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Authors: Ben Elton

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Stark

BOOK: Stark
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Stark

by Ben Elton

1989

Stark has more money than God and the social conscience of a dog on a croquet lawn. What’s more, they know the Earth is dying, so deep in Western Australia a planet-sized plot takes shape. Unfortunately all that stands in the way of the conspiracy are four inept green freaks.

1: BREAKFAST IN CARLO

C
arlton is a little coastal town some miles south of Perth in Western Australia. They’re a strange contrast those two towns. Perth is home to a higher density of millionaires than any other city in the world, but just down the road in Carlton people hang kind of looser. Certainly the place has its fair share of bread-heads and hustlers, but it’s still got a laid back feel. Boats and cafes and taking it easy are the things a visitor carries away in the memory.

Perth gets up in the morning and says, ‘OK let’s do it, let’s make money, let’s get on with a load of really high-powered stuff right now!’

Some mornings Carlton doesn’t get up.

It’s a nice place to holiday in, or retire to, so actually quite a bit of money is made there in a gentle kind of way, a lot of it by a man called Silvester (or Sly) Moorcock. Sly lived in Perth, he was one of that city’s many self-made rich, smug bastards, and finding the need to get further into property for tax reasons, he had bought up all the old granny duplex’s and made Carlton (or Carlo to its friends), one of his many possessions. Some of it he knocked down, some of it he rented out. Some of it looked as if he’d got half-way through knocking it down but then changed his mind and decided to rent it out. Such a place was occupied by Colin.

Yes, Sly owned Carlo, but he didn’t rule the roost — not in Colin’s little part of town anyway. All right, so Sly could have evicted Colin. Also, if Colin had had a job, Sly could have made him redundant. He could have impounded his possessions and done him for non-payment of rent. But so what? Colin didn’t really own anything anyway and when it’s time to move on, it’s time to move on.

No, Sly didn’t bother Colin overmuch. So the guy was a billionaire, what could he really do to you? Nothing. In the searing heat and natural abundance of a Carlton summer, Colin had much more pressing enemies than Sly. Let’s face it, Sly was unlikely to appear as if from nowhere, on Colin’s bread-board and make him feel like throwing up. He wasn’t going to creep into the fridge and hide in the folded spout of the milk carton so that when Colin popped back the spout wings, there he would be! all horrid and scuttley! Then, off like a bullet, but not before he’d shocked Colin into dropping the milk and ruined Colin’s day.

Sly Moorcock was more powerful than God in Carlton, but Colin had never had to throw the butter away because he’d found Sly having a fuck in it — it takes a special kind of bastard to make you do that. Colin’s enemies were cockroaches, he had no time to worry about billionaires.

2: COCKIES

C
ockroaches have an extraordinary physical resilience. You can smash one to bits on your living room floor leaving it in numerous cockroachie pieces and a little later when you have steeled yourself to clearing it up, it’s gone! It’s cleaned itself up! Some say that other cockroaches have simply come and carried it away to have for their dinner but this is not true. Cockroaches are definitely bionic, they can rebuild themselves. If you put the shattered corpse of one in the bin, it will wait until you are gone and then slowly pull itself back together again, gluing on its head with its own horrid goo. Then, when it is ready, a born-again cockie, bigger, scarier and somehow managing to have more legs than it started off with, it will scuttle out, refreshed, from a mound of potato peelings making obscene gestures at you with its little cockroach fist.

Nothing is more deflating than being sneered at by a cockroach. It is said that cockroaches would survive a nuclear war better than anything. They would brush off fall-out like they brush off being smashed to bits with a shoe.

As Colin lay in bed, watching with distaste the phoenix of a new cockie rising out of the ruin of its dead self, it seemed to him eminently likely that in the barren aftermath of the final folly; when the poison winds blow cruelly over the rotting debris of us, the previous top dogs, cockroaches will inherit the earth. After all, they had clearly already inherited Carlton. Colin was thinking of charging them rent.

Perhaps, he thought, the government had been conducting secret nuclear tests and the holocaust had already come to Western Australia.

