After, (for there is always an after, the story goes on, there is neither resolution or finality, even death is only a pause, a quick breather in-between, a brief respite, a stage), the unstable reality of Eden Falls had been snuffed out like a candle-flame, the Melancholy Lieutenant had found himself, in a certain sense only because he knew that he was well and truly lost, on the streets of some Northern city in winter. He didn’t look at all out of place though, the avenues and boulevards were crowded with shell-shocked and war-wounded soldiers just returned from some calamitous battle; hungry, cold and bitter their talk was all of sedition, revolution, uprisings and coup d’états.
After the third night of rioting the authorities had cracked down and began to round up suspected trouble-makers and imposed a curfew at nightfall. The Melancholy Lieutenant was caught up in the dragnet and taken to a grim faux Gothic government building that had been converted into a temporary prison to deal with the influx of detainees. He was put inside a small room along with four other morose veterans.
Time passed by slowly, nobody spoke or moved, apart for the times somebody had to relieve themselves in the bucket wedged into the corner. Occasionally a guard would open the door, point toward someone and signal for them to follow. The person never returned to the room, instead a new inmate would take their place.
After three others had left the room with the guard it was his turn. He walked a short distance behind the guard, up narrow stairs and through dusty corridors that contained numerous offices. The guard stopped before a wooden door that had been painted a dim shade of burgundy sometime in the last century and searched through the numerous keys on the ring attached to his belt. He opened the door for the Melancholy Lieutenant and closed it immediately behind him.
He was alone, though he guessed this is where he would be questioned, perhaps interrogated. There were no windows, naturally, and the bare room was devoid of furniture apart from a flimsy trestle table and three rickety looking wooden chairs. The only light source was an old fashioned lamp, without a shade, that rested on the floor. Somehow the dull light emitted seemed to intensify the sombre gloom rather than dispelling it, which was obviously the intention of the police or the secret services or whoever was running the show here.
Though he doubted that a cat could find comfort in this derelict hole he was truly exhausted so he sat himself down in one of the two chairs facing the door. Obviously the single chair facing the wall was where he was meant to sit, but the hell with that. Sleeping with his eyes wide open he waited for his accusers to make their grand entry.
(This is the further adventures of The Melancholy Lieutenant, a recurring figure in my fiction. The previous installments are Eden Falls and X Marks the Spot. To make matters even more confusing these are just part of a larger series of loosely linked experimental surrealistic science fiction noirs starting with Showtime, though there can be read in any order.)
It hadn’t stopped raining for a moment since his arrival in Eden Falls. The days (if the pale pearl grey light could be classified as day) and the white, starless nights were considerably longer than in most standard regions, clocking in around 36 hours, undoubtedly controlled by decanates and/or Janus-faced daemons. Looking out from one of the innumerable windows, the Melancholy Lieutenant automatically defined the constant drizzle and mizzle as culchie soft rain, however in his attempts at surveying the territory he soon realised that the very sky looked to deceive. Drenched to the skin and bone he would beat a hasty retreat long before reaching the end of the drive that appeared to lead nowhere, crazy zig-zagging across the arsenic green fields to suddenly stop against a lone oak, a lookout for the massed ranks of its brethren in the faraway forest.
So the Melancholy Lieutenant would while away the time investigating Eden Falls. Up stairs and through corridors he walked, opening doors that led to rooms of angled mirrors or vast chandeliered ballrooms empty apart from a solitary upright piano, past endless colonnades interrupted by the regular statuary procession of mounted tyrants, down steps that finished in mid-air. Somewhere in this maze there must be a clue to the exit, he thought doggedly, determined to be re-united with the Ingénue.
He discovered a room full of globes and atlases, a Map Room of a Victorian gentleman. However the maps were just diagrams and architectural plans with a scale of 1:1, of no longer existing wings and hastily abandoned extensions of Eden Falls. The library seemed to contain a hint of promise, but most of the books were written in Chaldean or Etruscan or Babylonian, or even Agarthaen or Enochian or Lemurian. The pop-up books contained only cleverly designed miniature 3D versions of rooms he had already trudged through.
That left the jigsaw puzzles that every drawer in the building (be it palace or sanatorium or mental asylum or hotel) seemed to contain. The picture on the outside of the box was always misleading, unsurprisingly enough, he thought. It was never a street or circus scene, never a Cezanne or a Monet, it was forever the labyrinth of Eden Falls. He had almost given up hope when he found a puzzle that appeared to have a pattern on both sides, though the backside was just two-tone black & white. At least it won’t be another illustration of a prison, he thought, as he began to pierce the ten thousand and one pieces together.
