The Curious Tale of Seat Von Scrutiny (A Neo-Noir Reimagining): Chapter Five – A Council of Hookers

I woke up the next morning with a cloud hanging over me. One day, I resolved, I was gonna start sleeping indoors. My editor came round the corner and gave me the offer of a cold shower, conveniently delivered in a bucket.

“What the hell?”

“Thank me later hotshot, we got work to do.”

I stood up and wiped the water out my eyes.

“What work? We’re no closer to a name and the election isn’t for days.”

“Oh isn’t it?”

He flashed a newspaper in my face, face front as he kept walking ahead of me.

SEAT VON SCRUTINY CALLS FOR EARLY ELECTION

“Election’s at seven tonight.”

“What time is it now?”

“Six thirty.”

“Why are you such an early riser?”

“You’re going to report on the election, as our democracy reporter.”

He passed a badge behind me. It was coffee stained and read DEMOKRACY REPORTER, beneath HEALTH REPORTER, ROYAL CORRESPONDENT and DEFENDANT LAWYER AT THE HAGUE, which were all crossed out.

“I thought it was Asmaa’s turn to be the democracy reporter.”

“Nah, she had her turn last week. Today she’s the restaurant critic. Tomorrow she’s gonna be our finance and markets correspondent, just as soon as that Forex trader who makes £1000-£2000 a day from their living room gets back to us.”

“What am I up against?”

We rounded the corner. The city was in full swing. The goths and emos were tugging at opposite ends of the last My Chemical Romance t-shirt in the city. There was more scene than goddamn Chekhov would have known what to do with.

“Angry Union, Seat looking strong. Could go either way,” my editor was saying.

“Why did they agree to this?”

“The Student Council wanna get the election out the way as soon as possible so there’s time to do all that other work they do, like… you know… that thing they’re doing.”

“I heard they’re renaming park benches after civil rights activists.”

“Exactly. Once they’ve done that there might even be time to do stuff that matters.”

We left the light outside behind and entered the dingy office. We walked in and I remembered it wasn’t dingy at all, and after I’d finished vomiting, I stood back up. Our typewriters had been replaced by large, thin sandwich presses that glowed on the part you pushed down. Some of the writers were trying to put a tuna melt in one of the things and it snapped in two. A dominatrix was also on a sandwich press, except he was staring intently at the glowy part and tapping on the bottom part. Goes to show how much he knew about journalism.

My editor turned to me.

“Feeling okay?”

“Fine. I’m just relieved this is the story.”

“What?”

“I met the Seat’s attorney last night. He was worried I was gonna start speculating on the front page and he threatened me with something big to stay ahead.”

“Anything about money laundering?”

“What? No. Why?”

“No reason. I hate money laundering. Obviously.”

I shook my head. I knew my editor was a good guy: he’d swear it on his twelve bank accounts in different names. I turned round and went to get changed for the big event.

* * *

There was a thick fog of ego in the chamber that evening, lazy wasps of smoke tumbling over each other at the ceiling. I wondered if the massive cigars we were chomping were helping too.

I’d been to Student Council once before, years ago, back when I worked for a tabloid. Arendt had been there, making a speech advocating that the Council lobby the Bank of England to devolve the power of setting the base rate of interest to regional authorities, and I was there to photograph nip slips.

Looking down at the little paper agenda that had been put on all the chairs, I realised tonight we were in for a similarly explosive evening of student politics. There was a three hour discussion on recycling bins, followed by an open debate on whether cycle lanes are racist. Though far from enamoured with the Council, I had to respect those white, middle class speakers. They always seemed to know what was in ethnic minorities’ best interests, despite never asking one.

The Council had a reputation for being pretentious, but as I thought maybe that was a little unfair, as I watched the Lord Emperor and Regent Monarch of Pupils take his seat. He fussed with his sceptre and ball, and when he was finished, did his flies up. We, of course, had to look the part too, and following a modernisation effort, we had been permitted to wear a modern-style tie instead of a cravat. Some of the members of the chamber didn’t even wear ermine.

There was one person in attendance who didn’t look so fancy. He was huge, and I was trying to remember where I’d seen him before. He could have been at the seminar on how to maintain professional relationships in journalism we’d had last spring, or at the orgy we’d had immediately after.

He made eye contact, and I knew. He was the man who killed the scholar. I stiffened up and started sweating under my two blazers. It was smart casual, so I’d worn one smart and one casual. I really should have put the blazer covered with cartoon marijuana leaves underneath the casual one. I felt like he was seeing under all my layers, and felt the colour drain from my face. I could tell he knew I recognised him. His face twisted into a horrible smirk, and he gave me a wave.

“Let us begin!” the Lord Emperor and Regent Monarch bellowed. I faced front, grateful for the distraction. “As members of the chamber will be aware, we have a packed schedule today. We will be hearing about trade tariffs on caviar and quail’s eggs, and a motion to punish all homelessness with eviction.”

I didn’t fancy Seat Von Scrutiny’s chances against a guy with this much charisma.

“But first,” he said, to enraptured silence, “we shall commence proceedings with the election for Chair of Scrutiny. Why exactly the Council should require scrutiny is beyond me: we are of course members of an incorruptible institution, as Rupert Murdoch and Bernard Madoff said to me during our camping trip. When candidate applications opened, we received word from five hundred staff and students hoping to run in the election, but by a freak accident, all their legs got broken, and so none are able to run.”

“All but one, your excellency!”

