Nebuchadnezzar's tales
c 1996, Rory Cargill

         Hi, my name's Nebuchadnezzar. I'm a crow and I've lived here in and around London for over 3,000 years. As a matter of fact, I hatched out of my egg just before the first village was built on this site. You see, back then the priests really *did* have powers. Well, what happened was that one of the druid priests was supposed to bless or curse or sanctify the site before the ordinary folks could start with building their village. Well, the priest this one tribe got hold of was getting on a bit and his apprentice wasn't really all that together. The upshot of it all was that the ole boy went and took his afternoon nap while his apprentice got on with the mumbo-jumbo and other assorted rituals. Apprentices being apprentices, the poor fool got some it wrong and the tree my parents' nest was in exploded into a shimmering rainbow of singing light. All the unhatched eggs in my nest fell to the ground and smashed to bits. All my brothers and sisters dead. Just like that. As for me, well, I fell too, but a bit slower as I made a feeble attempt at flapping my wings, not that that made much difference except that I was still alive when I hit the ground and my mother picked me up. I think it was falling through the rainbow that did it, but I've not died yet and I certainly don't feel 3,500 years old either.

         Now London, England's a pretty darned small place. We's got a superette (you Yankees would call it a general store) run by Mr. Smith. He's also got the local post office in his shop. We got a town hall that sees a fair bit o' use. We've also got a petrol station and garage. Ahem, that's Arbunckle's petrol, souvenir and service emporium to you lesser mortals. Then there's Stavros' Tandoori Chinese Chippy, all-nite High Klass Kaffeteria and Take-Away. Oh, and how could I forget our local watering hole, The Flatulent Rodent, which got its' name from the previous landlord's second daughter who, when trying to describe all the squashed hedgehogs out on the dual-carriageway bypass to her parents and relatives at the tender age of three, attempted to describe the "Flat things on the road" as flatulent road-dents (she thought, mistakenly, that God put them there to hide the potholes {"road-dents"} and that they were only sleeping) which the local council works department in their infinite wisdom had actually deliberately left in place as a way of slowing down through traffic as a cheaper alternative to placing "Sleeping Policemen" at 100 yard intervals.

         Well, there's a few outlying farms and we've got our own council block, though it's only a row of terraced 2-up, 2-downs an the A2. Nearly everyone in the council block works for Fatty Frobisher who owns the largest farm just outside of town and it's rumoured that he's working out a plan to bankrupt the other farmers so that he can buy up their land cheap and then make his fortune by hiking all the food prices. Stavros' brother-in-law from Singapore reckons ole' fatty'd come a cropper if he ever tried it on as "we could buy French and Spanish until the bankers foreclosed on him". Still, we all keep a look-out over our collective shoulder for him as he's one of the many wolves at the door of our small town. I ought to know. He's taken more than one pot-shot at me with his shotgun. Not that he could ever hit me. He's a lousy shot. But if he ever twigs on and stops aiming for me, he might actually improve his results to my detriment. Ooo-er.
         We get lots o' folks passing through and some of them even are brave (or desperate) enough to tackle the bed-bugs and cockroaches of the Flatulent Rodents' lodging rooms. The train station (more correctly, 2 platforms and an automated ticket machine) only has a couple of trains passing through each day. Few of them stop and even fewer people alight or disembark. Ida, the local prostitute occasionally plies her trade down here whenever the landlord of the Flatulent Rodent gets nasty about the woodworm in her wooden leg causing damage to the oaken timbers in his "listed" Tudor public house. This is little more than callous nastiness on his part which once cost him a plague of death-watch beetles introduced by Ida herself.

         This brings me to my first story, "Moonlight Muzak". To say that the Rodents' current landlord is a bit of a villain would be a gross understatement. How he ever got out of Alcatraz 2 (on the moon, no less) is a puzzle to me. To the locals he's Brian Stephenson, ex-merchant seaman and everyone's friend. I know better as I was outside his bedroom window one night when he strangled one of his less salubrious acquaintances who was in the process of blackmailing him over his real identity. What a shame. She was a good-looking woman. The sort that would normally have enough sense to stay away from pits like London. She'd been the manageress of a chorus line of blind can-can dancers owned by Stephenson at the Lagrange Pleasure dome. Yes, owned! I thought slavery had been abolished, too, until this came my way. Apparently he had them wired with electrodes and cushioned by hypno-suggestion to think that they were living in a hostel for the blind doing evening dance workshops for victims of sexual abuse. Hardly worth the bother you might think, until you realise just how much he was pocketing in "saved" wages and expenses.

         Nowadays, our Brian has to content himself with slightly more earth-bound villainy, leaving the high-flying deviousness to his other unfettered acquaintances. The way you humans carry on. Honestly. Excuse me while I preen my feathers. Well, one day a somewhat dishevelled fellow in his mid-fifties was pushed off the train as it was pulling out of our station by a mugger who was posing as a ticket inspector. I hung around his unconscious body for a while as I could tell he wasn't yet dead as he was still breathing and waited until he recovered from the concussion incurred from his unexpected and untimely disembarkation. It just so happened that Ida was patrolling the station at the same time as our unwitting victim stumbled into the half-light of the British Rail sodium lamps along the east-bound platform. He saw her and was attempting to call out "HELP!", which sounded more like that of someone drowning in their own phlegm when he collided with one of the cast iron platform benches and succeeded in delivering a somewhat picturesque gash to his forehead.