3: POMMIE POSEUR

C
olin was a pom. He’d lived in Oz since he was thirteen but that doesn’t make any difference, if you’re a pom, you’re a pom. The Aussies have a strange double standard when it comes to poms. For instance, they are fairly happy to cheer Lady Di and have a Union Jack on their flag, but that doesn’t stop most of them calling you a whingeing pommie wanker if you happen to remark that it’s hot when the mercury’s pushing 40 °C.

Colin did not care. However hot it was Colin always thought he was cool — small and cool. He was one of those rare people who try to be cool and somehow manage in the process to be a bit cool — not much, but a bit. He was so unashamed about his pretensions that they kind of worked. For instance, despite living in Oz, he managed to speak in an accent that was situated somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, half-way between Britain and the USA — having arrived at this location via some pretty groovy forties movies and some equally crucial rock lyrics. By rights this should have been horrible, marking Colin down as the worst kind of poseur, but it didn’t. It almost did, but it didn’t.

Probably it didn’t because Colin wouldn’t have minded being considered a poseur, in fact he would have thought being called a poseur quite an interesting pose. Everybody poses, the coolest people pose most of all, they just make it seem natural. Colin had a picture on his damp patch of Brando in The Wild One, dressed in leather, leaning on his Triumph with a little peaked cap on his head, tilted to one side, looking slightly off-camera with an expression on his face that seemed to’be saying: ‘Listen, I may be sensitive, confused and inarticulate but I could still beat seventeen types of shit out of you, OK?’ Now that was posing, but nobody minded because it was Brando. He remained cool, even though he was an utter poseur with a damp patch behind him.

It’s all a question of confidence. Colin never had any money, but he acted like he was loaded. Poverty was always a temporary problem for Colin. His present period had lasted about twenty-five years.

His clothes were piss-poor but he wore them with aplomb. He would practise things like opening and lighting his Zippo lighter with just one hand and throwing cigarettes up in the air and catching them in his mouth. Strangely this did not make him look like a total wanker — it nearly did, but not quite. There was a tiny degree of charm in the way Colin accepted his many failures with the same easy confidence that he greeted his few successes. When Colin missed his mouth with the fag he acted the same as if he’d scored a hit. When he burned his thumb with the lighter he yelped with pain in a manner that suggested that pretty soon anyone who was anyone would be burning their fingers on Zippo’s and yelping with pain. Colin’s surname was Dobson. Being aware that James Dean would never have been cast in ‘Rebel’ if his name had been Colin Dobson, Colin called himself CD. Since the advent of compact discs this had given Colin an opportunity to do his great joke about being perfect, clear and flawless. Astonishingly he managed to deliver this without sounding like the biggest dickhead in history. He came a very close second.

4: BREAKFAST THOUGHTS

C
D got out from under his grey duvet and lit a fag, he missed his mouth twice which delayed the evil moment of lighting up by about ten seconds. This was good, CD was trying to introduce a programme of starting later in the day and even ten seconds counted. His problem was he didn’t want to give up, he really liked smoking, he was one of that ever dwindling group of people who still thought it looked cool. Like most committed smokers, he worried about it all the time. Unfortunately, whenever he found himself dwelling on the proven dangers of the weed he got so uptight he had to have a fag.

‘Catch 22,’ he would say, throwing one up towards his mouth. Which was ironic really because he probably hadn’t caught twenty-two in his entire life.

As CD fished about in the dirty clothes bag for a pair of pants that had only been worn once, he thought his morning thoughts. He thought, as he thought every morning, that it was time to go to the launderette. He thought, as he always did, that it was time to get a new toothbrush. The bristles on his present one were flattened so far back that they were parted in the middle. He had a toothbrush that looked like the top of Oscar Wilde’s head.

He hoped, as he always did, that the state of the exterior of the kettle did not reflect upon its internal cleanliness. Logic, of course, insists that the outside of a kettle is an entirely separate entity to the inside, but none the less the thick, greasy, dusty gunge that coated the whole thing was a bit disquieting.

Yet again, as CD wandered through to the kitchen, he tried to gather together the resolve to throw away all his crockery apart from one bowl and one dinner plate. It was, after all, nearly two months since he had done a proper wash-up, his life was a series of mini wash-ups. A plate in the evening for toast, a bowl in the morning for Weetabix. The rest of the pile just sat in the sink laying low his spirits whenever he looked at it. In a world crowded with tiny bummers there is little more depressing than an ancient sinkful of scummy washing-up.