Every head in the room turned to the doors at the back. The attorney had walked in, sweat stains beneath each armpit and remnants of what looked like an entire plate of curry and chocolate down his front. The night I met him he’d struck me as a snappy dresser. He started to stride down the room, and pointed a finger square at the Lord Regent as he went.

“There was one candidate too big and too powerful to be scared away by your fear tactics.”

“Fear tactics? They chose of their own volition to not have their toenails ripped off!”

“Regardless,” the attorney reached the podium behind which the Lord Regent perched, before spinning round to face the crowd. He paced as he explained “there is one candidate ready to take on the Student Council. I give you: Seat Von Scrutiny!”

He aimed an open palm at the doors, which creaked open once more. The entire chamber stood up to get a look at who was walking in. I craned my neck, notebook at the ready. Who was it who had divided the city so much in such a short amount of time?

The Von Scrutiny clan had, of course, not been fully chair since the late 18th century. Since Throne Von Scrutiny’s scandalous marriage to a human mistress, half the Von Scrutinies were chairs, and half humans pretending to be chairs. It’s difficult to get your head around chair genetics, until you realise it’s even more difficult to get your head around fucking a chair. As Seat walked in, I saw he was human, and one I’d seen many times before. He was dressed in nothing but a green gimp suit, as Von Scrutiny custom demanded, but with those glasses over the top and the eyes (underneath two conveniently cut holes), it could only be one man.

“It is I!” he exclaimed. “Chris Day!”

The crowd sent up a gasp before descending into chatter.

“Silence!” the Lord Regent shouted, banging a gavel.

The stenographer burst into tears.

“Shut it!” the Lord Regent snapped, banging the gavel on his head a few more times. “Day, you would turn your back on us, who have worked so hard to make sure nothing gets done around here?”

“I would,” he faced the crowd too. “You have all become consumed by greed and jealousy, by sin and temptation. You forget the real reason you are here.”

“Reduce tuition fees?” someone asked, who was promptly taken out and shot.

“You have become engulfed by the fumes of power. You claim to do nothing, but already you are itching in the direction of…” his face curled into something horrible as he found his way round the next word, “opposition. What was the motion passed just last month, about the University making mistakes?”

A clerk handed a piece of paper up to the Lord Regent’s highchair, who took off his bib and put on a monocle. He squinted at the paper.

“It is theoretically possible?” he read.

“Preposterous!” Day returned. “I know the makings of a coup when I see one. You forget who helped the CIA install a dictator in Brazil in 1964, which is definitely just a joke that you should not google. I see the only way to stop you is to take you on myself.”

“You were working on the inside?” someone shouted at the attorney. He looked at me, and I realised I’d shouted it.

“I’m afraid so kid,” he shrugged, leaning against the bench which the Lord Regent’s secretaries were sat behind. “Still, it’ll make for a scoop, eh?”

“What claim do you have to being a Von Scrutiny, Day?”

“Well,” he said, lips pursed, turning back to the Lord Regent. “I suppose I may as well come clean. Day is a corruption of my father’s surname, Deck, which is in turn an abbreviation of his mother’s surname, Deck…” he paused to savour the moment, “seat.”

“Dear God,” the Lord Regent muttered. “Well come on then, make your case.”

“As Chair of Scrutiny,” he began, “I intend to implement a sweeping legislative agenda: more seats in the Union, a slaughter of all animals with fewer than four legs, and a complete ban on pogo sticks. Oh, and the immediate dissolution of Student Council.”

There was uproar. This time round, everyone stood up, except for me. I realised this might be our way out of trouble.

“I also plan to conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations of corporate manslaughter against The Toon Lampoon.”

Shit.

“What?” I shouted. “No-one could have prevented that lithium mine collapse!”

“Remember what I said,” the attorney fired back. “I promised you your front page.”

I sank back to my chair and realised I was faced between two alternatives, neither of which were particularly optimal. I wished there was an expression for being between a rock and another difficult scenario. Right now, all I had was my way with words.

“Fine, fine,” the Lord Regent spluttered. “We will take a vote, conducted in accordance with the very letter of fairness. All those who are stupid enough to believe that this irrelevant candidate should be elected, say,” and then the Lord Regent said something under his breath. A pause went through the room. “Really, no-one? Well then-”

“Your excellency, please,” the attorney piped up. “Might the ladies and gentlemen…” he scanned the room before starting again, “might the gentlemen of this Council have something a little fairer? An aye and neigh, for example?”

“Fine. If your client insists on democracy, I yield to the PC brigade. Those in favour in Day’s election?”

There was silence. The attorney stuck a finger up.

“If I might remind members of the Council who pays their wages?” 

There was a rabble of ‘ayes’. The attorney was good.

“And those against?” the Lord Regent looked around the room, desperation in his eyes. “Anyone? No? Then…” he stopped short, like what he was about to say next was difficult. “Then Chris Day, AKA Chris Deckseat, AKA Seat Von Scrutiny is elected as Chair of Scrutiny.”

“Excellent,” Day said. “Guards, relieve the Lord Regent of his duties.”

“No!”

Two enormous henchmen approached the bench, and the Lord Regent produced a pistol. He fired once into the crowd and members of the chamber scrambled over each other to avoid being next. Some took out pistols of their own. A few drew knives. As a journalist, I stood for nothing if not doing the right thing and fighting. Unfortunately, I didn’t stand for doing the right thing and fighting, so I stood for nothing.

