Everyone was in the kitchen when I came down the stairs with Jenny. When I say everyone, I mean Cheng, Mandy plus kid, Lillian and a bunch of demons. It was a little crowded with Cheerios everywhere.
I took a left and went into the living room. I wasn’t in the mood to have one of those ‘here’s the plan’ type meetings, where I layout the heist in detail and the team each takes on their specialist role. We weren’t a team and no one had specialised in anything, apart from maybe Mandy who I was sure could suck a golf ball through a hose pipe. I’m not sure how that would be used to break into a high-security building, but it would probably involve squirming through air shafts and through some kind of laser grid.
From the living room window, I could see the lawn and the wall beyond it. There was no one left outside, the wall had been rebuilt and the portal was gone. Just another day in northwest London.
You would think the commotion we’d made might have been noticed by the neighbours. Police, reporters, bored children — someone would raise the alarm and the world would learn of the existence of monsters and demons, but no. Then again, we live in a world where priests and politicians do all sorts of sick shit that gets reported and forgotten and fifty years later there’s a major operation to round up some radio DJs. Evil works in even more mysterious ways than God.
The point being, monsters need help to stay hidden, and they get it. The machinery was already in place to keep the most recent outbreak under wraps.
“What?” said Jenny, a slight look of concern on her face.
I sat down on the sofa. To be honest, I wasn’t in the mood to go running off to save the world. This one or the other one. “Nothing,” I said. “I’m just feeling a bit drowsy. I forgot sex was like that.”
Jenny’s eyebrows crawled together. One of them wasn’t much more than a scarred bump. It’s actually quite hard to read facial expressions when half of them are missing. Fortunately, Jenny was happy to help out with some verbal hints.
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
Her insecurity flaring up like that made me smile. Strong women are still weak to having their sex appeal called into question, even when it’s not. You’re not supposed to objectify women — it’s dehumanising and misogynistic — which is why I strongly suggest they stop doing it to themselves. No one listens.
“It means it takes a lot more out of me than when I’m self-partnered,” I explained. “Sex with someone else is draining on a lot of different levels. I’m not sure why.”
“Isn’t it obvious?” said Jenny. “You’re giving more of yourself. Emotionally, psychically, spiritually…”
“No,” I said, “I don’t think that’s it. I suspect there’s something in the vagina that women have kept secret from us. Some sort of vampiric parasite.” Seemed like a much more plausible explanation to me.
Jenny stared at me like she’d only now realised she’d just had sex with a buffoon. And who did that put in a poor light?
“It’s not a vampiric parasite, it’s human connection on a primal level,” she said.
“Potato, potahto,” I said. Game and set to the man in the clown makeup.
“Are we not going, then?” she asked, no pressure, just wanting to know the schedule for the rest of the day.
I let out a long sigh. “I suppose so.”
Motivation is a strange thing. It comes from somewhere and you’re eager to get the thing done. Then it goes away without warning and you can’t be bothered. It’s some weird sort of mind control, controlled by your own mind but independent of you.
I know what you’re thinking.
Colin, I think you’re great, you look great in skinny jeans, you’ve got a cool attitude that always impresses and I like the way you think. But… when you’re with that girl, I don’t know, man, you’re different. It’s not that I don’t like her, but when you’re together, you change. You’re just not you.
Am I close? To be honest, I often think the same thing. I’m a self-aware animal, I sense when I’m acting off-message. Thing is, I understand why I’m doing it. You can’t be the same person when you’re in a couple. At least, you shouldn’t be.
There are ways to do it. You can live separate lives, meeting up for short, intense periods, and then separating to do your own thing. And what you get if you do that is Woody Allen. That’s how he used to live with Mia Farrow, and see how that turned out?
Willingness to adapt or Woody. Those are your two choices. And not the earlier, funnier Woody. Pretentious, Bergman is my muse and ‘let me tell you about the love between a fifty-year-old-man and a seventeen-year-old girl’ Woody.
