Tag Archives: urban fiction

Head Down, Back to Work

7 Feb

It’s been a while since I last wrote anything Ferrety, mainly because I’ve had my head down in the day job keeping the country secure from foreign interference.

I work in cyber-security and at the moment everyone wants people with my skills. It’s nice to be in high demand, but it doesn’t half soak up the bandwidth – leaving me with little free time to write. Sure, I’ve been banging out reports for the last three years but it doesn’t satisfy in the same way that plotting the ins and outs of a story does. Anyway, I’ve reached the point where I’m a bit frazzled and I need to do something different.

Three months of freedom coming up!

The question is – am I going to write the follow up to Ferret, which involves all my favourite things such as computer games, hacking and a loony conspiracy, or am I going to write the novel that the missus has been badgering me to write for the last 20 years?

At the moment the missus is winning, which means Pornofish is winning. What’s a Pornofish I hear you ask? Well, it’s a made-up word. The novel is a story about fish. Specifically black market fish and the hidden fish economy of the town in which I grew up, until all that nonsense came to an end in the mid-1970s thanks to the second and third Cod Wars. There’s some porn in it, but only in passing – which means in terms of priority it should be called ‘Fishporn’… but somehow that doesn’t really work. I’m sure David Attenborough has a ton of the stuff, but what he does in his spare time is his own business. Hence Pornofish wins. Pogsy is the protagonist of the piece. He’s a ten year old boy whose ambition is to become the leader of the gang rather than always be number two. However, the leader of the gang isn’t going to give up his position that easily. So a story of self-discovery and ambition, set against a backdrop of the Cod Wars, the Three Day week, political turmoil, inequality and power cuts.

I’m going to be blogging at www.philliplegard.com rather than here, so pop on over and give me a follow. You can also find me on Facebook.

This is THE END (my friend, the end)

30 May

I recently wrote those two little words that I didn’t think I’d ever see: THE END.

Two weeks later, I realise it’s anything but!  It’s simply the beginning of another cycle of hard work, towards creating a complete product.  Overall, I’m very happy with where I am, although a couple of key characters did things I hadn’t planned them to do near the end, which made for a few hairy moments.  As an author, if you don’t let your characters be themselves and express their flaws, then really you don’t have a body of work.  So they did their thing, created chaos and also revealed secrets I was previously unaware of.  One reveal has repercussions right the way back to the beginning of the book, which actually gave me a squeal of delight, as it helps to make sense of a pair of earlier scenes.

On the negative side, it’s taken nearly six months to write the Ferret Files.  I’d allowed three.

On the plus side, I did a word count and was delighted to come in at 105K – 25k less than I feared.

On the negative side, I’ve now got to go find a paying job.

On the plus side, an old friend who I’d lost contact with resurfaced, and with her a brilliant comic book artist who remains mostly unknown – now onboard for cover duties and illustrations.  I’m very excited about working with this guy, his drawings are nuts.

Mostly, what I’ve taken from the experience of writing my first novel is a feeling of great satisfaction.  I knew I had the stamina and will to finish, but that’s not the same as actually doing it full time (I tried part time, it didn’t work for me).  What’s come out the other end in terms of first draft and story exceeds my expectations.  Considering my plan went to hell after three months, that’s good.  Yeah?

Neil Young got me started and saw me over the finishing line.  Nightwish and The Ramones supplied a lot of fuel in the middle.  FYI – I took a break to Berlin last weekend and let hair down at Rammstein.  Visited The Ramones museum just off Oranienburger Strasse – if you get the chance, go.  It’s a proper rock n roll shrine.  Bat for Lashes helped slow things down.

Jim Morrison and the Doors provided the closing song, with ‘The End’.

As long as the influence of all the great music this novel is infused with seeps out in the reading, you’re gonna have fantastic fun with this one.  I set out to write the novel I want to read, which no-one else has so far written.  And succeeded.  The rest is dominoes, all the way to the bookshelves.

A quick brush-up and it’s time to find some readers…

The Petrollica Affair (vii)

9 May

Cowboys

Six thirty on a Saturday morning, the pair stumbled through the ancient oak bound front doors to Bwain’s offices, quite dishevelled and much the worse for wear, desperately trying to remember the combination to the burglar alarm, which they’d argued about all the way from Mayfair, driving the cabbie crazy.

“1-4-6-9-5,” said Bleep.

“1-6-4-9-5,” argued Babyface.

“Where have you two been?” demanded Reg the second Babyface set foot on the premises, causing the duo to jump out of their skins, screaming.  “And the answer better not be the strip club I think it is.”

“Petrollica!” stuttered Bleep defensively.  “It’s six bloody thirty in the morning Reg, what the hell are you doing here?  You’re supposed to be tucked–up in bed, not trying to scare the living bejesus out of us.”

“That’s none of your business,” retorted Reg, turning crimson.  “Babyface…”

“At least let me get my coat off.”

“What’s in those carrier bags?”

“That would be 12 telex boxes,” stated Bleep matter-of-factly.

“You promised me you’d fit them,” said Reg.  “This better not be a disaster in the making, because if it is I promise you they’ll be publications.”

“Faulty hardware, Reg.  Bad batch,” replied Bleep.

“More naughty than bad,” added Babyface.  “So naughty it took us all night to figure it out.  I’m going to my desk now, to have a large mug of coffee and a serious sit on my best thinking cushion.”

“Then I’m following you, because if I don’t you’ll be asleep within the minute.”