I crouched on the floor and crawled over the increasing amount of bodies. I heard the life leave men screaming a few feet above me, until I found the doors and fled. Only when I was out the building did I stop running. I turned around and watched as a thin plume of smoke started to leave the Council building. With a whoosh the building went up in flames.

“Things get a little hot under the collar?” a voice behind me asked.

It was Arendt, smoking by a tree with a wry smile. I’d never seen a tree with a wry smile before, but it was a topsy turvy kind of day. She took the cigarette out her mouth and made a little cloud to rival the one in front of us.

“This isn’t the end of things,” I muttered. “With no Student Council, the people who make it out of that building alive are gonna have nothing to lose, except their grudge against us. We took the piss too many times.”

“And your problem has always been too wide a readership.”

“Exactly.”

One of the many things I respected about Arendt was her ability to be serious.

“What are you gonna do?” she asked.

“Leave. The Lampoon’s finished, we’ve gotta go. Come with us.”

She smiled.

“Come where?”

“I don’t know. I know my geography though: Europe’s a big country. We could go to France. You could be the first sex worker in Paris!”

She laughed, which was odd because I hadn’t said anything funny.

“It’s always running, isn’t it?”

“Of course Arendt! We made powerful enemies in those representatives!”

“Representatives?” she stomped out her cigarette and took a few steps until she was next to me. “Do you know what all those men had in common?”

“BO?”

“Obviously, but what else? Liberal, conservative, old, young?”

I was stumped.

“No.”

“They were all johns, Joe. Men whose fathers weren’t around enough when they were growing up. Men who spent the rest of their lives trying to punch a hole in the universe to force daddy to notice them. They’re always the ones in power, and always the ones who fuck up. I won’t feel represented until I see a council of hookers. Maybe they’d think to tidy up.”

“I wasn’t aware you’d had people from the Council as clients.”

“Oh god no, I was being metaphorical. Hmm-mm,” she shook her head. “Not if they dipped their dicks in bleach and wrapped them in more cling film than a new tattoo,” she pointed. “Look, one’s coming out now.”

A man stumbled out the building, leaving a plume of smoke behind him. He walked like a drunkard towards us, putting his fedora back on his head and packing a few effects into a suitcase. It was the attorney. He stopped by us.

“This is bad,” he said.

“Bad? You won.”

Won?” he asked, almost shouting. “What do you think happened to Seat in there?”

Something fluttered out the top storey of the window. It was flabby and lifeless, like a balloon with no air in it, or a tabloid newspaper editor. The thing made its slow descent to the ground and landed by our three pairs of feet. It was a green gimp suit, singed at the edges.

“Oh my god,” I said, barely aware I was saying it. “Chris Day is naked?”

“He’s dead Joe,” Arendt said.

“Oh.”

“The record’s being amended as we speak,” the attorney said, panting and monotone, “to say Seat lost the election. No Von Scrutiny has ever lost an election, and his family are gonna be pissed. It can’t be the golden boy’s fault, so his family’s gonna be after me.”

“I thought he was a minor offshoot of a minor branch of a minor offshoot.”

“A Von Scrutiny is a Von Scrutiny, even the lesser ones are great. Seat was like JFK!”

“He could have started a dynasty?”

“Oh, that too. I just meant he banged Marilyn Monroe,” he picked up his suitcase. “So I’m sure you’ll understand if I vamoose, before I regret ever being born.”

I looked at Arendt. I remembered that conversation all that time ago, hiding from the rain. It felt it was yesterday, which is because it was.

“Wait.”

He stopped and swivelled round.

“Yeah?”

“Wherever you go, the Von Scrutiny clan will be after you.”

“Uh-huh,” he replied, impatient at my stating the obvious.

“And we’re about to have every former student councillor on our case trying to do us for every possible crime. Not just the fun ones, like libel or contempt of court. Blackmail, extortion, obstructing the course of justice, being from Sunderland, you name it, we’ve got it.”

“I heard something about war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.”

“That one’s a myth,” I said quickly.

“Either way,” a smile spread across the attorney’s face, “sounds like you need a lawyer.”

“We do, especially after another one killed himself this morning. It won’t be as lucrative as politics, but I can promise it’ll never get boring.”

The attorney looked up at the building.

“Mr. Molander, I can believe it,” the attorney stepped closer and shook my hand.

We took a moment to admire the flames.

“Seat told me about you,” the attorney told me. “You were involved with his cousin. Recliner?”

I blushed and stared at my shoes.

“Yes, there was a time where we were…”

“Fucking like rabbits?” Arendt offered.

“Fucking like rabbits.”

“She misses you.”

I looked at the attorney.

“Really?” I asked, agonisingly high pitched.

“Yeah,” he took out a card. “Told me to give you her number.”

I took the card, but found myself unable to look at it. I thought back to our first date to IKEA. It was very forward for a Von Scrutiny, seeing as IKEA is the chair equivalent of an orgy.

Eventually I heard myself say:

“She can keep it.”

I flicked it into the air and the wind carried it onto the blaze. Arendt clapped me on the shoulder.

“Well done Joe,” she said softly.

“Yeah, that wasn’t her number, that was my Visa.”

“Well then,” I began, turning to him. “Guess you really are here for the long term.”

I started laughing, and Arendt sent up a dry chuckle. I started laughing harder and so did Arendt, and eventually the attorney gave in, and we were all laughing. There was the feeling of light-headed renewal in the air. Maybe it was the trees donning their autumn colours, or maybe it was the fumes of burning plastic. Either way, I felt a little lighter. As my editor was fond of saying, there really is no greater thrill than burning sensitive legal documents.  

