Chapter 1: More Punishment than Crime
This is the first chapter of Trouble.
In it, we meet one of our main characters, Bud Barrowston. Bud is a British ex-convict who can’t find work because of his prison record. He is struggling with his faith, and he’s attempting to reform himself with the help of the good-hearted Pastor Rose.
But Bud still has two robberies left to do: one is of Turk and Angie Silversmile’s house, and the other is of a yacht, the Maiden’s Travel Without Any Trouble.
The sun’s risen. The Bow Bells are chiming. Whistling merrily, Bud Barrowston trots out of his East End flat, bumps his wheelbarrow over the threshold of the door, into the cold, clear morning which smells of a distant and homey log fire. He has in his wheelbarrow an armful of old nudie magazines, a half finished bottle of grain alcohol with which he’s been fortifying his Jell-O, three mayonnaise jars brimming with bat guano with which he’s been using to play naughty practical jokes, a flat tongue of hashish in clear plastic wrap, sundry heavy metal albums including one by the libertarian-metal group Death and Taxes (whose first album “The Inevitable” went platinum), and a two foot long miniature cannon that actually fires small cannonballs and has a wick fuse on top. He uses this weapon as a threat to keep that greedy Irishman Tom Moylan from creeping onto his property. Bud shakes hands with Pastor Rose, who’s waiting by the trash bin and the mailbox.
“Out wiv da old, in wiv da new!” Barrowston proclaims cheerfully, dumping into the trash: Penthouses, Clubs, Club Internationals, Mayfairs, Men Onlys, Razzles, Playboys, Hustlers, several Tijuana Bibles, a stamp collection of naked women, woodcuts of masturbating ladies, and a tit shaped kaleidoscope.
“Very good, my son,” booms the pastor in stentorian tones. Pastor Rose peers into the bin, yet restrains himself from reaching out to poke the kaleidoscope’s latex eyepiece, which is shaped like a vagina.
“Yes, yes, yes! If it wasn’t for you, sir,” says the prodigal son, “I’d be circling in da ruts ov Hell forevah!”
Pastor Rose looks Bud in the eye, “Ahhhhh—’Tis not I! It’s Christ, the Word of God! Jesus: the pillow for well travelled heads, and God: the down comforter on a snow-crested night. I? I am but a signpost: simple and directional. A pointing tool of the Lord, useful for guidance; salvation is attainable without the likes of me or my order.” A big smile. “A hand with that?”
“Not at all, Reverend!” Into the bin go the drugs and rock ’n roll. “Well, sir, per’aps da cannon?”
Between the two of them, they lift the cast iron cannon and set it next to the trash can.
“And not at all sad to see your earthly possessions go?” queries the priest, handing Bud a thick illustrated Bible, a suggestive recompense.
“No, sir! Not at all! Why, it was just last June that I lamented da shabby state ov those woodcuts. About time that this ’ere junk’s out, that I gave my home and soul a spring cleaning!”
“Well, well! Take that book to heart, and enjoy the bounty of the Lord’s most hallowed largesse!” the priest claps Barrowston heartily on the back, causing the priest’s hand to sting, Barrowston’s back consisting of free-weight, penitentiary (re)formed muscle. “Stay on the road to salvation, off the paths to perdition, preach the power of God, and you’ll remain, sir, a happy man till the end of your days!”
“Lord, sir! Shall I?”
“Bud! Why ever not?”
“Well, sir, acknowledgement of reformation comes faster for the reformee than the public.”
With one hand on his hip, Pastor Rose’s other hand adjusts his glasses, pressing them up the owlish bridge of his pastoral nose. “What do you mean?”
“Bruv, though I may be outta da prison, I still see those gaol mates o mine—’n hear others’ names, as well, mates who are I tell you as good a citizen, as clean o ’eart now, as any plumbah or carpentah or priest or God-fearing burgher whom you may set your eyes on—’n these mates outside the walls o’ the prison ’ave ’ard times!”
“Aye, sir, on account o’ their past criminal record, which shows upon their background check at e’ry job they apply for, and must in some way surface, sir: they cannot get a job! Or with e’ry new date they take with a fine woman, the relationship is ’amstringed by a felon’s admission of his past, sometimes as early as the first cup o’ tea! Why, sir, da sentence for da crime does extend far past da criminal’s release date from da prison. Even, sir, while a former criminal may walk the streets without parole or fear o’ any judicial conviction, why ’e ain’t no more a free man, taking into account ’is ’istory, as any slave was during the most mis’rable times o’ their trading!”
