“Because they’ve logged in to the damn club under one of my own pseudonyms!” He turned his mobile around for them all to see. There was no text on the screen, only smarticons surrounding a slightly pixel-shifted version of Manoj’s face. If he hadn’t been sitting there, holding the screen beside his head, Graham never would have known they weren’t ‘just’ twins from over the other side of the world.
“Damnit!” Emlen laughed. “What’re the chances of that?” Shaking his head, he then perked forwards. “Do you have another way out of here?”
“Of course we do, but what’s it to us? Why would they be here for us?” Asked Adam.
“Adam. If I’m caught out with this pseudonym…” Adam bit his lip at Manoj’s failed statement.
Then Adam stood, “alright then, follow us.” But did not break gaze with Graham.
Like it’s my fault, you twerp! But Graham looked away first, as Emlen swiftly collected his materials. Adam stepped off the platform for the back of the club. That’s when Graham literally saw the darkness coming for them, plowing through the crowd of dancers. Headed by that damned skull.
“Move it!” He shouted, and the other two actually started after him, pushing for the far wall.
Graham was impressed with the speed they made, what with Adam and Manoj having pulled their jackets over their heads. What the fuck? But at least there was a trick they had, moving through the crowd—Graham was sure he must have once known it himself, but it was lost in the rush of blood to his head.
Graham was just lucky to follow them to a hidden door—painted black eggshell.
Pausing to get it open, Graham just watched dumbly as Emlen turned to grab his arm. Saw his eyes flare, as he twisted to the side and took Graham with him. “Down—“ There was one low beat—felt, and not heard—out of time with the music. “Up!” Emlen dragged him. For an instant he was off his feet, then running. As they passed the now opened door leading outside, Graham pulled along behind Emlen, his eyes came brushing close by the wood. The black paintwork was blistered and smoking.
“Jesus Fuck!” He said, but Emlen pushed him down the fire escape before he could look at it again. Whatever else happened, Graham just concentrated on hitting at least one out of every three steps both storeys down.
At the bottom of the building, Adam spat, “what the Hell have you got us involved in now Graham?” Before wiping away blood-stained drool from his lip. Damn, he must have hit his face in the rush down. Then Adam shrugged and hunched over with Manoj to shift a pile of refuse. Graham saw how they quickly revealed a hidden grate.
“Brilliant setup, gentlemen. I’d give us at least a minute before they get past your deadway.” Emlen had swooped down the escape.
“They’re after me, aren’t they?”
Adam rounded on Graham, “why so sure?”
“Christ, if you’d had the night I have, you’d think it too.”
“Forget it now, Adam, keep up the escape and I’ll do what I can for you both.” Emlen—for the first time—exuded an incredible surety.
If only, thought Graham. But he just shut up, and helped throw rubbish to the side, to slip through the narrow passage.
Emlen spent the getaway talking the two boys through staying ahead of the pursuers. By the time the group of them came to the boy’s hideaway pad, the two were calmer than Graham could manage.
“Yeah, we’ve been pretty good about text,” Adam slipped a key into their door, eschewing the scratched datapad, “turns out that ‘restrictions’ just make the art. I was never especially creative before, but having to change like that… never writing again… it flips you—being broke hasn’t helped much either; it was either get involved in some hardcore movement, or sleep-in the whole day and die—but then again, we don’t do that ‘sleeping’ very well, do we Man’?” And Manoj grinned defensively at the wink that followed.
“Is this Printcore you’re into?” Emlen in his professional, utilitarian suit, a one-piece slung with holsters, suddenly synched with their drab-punk.
“No, man. Printcore, textcore, pixel- or ink-core all went away ages ago with the stuff like queercore music—all those ‘cores—by definition having to be harder than each other and themselves. It’s all just simple hardcore again, and better that way.” They showed the two older men into their one room and bed, floor covered in discarded clothing. “I like it better as this non-declarative movement. All that screaming ‘bout ‘the ink and the bond and the leather’—Christ. Fuck that. Just spoilt kids reminiscing about that one bound from their childhood, the one their parents had to hock…”
Manoj sat back on their bed with a box from out the wardrobe, and just looked at it, embarrassed.
Graham sat with him, and joked, “this where you hide your porn?”
Manoj looked away from him, back down at the box. “We don’t hide our porn,” he said, confused, “this is where we put our ‘naughty’ stuff.” He blushed black. “Go on.” And handed it over.
Inside there were postcards, ‘saved from that damned cull’ said Adam, sent from close friends away on a holiday. And from only a few years ago, a diary and torn band posters taken directly from a derelict wall, and also two print bounds.
“No pens.” Said Emlen.
“We don’t take notes anymore,” from Manoj, “we teach each other. Then we remind ourselves of it, taking turns to talk it through the night. It works pretty well.”
They were both academic works: one of international poetry, each page of the original and then the English translation. And one was Graham’s, on the inter-relationship of titling to identity in textual communities.
It wasn’t the title he was after, however. “You kept it? From when they charged you.”
“… Yeah.” Manoj took it from him, flickering through the bond. “It’s probably the one that got us in trouble to begin with. Not so much the print itself; we used to write notes in the margins, and leave them for each other.” He looked at Graham, the Author, guiltily, “they’re relevant… I don’t know, I liked how insecure it was—though not how insecure we were,” he apologised shyly to Adam. God, thought Graham, they wrote each other love notes in the margins of my bound, arguing with each other and explaining themselves. Manoj smiled. “But that too. It was different than leaving msgs on boards and hacking away at a pad. This felt more tender.”
“The notes were on the two of you?” Emlen. “About your—a couple’s—interpretation of the text.”
“Yeah.” They nodded. And Graham had wished he’d paid more attention to them at the time. “We argued over what you were saying, Mr Nutt, but we used it like a cypher—so that I knew how he’d felt coming to his interpretation. Shit, I never wanted you to correct us! Then I wouldn’t have known what was what.”
“That’s not really what we’re after. It’s not even the right bound.” Emlen had passed on it already.
Adam shrugged, “it’s what we’ve got. It’s gray they could even do us for still having it. We’ve been charged for it already.” He laughed. Graham held on to the look Adam and Manoj then gave one another, of lovelorn fish pouting round their own hooks. But Emlen had already stood, boots upon their make-up, over their make-believe clothing—pieces strewn across the floor.
“Remember what I told you, and you should survive.”
Graham didn’t know what to say after that. So he left them instead.
By Paul McLaughlan