The Curious Tale of Seat Von Scrutiny (A Neo-Noir Reimagining): Chapter Four – A Scheme is Hatched

As I rounded the corner off Northumberland Street, I found Arendt leaning under a streetlight casting shadows round her eyes. The rest of her was orange.

“Good night?” I asked.

“Standard bukkake. Did you know some men have orange semen?”

“Not until now.”

I walked past her.

“Joe.”

I stopped.

“Yes Arendt?”

“Won’t you stay and talk a minute?” she gestured at the other side of the streetlight.

“Sure,” I walked over and leant next to her. It was only when the streetlight absorbed my weight that I realised I was exhausted. “The scholar’s dead.”

“I know.”

“I feel useless.”

“Well, that doesn’t help anyone. You any closer to a name?” she asked.

“I’m as close to a name as a hooker is to God.”

Arendt laughed. She wasn’t politely shrugging off a slight: more than anything else, she seemed amused.

“I’ve seen the look in men’s eyes when they abandon all pretence Joe. I’ve witnessed more honesty than the walls of a Church could ever hope to.”

I tried to appreciate what she was telling me.

“You’ve also witnessed some pretty huge dicks.”

Huge dicks.”

We chuckled lightly. She folded her arms and readjusted herself against the cold.

“Whatever you do next, the solution isn’t anger.”

“If you think I’m not gonna get revenge for the scholar-”

“You used the scholar as a lead for stories, and only occasionally lighter stuff, like tax fraud. Sometimes she’d try and teach you what fractions were. The anger at her death isn’t yours.”

“What is mine then?”

Arendt stopped making eye contact.

“What is mine then?”

“Remember what I told you.”

I looked down the street where the sex shop was stood. The neon sign wasn’t on. The only time that had happened was after Princess Diana’s death, before they’d been turned right back on to offer 50% off on bereavement shags.

I looked back at Arendt. She just nodded back at the shop.

My footsteps rang out on the cobblestones. The door had been ripped off its hinges. The light from the street streamed into the landing that led to the stairs. I glided down.

Powerful white light filled every corner of the room. The desks had been tidied, and a bunch of flowers had been placed in the middle of the office. It was horrible.

The fire safety protocol had been put in a new, accessible folder pinned to the noticeboard. We had a noticeboard. I peeked inside the folder. We had a fire safety protocol. Someone must have written one to replace the old note that had read “Psyche!”. The carbon monoxide detectors looked like they were working. Someone had taken the cups off the smoke detector, and our lawyer was in his office, and not pacing the ledge at the top of the building following another libel trial.

“What… happened?”

“The Union, Joe,” my editor said behind me.

I turned round. I barely recognised the man in front of me.

“Sir, you’ve shaved.”

“They’ve put me up to deodorant as well.”

“What?”

“I know, it’s unbelievable.”

“No, as in, what’s deodorant?”

“Oh, it’s a thing that’s meant to stop you smelling, apparently.”

“I never heard of it.

“I don’t blame you, it tastes dreadful. You got a present too.”

He held up an envelope with my name written on it. I grabbed it and ripped it open.

If Seat wins, we make you attend a professional ethics course.

Xxx

My hands started to shake.

“Animals!”

“What does it say?”

“If Seat wins, we make you attend a professional ethics course. Thirty.”

“Goddammit, those monsters!” my editor roared. “If we don’t give them what they want they’re gonna tear this place down to the ground! Well, tear it up to the ground.”

“Look,” I said, putting the letter in my back pocket, “none of this is ideal, but so far it’s a makeover and an empty threat.”

My editor winced slightly.

“There’s more than that at stake Joe.”

“The principle?”

“The principle.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “Also they have my kids.”

“I know what that means to you sir.”

“I should hope so. You’ve known me long enough to know I’m a family man. I’d do anything for Neil and… the other one.”

“Sir, are you wearing make-up?”

He broke away and turned around, suddenly interested in some bauble on his desk.

“Must be some eyeliner from the cross-dressing social with the dominatrices.”

I stepped into his office.

“No, I mean…” I put a hand out, and he slowly rotated back to face me. Yes, definitely a thick coat of make-up, all over his cheeks. “Sir, did they hurt you?”

“Perhaps,” he said, the gruffness in his voice slipping slightly. “It’s days like these where I find myself pining for the 70s. Back then your enemies stayed in one place, like the Vietcong, and they were straightforward and easy to fight, like the idea of doing drugs.”

There was a pause. It dawned on me that the shadows under Arendt’s eyes hadn’t been shadows.

“The chips are down,” my editor admitted. “Like that time we got busted by the Leveson Inquiry. But did we shut down then?”

“No,” I said, surprised at the conviction in my voice. “We installed a suicide net for our lawyer and carried on!”

“Exactly. The election might be our best shot of making the Union forget about us. If Von Scrutiny gets in, the old networks will be too preoccupied trying to wrest back control to worry about us. Then we go back to reporting the important stuff, like rating the Foreign Secretaries of the 20th century by how bangable they were.”

“You’re saying we attempt to influence an election?”

“I know it’s a bold suggestion for a newspaper. But I wouldn’t be asking if it wasn’t a last resort.”