“Impossible,” slurred Bleep.  “Even with a bucketful of Dumbo tranquilisers, I guarantee you there’s no way we’re taking a nap until halfway through tomorrow at the earliest.”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“Go figure.”

Babyface settled down with a super-large mug of filter coffee, which he took time to personally supervise the creation of to his exacting specification, pulled out a bronze and aquamarine Indian thinking cushion, positioned it atop the desk, folded his legs into a full lotus beneath him, uttered the briefest of ‘Ommm’s, and without further ado got down to the serious business of thinking outside the box whilst pumped full of hardcore stimulants.

He reasoned it couldn’t be the software that was broken, as he’d installed a basic copy of Telex Exec, to prove the special modifications weren’t at fault, it couldn’t be the hardware as a quick test of the purported bad batch of boxes in the Bwain test lab while the coffee brewed proved a random pair worked perfectly fine and much as he hated to say so, it couldn’t be Hooverstein either, as a quick test on-site using a length of co-ax cable which they knew to be good didn’t fix the problem with the frakked telex data.  As he worked through the possibilities on a mental whiteboard, Reg, like a dose of herpes, popped up at regular intervals to provide motivation by reminding him that the Sunday Sport’s submission deadline was looming ever closer, and the fix window was diminishing accordingly.

While the Babyfaced one sat in silent contemplation, running scenario after scenario through his splendidly wired brain, Bleep made himself useful by dusting off the Support File and reading through the many installation reports, starting at ‘A’, in the hope of finding something that might give them a lead.

“Frak me!” exclaimed Babyface, jumping to attention, with just five minutes left to go.  “I think I know what it is.  I can’t remember the name of the company, but they deal in inflatables.  Based in Rotterdam.  Ring any bells?”

“Already been there,” said Bleep, thumbing his way back to the correct set of pages.  “I’m on the E’s now, they were back in with the ‘Cs’.  Clogplast are your boys.  Manufacturers of puncture repair kits for inflatable clogs.  That was Denzil the Cradlesnatcher’s patch.”

“And what does the Cradlesnatcher have to say about the install?”

“Nothing unusual that I recall.”

“And in the section on troubleshooting?”

“Here it is.  If the telex box starts misbehaving or sending and receiving corrupted messages, make sure the cleaner hasn’t untied it from the radiator.”

“Bingo!”

“Babyface.  I don’t understand, what does that mean?”

“It means we go back to Petrollica with 24 lengths of copper wire and hunt down a bloody great big metal radiator and when we find one, we tie the telex boxes to it.”

“With what? Copper wire? Why? My brain hurts, I don’t understand.”

“All will be revealed.  In the meantime, as we’re going to have to do something we swore we’d never do – like take the floor up, to disguise the evidence, I suggest we set Reg to work procuring more lead.  There’s no point in doing a half job and leaving that monster only half encased, we might as well finish it off properly.”

By Saturday lunchtime the Petrollica installation was running like a dream, totally fixed with all 24 telex boxes purring their little hearts out, the creeping corruption at the flick of a light switch gone, not a single bit of a single byte of data out of place.  The monster under the floor was finally done for, turned into a tasty lead sandwich with a supernatural filling.  In the space of 24 hours Petrollica had gone from Nightmare Number One to perfection in a nutshell, a technical paradise city.  Naturally Reg was delighted, so much so that he offered to take Bleep and Babyface out to the Ritz for a slap-up lunch, feigning disappointment at their refusal, all the while knowing that Babyface had an unbreakable appointment to keep with his father and Bleep had promised his girlfriend he’d go shopping for curtains, upon pain of torture, having already wriggled out of the same appointment several weekends on the trot, citing work issues on both occasions, only to come home ridiculously late and very drunk, either with a pocketful of slot machine tokens or a badly crushed rugby ticket which in his inebriated state he’d found quite impossible to throw away.

“So what was it?” I asked curiously.

“Cowboys,” grinned my pal.

“Cowboys?” replied I.  “I always thought Bwain were the biggest cowboys in town.”

“Not this time.  What the Cradlesnatcher’s site report failed to mention was the cause of the problem, which Babyface remembered with absolute clarity: there was no Earth rail, the building didn’t have one.  Not that uncommon on the continent, but here in the UK, all our sockets have to have an earth rail by law.”

“Except the electricians that did Petrollica were wearing spurs.”

“Exactly.  At the time, Babyface reckoned that Hooverstein had eaten the entire circuit, and as I was feeling totally paranoid, I just agreed with him.  In retrospect, it all seems a little far-fetched.  Cowboy electricians are the obvious answer, I just couldn’t see it at the time.  Anyway, once we’d earthed the telex boxes, we still had to earth the PCs.  Conveniently, they all had one thing in common: the network.  So Babyface took two spare tentacles and tied those to the radiator too.  And that as they say was the end of the monster under the floor.”

“Nice,” I said, proposing a toast.  “To Babyface van Helsing.”

“To Babyface,” answered Bleep.

“That’s the end of the story?”

“Hell, no.  All that tying things down might have put an end to the troubles with the network, but it sure as shit didn’t prepare us for what was coming next.”

“You mean there’s more?”

“Oh, man!  You haven’t heard the half of it.  It’s gonna cost you mind and cost you big.  I suggest we retire to a reputable pizza emporium, where you’ll flash your credit card and in return I’ll tell you what happened next.”

The Petrollica Affair (vi)

18 Apr

Troubleshooting

“Is it foggy?” I asked Bleep, as he returned from his soiree.

“Why?”

“You’re flying low,” said I, pointing at my friend’s zipper.

