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Excerpt: 'The Book of Dave'


From Chapter 10: The Riddle

In the Trophy Room everything had changed. Dave realized this as he walked in through the door. No longer were the plastic chairs grouped in an egalitarian circle; instead there were fully tenanted rows of seats all facing a makeshift podium. On this stood Daniel Brooke in his outsized T-shirt. He gave the newcomers a curt nod, but his attention was mostly on a banner he was fixing up over the trophy cabinet together with a Fathers First member Dave didn't recognize. There was no sign of Keith Greaves at all, and the few faces Dave did know were outnumbered by at least twenty new men. The banner was stretched tight; FIGHTING FATHERS it shouted. 'Right!' called Daniel Brooke. 'Settle down, you lot, we've a lot to get through this evening, and I need maximum attention and positivity... Gary.' Brooke fixed F***er, who was still chatting to his neighbour, with a pointed eye. F***er fell silent.

'I applaud those of you from the old Fathers First group who've had the courage to come with us on this new journey of self-discovery and personal evolution, believe me you won't be disappointed. Keith has his good points, but they're soft ones.' Brooke's eyes kept ranging along the assembled men's faces as he spoke, as if probing them for any softness. 'That touchy-feely stuff may be OK for dads who want to lie down under all the shit they've been dealt out, but that's not what we are. What are we?' He paused and raised his beautifully manicured fist in a swift uppercut.

'We're Fighting Fathers!' the men all bellowed.

'And whadda we want?' Brooke called back.

'Justice now!' the men cried.

The atmosphere of resentful aggression in the room reminded Dave of sour-faced old cabbies moaning on in their shelters. The Fighting Fathers had the distorted mouths and clenched eyes of some bloody Muslim fanatics burning an American flag ...

'Motivation is the key,' Brooke resumed, pacing the little podium. 'Without motivation we cannot hope to have any success with direct action, which is why I'm happy to welcome here this evening a motivational speaker who's going to give it to you straight concerning the Judaeo-Feminist forces lined up against us.' Judaeo-Feminist? 'He runs his own, hugely successful data-retrieval business, Transform Services.' Transform Services? 'He's a leading light in our brother organization, the Stormfront Nationalist Community. Will you give a big dads' welcome please to Barry Higginbottom!'

A man dramatically bashed open the swing doors and stood in the characterless strip lighting of the Trophy Room. It was the Skip Tracer -- and the sweat was lashing off him.


'A book, you say?' Anthony Bohm looked at the cabbie through the thick, round lenses of his vintage, wire-rimmed spectacles. When a young man, Bohm had affected the glasses as a badge of maturity -- the lenses had been of clear glass. However, with an irony that was not lost on him, as Bohm's career had progressed, so his eyesight had satisfactorily deteriorated, until he acquired the searching gravitas of the genuinely myopic.

'That's right, a book.' Dave looked around at the gloomy room, which was dominated by an enormous duct running across the ceiling, the housing of which was covered by flaking tinfoil. A decade-old flyer hung from bashed chipboard by yellowing tape, proclaiming DON'T DIE OF IGNORANCE. The room was somewhere deep in the basement of St Mungo's, a rundown hospital off the Tottenham Court Road.

This wasn't his and Bohm's first session together -- they'd had one up at the Halliwick in Friern Barnet, another down at King's on Denmark Hill. Bohm told Dave that he was seeing him 'on an unoffcial basis, it's very much a personal thing between me and Zack Busner', and as the psychiatrist took a series of locum positions around the city, his patient was required to follow. This was no hardship for Dave, who had resumed cabbing as gently as possible, only going out for a couple of hours during the off-peak. He used his weekly sessions as a low-anxiety conduit, picking up fares along the way as he wended to the next rendezvous with the mobile shrink.

'When I was . . . well, y'know, Tone, when I'd lost it,' Dave said, 'I thought there was this book inside me, this book I'd written . . . but now I dunno -- I dunno.'

'We've talked about your childhood,' Bohm continued, 'your relationships, your work. I like to think we've built up some trust between us.' He smiled, and his white goatee flicked like a hairy digit. Dave smiled too – anyone with such preposterous facial hair could hardly be malevolent. 'When Doctor, ah, Fanning, prescribed Seroxat for you in 2001 I'm sure he did what he felt was the right thing. However, the facts are that a small minority of patients have bad reactions to the drug – psychoses even. Your book dates from this period. If we can somehow dig it up from your unconscious and, so to speak, read it together, I think it would resolve a lot of your issues.'

Each of these measured remarks had been ticked off by Bohm, one plump finger pulling back the others. He now held the annotated hand aloft. 'Goodbye until next week,' he said, 'when we'll be meeting'– he consulted a fat little Filofax opened on his hefty thigh -- 'at the Bethesda in Bermondsey.'

Dig up the book. Dig it up -- search for it in the scrubby desert of his own mind. On the poxy little colour telly in the corner of his room, Dave Rudman saw clip after clip, all featuring the same stock characters: UN Inspectors in short-sleeved shirts and sweat-soaked jackets; Baathist apparatchiks in tan fatigues; to one side a gnarled old Bedouin in a dirty white cloakyfing. Behind them, on a plain of gravel that faded to a wavering horizon, stood corrugated-iron sheds and hunks of industrial equipment -- hoppers, conveyor belts, ducts -- all of them streaked with rust and dust. A mechanical digger petted some sand, arid wind plucked at the corners of the Inspectors' clipboards, riffing the computer printouts. Hard to think of them manufacturing anything there . . . Don't look like they could turn out a bloody widget, let alone nuclear-bloody-weapons . . . Yet Dave could see, in this taut confrontation, a sinister evocation of his own troubled life. Buried inside me...all that sickening guff . . . poisonous to dig it up ...

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Will Self