There’s no middle ground. You might like to think there is, but there isn't. That space is where the movies and novels go, the ones that pretend there’s another way. Most of them written by Woody.
“You understand this is important, right?” said Jenny.
“It isn’t important,” I said. “But why do you care what I think? I said I’d do it, didn’t I?”
Jenny was not too impressed with my surly attitude. “It’s important because it’s about you. The reason we’re going back is because of you.”
“I thought we were going back to pull Claire and Maurice out of whatever shit they’ve got themselves into.”
“That’s just what we — you — will have to do to achieve the real goal.”
“Which is what?”
“Taking over and running the place,” said Jenny.
“Hey, woah, alright, just back it up.” I stood up and backed away from her. Same thing, me backing up, her backing up, relatively speaking. “When did I agree to that?”
“It’s the only way to fix everything,” said Jenny.
“No, it isn’t. And since when did you start running the logistics department, Lady MacB? How do you know the best way to fix everything?”
There is, of course, part of each of us that likes to think it has stuff figured out. As you get older, experience slowly pushes it out of you. Some squeezing and bearing down may be required. But early on, running with an idea, whatever it is, seems like the obvious thing to do. It’s especially rewarding when you’re prevented from doing so and someone else gets to take point, and fails miserably. Then you can convince yourself your idea would have succeeded without actually having to prove it.
“Do you really want to stay here?” said Jenny. “Where we don’t get to have any say in what goes on? This place offers us nothing.”
“Okay, I agree with that. It’s worth abandoning this ship, for sure. But that doesn’t mean I’m any more qualified to give the orders over there than the idiots in charge here.”
“True,” said Jenny, “but unfortunately, if you leave the position vacant, the idiots will take over. That’s the problem. If the right person refuses the job, the wrong person will take it.”
She had a point. I mean about the wrong people grabbing the steering wheel. It would be nice if only reasonable, well-qualified people put themselves forward for leadership roles, but we all know that isn’t the way it goes.
“I don’t see why it has to be me, though.” I was struggling to worm my way out of this one. Obviously, I could just flat out say no, and if that didn’t work, punch Jenny in the face and make a break for the border. No, I’m not advocating hitting women, I just know I’d need a headstart, and physical violence was my only hope. I would, of course, face the consequences if she caught me. I’m not Chirs Brown, I wouldn’t expect my music career to go unaffected.
“It either has to be you in charge,” she said, “or you have to sit in the back and keep an eye on things so no one gets out of line.” She had clearly put some thought into this.
Neither option sounded very appealing. “There are never just two options,” I said.
“I’m sure there are others,” she agreed — always a dangerous moment. “But the others are just variations on the same theme. And they all require you to be present. You can’t leave things running and expect them to be still going in the same direction when you come back. You’ve only been gone a little while, and the place is already falling apart.”
“Even if you’re right, eventually, I’ll die, and then what?” Great leaders, or even me, don’t last forever, and the people who supported and helped them always end up being a bunch of self-serving tossers just waiting for their chance to call the shots.
“Then we won’t let you die. We have magic over there. We’ll make you one of the undead if we have to.”
Suddenly, things had taken a rather bizarre turn. “I’m not sure I want to be a lich king, thanks. They don’t have a retirement plan, no pension, terrible skin condition.”
“Fine. You’ll think of something. A curse on anyone who becomes the leader. If they do something shitty, they die in agony.”
“Sounds like a system open to abuse,” I said. “What if the guy’s a masochist?”
Negotiating my rise to tyranny was actually quite enjoyable, as is any form of procrastination. But at the end of the day, the main reason I was willing to go back was because coming here had been so disappointing. Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again, and he wasn’t even from Tottenham.
Even with powers, the state of this world was unbearable.
“I’m not going to take over,” I said. “But I will go back.”
“Okay,” said Jenny, as though she was sure she’d be able to convert my lack of enthusiasm once we were there.