“Well spotted, stewardess.”  Bleep returned to his seat, leaving his flies untouched.  Another cigarette was soon sparked-up; a long drag followed, the exhaled smoke forming a plume of blue grey, a shadow mask around my pal’s face.  Contentedly, he took a sip of icy cider.

“Well?”

“I’m thinking what a cracking day it is.  We should go to the park and feed baseballs to the ducks.”

“One word: Hooverstein.”

“Shush!” emphasised my friend.  “I’ve told you, don’t say its name, not ever.”

“If you don’t hurry up, I’ll say it three times quickly.”

“Mate…”

“I mean it.”

Extracting what happened next required another pair of ciders and a couple of dayglo chasers, which Bleep had acquired a taste for in Belgium.  Initially, Petrollica’s Telex Exec (Uber Edition) was only configured for 4 boxes, which according to the official line was to allow the system to properly bed in.  Unofficially, Babyface ran into a series of hitches and took a lot longer than expected to hack and splice the code together.  Onsite, as Babyface completed the various stages of development, a series of minor engineers delivered extra boxes until eventually the system was half complete.  This was when the training was timed to finish and Petrollica started to use their network in anger, putting the ‘putas through their paces.  Coincidentally, it was also the point when hardware began to misbehave.  Everything was either running slow or performing erratically.  Or sparking.  One of the printers had a heart attack, coughed-up blood and set fire to a desk.  After a series of support visits by the same engineers who had added the extra Telex boxes, everything appeared to settle down again, but there were still a few annoying niggles that kept reoccurring on a daily basis.  Much to my pal’s annoyance, Reg soon ran out of patience with the lack of progress and ordered him to sort things out.

Fearing for his safety, Bleep resisted as long as he could, with a string of feeble excuses until Reg could stand it no more and had Ronnie read him the riot act.  Realising he had no choice, my pal decided to arm himself against the beast under the floor; hesitantly, he contacted Hoover, intending to ask for a detailed specification for Hooverstein, in order to pinpoint its weaknesses.  But the mad washing machine scientist was nowhere to be found.  Aristotle and Einstein were just as elusive; according to their lock-up neighbours they’d packed the contents of their offices into a pair of vans and quit town overnight in a cloud of dust, leaving no forwarding address.

Out of options, Bleep was forced to return to Mayfair on his own, under cover of maximum daylight, to fully assess the situation.  Petrollica had a massive suite, recently refurbished, on the top two floors of a really prestigious apartment block; from street level it was impossible to tell it was an office, its location being deliberately discrete and almost invisible to the untrained eye.

“Because they were located in an expensive part of town, they attracted some real stunning babes,” reminisced my friend, “all upper class tasty – one pinters the lot of ‘em.  Despite the lurking horror under the floor, the visits were really enjoyable.”

“Visits?” I queried.

“Once I discovered the business was run almost entirely by smart tarts with delicious accents, I decided there was no real hurry and did that engineer thing of finding me a favourite and making her feel special.  Charlotte was her name, I can still picture her now.  Anyway, I soon forgot about Hooverstein and fell in lust instead.  Charlie was drop dead gorgeous, with a subtle hint of lilacs and a fabulous set of bristols.  It was quite by chance, as I was straddling between floors ogling her suspender lines through a tight black dress, hoping for a glimpse of stocking top as she bent over a photocopier, that I discovered something we’d missed.”  Bleep took a jolt of dayglo chaser. “Oh, melons.  Nice.”

“So let me get this,” said Babyface perplexed, “every time the photocopier went swoosh, you heard a frak! of indignation from somewhere in Petrollica.”

“Exactly.”

“And then, when your harlot switched the light off in the photocopy room, the fraks became a stream of beefy expletives.”

“Don’t call her that, her name’s Charlotte and she’s lovely.  Look, this is obviously a tin and wires problem and I’m really the applications guy,” wriggled my pal.  “This is your area, not mine – so it’s over to you.”

“Coincidentally,” said Babyface, switching to serious mode, “Reg has tasked me with installing the final 12 telex boxes this weekend.  Unfortunately I’m busy – Father’s having one of his weekend parties and he needs me there in a coordination role.  You know what we’ve got to do.”

Bleep choked as a penny dropped. “We?”

“Yes, WE.  WE have a window of opportunity on Friday night.  If you think you’re going to stitch me up and send me back there alone after dark, think again.  We’re the only ones who’ve seen Hooverstein who are still here to tell the tale and this is an omen I do not like.  We do this together, because if I go alone and don’t come back, Reg won’t believe a word of it and then he’ll get Ronnie to send you in by yourself, all alone, to face Hooverstein and no matter how much you squeal and shout you won’t get out of it, not without running away.  And if you do that, the monster will sense your weakness and one day when your guard is down you’ll feel a tap on the back and before you know it, you’ll vanish under a random floor somewhere in a flurry of tentacles, never to be heard of again.”

“OK,” said Bleep, shaking.  Whilst Reg worried him and Ronnie frightened him, he was absolutely terrified by the prospect of facing Hooverstein alone, in the dark, in the buff. “I’ll be there.”

“And make sure you bring crosses and garlic and any silver bullets you might have lying around.  Just in case.”

Nine o’clock on a Friday night: while the rest of London was in party mode, winding up for the weekend, Babyface and Bleep headed down to Mayfair.  After leaving Bwain’s offices in Victoria, they had a good few bevies for the road and then a smoke, just to be sure they were in the right frame of mind.  Upon arrival, they let themselves into the offices, as arranged with the security desk.  Once inside, Babyface assembled a makeshift crucifix from a pair of screwdrivers which he bound together with gaffer tape, whilst Bleep produced a garlic string from his toolbox and draped it about his neck.  Not being entirely certain as to the heritage of their foe, they took the added precaution of smearing themselves with wolfsbane and then sprinkled holy water in a circle in one of the side rooms, to define a much needed sanctuary space in case of trouble.