With mounting excitement and dread he realised, as the pieces fall into place, that this was the message he had been waiting for. But what if he didn’t like what it had to say? Perhaps it was a trap set by Le Bateleur? No matter, he had to carry on.
As soon as the Melancholy Lieutenant triumphantly slotted the last tile into place and began to scan the writing, he heard a phone ring out. He hadn’t seen or heard a phone during the entire duration of his time in Eden Falls. Trying to quell his panic he decided to concentrate on the message contained in the puzzle, because something was definitely now happening and what other options did he have?
X marks the spot
You are here
But where you should be
Is the other side
Don’t pick up Run run double quick
That is that then, he decided, though he never had any intention of picking up the incessantly ringing phone anyway. The warning of the message posed further disturbing questions, but those could wait. It was time to go. He located and grabbed his kit-bag (always packed in case of emergencies and sudden departures) and ran out into the rain.
He kept on running until he had reached the oak that marked the end of the pointless driveway. Pausing for a moment he couldn’t resist a look back at the building, which flickered briefly out of focus, before fading away totally. That gig was up, the nixer nixed, Eden Falls was 86’ed.
The Melancholy Lieutenant, turning his collar to the cold and damned, headed towards the forest, searching for the deepest cover.
There inevitably comes a point in every gambler’s career when he is compelled to call upon the aid of unseen powers. Because they instinctively follow the smart money, which these days is laid heavily against God, a gambler need only make dubious entreaties to these shadowy entities. But then a true gambler will do anything to win, consequences be damned.
So it was with Max Chasm, who in the early hours of June 23rd of an ill-starred year, was seated at the roulette table in the casino on the 33rd floor of The Very Heaven Heavenly Hotel by Hilton-Tetragrammaton™ in Paradise, Nevada. At 1 am, when his young wife Catherine —always a Cinderella— had left him for their suite and their bed, he found himself ahead and on a streak which he was determined to pursue.
As the hours passed, the tide had slowly but perceptibly turned against him. Where once there had been mountains of chips, there was now a vast plateau of green baize dotted with scattered, eroding hills. How on earth could he explain to Catherine, in the unforgiving morning light, that he had lost all that money in such a short period of time? And once he started, he would have to reveal the true state of affairs, something which he was loath to contemplate. Max had refused to acknowledge, even in passing, the utter, absolute mess he had created.
Of late, his gambling had become all-consuming, he had lost his job two weeks ago and still hadn’t dropped that bomb on Catherine, and the debts…. oh yes, the debts for which he had borrowed £15,000 from his Grannie. And bless her, the dear soul thought it was a bridging loan to help him start-up a restaurant. Of course, once he had the wad in his hot hands, the idea of turning it over to Harry Diamond and all the rest of the piranhas seemed a lot less attractive than going to Vegas and winning a pile. Besides, it would be a nice treat for Catherine —it hadn’t been easy for her lately and she deserved a little spoiling.
“What was I thinking?” Max reproached himself. All his callow dreams were rapidly evaporating and soon he would be forced to confront the unavoidable reality. If Harry didn’t get his money upon Max’s return then Harry would not be best pleased…and you always wanted to stay on the right side of Harry. His experiences growing up a Jew in Belfast during the Troubles, had taught Harry the importance of making examples. This knowledge had served him well in his various careers as landlord, nightclub owner, bookmaker, debt collector and other assorted enterprises that you couldn’t put down on paper. Max knew that Harry would never abandon the tried and true methods that served him so well. Mr Diamond was the perfect embodiment of his name: flashy and very, very hard.
As he watched the croupier rack up yet more of his money, Max toyed with the idea of never returning to England. That would be, at best, a temporary solution inevitably leading to more problems, since Harry had his tentacles everywhere and undoubtedly had enough information about him —like the names and addresses of his friends and family— to make life even more difficult and dangerous than it already was.
It would also mean having to persuade Cathy to stay out here, which actually wasn’t that far outside the realm of possibility, since he’d already convinced her to marry him against her beloved father’s strong objections. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be an easily won argument. For a start, what would they do for money? For a moment he considered that if worst came to worst, he could put her on the game. Cathy would definitely make a killing looking the way she did. Now that was a thought, if it came to the last resort.
Max decided to sit the next few turns out to give himself time to think. He had to hit upon a strategy to come back from underneath. He ordered a gin and tonic from the kimono-clad cocktail waitress and resolved that he wouldn’t bet again until she returned.
All the while, as Max waited nervously, he fingered the lucky dice in his jacket pocket as he ran through a half-crazed litany of desperation and desire addressed to vaguely remembered deities.