Of course, CD conceded, the alternative to junking it would be to wash it all up, but what false hopes lay in that cheating dream? CD knew that doing the washing-up just meant a brief, transitory illusion. A cruel glimpse of an unattainable civilization where one plucked a mug or a plate at will from the tempting gleaming pile — squandered resources — and made each new coffee in a fresh cup. A paradise soon lost, and in an obscenely brief time, the pile is back, only this time it seems bigger, scummier, even more teetering. CD considered himself an ecologically concerned person. And yet, like everybody else, he would sooner use a clean cup than wash up a dirty one.

There was a cocky struggling in the water, wriggling, what looked to be its last wriggle. Knowing cockies it probably had a set of scuba gear. CD stared at it in a morning trance, the dirty cockie in the dirty washing-up in the dirty little house that was owned by Sly Moorcock.

5: DINNER IN LOS ANGELES

S
ly Moorcock himself was feeling pretty elated. It had been years since he had genuinely appreciated any of the things that his enormous success had brought him. The thrill of acquiring and consuming had long since faded for Sly. He would never recapture those early joys and he knew it. None the less, as the car left the airport he was feeling good enough to at least enjoy the memory of them.

‘Welcome to Los Angeles,’ the chauffeur said, ‘I believe you’ll find we have some gorgeous weather laid on for you.’

Sly grabbed his chance, ‘If I want a disc jockey, kid, I’ll buy a radio station. Drive the car.’ Sly grinned to himself, he had been acting like a rich, arrogant bastard for so many years now he’d forgotten how good it could feel.

Being rude is one of the principal hobbies of the wealthy. Not very rude, just a bit rude, constantly brusque and impatient, implying that one’s own life is much more important than that of the person you are talking to. This attitude is at its most satisfying when applied to pretty girls at hotel receptions. Sly remembered nostalgically the warm masculine glow and the tremendous erection that had consumed him the first time he had really flexed his muscles in this manner.

‘I’m sorry, Sir, but the room isn’t ready yet, perhaps you would like to…’

‘What I’d like, dear, is my room, right now, OK lovely? I don’t care how you do it poppet, but do it. You may have time to polish your nails young lady, but I have a business to run.’

There was something monumentally saucy about a pretty girl in a prim little outfit, with her first name pinned to her tit, hating you so bad that she’d like to kill you and not being able to do a thing about it. The same game could be played with some airline hostesses.

But on the whole those thrills were history for Sly. He had had to learn the hard way that the difference between being poor and not being poor is far greater than the difference between being rich and being stupidly rich. Being able to own a swimming pool is physical pleasure, being able to own hundreds of them is just an abstract idea. Sly had only one dick, only one stomach. There was only so much he could do for them, and yet each day he worked harder to get more of what he didn’t need and couldn’t use.

6: EMPIRE-BUILDING

W
hat fun it had been, back in the early seventies when Sly had done his first major deals. Then it had seemed to him that there was an almost frontier, empire-building spirit to his corporate battles. As if he too was using guts, balls and naked cunning to build a new Jerusalem, just like those early Aussie pioneers in their slouch hats and broken boots. How fondly he remembered the days when, with flares flapping round his ankles and kipper tie a foot across, he had lost a friend every time he picked up the phone.

Sly had been one of the very first corporate raiders. He had really been a part of developing the whole craft — or art form as Sly preferred to put it. Even twenty years later he often dwelt fondly on how amazingly clever he had been.

It had started in a pub. Sly was having a beer with an old friend from school and the old friend from school was very upset about his family pie-making business.

‘We should never have moved into ham and cheese,’ the old friend from school was saying, ‘ham and cheese is a poof’s pie. I told Dad, I said, ‘Dad, ham and cheese is a poof’s pie. The great Australian bloke is not going to take kindly to having to build the best bloody country in the world on ham and cheese pie.’ ’

‘He wants meat,’ sympathized Sly. ‘Of course he wants meat,’ the old friend from school said, ‘you can’t surf all day and root all night on ham and cheese.’

BOOK: Stark
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