Despite his reputation as a space cadet of some merit, Babyface was truly methodical when it came to problem analysis, and before long he had some answers.

“Look at this,” pointed Babyface, wielding the cruci-driver as a pointing device. “I’m running diagnostic Pro, across the network between half a dozen ‘putas I’ve turned into probes.  This ‘puta here is the master.  On the count of three, flick that light switch on.  One, two…”

“Nothing,” noted Bleep.

“And now switch it off again.”

<<Fzzz>>

“See that – it’s a power spike.  All of the data on the master scope is frakked and garbled.”

“So it is,” mused Bleep.

“It’s exactly as I suspected: the monster we helped jam under the floor is also the monster in the ceiling when viewed from below.  And what’s more, it’s somehow patched itself into the light circuit and is slurping on the electricity supply.  Every time a light goes off, it bitches and chews data.”

“Oh, hell.  What are we going to do?”

What they did in their excited state was to place a call with Reg, who had a word with Ronnie, who had a word with one of his special mates.  Within the hour, a shipment of lead was on its way from the East End, where an unfortunate vicar would no doubt discover to his dismay that come the next serious rainstorm, his church was no longer watertight.  Once the ceiling tiles had been removed and the monster encased, it was game over for Hooverstein.

At least that was the theory.

It was two in the morning by the time Bleep and Babyface finished installing the remaining telex boxes, and being half straight, half sober and half hungover, they had a tactical line or two of Babyface’s favourite wake-me-up-before-you-go-go powder.  In a blaze of euphoria, heads clacking like a pair of analogue telephone exchanges during a bank raid, the duo proceeded to toast their success with several nips of Welsh whiskey from an aging hip flask that Bleep’s grandma had given him as a present, for use in emergency celebrations, just prior to leaving home.

“We’re brilliant!” exclaimed Bleep, puckering like a squeezed lemon.  “None of the other engineers could have pulled this off.”

“Yes we are,” admitted Babyface, taking the flask and a double nip.

“We should pack up and go home.”

“Yes we should.  The question is, are we brilliant enough to power up the entire system and give it a thorough test, or do we leave it for the trainers on Monday?”

“Oh, frak.  Do we have to?”

“Are we brilliant or are we deluded wasters?”

“Can’t we just be brilliant wasters and leave it at that?”

By six o’clock in the morning, the amphetamines were gone, the flask was empty and Hooverstein was still in its death throes, wounded but refusing to die.  No matter what they tried, as soon as they cranked the system up above 50% utilisation, the telex transmission lines became unstable, receiver circuits flaked out and frakked data became the order of the day.  They tried holy water, garlic breath, wolfsbane to the tentacles and the Lord’s prayer, forwards, backwards and sideways, all to no avail.  In abject frustration, Babyface declared that Hooverstein had destroyed the integrity of the space/time continuum and ruined the telex boxes forever.

Obviously, Reg could never be told the truth and fearing he’d set Ronnie on them if they didn’t have a good story, a faulty batch of hardware was declared, a tried and tested engineer’s explanation for strange goings-on that remains in place to this day.

Bleep retrieved another smoke and seeing it was the last one, crumpled the packet up and threw it as far as he could. “It’s a good job I bought 200 at the airport.  Go to the bar and get the lager in, while I search through my bag for the other 180.”

The Petrollica Affair (iv)

27 Mar

That Fabulous Feeling

You can’t keep the lid on a great feeling forever, and according to my friend it wasn’t long before everyone involved began to talk the project up in-house, and that soon got them talking out of house too.  Then the trade rags caught a whiff of the story and sought an interview.  After a spot on the front page of Compu-Diddly-Doo, the business world decided it was time to take an interest, which prompted Reg to employ a PR company, who in turn procured valuable column space in the ‘Who’s Hot and Who’s Not’ section of the Financial Times.  Imagine that – Reg’s well-honed bushlit gracing the pages of the FT!  Once the excitement hit the broadsheets, even Babyface lightened up – and suddenly, bang!  Before anyone knew what was happening, the whole company and their friends and relatives were caught up in the drama.  It was the mid-Eighties, the housing boom was in full swing with no end in sight, the city was full of expensive cars, the champagne bottles came clinking one after another, seemingly without end; life was good and about to get even better.  The staff became convinced that Bwain were going to make millions and when Reg began talking flash company cars and shares options for all, that was it: everyone including the cleaner was thoroughly sucked into his dream.

“It was a fabulous feeling, a fantastic time to be alive, like being part of a hit West-end show.”  Bleep raised his empty glass and stared through half closed eyelids. “Gin,” he stammered. “Get me gin.”

I duly complied, returning with a matching pair of double gee and tees, knowing it would take a lot more alcohol than this to see the story through to its conclusion.

“Hoover,” smiled Reg, “I have need of your unique talents once again.  In my lock-up in the East End – the BIG one, not the small one – you’ll find two hundred brand-new PC cases in their boxes.”

“Yes, boss,” replied Hoover, looking craftily from side to side like a cheap sewer rat covered in expensive, reclaimed bling.  “These ‘puta cases, what should I do wiv ‘em?”

“I want you to purchase two hundred second-hand PCs, the cheapest you can find, and fit the innards into the new cases.”

“The ole one-two-switcharoo.  Posh.”