“O Fortuna,” he muttered, “do not desert your loyal servant in the hour of his greatest need. Eris, give me one last chance to make my life right, and I’ll give you anything you want in return. Lady Luck, please look down upon me with your blessed smile. And Kali, use your immutable power to change my destiny, I beg of you.”
He vowed everlasting allegiance to Chymerica and the Secret Illuminati Sisters for a taste, just a whiff of success. Hell, he was prepared to strike a bargain with the Devil Himself, if that’s what it would take.
When the waitress appeared with his drink, he tipped her with a precious chip from his diminished pile. Lighting up yet another cigarette and sipping slowly on the syrupy gin and tonic, he looked across the roulette table and studied the assortment of late night revellers, searching for some sort of omen.
“My God, what a crew,” thought Max. Shrill-voiced working girls draped themselves over the bloated bodies of middle-aged businessmen and egged them on to ever greater excesses with their childish shrieks and giggles. And that was just the winners. More numerous by far, were the sullen-faced losers —chancers with their all-nighter flesh tones illuminated by the sickly, unchanging, artificial light, who wouldn’t have been out-of-place in some nightmarish canvas by Grosz or Bacon or even Bosch.
Who was he to judge, though? Deep down, he knew this was where he belonged; these were his kind of people. Max briefly returned to staring into the depths of the glass before downing the rest of the viscous liquid. As he set about looking for the waitress again, he noticed that a newcomer had taken a seat at the table directly opposite him. Max blinked and looked again. Max wondered how it was possible to look so fresh at this ungodly hour, as he watched the serene figure accept chips from the croupier. No one else at the table, absorbed as they were in play, paid her the slightest bit of attention. Max, however, was entranced.
She was slender and even seated, Max could tell that she was very tall, possibly as tall or even taller than he was, measuring in at a good 6’1. Her shoulder-length, raven-black hair was the same colour as her satiny dress —a striking contrast with the lustrous porcelain of her skin. Most mesmerizing of all though, were her green, shining cat’s eyes, which matched the emerald necklace around her exquisite neck. Max guessed that she was around his own age, 35 or so, but really it was impossible to tell —she was simultaneously youthful and mature.
Max managed to attract the waitress’s attention and he ordered two gin and tonics. He needed to fortify himself for the following few moments. Because this was definitely it. His life could go one of two ways and he had to be prepared for whatever fate threw at him.
The waitress brought over the drinks. Max glanced over the top of his glass at the woman again. Never before had he seen the like. She was an angel in human form: a perfect ten. For Max, that was as good a sign as any. So, after a quick calculation of his remaining chips which amounted to a little over a thousand dollars, he thought, “fuck it,” and placed the whole lot on black ten.
As the croupier placed the ball in the wheel and told the punters that no more bets were allowed, Max raised his glass and silently toasted the newcomer, hoping she was the harbinger of some much needed luck. Then, of course, he watched the wheel.
This was definitely it now —his last chance. It was now or never, do or die. With this crazy bet, it really had come to that. As the ball did its usual mad dance, he asked himself why? Why had he just risked it all with odds of exactly 37 to 1, stacked in the house’s favour?
He could barely watch, yet there was no question of turning away or closing his eyes. No way. The ball continued to bounce. Max just wanted it to land so it would be over and he could start reconciling himself to his drastically straitened circumstances. One more bounce and then it settled.
“That’s it then, I’m finished,” Max thought, not registering the fact that the ball had landed in the slot numbered ten. Ten? Ten. Yes, it was definitely ten!
“Yessssssssss, thank you, thank you Sweet Lord above or whoever controls such matters!” Max prayed, as the knowledge sank in and became a reality. It was nothing less than a miracle. He’d been saved at the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute.
As the croupier pushed over pile after pile of chips, Max calculated that he over $40,000 dollars and with the current rate of exchange, it worked out to between 24,000 and 25,000 pounds. With that money, he could pay off Harry Diamond and the other loan sharks, and still have some change left over. Of course, it wouldn’t be enough to pay off Gran, which was a shame, but she was hardly likely to take a baseball bat to his kneecaps or a meat cleaver to his little finger.
All things considered, this was a result and he decided to cash the chips in right then and there. But when he looked over at the blessed newcomer who had been the inspiration for his life changing win and saw a faintly ironic smile play on her deep red lips, it occurred to him that he should stay a little longer to see how everything played out. After all, why not? Why leave when the luck was starting to go his way? Who knows where it could all end? Yes, why not indeed?
Max went for the maximum of ten grand on red. That would still leave him with enough to clear his major debts. Twenty three red came up. Another result. He glanced again at the woman. She reached out with her immaculate hand, manicured nails painted the same shade of red as her lipstick, to grasp her drink. Max took his winnings and left his original bet to ride.