“Sure enough. The crime of another is rarely forgotten, less often forgiven. I do believe that it is an unspoken truth that: throughout the history of the world there has been more punishment than crime.”
“Aye, sir! What’s a bruvvah ta do?”
“Strive, Bud. Strive. A fractured man may best be annealed through persevering honesty, faith in God, and the passage of time! Put your effort into the society that you don’t trust, and though the town’s most festive bells may never tang in celebration of you, still you may hope to lead a humble, respectable life.”
“And regarding this pornography, eh! These drugs! These carnal traps! Why, you have made a strong first step today by throwing them into the bin. But, Bud, what of that most perilous of your weaknesses—that for which you were gaoled?”
“Da lockpicking, sir? Da safecrackin?”
“Those indeed are the faults which most worry me. This pornography, these drugs, this iron cannon—they were never the cause of your downfall. As some step first from the drink, then to the devil, so your safecracking unlocks the door to Hell. Truly, Bud, when you burgle, you steal your own soul from grace.”
“Da stealing, sir,” the large man flinches, “Why, dat is indeed da center o’ my faults.”
“What have you done to redeem yourself in this regard?”
“Why, sir, I ’ave thrown away da lockpicks, da practice safes, da tools o da trade in a private ceremony, one too personal for others to be witnessing.”
“Excellent! Then this detritus,” Rose gestures at the things in the bin and the cannon, “Represents the remnants of your former life?”
Pastor Rose nods, “Good man.”
A handshake. Into the house goes Barrowston, off toodles Pastor Rose.
Fifteen minutes later, Pastor Rose—having just arrived home to the culinary floral fragrances of oniony chives, St. Joe’s worty basil, biennial parsley, pinnate lavender, and needley rosemary—leaves a message on Barrowston’s probation officer’s machine, “Officer Lemming? This is Pastor Rose from Saint Michael’s. I wanted to let you know that I met with Bud Barrowston today, and I just wanted to tell you how well Bud’s doing. He’s cleaning up his life, making significant progress. He threw out the dross of his past, and he seems sincere in his reformation. Just letting you know. Bye.” The culinary herbs sprouting from their ceramic pots upon the windowsill receive a once over from Rose’s experienced eyes, and the plants pass vegetable muster. Rose proceeds into his other daily tasks.
About that same time, Bud Barrowston’s thinking that he’s cut a neat veronica around the pastor’s questions. Bud tosses the Bible onto the table in his home. Light shines dully from a single halogen that hangs by its cord from the ceiling. The bulb lights the kitchen: its four legged chairs that rock like a storm swathed ship, the nearly barren and mostly dusty particle-board bookshelf on which Bill Phillips’ The Complete Book of Locks and Locksmithing reposes, and the kitchen sink with its dishes piled in Escherian impossibilities.
Bud pulls an X-Acto knife from one of the kitchen drawers. He seats himself. Opening Rose’s gift to Ephesians 3, “There is a time for everything…,” Bud lays the razor sharp point of the X-Acto knife against the page. Bud slices. These NIV illustrated pages are thin, wispy, more easily torn than cut. Soon, though, Bud’s lacerations have created a cube within the tome’s pages. Into the hollowed-out interior are deposited a set of gleaming lockpicks and a collapsible screwdriver, Shawshank style. It’s the most cynical trick in the Good Book: concealing crime beneath a façade of religion.
But though the trick is cynical, it’s the only trick Bud feels that he has left in his hand.
After passing free of the grimy, granite, tall jail walls, Bud tried to rekindle his relationship with the society that he had misused. But in his absence, society had gone on without him: the swishing, whooshing of the highway cars never diminished a decibel, the bell-on-glass tinkling of curiosity shop entranceways played their music unceasingly, the fields changed their hues from golden to lavender to charcoal as the sun set; everything continued Life. But Bud? For him, within the prison, his time stopped, and he fell behind.
Now cat burglary and safecracking have become a passionate paradox: safe-cracking binds him to criminal life yet represents his last resort to entering the straight life on even terms.