“I need them all working within the week.”

“I know a couple of blokes in the twilight removals business, right up their street.”

“Very good.  Can they be trusted?”

“Wiv me mum’s funeral arrangements, swear to god.  They’re solid geysers Reg, solid.”

“Excellent.  Now, there’s one more thing.”

“And wot would that be?”

“I need to commission a brand new network and as a payment for services past I’m giving you the privilege of building it.”

“Awright!  I’ve got me some uver mates bin wanting to build a proper network fer ages.  Av you perchance, got any of them books wiv pictures that might elp?”

“Drop by the office tomorrow.  I’ll lend you one of our engineers and get him to assemble the appropriate literature from our extensive design library.”

“Extensive design library?” I guffawed, choking on a fragment of ice cube.

“You’ll have to excuse me,” said Reg, winking, “I’ve always been rather liberal with the truth.  Now, the engineer I assigned to shadow Hoover was none other than your old pal Bleep.  Isn’t that right Bleep.”

“It sure is,” said Bleep, switching back to his own voice.  “While Babyface got cracking with the code, I worked on the hardware specs and the configuration files.  By the time Hoover arrived, I was well ready.”

“Bleepy Boy, wot I require is some books about networks,” demanded Hoover, “Wiv big pictures, just like the old washing machine repair manuals.  Did I tell you I cut me teeth on washing machines?”

“Several times,” retorted Bleep.

“If you can do washing machines, my feory is you can do anyfink,” said Hoover.  “The world is yer hoister.  I ad a word wiv my ole mucker Reg, and he’s agreed we can build the server ‘putas too.  Ain’t that sumfink?”

“That’s my job.”

“You can elp if you like, but you’re not to interfere,” said Hoover, slipping a pony in Bleep’s pocket.  “And you’re not to tell Reg any of our trade secrets.  Aris and Eino don’t like it when their secrets is spilled, they take it very bad.”

“Too right,” said a voice from the doorway, belonging to a beanpole of a man, clad in overalls a couple of sizes too small, zipper down to his waist, displaying a faded ‘Pub Quiz team of the year’ tee shirt beneath.  “Cept I don’t like being called Aris, it sounds cheap.  To you my good man, it’s Aristotle.”

“And I’m Einstein,” said a short swarthy chap with mad hair, clad in overalls a size to large.  He smiled and held out a thick, calloused hand in greeting.

“Bleep,” said Bleep, swapping voices and shaking his own hand.

“Nah we’re all ‘ere,” said Hoover, “it’s dahn to business.  We need pictures, specs and a dawg.”

“What kind of dog?” asked Bleep suspiciously.

“A white one wiv a handset, you dodo.  I can’t be calling me mates on a Cocker spaniel, now can I?  They’d think I woz some kind of ponce.”

Despite being a technology company, technology really wasn’t the Large brothers’ forte and Ronnie, finding computers quite unscarable took a back seat when it came to the nuts and bolts of business, trusting Reg, who was only a shade more technically literate than he, to get on with the job of securing the profits.  Hoover was ordered to scrimp and save wherever he could, with an index-linked bonus for bringing the hardware in as cheap as humanly possible.  It was, therefore, no great surprise to discover that the grey hardware with new cases wasn’t so much grey on the inside as a shade of red-hot crimson, purloined as it was from a network of spivs who plied their trade in the backrooms of a number of well known city pubs.  From every available source the dodgy hardware came: some lost off the backs of lorries, some from the fronts of trade stands; hot-standby spares that mysteriously went missing from trading room floors, unopened boxes purloined by RAM raiders in the dead of night – all this and more passed through the dealers’ shady hands.  For Reg’s order, which was bigger than most, the bulk of the equipment was rescued from the Crusher – the final resting place for decrepit ex-government machines, well past their sell by date.  Condemned to death due to the confidential contents of their hard drives, it really was a waste of perfectly good if underperforming tin.  Being government putas, the hard drives in question were remarkably small and it was well known in Spiv circles that they hardly ever held confidential data, which was why the man in charge of the big red lever looked the other way when the hardware was replaced at the last with a box of underperforming pink fluffy rabbits with broken hoppity springs.  Government being government, Spivnet knew no-one would notice the discrepancy in weight or pinkness just as long as the forms were completed without spelling mistakes, on time, in black ink.

My friend supposed that Reg wasn’t fully aware how crap the solution his corner cutting contractors were pulling together really was, but then Reg was a big picture salesman with no attention to detail.  There’s no doubt he intended to save money to make money, but whether he planned on shaving off all the corners on offer to create himself a round table remains open to debate.  By the time Hoover and his gang had finished building all the ‘putas, Bleep had a pocketful of ponies, one per objection, which made it impossible for him to objectively object to anything.  The 12 line-servers at the heart of the system had already been given triple bypass surgery courtesy of Babyface, and even though Bleep tried really hard, they were soon abused further.  For good measure, Hoover installed an extra loud fan to hide the fact that one of the ex-Whitehall disk drives had developed a high pitch pig-like squeal whenever it was stressed, which due to Babyface’s design was more often than not.

Bleep lit another smoke, handed me the pack and took a long, hard drag. “After we’d built the special servers, that’s when things went really queer and IT happened.”

“IT?”

“IT.”

The Petrollica Affair (iii)

25 Mar

The Golden Carrot

Taking a swig of beer, Bleep slammed the empty glass down and switched his voice, imitating Reg’s well perfected sales purr, a vocal trick I’d heard him perform many times before, but previously only so accurately with Sean Connery and Roger Moore:

“Look, Babyface, I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer, you’re the best developer we have.  You breezed 4, 8 and 16, so 24 is easily within your grasp.  I know you have the skill and determination, so what’s the problem?”

