘There’s not much I can say. You’ve seen what it’s like out there. Madness. Building, that’s what I know. Fuck knows how they knock the things down.’

Barry hesitated for a moment.

Then, ‘Fuck knows how they knock the things down… Fuck knows—‘

Jenny leant over the table and kissed him, clamping her lips over his and forcing her tongue down his throat.

Django stood up, uncomfortable, ‘I’ll leave you to it.’

Jenny pulled away suddenly, a black, sticky goo stretching between her mouth and Barry’s.

‘Sit down,’ she said, ‘Barry wants to tell us a story.’

Barry nodded. The black goo from Jenny’s mouth was evaporating into a thick grey smoke that forced its way down Barry’s throat, no doubt mingling with the contaminated tea.

‘Go on, Barry,’ Prompted Jenny, ‘You want to tell us what you do here all day.’

Barry just sat and stared at her, or more specifically at the space over her head.

Jenny turned to Django and ordered, ‘Get him another cup of tea.’

Django was about to do so when Barry said, ‘We don’t do anything.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Jenny, ‘You must do something.’

‘You’ve seen what we do. We start late, we finish early. We move things. We go on breaks,’ he paused, then, ‘We pretend.’

Jenny paused, taking this in, then asked, ‘Who builds the things then?’

‘We never see them,’ replied Barry, ‘We get told about a job through the post and we turn up and look like we’re busy. We all know the routine. Read a paper, smoke a couple of fags, watch the girls walk by, move a brick here and there - it’s an easy life for good money, so we don’t complain. ’

Jenny looked at Django to see if he was as perplexed and surprised as she was. He wasn’t. She turned to Barry again.

‘But where did you learn the routine?’ she asked.

‘We all start as apprentices. You learn the basics, moving stuff, when to have your breaks. One day you ask, “Is this all there is?” And the boss nods, and you carry on with it.’

Jenny was about to continue when Django nudged her – there were more builders approaching.

Moments before the door opened she popped something that looked like a peanut into Barry’s mouth and tipped his head back. There was a sound, like air escaping from a tyre.

‘You off then?’ asked Barry.


As soon as they were off the site Django started straight into his questions. Only they weren’t the questions Jenny was anticipating.

‘Do you do that to a lot of people?’ he asked, ‘Have you ever done it to me?’

‘No,’ she replied, ‘It takes a lot of prep and it doesn’t work on everyone. Sometimes it makes people crazy. Barry couldn’t be crazy if he tried so I guessed it was safe.’

‘And you’re sure you’ve never done it to me?’


‘No, you’re not sure, or no…’

‘Did you hear what he said? It’s all pretend! They just sit around all day and someone else builds the things.’

Django considered this for a moment, then, ‘I thought that was probably the case.’

Jenny gave up, deciding to focus instead on how she was going to explain this to Dante. All they had managed to learn was that it probably wasn’t going to be a man with a machine on his way to the club that night. It would be something else.