The Death and Life of Red Henley

By Philip Wilding

A contemporary noir novel set against the decaying façade of 1980’s New York and a religious commune staked out in the Tennessee countryside. But what connects them both and who killed Red and why?

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Red: The World Burns...

What was it Bukowski said, the days run away like wild horses over hills?  I have a friend who sometimes chides me for my occasional dramatic flourish (I say occasional), but as the hours and days count down to the deadline for my second novel, The Death And Life Of Red Henley, I'll admit to feeling a little skittish, the odd pulse-quicklening moment as we creep towards the final target as it remains defiantly and tantalisingly just out of reach. I've very little to complain about (but I will), 74% after forty-five days is not to be sniffed at and while I feign casual indifference as I click on the Unbound updates on an almost daily basis (almost, who am I kidding?), I can feel a tic developing along my right eyelid. It's the kind of twitch I associate with my bad old days when I'd sleep infrequently and ingest/indulge on a grand scale. I'd realise I'd pushed things just a little too far when my right eye started blinking out in what felt like semaphore, signalling, I imagined, either for sleep or help. It's nothing compared to a story Carl Barat told me when I ghosted his biography, Threepenny Memoir, about the time he quite determinedly stayed awake for a week, he did it too. I can only imagine the quick-fire messages his eyelids were sending out by the end of that, but the listless, waking dream memory still makes me shudder.

So, also determinedly, though without as much chance of causing my heart to pop like a fairground balloon, I thought I'd push on against the last final hill toward the dizzy heights of a completed pledge campaign. With that in mind, I thought I'd eke out some more excerpts from my book in the hope that they might entice yet another buyer into parting with their cold, hard cash in the hope of some minor infamy of appearing in the thank you list of my new novel. The below is one of the settings for the book: the Tennessee countryside in the earlier 60s, the other is NYC in 1980. I hope you like it, more will follow and if you'd like to read the whole thing then pledge here. Thank you.

June 1961

Raymond Bulley remembered the flames and the voices calling for help. His father pulling him along by his hand, past the smell of something burning nearby, their home literally turning to dust, the oxygen being sucked out of the air, the feeling that at any moment his hair might turn to tinder and ignite around his head, giving him a halo of orange and red. Then suddenly they were outside, the crack of falling wood behind them, something combusted and blew inward, a window fell in on itself, glass shattered and someone screamed his father’s name and then the world exploded and inverted and he was suddenly twenty feet away from where he’d been standing with his leg caught up behind him, something had happened to his thumb, it felt dislocated and useless; like it wasn’t his thumb anymore, the bright sunshine caused him to blink. He sat up and a high, singing alarm went off in his head. Behind him their house was now a dirty black cloud tethered to a series of jagged, wooden spikes that looked like spindly fingers pointing accusingly at the sky, it sounded like something his father might describe in one of his sermons. And then his father was standing over him, blood across his face and on one of his hands, he was screaming something, but the high-pitched keening in Raymond’s ears made it impossible to hear him. He grabbed at the boy’s wrist and then was suddenly jolted backwards and briefly out of sight, he watched confusedly as his father’s legs shot up in the air and then there was Jakub standing triumphantly behind his father, his clothes were smoking and he looked as though he’d been smeared with oil. The whites of his eyes magnified against the burnt black of his skin.

Years later, Raymond would remember the smell, he could sense it in his nostrils, taste the suddenly decaying flesh on his tongue, the charcoal of a barbeque brought it flooding back, sulphur conjured up the ghost of Jakub’s hair, a lick of flame at the crown that he hadn’t seemed to have noticed yet, the scent was overwhelming, nauseating yet sweet, putrid, the thick smell of steak, he imagined leather being held over a flame until it curled and smoked. Then his father was standing next to Jakub, close enough to burn, he pulled his revolver from inside his jacket and placed it at Jakub’s temple and fired. The sound even broke through the white noise that was now making up the inside of Raymond’s skull, he saw the bullet ricocheting inside Jakub’s head, spinning around like a rider on the Wall of Death and then Jakub was gone, a spray of blood described a wobbling arc in the air, and then Raymond was up, his father grabbing at him and dragging him into their car. His father was screaming.

“I’ll make landfill from their bones!” Blue’s voice was reaching Raymond like a dispirited radio signal that had travelled too far and was quickly waning. He watched his father strike the dashboard repeatedly with his open hand. His whole frame was shaking and he was driving like a man who knew that a twister was threatening the sky in his rear view mirror. Until, quite suddenly, he pulled the car wildly over into small side road and stilled. He turned in his seat and placed a hand gently on his son’s shoulder, he looked undone, diminished somehow, he looked like a boy himself, wearing a grown up’s suit for a joke, his head shrunken, peeking out of the collar, the knot of the tie too wide. Not only had Raymond’s father lost his congregation and people, he had, as he would later admit, finally lost everything, even his way.

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