Bud Barrowston carries the Word to the back of his home, through dust motes falling in filtered glows past broken Venetian blinds. There’s a blueprint of a luxury yacht, the Maiden’s Travel Without Any Trouble – pinned to his bedroom wall. A newspaper lies on the chair. Also present are a pipe near a sack of Indian tobacco, a drip-style coffee maker into which Bud sets a filter and pours in two spoonfuls of fresh Colombian grounds and eight ounces of water and sets to percolate, a pair of fleece slippers, a bowl of oranges and bananas and a mango whose sweet scent permeates the room, and a robe tossed over the back of the chair.
He strips out of his clothes, revealing a man with: a hairy chest and slight paunch, tattoos, a powerful torso, a 6’4” frame, 235 pounds of muscle, a head as bald as an egg, toenails yellowed and cracking, thick thighs, hairy toes, and a broad five o’clock shadow that sweeps across his face. Bud slips his arms into the sleeves of the robe, slides his feet into the slippers, pours himself a cup of coffee, and sits in the chair with the newspaper in one hand and his feet crossed on the ottoman. Bud stirs sugar into his coffee using one of his safe-cracking tools: the snake rake, i.e., a long-nosed steel pick with a mellow S curve at its end. He sets his coffee mug on the side table, leaves the newspaper in his lap. Then he fills the pipe with the aromatic shag tobacco, lights it with a match, and settles in to enjoy his morning.
At 10:00, Bud’s finishes with the pipe and the coffee and the newspaper, turns in to bed, and sets the clock to ring at 22:00 hours.
A short time later, Bud sleeps. He coughs deep in his throat, pauses his snore for a silver gelatin moment, while—phenomenally—things begin to cloud over: in the southern hemisphere, the Coalsack Nebula, that dark dust nebula, hides the luminescent star Acrux; the moon over Australia is blotted by a swiftly sailing cloud; candles at a seven year old girl’s birthday are blown out by a formless breath and her room descends into a blackness through which a tiny child’s whimper pierces… A great gale thunders against the windows of Sierra Thibault’s home, rattling the panes, beating the trees, pitching pebbles, acorns, debris against her house’s walls, kicking up the dust into devils on the street. Captain Dylan looks up from his blueprint of the Travel, snuffs a nearby candle with a breath; his room falls to total darkness. In Barrowston’s home, the alarm clock browns out for a moment, then flickers back to its red digital display.
When his home is dark and sleep-sodden, then Bud wakes, rises, and dresses in black. He opens his closet, muttering, “Let’s get cracking!” Inside the closet, Bud’s got a workman’s standing tool box. It contains the materials that a safecracker needs for dynamite success: batteries, blasting caps, cellophane, nitroglycerin, soap, +/- leads. For house windows, a glass cutter is at hand. Also in the closet are a nighttime depository head, a safety deposit box, a gilded biometric keypad. Bud grabs the glass cutter and his Bible, and he hits the road, taking a taxi to a gated community, where the Silversmile home stands that he will rob.
Silversmile’s house is one with a de Chirico—whose landscapes are cold, barren and empty, you can almost here them echo with the sounds of abandonment, like the tinkling of a tin can bouncing down an empty street—hanging on the wall, a walk-in humidor off the foyer, a collection of dusty rare books, and a wall safe in which reside two Ulysse Nardin watches…
The cab passes through empty East End streets, past houses crushed together, over the potholes. Then the cab emerges from the poverty, and the car zooms smoothly, quietly, and effortlessly west, along good roads. Soon, lemon colored pools of light illuminate the broad winding lane and the neighborhood of mansions. Bud asks the taxi driver to stop, and he pays his fare.
Bud takes a tranquil walk to the Silversmile mansion, past homes with diamond shaped lattices in inky and impenetrable windows, past a plump orange and cream colored cat lounging sleepily in a shadow, along the street which no other traffic frequents. It’s one of those nights when the air is sweet and cool, a light wind blowing, leaves trembling on their stems. When he reaches a cul-de-sac, Bud leaves the lane, walks through short dry grass, stoops his back, sneaks past hedges, his heart fluttering. Now’s the time to thank his stars he’s out of prison, trying his liberty.