Not necessarily a bad thing. Everyone thinks like that. What matters is how you go about it. With Jenny, it involved open-minded debate, clearly laid out reasoning, and lots of transactional sex. I’m not sure if you would call it negotiation or arbitration, but if unions and management used her method, I’m sure there would be a lot less friction in the boardroom (as long as someone brought along some lubrication).
“Have you two come to a decision?” asked Mandy. “Only, your arguing has made the demons quite depressed.”
The demons, who were moping around, wings all droopy, did seem a lot less perky than before. I assumed it was because they weren’t allowed to eat anyone earlier.
“Yes,” said Jenny. She looked at me. “Right?”
“Sure,” I said. Jenny gave me a look. I waved the wooden sword about. “To battle!”
“Good,” said Jenny. “How do we get back?”
“Lillian’s going to take us to the Orion building,” I said.
“No,” said Lillian, carefully sidling against the wall to avoid touching any demons. “I told you, I can’t.”
“You can and you will,” said Jenny, turning her powers of persuasion on Lillian. If she was planning on using the same method on her as she used on me, this would be interesting.
“Look,” said Lillian, “I’ve only just got back from Bletchley Park. That’s in Milton Keynes.” She spoke with undisguised horror, which is understandable if you’ve ever been to Milton Keynes. “My boss isn’t happy about how things are going so far, he won’t just authorise a company seizure on this scale. Especially not this company.”
“Get him on the phone,” I said. “I’ll speak to him. I’m sure I can give him something he wants in exchange.”
Lillian took out her phone and called her boss. She kept her eyes on me the whole time, so I guess he was the only person in her contacts list. That’s goths for you. Billy-no-mates of the fashion scene.
She spoke to him, explaining what I wanted. She winced as she got told no, but then mentioned that I was willing to offer something in return. This got a more favourable response and she handed the phone over to me.
“Hello,” I said. Concise yet professional. “Who is this?”
“It’s better if you don’t know.” He had a deep voice, very James Earl Jones, if he was a posh white man. “I know what you think of all of us. You have no intention of joining any side. What is it you think can change my mind?”
“Okay, well, bit blunt, but straight to the point.” I did my best not to dither, but I was never very good on the phone. “I need to get inside the Orion building, up to the top floor. I want you to send a team with me. Once we get there, I will open the portal to the other side. At that point, your people will be the only ones there. If you can get in, good luck to you.”
There was a pause. “You’re saying you won’t stop us?”
“No, I’ll probably try. But if you’re good enough, you’ll think of a way to get past me. And if you’re not good enough, you’re hardly going to do very well over there, are you?”
“That’s it? The chance to go through when you do, even though you’ll try to prevent it?”
Another pause. “Done.”
I gave the phone back to Lillian. She listened and nodded. Maybe it was an advanced model where head movements were registered.
“Alright,” said Lillian. “We’ve got a green light. I’ll take you there.”
“Good,” said Jenny. Then she jumped on Lillian.
We’d already concluded the deal-making portion of events, so I wasn’t sure what this was supposed to achieve, but who was I to interfere?
Lillian made very little noise as she tried to get out from under Jenny. It was a futile effort. Jenny had been trained by lizards, squirmiest bastards out there. Her hands were everywhere, groping, probing, sliding around inside Lillian’s clothes. I mean, I’d had a bit of lizard-training myself, so I could probably free myself from Jenny’s clutches, but why would I want to?
Objects started hitting the floor. Devices, weapons, bits of wire, tape that made Lillian squeal when it was ripped off — pretty soon, there was quite a collection.
Jenny let her go and stood up. “You don’t take us anywhere wired up or armed. And while I’m here, you don’t think about him like that anymore. I’m the only one allowed to have those sorts of thoughts.”
“Do you have your powers here?” I asked Jenny.
“Then how do you know she was having lewd thoughts about me?”
“Lewd?” said Jenny, confused. “I was talking about her thinking of ways to kill you. I don’t share my hobbies.”
And with that merry thought, we set off on our journey home.