I thought about the last time I’d said that. For the first time in years, I found myself thinking of Recliner Von Scrutiny. Those two sexy legs of hers, which was horribly deformed for a chair. I’d loved her all the same, even though I knew it was gonna end badly between us.

I took a breath.

“I’m in.”

Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of this sordid tale: Chapter Five – A Council of Hookers

The Curious Case of Seat Von Scrutiny (A Neo-Noir Reimagining): Chapter Three – High Stakes on the High Rise Bridge

When I took my eyes off the point in the sky where she’d vanished, I noticed a silhouette at the end of the alleyway. Whoever they were, they were big. Big as the list of allegations of corporate manslaughter against The Lampoon. It would take more than bribes and blackmail to make this guy go away.

Trying not to make it seem like I’d made eye contact, I swivelled on my heel and started walking the opposite direction, whistling while I went. Heavy footsteps started to pick up behind me.

“Hey,” a voice said faintly. “Hey!”

He picked up the pace, and so did I.

“I’m not a cop!”

“Me neither!” I yelled, before breaking into a sprint.

“Come on!”

He broke into a run and gave chase. I got to the end of the alley and rounded a corner. I slammed my hand on the top of a fence and vaulted over. I dropped by about six feet and landed at the entrance to an underpass. Doing my best to ignore the pain flaring up in my ankles, I started hobbling towards the open mouth of the tunnel.

I heard a thud. Looking behind me, he was picking himself up from the ground. He pointed a finger.

“I’m gonna get you!”

“Really?” I asked over my shoulder, voice bouncing around the underpass.

“Yeah,” his voice took on the same echo now. “In half an hour.”

This would have been more dramatic if we hadn’t been heavy smokers who’d stopped running after thirty seconds.

“You’re gonna catch up to someone like me,” I replied, between pants.

“Maybe you’re right.”

I heard a gun cock behind me.

I turned round. He was only at the entrance of the underpass. Two of the battered white lights running down the side of the tunnel revealed a man in a khaki trenchcoat and a cheap suit. There was grim resolve written on his face.

“I’ve never met someone with a face tattoo,” I said, still out of breath.

He said nothing.

“Come on, is this really how it ends?”

“Looks that way. I’m sure you’re good, but you’ll never be as cruel or as corrupt as me.”

“Oh god,” I cried, the anguish repeating itself as it ricocheted around the walls. “I’m gonna get killed by a lawyer.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“You’re about to be dead. Nothing makes an attorney money like an inheritance mess.”

“My family have nothing to inherit!”

“Really?”

“Only thing I’m passing on is male pattern baldness.”

There was also hereditary syphilis, but I thought that might ruin the tone. As it was, I’d caught him off guard.

“Um…”

He took out his wallet and threw a crumpled £5 note at my feet.

“Nothing makes money like an inheritance mess! Goodbye, friend. I hope killing the scholar was worth it.”

I perked up.

“I didn’t kill the scholar!”

“Yeah, and I don’t have hereditary syphilis.”

“Me too- I mean, no, really, I didn’t kill the scholar.”

“I saw you run out the betting shop. Her blood’s on your face.”

“I’m not a killer. I’m a journalist.”

He screwed his face up, trying to decide which was worse.

“What proof do I have?”

“Look.” It was my turn to take out my wallet. I took out the one document all hacks keep on them at all times. “I have diplomatic immunity from integrity or professional standards.”

“Issued by the British embassy?”

“No, Rupert Murdoch.”

He put the gun down and walked over to me. He snatched the piece of paper out my hand and started working his eyes over it like a typewriter. He shot a look back up at me.

The Lampoon, eh?” he considered me a moment more. “This is getting out of hand if even you clowns know about this.”

“Thanks,” I snatched the paper back and put it away in my pocket. “You’re not that impressive either. I’ve heard the legends about the Von Scrutiny lawyer, where’s your anti-kneecap crowbar?”

“I’m not the Von Scrutiny lawyer,” he snapped. “He’s a Von Scrutiny himself, and absolute royalty.”

“Windsor Chair Von Scrutiny?”

“The very same. I’m just one of his cronies, and – if you’re not with the Students’ Union – your last chance of a scoop.”

“On principle, I’m never with the Union.”

“What principle’s that?”

“The principle of being expelled from the Union.”

We shook hands reluctantly. As we broke contact, there was a white imprint of where his palm had wrapped around my knuckles.

“Let’s walk.”

We made a hairpin turn out the underpass and onto the High Rise Bridge. We strode past tourists and tried to look inconspicuous.

“So you never wear trousers?”

“Not if I can help it,” I explained.

We came to stop in the middle. We leant against the bridge and stared at the river below.

“So how come you’re the best the Von Scrutiny clan can afford?”

“Seat’s a minor offshoot of a minor branch of a minor offshoot,” his eyes were on a boat making its way up the Tyne. “He’s small potatoes. All I did was defend OJ Simpson.”

“That’s all you did? He got off.”

“No, I defended him later, when he got accused of armed robbery and kidnapping.”

“And?”

“Thirty three years in prison.”

“Yeesh.”

“I know. Imagine if he’d served them.”

The attorney took out a hip flask.

“Von Scrutiny’s still a name that carries weight. It’s why he’s got the Union so shaken.”

“He’s got them a little more than shaken.”

“I know,” he unscrewed the lid and took a long swig. “It’s sad what happened to the scholar.”

“Sad?!” I shouted. Mist shot out my mouth and dissipated a foot above our heads. “You think it’s sad that the best quant this city’s ever known got her head blown up like a goddamn watermelon?”