“Speed,” replied Bleep, switching his posture and deftly answering his own question in Babyface’s pre-pubescent tones.

“Very good!” said I.  “You’re quite the wicked impersonator when you get going.”

“You wait til later, when you appear!” winked my pal, returning to his act.

“Speed,” reiterated Babyface.  “It’s all to do with speed.”

“You told Ronnie you’d given that up,” swerved Reg.

“I mean there isn’t a server fast enough to keep up,” snapped Babyface irately. “I’ve done all the calculations.”

“Let’s use 3 servers then.”

“That was a one off.”

“What about 5?” asked Reg, undeterred. “Or 10? Name your configuration and we’ll do it.”

“Reg, it’s not a hardware issue, this is all about the software – it simply isn’t up to it.  We’ve got patches on our patches as it is.  We need a complete rewrite to stand a chance, and that’ll take months.”

“A month you say? Get to it then.  As I’m such a brilliant boss, let’s call it a round 25 days.”

“You have to be kidding!  I’m not doing any more bodges or half arsed splatches.  Enough is enough, my foot is down.”

“Right, that’s it.  I’m cutting your pay by a grand for insolence.”

“You can’t do that.”

“Now it’s two grand, for insolence AND wasting my time.”

“I quit.”

“Make that three grand, for insolence, time wasting and cowardice.”

“You can’t do that.  I just quit.”

“A three grand pay cut, to be restored as a three grand raise when you deliver Petrollica.  And as a special bonus, I’ll give you the photographs plus negatives from the company trip to Amsterdam.  You must remember your entwining encounter with the masked python woman of Tripoli?  Ah.  I can see from your face that you forgot.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“I’m sure you’ll enjoy the rediscovery.  Along with your fiancé.”

“Now you’re bluffing.”

“Clubbus Eroticus.  Babyface meets the porno rhino.  Oh, I see, you forgot about that too.  Make Petrollica work, or the photos go to the Sunday Sport.  The editor is a personal friend of mine.  I can see the headline now, ‘son of a…’”

“…You can’t fool me.  I don’t believe you’d do that, not for a second.”

“You better.  An empty threat is like a bald hedgehog – laughable and quite, quite pointless.”

Bleep opened his wallet and produced a folded page from the Sunday Sport, showing a topless bloke on all fours twisted into a rather revealing pose with an uninhibited snake goddess, replete with erotic back tattoos, a black rectangle obscuring his face.  Despite the attempted black-out, the curl of unruly hair poking out above the black gave the identity of its owner away in an instant.  For once, Reg was telling the truth.

Bleep shook his head. “Babyface’s family and fiancé were threatened with total embarrassment unless he did the business.”

“What did he do?”

“What could he do?”

The baby-faced one set to like the grizzled old pro he’d become, patching patches on patches, bodging bodges on bodges and frigging the frigs that had historically been applied to a load of other frigs.  By the time he’d finished, the product stunk like the outhouses at a French glue factory and what came out of development at the end of that stint was most unsavoury.  It might have worked well enough to the untrained eye, and splitting the input queues over 6 servers and the output queues over another 6 solved the throughput problem, but it wasn’t the twenty four seven solution the client was expecting.  Babyface didn’t care by this point, he was mentally wasted from all the late nights and early mornings; all he wanted was his photos and once they were in his shaky little mitts, he was planning to be off to the Far East in a cloud of dust, for a nice long Thai-stick induced relax in the sun.

“Did he get them?”

“Hell, no.  Reg had never seen Babyface so motivated and on it.  He wasn’t about to surrender his newly discovered golden carrot, not without properly wearing it out first.”

The Petrollica Affair (ii)

21 Mar

Twenty Four Seven

“Why is it,” I found myself asking as I waited patiently for four pints of beer to arrive, “that everyone involved with Petrollica has either run away to Ireland to learn basket weaving or quit the country never to return?”  It’s a question which has kept me awake at night for years, begging for an answer.  Despite many beers with many ex-Bwain engineers over the last forty eight months, no reasonable answer has yet been forthcoming.  I’ve heard many theories, including one that proposed Reg had perfected a porcine aircraft carrier, for which Petrollica were contracted to supply the fuel, but an outbreak of foot and mouth in the hanger bay soon put paid to that plan.  Another theory suggested that Reg had become involved in an international smuggling cartel, importing specially trained monkey pilots from Latin America to fly the pigs, but it all fell apart because he let the monkeys watch too many racy wildlife documentaries, which resulted in a gang of badly corrupt primates, quite prepared to mount anything with a pulse, especially the pigs.

Two beers, a round of cocktails and a pair of shooters later, Bleep was ready to talk.

“Did you know,” he said, taking a break from chain smoking ciggies, sparking up a stubby evil-smelling cigarillo, “it was Ronnie Large who founded Bwain?”

“Never!” I said, taking a matching stubby and sparking it up.  “I assumed it was sly old Reg, he was the mover and shaker.”

Over the next few drinks my friend filled me in on how Bwain came to be.  Whilst Reg was a foxy salesman par excellence, it turned out he wasn’t the man with the money.  He used to make ends meet working in the city, selling insurance schedules for thoroughbred pets to the wives of executives with too much money and too little sense, until one day he got wind of a brilliant sales opportunity from a mate who knew someone who knew someone.  Rather than spending the rest of his life shifting medical repayment plans for pampered high-end ponies, he smooth talked his brother Ronnie into trading him a directorship – some might say ‘dictatorship’ for a share in a deal which he claimed would set them both up for life.  Whilst many firms were jumping on the latest technology bandwagon known as facsimile, or fax for short, there were still three businesses that refused to accept a fax as legally binding evidence in court.  Banks, shipping companies and anyone involved with petrochemicals simply weren’t having fax, they demanded good old telex instead.