The ball landed in lucky number nine. Red again. “How long could this streak last?” Max thought, anxiously. With a deep breath, he decided that as long as she was there he would just roll with it. He was surprised she hadn’t noticed him staring at her. Then again, she probably had and wasn’t letting on. Elegant ladies always played it cool. When she ran her fingers though her glossy hair, he switched his bet to black. Black thirteen.
Surely morning had broken by now, but Max didn’t care as his run showed no sign of ending. Before every turn, he would watch the raven-haired angel, taking her every movement as an augury that infallibly came true.
Max’s success was generating excitement at the table as the other players, including the enigmatic stranger, who was the source of this good fortune, followed his bets. After the string of chances on red and black paid off, Max changed tack and started playing the odds and evens, taking his cues from the positioning of her hands on the baize.
As she began dreamily stroking the emerald necklace circling her throat —a throat worthy of a Mannerist masterpiece— Max didn’t hesitate and put ten thousand on zero. And after everything that had gone before, he wasn’t the least surprised when the ball nestled cosily in the green slot.
Max realised that if he carried on at this rate, it was entirely possible that he could break the bank. With his 24th consecutive win, he had amassed over $600,000 and his fellow gamblers were raking it in, too. Heady with this prospect, Max ordered half a dozen bottles of champagne for the table from the chatty, flirtatious waitress just starting her shift.
While his attention was diverted, Max failed to notice that his charm had collected her winnings and had left the table, disappearing into the recesses leading to the massed banks of slot machines. He would have liked to thank her and maybe gotten to know her better —a lot better, actually— but it was already too late. She was lost to the casino and by the time he cashed in, he knew she could be anywhere.
He gave a tip of a thousand dollars to the croupier, ignored the pleas of his fellow gamblers (for once, he was going to quit while still ahead) and headed for the elevator to take him up to his suite. He was going to wake Catherine. She would be furious that he had stayed out all night long, but at least he felt sure he could sweeten her mood.
That night marked the start of a new beginning for Max and Catherine. With the money Max had won, he paid off the loan sharks and cleared all his other debts. With that unpleasant task behind him, he vowed never gamble again and to do something worthwhile with his life. Most importantly of all though, he vowed to start treating Catherine right.
Max lived up to his promises admirably. They put a large deposit down on an inter-bellum, three-story, semi-detached in an up-and-coming borough. Then, after a few months of drawing up a business plan and searching for the ideal location, they opened a restaurant which Max, in an homage and a farewell gesture to the game that had made their dream a reality, named Noir Et Rouge.
With Max working the front of the house and Catherine crafting her unique creations in the kitchen, the restaurant was such a success that Max gave no thought to having an occasional flutter or buying a lottery ticket on a Saturday night.
As the present was just so and the future looked exceedingly bright, Max chose not to dwell on the past. Whenever a stray memory from his gambling days did surface, he instantly suppressed it. He was no longer that person — the degenerate gambler, staring ruination in the face, yet still only thinking of the next bet. What possible connection could exist between that man and the successful businessman with a beautiful, talented and loving wife?
This is the revised, edited and improved version of a story/start of a novel that I have previously posted. Dr Meg Sorick (https://drmegsorick.com/)has once again kindly taken the time to review the material and has waved her magician’s wand and pulled a rabbit of the hat. Please visit her site. The next instalment will be next Saturday May 20th.
For all its influence on the visual arts and literature, advertising remains the field where Surrealism (or its techniques anyway, the question of aims answers itself) has had the largest impact. In J.G Ballard’s (who was a former advertising copy-writer himself) 1970 experimental novel on the media landscape, The Atrocity Exhibition, which features Marilyn Monroe, JFK and Elizabeth Taylor as characters (or at least people the protogantists fantasies) there are also numerous references to the works of Dali, Magritte, Ernst, Bellmer and others. The inference is clear, the media landscape had been shaped to a large extent by Surrealism.
The clearest example of applied Surrealist techniques is the ad campaigns for cigarette brands Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut in theUKin the 70’s through to the 90’s. Faced with severe restrictions on the marketing of cigarettes; they couldn’t be shown to indicate status, youthfulness or sexual appeal and all ads had to carry the mandatory health warnings, the ad firms Collett Dickinson Pearce for Benson & Hedges and Saatchi & Saatchi for Silk Cut had to get creative. The results are some of the most iconic images ever created in advertising. The Benson & Hedges ads made use of the distintive gold packaging while Silk Cut plays with the brand name and the purple lettering on the box; the swathes of slashed silk hint at possible sexual allusions . Ironically the health warning is sometimes the only thing that alerts you to the fact that it is cigarettes being marketed.