“Look kid, you’re lucky to be alive.”

“Lucky?!”

I opened my mouth to chew his ear off some more, but he got in before me.

“Yeah, lucky. I haven’t been told to doctor photos of you, or blackmail you, or kidnap your family,” the whiskey sloshed around as he gestured with the flask. “You’re lucky Von Scrutiny has set his ambitions on one city.” He paused, but the anger was still in his eyes. He levelled a finger at me. “You know he started off wanting this to be wholesome. He wanted to inspire girl power, like Hillary Clinton, or Priti Patel.”

I took my eye off the river and looked him square in the face. He looked at me, like he knew what was coming next.

“Who is Seat?” I asked finally. “Tell me that and I can go.”

He held eye contact for a few moments before he had to break it off.

“If I tell you who’s behind the Seat moniker, this all comes tumbling down.”

“How many more people’s blood do I have to get on my jacket before you realise it’s already tumbling down?”

“No, it really isn’t. This is real shit, kid. As real as that sexy boyfriend of yours we ran into between the chase and walking the bridge.”

That would have been too boring to relate. It was hot though.

“Fine. I’ll go back to my editor with nothing. But we’ve got a front page ready and waiting. If you give us the facts, you can get ahead of the story, but if you leave us no choice but to speculate, that’s exactly what we’ll do.”

The attorney looked at me again, hurt in his eyes.

“I can’t believe this. A man of your stature – a journalist – being misleading with the truth?”

“I’m in shock myself.” I took my weight off the bridge and started to walk away. “And you know, shock can do weird things to a man. Possess him even. Compel him to sit down at his typewriter and start writing all sorts of stuff. About homicide and turmoil and crooked attorneys.”

The attorney’s jaw clenched. He set his gaze on the Baltic, which was running an art exhibition on middle aged women’s feet I’d been intending to frequent for research.

“I can’t give you a name,” he growled into the night.

“That’s okay.” I swung my body back round and continued walking. “I can sure as hell give you a story,” I called, my voice echoing round the iron girders.

“You know what, fine!” he shouted back. “I will give you something. I’ll give you your front fucking page. But remember what happens next comes down to you. You precipitated this!”        

I nodded without looking back. It was then I knew I was onto something. I could pull anything off if I could pretend to know what precipitated meant.

Tune in tomorrow for Chapter Four – A Scheme is Hatched

The Curious Tale of Seat Von Scrutiny (A Neo-Noir Reimagining): Chapter Two – A Bookies Bust-Up Gone Bad

I walked down Northumberland Street, confronted once again by the pond-scum of humanity. Buskers competed for noise with the street preachers yelling at passers-by stood on apple crates. It was weird that passers-by were stood on apple crates, but that’s just how it goes in this lousy city.

As I pushed past groups of youths and people returning home from work, tired hands pulling their hoods down over the rain, I realised any one of them could be Seat Von Scrutiny. It was clear my usual avenues of investigation – cyberbullying Piers Morgan on Twitter – wouldn’t yield results fast enough. I only sent three Tweets saying he was crap on Good Morning Britain before I stopped walking. The Betfred was in front of me.

My face was basked in the yellow of screens throwing up gambles, odds and pictures of footballers. I’d resolved never to come here, unless desperate: the only thing I gambled with was my life, and at times, money.

I took a deep breath, took my fedora in my hand and pushed open the door.

“Hey, Sylvia!” I called. The lights were off inside, but I know she’d be here somewhere. “Sylvia, it’s me.”

“What?” came a muffled voice from out back.

“It’s me!”

“Well, I’m glad I know it’s you,” she began, her voice getting clearer and clearer with the sound of her footsteps, “but we get a lot of people in here, so I’m afraid you’ll have to be-” she emerged behind the desk, “oh, it’s you!”

“I did tell you. I know I vowed never to come back here, after I-”

“Was told by staff never to come back here.”

“After I decided gambling was beneath me.”

“After you bet that Wayne Rooney would score a try, and started a fight when you lost.”

“After I realised I was above it, yes.”

Sylvia started counting the cash in the register.

“And yet here you are. Real as I am, or your very attractive boyfriend, who I have met,” she definitely said. “Are you working a story?”

“The biggest story of my career. The role of Chair of Scrutiny’s opened up again.”

“Dear God. Last time that happened, the city nearly split in two, between the people who cared, and the people who really cared.”

“There’s more. The frontrunner is totally anonymous, and I’ve been charged been finding who it is.”

Sylvia stopped counting the cash. She stopped leaning over and looked me dead in the eyes. It was like I was naked. Maybe I should have put trousers on.

“You want to talk to the scholar, don’t you?”

“I wouldn’t be asking if it wasn’t a last resort.”

“I know,” she sighed. “Whenever The Lampoon start digging, people get hurt. They… they sink. They sink faster than your Facebook likes.”

I ignored the slight. We’d had literally ones of likes just that day.  

“Is she in?”

“Yeah, she’s in. She’ll be difficult though. You know what they say about genius”

Sylvia turned on the light and started poking the scholar with a broom.

“Hey, Einstein, wakey wakey, there’s a hack here for you.”

She lifted her head up from the floor, eyes bloodshot.

“Wha’?”

“A hack,” Sylvia repeated, still jabbing.

“Fine, fine. Wha’ you wan’?”

 “Information,” I said, begging my voice not to shake. It was hard not to be starstruck.

“Costs ya.”