The Silversmile’s gothic mansion rises before him: nine chimneys, zigzagging eaves, cottage style windows, red brick walls, ivy-hung trellises, undulating lawn, and a high wall that surrounds the property. Bud pulls on his leather gloves and ski mask. Throwing a rough carpet over the cheval-de-frise, Bud scrabbles over the glass shards that are embedded in the brick wall, and he leaps down. Bud lands with a soft thump, and he is conscious of breaking his parole. Scurrying from shadow to shadow, Bud darts across the lawn. The back door’s handle is locked, but the door is not bolted, so the forced entry is quick and easy.
Then Bud enters the kitchen. The room has a black and white tile floor, brass pots and pans hanging from the wall above a Viking oven, granite countertops, a dishwasher running so quietly that it’s nearly mute.
He stealthily passes through the kitchen, into the companionway. It is one of richly paneled oak, with black and white photographs on the wall that depict the mustachioed owner of the house in Africa, holding a rifle, two Africans beside him, a recently killed lion on the ground.
Voices. Voices emanate from the parlor. Bud can’t help himself but look. There is a party of four men: Turk Silversmile, who is the master of the house, and Silversmile’s friends. They are all tall, white, light eyed, and looking comfortable. There’s a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s bourbon whisky on the table, and the men are lounging before a roaring fire with tumblers of whiskey in their hands. The air is acrid with the scent of cigar smoke. Hanging on the wall is a plasma tv, and, on the opposite wall, a Christian cross. Butting against the wall is a stout oak desk, graced by gilded fountain pens. The men stand on thick shag carpet. A three centuries old Ellicott clock stands in the corner. Another collection of black and white photographs of big game expeditions ornaments the wall: in one photo the master of the house stands with Eskimos and a bloody polar bear, in another he stands with the jagged Himalayas in the background and a dead lynx in the fore; in yet another he stands before two small Sikhs and a tiger’s carcass. The final photo portrays the man at an evening ball with his arm wrapped around the waist of a beautiful fair-haired woman, his nocturne trophy.
“Yeh’d probably love to kill me too, wouldn’t yeh?” Bud whispers, as he peers into the lounge. Bud overhears the four men’s conversation.
Turk, you won’t believe what I saw today,
a man in a blue bra, obviously gay,
wearing ten centimeter heels and pink pants,
contravening the list of ‘can-dos’ and ‘can’ts’!
Now I’ll say this straight; I want to be clear –
we’re among friends; I can be honest here –
(sips his whiskey, waves his arm)
there’s a reason that they call being gay, ‘queer’:
it’s a moral disease! an unnatural frontier!
I wish that deep in the closet these people would stay;
they ruin my good humor when they act that way!
I hear what you’re sayin’, my old friend Jake,
and I’m with you completely, that’s no mistake –
the problem’s the media: it’s too liberal by far;
their morals are twisted; their priorities bizarre.
Just ask me, right now, who stands for the man –
the white, honest, Christian who built this great land?
Well, I’ll tell you! There’s no one! We’re all alone!
Our supporters have left us! Vanished and flown!
And it’s not just the homos, it’s the migrants as well,
(Turk sips his whiskey, waves his arm)
cluttering the streets with those cheap trinkets they sell,
and without sense at all regarding their stations –
let me tell you about the immigrants at the United Nations!
In UNHCR London, our office is all Pakistani,
forget the King’s English, it’s just one tongue of many,
I can’t understand a thing among the babelling there,
I’ve got to go to the bathroom just to get some fresh air!
(laughter among the men; Bud grimaces)
Thank heaven for bureaucracy, because it limits our rights:
I can’t provide asylum to these immigrant blights;
I can’t do much for detentions, which is just as well,
I hate visiting prisons—can’t stand the smell—
and when I give advice regarding the law,
I like to take a bit out of their uppish chutzpa
by making them wait for an hour or more
then sending the wretches to the attorney next door!
(Bravo! cries Jake, as the other two men thump their feet, clap, and Turk looks round the room and raises his glass in acknowledgement of their approval.)
Well, I’ll tell you what –
One of the men:
The last man:
Thank you, Sam, and I´ll tell you what, Moose!
The clues are all there, we just have to deduce…
Actually… I’ll lay out the facts and let you decide
on what I have to say about a goodwill genocide:
these people are all poor, living in squalor and fear,
I don’t think they enjoy this London here,
and I think it would be a favor—a munificent deed!—
if them, to the columbarium, we were to concede.
