THERE AREN’T MANY CONTRACT KILLERS IN BIRMINGHAM...
A new novel
Cementing my position as 'not even the best drummer in The Beatles', my brother has decided he's now also a writer and has started strong by penning a bloody novel. As much as I want to snap his necklace and chuck him in a dog bowl, it's really very good and uses Brum brilliantly as a backdrop. Here's an excerpt from The Balancing Act, which you can buy on Amazon.
‘Brutalism!’ Brian exclaimed abruptly.
Dixon almost had a heart attack. ‘Excuse me?’ he replied wide-eyed, looking scared to death. Having a hitman bark the word Brutalism in your general direction was bloody frightening. Various images of torture rapidly ran through his mind, and he wondered whether he was about to be brutalised himself. Christ, this whole murder business was going to be the death of him.
‘Brutalism, Paul. Look over there.’ Brian pointed over towards the railway lines. ‘See that? That’s the New Street Station signal box. It’s Brutalism. It’s an architectural style, Paul.’
‘Oh. Ok,’ he replied and puffed out a sigh of relief. Sweat was gushing off him.
‘I’ll tell you what it is, Paul. It’s beautiful. It’s angry, all straight lines and sharp angles, but beautiful nonetheless.’ Brian had read this in his book, so he knew it to be true.
‘I hadn’t considered it, to be honest. I mean, it’s just a signal box, isn’t it?’
‘It’s not even that now, Paul. At least, it won’t be. Train movements, they’re all electronically controlled these days, miles from here, by a man in an office somewhere. But the building itself? Bloody beautiful. Birmingham was famous for its Brutalist buildings once, Paul. We had dozens of them, spread about everywhere across the city. And what did we do with them?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘We knocked the sodding things down, Paul. That’s what we did. We knocked the sodding things down.’
There was a pause. Paul nodded carefully, pretending to know what was going on, although he had to admit to himself he had absolutely no idea. Why were they talking about a signal box, for God’s sake?
‘Take the old library, for example,’ Brian continued.
‘The old library.’
‘Oh, yes. Right, now I’ve seen pictures of that. Victorian, I think? Very ornate. Very nice.’
‘No, Paul. That’s the old old library. Victorian, true, and very grand. It was just up the hill from here. Granted, bloody beautiful. And it’s true, we knocked that sodding thing down too. But I’m on about the new old library. The one after the old old library. A bloke called Madin designed it. A good Brummie lad. And a Brutalist.’
Dixon shuddered at the word again. Brian continued. ‘All corners and edges and concrete and stuff. It looked like an upside-down pyramid. Bloody beautiful. Or pig ugly, frankly, depending on your point of view.’
‘Yeh. Controversial, you see. That style of building, it splits opinions.’
‘But love it or hate it, you had an opinion on it. You just had to. Very interesting piece of work, that library. And what did we do with that one, Paul?’
‘I don’t know Brian.’
‘We knocked that sodding thing down as well.’
The pair were still strolling down Hill Street, and Brian thought that to the rest of the world, the two men probably looked like two good pals out for a walk, shooting the breeze. In reality, Dixon was so confused he could have cried.
‘And now we’ve got the new new library. All golds and blues and circles and what have you. Interesting. And bloody b...’
Brian stopped. The book he was reading hadn’t got this up to date. He hadn’t been told whether to think the new building was bloody beautiful or pig ugly. He had no reference point.
‘Yeh… bloody Broad Street… that’s where that is.’
He made a mental note to look up what his opinion was meant to be on the new library. He would need to find a more up-to-date reference book. Later though, when he had a bit more bloody time on his hands.
Meanwhile, Dixon continued to wonder what the hell was going on. Why was he now discussing library buildings with a contract killer when he was supposed to be arranging a hit on his boss? It was bewildering, and he was sweating more and more. He wiped his brow with a handkerchief. He needed to get out of there soon, otherwise he was sure he was going to have another panic attack.
Tragically for Dixon, Brian continued. ‘And then you’ve got New Street Station itself, just over there, Paul. All space age and silver and shiny and what have you. Wall-to-wall gleaming metal. Bloody beautiful. Must be a pain in the arse to polish though, don’t you think?’
‘Well, I guess so, Brian, yes.’
‘Of course, it didn’t always look like that. Back in the day, you know, in the 1800s, it was a grand old thing. Big hotel at the front, massive old train shed at the back. And what was it?’
Paul paused and thought carefully. ‘Erm… Beautiful?’ He dared.
‘Damn right, Paul. Bloody beautiful.’
Dixon calmed down a little. He’d spotted the pattern. It seemed buildings were bloody beautiful and then we knocked the sodding things down. He could actually add something to the conversation now. Relieved, he waited for the next question.
‘And that lovely 1800s station, Paul, what do you think we did with it?’
‘Umm… We knocked the sodding thing down!’ asserted Paul.
‘Correct, Paul, correct.’ Brian offered a smile in Dixon’s direction. Paul was suddenly feeling much better.
‘And so, we built another one. Nineteen sixties this was. Brand new station. And what was it, Paul?’
‘Bloody beautiful!’ Paul stated, triumphantly.
‘No! Absolutely not; it was a total shithole! Christ, man, did you never go there? Dear God, that place! It was one of the nine circles of hell! Even the rats moved to Wolverhampton.’
‘Oh, right, sorry…’ Paul whispered weakly. Perspiration appeared on his brow once again.
‘Oh, indeed. Thankfully, we knocked that sodding thing down too, Paul. And now we’ve got that shiny old place. There it is, look, sparkling in the sunlight. Bloody beautiful. Sort of. I mean, in fairness, it does just look like it’s been smothered in tin foil, but it’s futuristic. Resembles a spaceship of sorts, like the UFO out of Mars Attacks. You’d be forgiven for thinking that if you ventured inside you’d get probed up the arse while you’re in the queue at Boots. And then there’s the weirdest thing: when you want to leave, you can’t. There’s something like four hundred and twelve different exits, but none of them are in the same place as they were yesterday. All very strange.’
They stopped walking for a moment and stared at the metal-clad building, gleaming in the summer sun.
‘Beautiful,’ Brian stated again, but this time with some sort of finality. That was enough small talk, he thought. It was clear Dixon didn’t know anything about buildings, so the discussion was fruitless.
With a final flurry, Brian added, ‘Of course, the trains are all still cancelled, mind, the arseholes. But some things never change, eh? Anyway, to business… Paul, tell me your story.’
The Balancing Act, by Matthew Cullen, is available on Amazon at £9.99 in paperback and £3.21 on Kindle.
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