“I know how this works.”

I walked over and crouched by her side. I took out a bottle of Tesco own brand vodka and some poorly advised betting tips that a man in a pub had given to me unprompted.

She received them gratefully, and after a swig of the vodka, she sat up and faced me.

“Wha’ you need know?”

“Seat Von Scrutiny.”

Her eyes widened. She looked out the window before she started speaking.

“I can tell you about the Kennedys,” she began, “or the Clintons or the Borgias or House Bezos,” recently recognised at fifth in line to the English throne, “but not the Von Scrutinies.”

“I know what they’re capable of.”

“No, you don’t, no-one does. Run, you run now- urgh!”

Blood shot out of her head and she collapsed. I jumped up, stumbled a couple of paces back and fell right back down again. My legs moved like mad until I was up against the wall. My palms sweaty, I looked at where the bullet had come from.

A huge burly man had an arm over Sylvia’s throat. In his other hand was a smoking Desert Eagle.

“I didn’t favour her odds,” he smirked, pocketing the gun.

I cursed myself at not thinking of that one.

“I’m gonna get to the bottom of this,” I managed.

“I wouldn’t bet on it.”

Damn, that was another good one.

“Are you with the Von Scrutinies?” I asked.

“No my friend. Think bigger.”

“MI6?”

“Bigger.”

“The UN?”

“Bigger.”

“No, not?”

“Student Council compadre.”

I looked at the scholar, and the pool of blood forming around her head, slowly enveloping the beer cans and fag ends.

“You didn’t wanna know who Von Scrutiny is?”

“We have other sources. The more people who know, the more,” he looked at the scholar, “loose ends we have to… how to put this delicately… shoot in the head.”

“Is that what we are?” Sylvia asked, voice shaking.

“Quiet. But yes, I’m afraid so. Gambling and journalism are universally respected institutions, so it’ll be hard to cover up, but another bookies bust-up gone bad? Who isn’t gonna believe that?”

“So you don’t even want any cash?”

“Huh?”

When he glanced down at the cash taken out the register, Sylvia threw her head back and rammed it into his face. He cried out and let her go. She spun round and socked him around the face and kicked him in the balls. He keeled over on the floor and she jumped over the counter.

“Run!” she said.

The people in the city were blurs as we raced down the bus stop and into an alleyway. Down, down, down, past a group of kids getting weed for only £90 a gram, left, right, left again, under orange streetlights, and then into another alleyway. We looked up and down at either end to make sure we were safe. Here, our only company was foxes. As we stood catching our breath, she handed me a handkerchief. I was almost done wiping the blood off my face when I said:

“Why didn’t you tell me he was there?”

“And end up like the scholar? No thank you,” she was pacing up and down width-ways. “What are we gonna do without her? The city’s breweries are gonna be bankrupt within a week.”

“Forget the city. What are you gonna do?”

“My entire career relies on getting vulnerable people to gamble away money they don’t have.”

I was blinded as the alley flooded with light. The helicopter whir overhead made me think the police were onto us, but on its underbelly I instead saw a logo for-

“Goldman Sachs!”

A rope ladder unrolled itself. She was about to get on. Shouting over the noise, and pulling away her hair, which was getting blown every which direction, she told me:

“You’re in deep now. Be careful.”

She put a hand and foot on the ladder and waved at the pilot to take off. A few moments and she had disappeared into the horizon.

Tune in tomorrow for Chapter Three – High Stakes on the High Rise Bridge

The Curious Tale of Seat Von Scrutiny (A Neo-Noir Reimagining): Chapter One – Under The Neon Sign

Note: the protagonist of this sordid tale is a self-insert. However, the writer has assured the editorial team that he has been faithful and accurate in his depiction of himself.

I sat behind my desk lifting a 300kg weight in front of my seven PhD certificates. The certificates were next to the photo of me meeting the Queen, and of me with my very attractive boyfriend, who is emo and real.

Looking around, it was plain to see it was going to be another dark day at the Lampoon office. After a while, as if to break the silence, an intern called out:

“Are you guys gonna turn a light on?”

“No!” we barked back.

Working in pitch black was essential to our work: without visual stimulation, we were forced to look into our conscience. The idea is one day, one of us would find ours, and they could tell the rest of us to stop being journalists. In a way, it was a blessing that our landlord turned off our electricity. It was extra nice of them to send two spiritual leaders down to the office, who guided us towards Nirvana by punching our teeth out and threatening to take our TV.

Occasionally I’d see one of my colleagues’ faces cast in gothic shadow as they lit up a cigarette. I pulled one of my own out of the box that was open on my desk. Unlike with my 6’4” muscular very intelligent boyfriend, no matter how hard I sucked, nothing came out. Still, I didn’t mind. There’s something beguiling about a cigarette. Why do we do the thing that hurts us the most? Would cigarettes be better if you lit them? We’ll of course never know, so in that moment, all I had was my thoughts. Amongst them, the notion that I was the best damn journalist in that office, or my name isn’t Paul.

“Hey, Joe,” my editor said.

“Yes?” I replied.

“We got a story come in I want you to take care of.”

“But boss, I’m working on my list of top ten sideboobs in anime.”

“Kid, you’re good, but you’ll never get anywhere with that intellectual crap. For god’s sake, we’re professionals. By the way, we have a meeting in an hour with the shareholders, so we better put some trousers on.”

“Urgh, fine.”

“Now as I was saying,” he continued while he slung his braces back over his shoulders, “you gotta give the people what they want.”