Just think: after it’s over, it will be a win/win:
they won’t trouble us; we won’t trouble them!
Granted, it may never happen, it’s just my caprice,
but there’s much to be said for silence and peace.
Ha! Jake, you dirty rank devil, you!
with arguments as twisted as a corkscrew:
making sweet what should smell like a skunk –
By God, I’ve got it! From now on, you’re Jake the Monk!
He likes it, Turk! Just look at his face!
It’s the perfect name for cleansing a race!
Well, since we’re broaching topics like this,
consider Her Majesty’s M. of Justice!
(Bud perks up his ears)
The cases I judge involve reoffenders ’gainst state –
the caprice, my friend Jake, is ‘to rehabilitate’
there’s not such a thing, these heathens will not abate,
no matter our efforts, they are ‘eternal inmates’,
they go in on one day, come out a year later,
more crooked at heart and not a bit straighter!
‘Three strikes and you’re out!’ that phrase is the one—
for after ‘strike three’ there should be execution!
A moment, my friends, here comes my wife –
let’s briefly tranquilize our trailblazing nightlife…
Angie, my darling, my lovely mate,
What are you doing down here so late?
I couldn’t sleep, so I came down for awhile,
Can you gentlemen bear the company of Mrs. Silversmile?
Sam, Moose, Jake the Monk:
Here, what would you like to drink?
Welcome, welcome! Please join us!
Ah, such gentlemen! Such kind souls –
honest and pure, and as warm as red coals!
Where would the world be without men just like you?
So shining and generous all the way through!
In fact, how did you come to be so good?
Is it a product of training? Does it run in your blood?
Jake the Monk:
Jake the Monk:
The straight truth?
Jake the Monk:
Well. It’s our own mothers who made us this way:
virtuous and upright, as bright as the day.
Indeed, every man would have a black heart,
if not for the grace of a woman, for her feminine art!
Oh, Jake, don’t kid me now…
Sam and Moose:
She is! Look at her!
Bud’s creeping away now, tip-toeing through the dark passages of the house, past another crucifix on the wall… Muttering to himself,
Dammit, that Sam Adams, he sentenced me!
That judge known best for his profligacy,
for draconian sentencing, and venality!
“Pay your dues, Bud,” was what he told me,
concluding my visit to the Old Bailey.
Now here he is, totally tipsy on bourbon,
running his mouth like it’s a jet turbine,
talking of executing reoffenders at the third strike,
with hardly a thought to what re-integration is like…
it’s a slow process to recovery, as he ought to know,
if he cared for anything other than the status quo,
if he had any more mercy than Francisco Franco,
if he weren’t so mistaken about London ghettos…
Cause I’ve rid myself of my venial sins,
examined my life through the common man’s lens –
this is the second to last of my thieving crimes:
once here, once at sea, then that’s the end of these times.
But no matter which way I choose to behave,
it is murder for the state to send me to the grave!
The end of my time is up to my signs or to God,
not to grim judges or some bureaucratic tightwad!
And I heard them discuss in their racist tumult
the Adolf-inspired, awful, genocidal result
which is simply what happens when such men are in power
the state of our society gets worse by the hour!
They care not a whit for the plight of another,
excepting, of course, these nepotist’s brother!
And only in public do they put on a clean face
while in home’s sanctuary they smear each other race!
Turk stops not a moment for others’ sexuality or color,
but tramples on each and delights in their dolor!
I have no compunction about robbing Turk Silversmile,
whose face is all flowers, whose heart is all bile.
Up the stairs Bud goes. At the head of the stairs, there’s a United Nations flag, at which he hisses, “Bwah! Hypocritical motherfuckers!”
He treads down the darkened hall. He softly opens the door to the master bedroom, remembering the instructions from his friend, the maid. Behind a wall-mounted painted portrait of the master and his great dane is the safe. Bud walks to the painting. He slowly lifts it off its hook. Then he extracts the Bible, Pastor Rose’s gift, whose pages he has cut out. “The Good Book helps me have the last Word!” murmurs Bud grimly. He pulls off the leather gloves, pulls on the latex gloves.
He breathes deeply. The voices below have faded, and the house is silent. Bud takes a good look at the safe. It’s a simple wall safe, flat black in color, with a keyhole.