         By this time Ida realised that she was in no danger, and, in the hope that she might be able to relieve him of his cash, credit cards, chequebooks, gold rings, watches and fillings, stepped gingerly in his direction. Within moments the dismal truth dawned upon her as her deft hands flicked through all known locations to hide valuables about ones' person that someone had beaten her to this mark. "At least he's not local," she thought idly while considering how to dump him on the tracks for the next train to finish him off when her left hand came across what felt like a wad of credit cards held together with an elastic band. Fat chance! What Ida had found was a handful of holographic business cards announcing:


         The card continued in a similarly bombastic manner announcing its' donor as the most gifted individual the universe has the good fortune to know since the big bang.

         "Well, these won't pay my rent," she thought as she tossed the cards disinterestedly into the bin beside her while a vague idea attempted to gel in her limited mind. Slapping him as hard as she could across his bloodied face, she shouted out, "Henry, wake up you stupid bastard!!!"

         "Huh, eh, wot, wozzit?," Henry mumbled. Then as he painfully tried to pull his aching body on the platform bench, he turned to Ida. "What happened? Where am I?," He croaked through a trickle of blood, saliva and sputum that accompanied the verbiage out of his mouth.

         "Lonon, love." Ida replied. "Didja fall outa the train or summat' then?"

         "Damn, I'm supposed to be in Brighton playing at Sam's Savoy by the pier." Henry mumbled. "Another gig down the drain."

         Playing dumb, Ida decided that this mug might be profitable. "I know somewhere you can stay," she proffered half-heartedly.

         Henry, by now realising his new circumstances, jumped at it with the enthusiasm of a drowning sailor reaching out for a lifebelt. Fortunately for Henry, it wasn't Ida's bed, but the derelict and abandoned vicarage not 50 yards from our ill-fated train station. This once-portentous domicile now played host to the numerous gentlemen of the road whenever they passed through. Fortunately there were a few guests still conscious to help our new arrival, of whom Ida gladly divested herself. Upon seeing that Henry was in somewhat safer hands, I flew up to my nest in the attic and made a mental note to keep a watch over Henry.

         Over the following weeks, Henry settled into his new abode. It was finding the old piano there that made up his mind to stay. Bit by bit, Henry gradually repaired and tuned up the decrepit Joanna with the misguided loving care and attention that only society's terminal misfits and eccentrics are capable of bestowing upon inanimate objects. It gradually became apparent that Henry was no deluded amateur as the old vicarage soon began to resonate to the sounds of Bach, Waller, Rachmaninoff, Strauss and countless others whom I've never heard of, but am glad that Henry turned me on to.

         One day the jukebox at the Rodent finally gave up the ghost in a fury of gears, smoke and high-pitched wailing that spoke of its servile soul passing on to another dimension. Brian had to do something and sharpish. It just so happened that afternoon that one of the boys from the vicarage who was at the Rodent sombrely drinking his giro, informed Brian of a source of excellent music for a very modest fee from within the ranks of his dispossessed brethren. Brian thanked him for his information by throwing him out of the Rodent and telling him the he and his kind were barred from the Rodent forever more because they brought down the tone of his esteemed establishment.

         That night, after closing, Brian sneaked over to the vicarage to audition his new pianist. Only expecting your average bar-room hack, Brian was nearly left breathless by the sound of Henry trying to figure out if he wanted to play a blues, Stravinsky or have his supper and eventually settling on a modern ambient 12-tone workout. Brian could see that this was his ticket back onto the gravy train and raced back to his lair. First, he had to get the music piped into the Rodent. After that, all he had to do was sit back and wait.

By about 3:00 a.m., Brian had returned to the vicarage with a couple of ultra-sensitive microphones and several hundred yards of flex. He managed to position the microphones so that they could pick up the piano without being seen by prying eyes. Then all he had to do was run the flex back to the Rodent and bury it in the soft earth along the side of the footpath.

         By the time the early morning dusk was giving way to a semblance of sunrise, Brian was back at the Rodent washing the dirt off his hands and dusting down his tape recorder. He'd have to get something a bit better than this old heap of junk if his plan was to work, but it'd do for the time being. Within weeks, Brian had already amassed a small library of Henry's outpourings, the torrent of which showed no signs of abating. Meanwhile, Brian was using the edited and cleaned-up recordings as the background muzak for the Rodent. For the locals, it only meant that they couldn't listen to the Radio 1 hits any longer. But, for the out-of-towners passing through it was a manna from heaven.

         Within a couple months of starting his new scam, Brian was approached by a representative of a chain of public houses who wanted to use the same muzak for their pubs. "No probs," says our Brian, "As I'm the agent." Within the hour an arrangement is arrived at with the representative which leaves our Brian in a position to contemplate bigger and better things.

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