Between the pair of them, Ronnie & Reg bought up a one man and his dog outfit that specialised in computerised Telex systems, rebranding the product line as ‘Telex Exec’.  Reg fulfilled his part of the bargain by borrowing a copy of the contacts database from Medi-pet, paying special attention to shipping tycoons and finance moguls, whilst Ronnie called on his legal expertise to put the frighteners on their newly discovered client base.  The plan truly came together with the hiring of office space at a prestigious London address and the launch of the new range of Telex Exec solutions.

Very soon Bwain cornered the market with their secure computerised Telex system; they couldn’t get product out the door fast enough.  Within six months the business had expanded tenfold and Ronnie and Reg were well on their way to making their first mint.

“You remember the Bwain Support File?” asked Bleep.

“The master list of who’s got what, made purposefully unintelligible to the uninitiated.”

“It came about because Reg wouldn’t stop selling product for long enough for Development to catch up with Sales.  They developed a version of Telex Exec that worked with two telex devices, so Reg sold a client four.  They worked day and night on the four port version, and as soon as they finished Ronnie scared someone into needing eight.  It was the classic shifting goalposts manoeuvre, and after six months we were all frackin’ knackered from working ‘til stupid o’clock every night.  Then came Petrollica, a full-on petroleum dealer, who asked for twenty-four telex lines, all working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.”

“Twenty-four seven three six five?  I’ve had firsthand experience of that particular product, there’s no way I would ever trust it as a mission critical component.”

“Listen to you, with your smart new business speak!” laughed my friend.  “It sounds like you’ve recently eaten a management consultant.”

As expected, Reg took no notice of Development, who said 24 lines couldn’t be done, curtly dismissed Babyface’s reservations with a deft wave of his hand and went right ahead and sold Petrollica the most advanced version ever of a theoretical product, along with a bulk order of PCs, several file-servers and all the network cabling.  All in all, it was the single biggest order that Bwain had ever seen.  Suddenly, Banks all over the continent sat upright and started paying serious attention.  Reg could be seen out to dinner in restaurants where only the rich and famous dwell and for a while he became a minor celebrity in the banking fraternity, but no matter how much he talked himself and his products up, no matter how scary Ronnie’s horror stories became, no-one was prepared to place an order for a comparable system until Petrollica was fully commissioned with all the bugs ironed out.

The Petrollica Affair (i)

20 Mar

It’s been a while since I last posted anything in the way of creative writing, mainly because I’ve been very busy with the Ferret Files.

Back in the 80s & 90s I used to work in the City doing tech support and installs for a number of different companies.  One experience in particular sticks in my mind and that’s the installation at Petrollica, who were a petrochemical dealer based in Mayfair.  I’m going to publish Part I over the next few days – see what you think.