Bud slides his fingers over the stainless steel instruments. They resemble a dentist’s tooth picks, the heads of the tools being the distinguishing feature of each. Pinching the torsion wrench’s head, Bud extracts the tool from the NIV. Into the safe’s tumbler lock, Bud inserts the torsion wrench, which he exerts pressure lightly upon, then, above the wrench, Bud pushes in the snake rake.
Feeling, gauging the pressure of the pin’s springs, Bud pulls the snake rake across the horizontal row of vertical pins. Inside the lock is a pin atop another pin, stacked, and Bud lifts the pins out of the cylinder so that they misalign with the cylinder’s gap. The lock clicks faintly. This is the first of five pins which he must pick to unlock the safe; the only keys now are understanding the internal mechanisms of the lock and patience. He exerts further pressure on the torsion wrench, to hold the misaligned pin out of place. When there is a fifth click, Bud removes the tools, then he opens the safe door. Bud replaces his picks into the Bible, and then he peers inside the safe. Two Ulysse Nardin watches rest on a scarlet velvet cushion. Near to them is a stack of gay pornographic magazines. “Bwhahahhahahaa!” Bud can’t keep from giggling. “Hee hee! Hahahaha! The hypocrite! The liar!”
A moment later, he is calm again, and he extracts the watches.
The first timepiece: Royal Blue. With 200 diamonds on its band and face, twelve blue sapphires, a flying tourbillon for art’s sake and to keep gravity at bay, encased in platinum, and worth upwards of £200,000 this haute joaillerie timepiece is the first to disappear into Bud’s Bible. The second watch, Astrolabium Galileo Galilei, suits Bud’s proclivities. This mechanical timepiece enables the wearer to know the position of the stars at any given moment, calculate the zodiac, determine the position of the moon and sun, and foretell eclipses. And to tell the time. Bud straps it on his wrist. He shuts the safe, rehangs the painting, leaves the room with rapid strides, and leaves not a fingerprint behind.
Then Bud pauses. He turns. David Cameron’s portrait hangs on the wall. Bud takes a long look at it, cocking his head thoughtfully. Bud listens for the sound of approaching voices. There are none audible. He walks back to the painting, removes the back, and inverts the picture of Cameron. Returns the back to the frame, and rehangs the photograph. Steps away, looks at the photograph: David Cameron is upside-down.
Snickering, Bud slips out the same way that he arrived, dashing on his toes through the hallway, down the staircase, past the photo of the lion, out the kitchen door, across the sprawling lawn, over the wall. There are no cabs in sight. He walks toward home—thinking again of the men´s conversation, feeling upset. As Bud walks, he feels angrier with each step. These were the people who were supposed to lead the nation, who were supposed to stand for ethics and virtue. If a common prisoner said the same, Bud would not have minded half so much. He shakes his head in disappointment, then takes a deep breath to calm himself. He looks up.
The moon lays low in the predawn sky. Bud pauses as he passes a canal. A boy sits silhouetted by the moon. The child sits on the edge of the railing, with his legs dangling off. He holds a fishing rod, which is black against that wan galactic sphere’s white.
Bud walks to him, “Oi there, what are you doing?”
The boy looks at him, tender face and blue eyes, light brown hair, “Fishing for dragons.”
“You cannae fish for – ”
But just at that moment, there comes a tug on the line. The boy giggles, and he reels up hard. Bud’s eyebrows raise. The boy line comes up, and on the edge of the hook there is a dragon made of tin. Bud’s jaw drops.
“I’ve got one!” the boy says proudly. He hands the dragon to Bud, who glances at the dragon: coppery looking in the moonlight, with red glass beads for eyes, a long swannish neck with spikes, and outspread grim wings. Bud glances at the boy in amazement, then looks down over the rail. Standing just beneath them, on the edge of the bank, is a mustached man with cheery eyes, who waves to Bud. “Oi there, mister! Everything’s all right! My boy loves dragons, and he says they can only be caught at night. So, I took him out.”
“It’s true,” the boy replies seriously, “You can’t catch a dragon in the daylight. They need darkness.”
“Well ’ow about that?” Bud mutters with a smile. “‘Look how far the little candle throws its beams!’ Good evening to you both! ’N wot a wonderful world you make it!”