“And what do they want?”

“Today, they want 2000 words on S-Seat Von S-S-Scrutiny.”

“Von Scrutiny?”

“Did I stutter?”

“Yeah, actually.”

“Don’t talk back, you’re lucky I can’t see your face well enough to smack it. You know Von Scrutiny?”

There was a pause. His expression was suspicious, presumably.

“No,” I managed, not too convincingly. He either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

“You’re about to. He’s running for office.”

“Newcastle Council?”

“More important than that.”

“Parliament?”

“More important still.”

“No, not?”

“Oh yes son. He’s running for Student Council.”

“Holy hell!” I exclaimed. “This will bump all the very serious articles we were definitely going to do about Student Council.”

“I’m afraid so. He’s running to be Chair of Scrutiny. Massive anti-Union platform, so naturally they all hate him. I first heard from the scholar, but even she’s skittish.”

The scholar was the best damn informant and quantitative analyst this side of Pluto. She’d lectured astrophysics at Harvard before lecturing Margaret Thatcher on economic policy, but got kicked out after old Maggie had decided facts were invented by Argentinians. Now the scholar had a full-time position as a gambling addict at the local Betfred. A few Lampoon writers even knew the rudiments of reading and writing thanks to her.

“As for Seat himself, just now his people have faxed me a press release with his full manifesto. It’s 100 whole words. Some of it’s even spelt right.”

“I’m not interested, get an intern to do it.”

“This is serious Joe. You think they let anyone run for a position on Student Council?”

I considered.

“I guess not. And a university wouldn’t spend student loan money on anything worthless.”

“Of course not,” my editor replied. He had to make his voice heard over the sound of Chris Day popping open another bottle of champagne in the distance. It happened on the hour, every hour, like a grand Cathedral clock, but more ostentatious. “So you’ll do it?”

“No.”

“Please.”

“Dammit, you’ve twisted my arm! I’ll do it.”

“Great.”

I heard the file drop onto the desk.

“One more thing: he’s anonymous.”

“Anonymous?”

“Anonymous. If we want the story, we need their name.”

“So I’m meant to go all over Newcastle asking every bum if they’re Seat Von Scrutiny?”

“Of course not: bums are much too busy to care about this. But without a name, the press won’t be able to figure out if this guy’s foreign enough to hate.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Fine.”

I got up from my desk, scooped up the file and walked out the room. I found my way up the winding staircase and out into the cold night air. I turned my collar up, put my fedora on and stepped out into the rain.

“Joe.”

I whipped round. A dominatrix was smoking in the doorway. She was lit up by the neon sign that towered above our office.

SEX SHOP: Ask about our deal on anal lube!

It seemed to stare out at me with even more piercing knowingness than usual. It was like TJ Eckleburg, if TJ Eckleburg had tits.

“Yes, Arendt?”

I walked back gingerly under the doorway.

The cherry-stub of her cigarette got brighter and duller as she inhaled.

“You’re going after Von Scrutiny, aren’t you?” she asked as smoke left her lips.

“My editor’s put me up to it.”

“Your editor? That’s why you’re leaving in such a hurry? The last time I saw you work this efficiently was on your harddrive when we were raided by the police. Are you sure there’s nothing else at play here?”

“What do you mean Arendt?”

“You fell in love with a Von Scrutiny, didn’t you?”

I looked away. The pain was unbearable.

“Arendt?”

“Yes?”

“Please take your stiletto off my foot.”

“Oh, sorry,” she pulled her heel out of me. “Some men would pay quite handsomely for me to do that.”

She raised her eyebrows. It’s hard to make out someone raising their eyebrows in a gimp suit, but then, Arendt was the best of the best.

“I did fall in love with one, yes,” I finally replied. “Recliner Von Scrutiny.”

“Ah, he was German. The ones that break our hearts are always the most romantic.”

“I know his death wasn’t my fault, but-”

“I heard you threw a bear-trap at his face.”

“Exactly, there was nothing I could do, but I just feel like if I can unmask this Chair guy, I can get some answers.”

Arendt considered the value of what I’d said, which didn’t take long.

“Joe,” she took the cigarette out her mouth, “you can live a life consumed by regret, or you can be free. No-one has ever managed both.”

There was a pause as I took on what she was saying, and realised it was true.

“I made my choice long ago Arendt.”

“I know, but regrets-”

“No, I’m free,” I held up the ankle tag, which I’d managed to cut in two earlier that day.

Regrets, Joe, will eat you alive.”

She looked out at the street.

“I was in love once,” she said. “Did I ever tell you?”

“No, never. What happened?”

“She didn’t like that I was in sex work.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. It’s not like I haven’t had time to…” she gestured with her cigarette, leaving wisps of smoke behind as she searched for the right word, “mull it over,” she took a drag, eyes still on the passers-by, and the cars racing past. “You have the same look in your eye she did when she told me she couldn’t ‘do this’ anymore. Whatever that meant. Ever since, I’ve realised regrets are also how we know there’s some of us left to be eaten.” She dropped the cigarette and stomped it out. “I’m gonna let five guys run train on me. Take care darling.”

The door opened and closed, and all that was left of her was smoke. As was often the case, I was left trying to decipher the message Arendt had left for me. After a while, quietly smug, I walked back into the night, with a new resolve to quit the cigarettes.

Tune in tomorrow for Chapter Two – A Bookies Bust-Up Gone Bad