The Promise

“So, tell me Bleep, where did you acquire your nickname?”
Bleep ran his hand through thinning hair, shorter than when we’d last met, now with a hint of grey around the temples. “Really mate, you don’t remember much do you? I’m a recognised black-belt at swearing in every continental language. Back in the day they used to call me ‘Monsieur Bleep’ in France and ‘Herr Bleep’ in Germany.”
“Really?”
“Absolutely! It’s only Mister Bleep in England, mind. In Ireland they call me Sweary O’Bleep and over the borders it’s Bleepy McSporan. Babyface was the first one to recognise my unique talent. You remember Babyface?”
“Yeah, I remember Babyface,” I said reminiscing, “but only just.” Truth be told, all I could remember of the baby faced one was his pug nose, childlike grin, squeaky high voice and that one curly lock of annoying hair atop his head which was destined to be forever out of place, no matter what he attacked it with. Everything else was an out-of-focus blur. “I met him twice,” I continued, “the second time was his unofficial leaving do, which happened a week after I joined. After that, everyone was actively encouraged to forget him, which they quite happily did.”
“Babyface left because he didn’t want to manage you,” quipped Bleep, his dark brown eyes flickering playfully. “And who can blame him?”
“What about you? You left at exactly the same time. Rumour had it you both eloped in a sloppy gay lovefest.”
“Now there’s a story,” mused my friend, draping his scuffed and worn duffel coat across the back of a chair, plonking his bum down.
“You made a promise,” I half complained.
“I haven’t forgotten.”
I removed my own jacket and placed it on the back of a chair at right angles to Bleep. “I think I did a rather splendid job of tracking you down after so long. That’s got to count for something.”
“OK, I guess you deserve an explanation – I did sort of drop you in it.”
“You kid me not,” I said, straddling the seat. “Get your mate a fantastic new job and then vanish a couple of days after he starts with no notice or forwarding address. That’s hardly cricket.”
Bleep looked down guiltily. “I don’t suppose you’d like to hear tales of Brussels? I’ve only just got back from a lengthy assignment there. Some very, very good beer, brewed by some very, very strange monks.”
“Absolutely not.”
“I figured that might be the case.” Bleep removed a packet of trademark gold carton cigarettes and regaled himself with an ashtray. “Before I tell you in lurid detail exactly why I was forced to leave the Bwain Consortium, answer me this: have you ever heard of Petrollica?”
“Now there’s a name that could bring any meeting to a close in under a minute. I used to mouth it in those boring sales presentations that Reg held every quarter. Worked like a charm, sent him packing and running for cover every time, without fail.”
“Not surprising, mate. If only you knew.”
“I assume that’s what we’re here for. I have no idea why ‘Petrollica’ inspired such a reaction, just that it did. One of the support guys taught me the trick, but he was new and he didn’t know why it worked either. And neither did the guy who taught it to him.”
“Have you ever read the Installation Report?” asked my pal, cracking open a new pack of golds, discarding the wrapper randomly on the table. “Duty frees. Another of the joys of working in Brussels.” As Bleep carefully withdrew a cigarette, badly bitten fingers chewed to the quick, I caught the whiff of freshly minted tobacco, causing my own demons to briefly cackle awake and assume the position.
“I searched high and low,” I said, doing my best to ignore the lure of tobacco, “every filing cabinet including the special blue ‘confidential’ one which Reg kept securely locked.”
“Depends on who you know.” Bleep gave a smug grin and flipped a cigarette into the side of his mouth, in a well rehearsed motion. “Did you look in Reg’s secret safe?”
“The one with the broken lock hidden behind the picture of him with the Queen? Of course I did.”
“That’s his ordinary safe. I mean the safe hidden behind that safe.”
“Ah.”
Bleep leaned back on his chair, a rickety affair bandaged together with glue and nails, which had obviously been ritually abused in this manner before, probably by guys much larger than my friend and firestick in hand, sparked-up. “Reg intended that that particular report never see the light of day again.”
“In that case why didn’t he just burn it?”
“I guess he needed to keep it as a reminder of how things once were,” said Bleep nonchalantly.
“How is this related to your sudden departure, mystery boy? C’mon, spill.”
“You’ve waited two years already. Another few minutes won’t matter.”
“We’re in the nineties now, 1990 and a half to be precise – that makes it four years.”
“Four year, schmore years. Go on, get the beers in before the barman comes over to have a word. If you want to know about the Petrollica Affair and how it forced me out the company and later the country, you’ll have to get me proper drunk first – which will take approximately six pints of strong beer and a couple of B52s. Have you kept the afternoon clear as suggested?”
“One till four, review meeting with external supplier.”
“Congratulations,” grinned my pal, throwing a brochure down on the table. “Here’s your sales pack, I declare the meeting over. Let’s start the drinking the traditional way with a pair of pints each. I’m hearing good things about the Testicle Roaster, allegedly it’s as lethal as a barrel of pythons fitted with vibrating butt plugs. I’m afraid I’m fresh off the plane with a pocket full of Belgian Francs, so you’ll have to buy.”
“On one condition.”
“Such as?”
“Cigarette. Now.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything, but I knew you’d crack eventually.” My friend smiled, handing me the pack.

 

The Daniel Day Lewis Method of Writing

19 Feb

Here’s a question for you:

cubes

An addictive substance yesterday

Your hero has a cocaine habit.  In order to appreciate his/her viewpoint, do you seek out the drug and take it as part of the writing process, or do you simply imagine what it might be like when you write about it?  Do you talk to known users as part of your research?  Equally, when it comes to preparation, do you simply read about it in the press and make it up, or do you try it yourself?

Drugs are one of those things that are illegal, but a lot of people participate in – hence my question, which really boils down to this:  for the sake of authenticity, is it important for you as an author, to know about what you’re writing about in detail?  And if so, where do you draw the line?

It’s possible to become a drunk for a night, or a week as part of your research.  You can even sleep rough if you want.  You can develop a cigarette habit until you cough, and know what it’s like to hack one up every morning.  All this is perfectly legal.  Then we come to the illegal – joints, lines and injections, each increasing in addictive qualities and physical effect.  If you try something once and don’t like it, what do you do if a regular user tells you ‘you gotta get a habit man, to appreciate it’?

Then there’s the question of murder. Obviously I’m not advocating killing others in the name of authenticity, but is it something you might consider?

The question is open to the floor: how far are you prepared to go?

The Morality of Super Powers

25 Jan

Super Powers – wah hay!

Here’s a question for you: if you had a super power that allowed you to influence the outcome of situations in your favor, without other people knowing, would you do so?

Secondly, if you had the opportunity to use your power to create a personal fortune, with the intention of having a good time, would you still do so?

This is the central dilemma facing the hero in the Ferret Files.  He’s let me know in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t want to give up the booze & cocaine lifestyle…

I look forward to reading your replies

POLITICAL MOONSHINE

"WE ARE HERE AND IT IS NOW. FURTHER THAN THAT, ALL HUMAN KNOWLEDGE IS MOONSHINE" -H.L.MENCKEN

The Slog

A Cognitive Dissident

Literary Avenue

Take a stroll along the Avenue of Artistic Ingenuity

Books and Mor

Let's Read

Darcie Cameron

Flow with an Open Heart

Change The Code

Live Your Best Life

Flash-365

Oh! Take a shit, read a story. - My Mother on flash fiction

The Renegade Press

Tales from the mouth of a wolf

Debbie Young

Author of mystery, mayhem & comedy in the Cotswolds

Amber Jones Barry, Editor

Making marks to achieve better copy.

The Ferret Files

The home of London's Premier Detecting Consultant

Short Tale Shrew

A Flash Fiction Writing Community

Natalie Breuer

Natalie. Writer. Photographer. Etc.

Nail Your Novel

Nail Your Novel - Writing, publishing and self-publishing advice from a bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor

OffGuardian

because facts really should be sacred

%d bloggers like this: