Hermann decided to avail himself of the in-house Deni-zen escort service: two for the price of one. A couple of strapping young women turned up with a credit-card dispenser and a twelve-and-a-half percent ‘optional’ service charge, payable in advance. They were afraid to go out because of the Uber killer, so stayed in. After changing into their exotic performance attire, the women undertook strange rituals, though not on Hermann, frotting the fixtures and fittings, eroticising the apartment. Their gestures seemed perfunctory, their hearts not in it. Hermann could hardly be surprised. There was nothing about the place that turned him on, for all the come-hither seductiveness of the brochure (hollow laughter). Sometimes he wondered if he wasn’t inadvertently squatting in the wrong building; easily done as so many of these new blocks were abandoned before occupation.
Hermann had his epiphany: he was superfluous to the young women’s performance because he had already been screwed, buying the apartment in the first place, which was why the women were now treating it as the client, one of them dropping a magnificent Jeff Koons turd on the white shag pile rug.
A crash from the bathroom. Hermann wondered if the young women in their becoming latex and rubberware were agents for poltergeists, or performing some exorcism. Tiles fell off the bathroom walls. The shower attachment fell out, seemingly of its own accord. A foul-smelling liquid emanated from electrical and light sockets: beyond any regular construction faults. The kitchen microwave removed itself from its built-in unit and performed a 360 degree turn; very Linda Blair!
‘The address shines with luxurious details and inner calm,’ one of the young women recited from the Deni-zen bible brochure while the other produced a thurible and incense. Hermann. thought: It was a hive of repressed malevolence! He addressed them: ‘You must persuade the building to levitate and relocate to the “inner heart of the City” where it has been described as residing, rather than being stuck on its insalubrious perimeter, on an inauspicious ley line, to boot.’ The women did their magic. The building shuddered but did not rise. They had failed to make the earth move, thought Hermann, disappointed, and in the living room (more inner calm and a slightly nauseous smell) the Samsung QE65Q9F QLED HDR 2000 4K Ultra HD Smart TV, 65 inches, groaned orgasmically before emitting a shower of sparks.
The young women expressed disappointment, compared to what they had achieved in other apartments. Most spectacularly they had changed the natural light in one to resemble a total eclipse even though it remained daylight outside.
‘Not bright daylight. Because there is nothing bright about this development or the suckers that bought into it. What shall we play now? Read the small print?’
They played Hermann hiding in the closet, with the door closed, dressed in an adult diaper and suspended from the rail, among his whispering hangers, with a Waitrose tangerine stuffed in his mouth, listening to the young women frolic outside. Hermann woke up tied to the bed with no idea of how he had got there. ‘They must have spiked my drink,’ he thought and on the mirror scrawled in lipstick he read: Fascist pig! And in brackets: (What you told us to write). He had no memory. It took three hours to untie himself — in terms of knots, Hermann had seen nothing like it since his last Strauss-Kahn orgy. He shared the illustrious S-K’s view: ‘I always believed that these women came for me — because of who I am.’
There had been no residents’ meetings yet for lack of numbers to form a quorum but Hermann already had in mind to propose that the penthouse suite be renamed after Strauss-Kahn rather than the knockabout joker now in temporary international disgrace following an inappropriate act involving Angela Merkel and a potted houseplant; the next party leader, everyone said.
Although technically still daylight, Hermann’s room seemed to be cast in a state of even more permanent gloom, with a thin sliver of disappearing sunlight appearing on the wall for what he counted as ten minutes. He was sure it had been there on previous days for longer. After all, the winter solstice was past and the days were lengthening. Free from his bonds at last, he bound to his feet, energised, as his handy rang. He sighed. Mutti!
Mutti disapproved of Hermann’s away weekends in London to explore what she referred to as the scene. The point of an investment was that it remained empty and was not for the owner’s benefit, other than accumulation of profit. Mutti seemed incapable of grasping that prices were in fact going down. Maybe she was right; it was considered bad luck to stay in such apartments. Many Deni-zen owners preferred when in town to stay at the Thistle City Barbican at a hundred and forty quid a night rather than risk misfortune.
The Chinese were so superstitious, and rapacious. According to Hermann’s sources in the local ale houses — into which he ventured in fear and trepidation, on intelligence-gathering missions, in exchange for an open tab behind the bar — it was rumoured that the whole Deni-zen development had been a done deal in anticipation of the real deal, which was the elimination of all surrounding green space, as a result of an arrangement between Hong Kong triads, who twittered as ‘Face of Fu Manchu’, and committees of Freemasons, twittering as ‘secret world domination’.
Hermann was reading about property development in the Third Reich. Auschwitz — nice old town, surprisingly tolerant of Jews, given that it was the Poles, until the German beasties turned up with their utopian ideals to turn the place into a green paradise — organic farming, land reclamation, climate change for the better — lasting about six months before the developers moved in. Huge petrochemical factory. Land grab! Tax breaks! Government subsidies. Green lit all the way . . . and look where that ended up.
There were signs already, it was being whispered in the nearest ale house, a dive in Whitecross Street, full of shifty types pretending to pass themselves off as yuppies but clearly part of the deprived community. The local school in the park had already been evacuated, on grounds that it was too close to the City borders, prior to making it a child-free zone. The children had been transferred to a seemingly unnecessary new school a few hundred yards up Golden Lane in the adjacent borough. Just south of it on the border a 1970s-style Belfast road block had been set up: an up-and-down barrier bought off eBay and what looked like B&Q garden huts serving as sentry boxes, plus a lot of sandbags from the local Travis Perkins builders merchants. Soldiers in camouflage fatigues, with jauntily tilted berets and downward-pointing rifles, checked cars and personnel passing in and out while studiously ignoring the black Astra parked fifty yards up the road conducting its drug business en plein soleil, with a long queue taking selfies.
One evening a neighbour introduced herself by ringing Hermann’s bell. Strict, older, frighteningly plausible, possibly corrective. In public relations. She said she was organising donations for a welcome party for a disgraced Hollywood film actor and an even more disgraced Hollywood film producer, both of whom had bought into the Deni-zen as part of their rehab programme — estate agents were marketing it as an approved destination for celebrity serial sex offenders and bankrupts. Incomers included several disgraced MPs known for being handsy. Hermann thought of the actor. He had allegedly lain drunk on some sleeping fellow — as one does — and squeezed some bums at faggot central —ditto — and he was RUINED. Really? Fifty quid a head, said the woman. Hermann replied that he would love to but no cash. She produced a credit-card dispenser, identical to the one used by the escort women. Hermann coughed up.
Rumours abounded about why the park was ‘temporarily’ closed: that it was in the process of becoming a private space for the exclusive use of Deni-zen residents (good); or that this was a soft rumour being peddled by spin merchants to disguise that the developer had purchased the space for redevelopment. As for the road block, no one was sure if it was a Jeremy Deller installation or a sign of the City setting itself up as an independent military government within the larger metropolis, or perhaps both. The most ironic rumour was a replica of the building that had been demolished to make way for the Deni-zen — a police dormitory block — was to be recreated brick for brick in the park, as key-worker housing for the military to control the area. Already there was talk on the communal notice board of a Deni-zen action committee to protest, with the plaintive request: How many to quorum [sic]?
A subversive blog put out by an innocuous-sounding young woman, fronting for what Hermann suspected were drug-crazed anarchists offered the most extreme scenario: that the whole Deni-zen affair was part of a side deal pre-agreed with the Chinese, prior to leasing the City for 99 years on a post-Brexit Hong Kong-style contract, on condition that the park was eventually turned into a huge factory, bringing back industry to the centre, as part of a treaty signed with President Trump, now embarked on a third term (unprecedented since the warmonger Roosevelt) to increase global warming as a way of reducing domestic heating costs.
The blog also claimed to have unearthed evidence of a five-year plan to abandon any education policy. Local kiddies would be deported to adjacent boroughs where, like Dickensian urchins of yore, they would be put to work. This was considered the ‘kinder solution’, given that it was universally agreed that education was a waste of time. Plus, since the Vodacom-Nike wars, previously rich City workers now jobless would be grateful for a place on the factory floor. Hermann had heard that the whole programme was part of a reverse eco-policy, to ramp up pollution and reduce light levels, because humans would adapt to these new conditions, given that the universe was f***ed anyway.
Mutti admonished Hermann for negative cultural thinking. Not fair; he had devoted much thought to the placebo effect and wondered if there was an economic equivalent. Did economics suffer from psychosomatic disorder (the English economy, for instance), and shouldn’t those quacks in alternative medicine devote their time to developing lucrative alternative economies? Is a shrinking economy in need of shrinks, ho ho? (Hermann had devoted many idle moments over the years to thinking about the conundrum of an expanding contracting company, and wished he had one.)
Standing in his lonely room, listening to Mutti drone on, and staring at the monsoon-lashed streets (a microclimate that now extended to Chinese weather), in whatever the stage beyond twilight was called, he had a sudden yen to hear Robert Palmer singing Doctor, Doctor, Give me the News (I’ve Got a Bad Case of Loving You). (Hermann remembered the stage after twilight was called night.) ‘Should feng shui be applied to the money market?’ he asked Mutti, who was dismissive: ‘It’s called astrology.’ She thought economics was not a mental exercise as it was no longer an extension of human thinking, but viral and rogue. She was greatly exercised by the role of charity as the link between the abstract rampage of out-of-control economics (‘The black! The black!’) and third world disease. Charity was the new colonialism. Mutti’s latest slogan was, ‘Scrap the money. Give us the charity.’ Hermann wondered if the British shopping riots of 2011 were an early manifestation of ‘the people’ showing the way. Mutti, mysterious, said: ‘Why do you think I had a Blackberry?’
Mutti told Hermann that Reichsführer-SS Himmler’s preference was for Blackberry whereas Goebbels and Goering were staunch iPhone men. ‘What is the dictator’s choice of handy?’ mused Mutti rhetorically.
The Samsung Mugabe . . . it could work, thought Hermann. My Blackberry Putin. Maybe even a special edition, in association with YouTube, of Blackberry’s ‘Blueberry’ Putin, in homage to the great leader’s 2010 charity fundraiser rendition of Fats Waller, whose ringtone is Vlad’s version of the song (Blueberry Hill, Club Killers Tramp Remix).