Cover image for The House of Whacks
Title:
The House of Whacks
Author:
Branton, Matthew.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Bloomsbury, 1999.
Physical Description:
250 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
"May 1999, no. 1"--Cover.
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9781582340241
Format :
Book

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Status
Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

Chicago, 1950. An S&M supermodel, a visionary mafioso; a dying editress of pulp fiction, a legendary horror novelist; a screenwriter stuck in a war zone, a crippled stunt woman; a McCarthy blacklisted cinematographer-turned-pornographer; two warring godfathers; and a heap of Nazi gold. Three perfect heists--same day, same place. The House of Whacks --it'll knock you sideways.


Author Notes

Matthew Branton is twenty-eight and is already at work on his next novel, The Princess --a tale of too much money and revenge, also to be published by Bloomsbury. Having worked as a publicist for a leading publisher, he now writes full time whilst doing freelance editing and journalism. He lives in London, England.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One MCML The sun came up over the sea and washed Manhattan clean; pushing inland, tinting pinks and golds into the billowing white clouds above New Jersey smokestacks, sweeping light across Pennsylvania, Ohio, flowing up the seaward side of hills and pooling in the valleys beyond. A platinum tide raced across the prairie, submerging in an hour tracts of tallgrass that would take a truck whole days to transverse, the scenery unrelieved in its monotony all the while. There was no pause in the headlong rush westward: but slip out of the slipstream, in the race across the flatlands, fall behind; and see blur coalesce into detail, watch the horizon quiver out into a flat line; see the glass and towers of a mythical city rise up by the lake, shining back clear and radiant glory to the sky.     The sun came up over Chicago, and burst over the crowded city. Through stained glass in Oak Park and paper-mended window in the Loop, into the boudoirs of bankers' wives and the garrets of newsboys, heliographing back from the windows of the Tribune Tower and Hull House orphanage alike, it shed its equal ray everywhere. It found a window, the basement window of a tatty warehouse downtown, where the achromatic glare of a dozen arc-lights pushed it back. Undeterred, it ascended the walls, brimmed over at first floor windows -- into an office lined with file cabinets, a storeroom stacked high with stuffed buff envelopes, a post-room with a battered franking machine on a palimpsest-patina'd worktop. It pushed under doors and into corridors, down a ramshackle flight of stairs to the bright room, crept up behind the thousand-watt bulbs and found ... My child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest? -- Kenneth Patchen, But Even So The rope was too tight around Susan's ankle, but she couldn't do anything about it. Her hands were tied above her head, and the gag in her mouth kept her quieter than a mistress at a funeral. She scowled as best she could down at Alice; but Alice, crouched at Susan's feet, was making a big show of finishing off, drawing her lips back from her teeth as she tugged at the knots.     `Enough,' grunted Earl from behind the camera, making them both look up. He straightened and pushed a hand into the small of his back, exhaled in a sheesh ; then swiped his forearm across his eyebrows and bent back over the tripod. `Move it along, huh?'     Alice teetered over to the bench by the loading-bay doors, and selected another length of the silky white rope; then sashayed back, heels clocking on the unfinished cement, before kneeling again beside Susan's free ankle. Susan mmmf! 'd against the red rubber ball-gag, but Alice didn't look up. Soon it was quiet enough to hear the shutter of the Rolleiflex slide open before snapping back, interspersed with Alice's little grunts of exertion as she wound the rope hard around first Susan's ankle, and then the thick wood of the A-frame.     It was Susan's first shoot, and she didn't know if it needed to be so tight. Maybe Alice was cinching it hard on purpose? Susan wondered what she might have done to offend her. She'd certainly gone out of her way not to: even though Alice was a ditz, she was, for the present, the extent of Susan's world. Susan and Alice had buddied up when they were chorus girls in summer stock, touring Massachusetts last July; Alice had done this last winter, and at the start of October it'd seemed like easy money. Susan'd had six months in New York last winter, waitressing off Broadway and trying out for Streetcars and Seagulls in Brooklyn back rooms, and it'd been lousy; Alice's plan seemed a much better way to get through to spring season. Susan had figured she'd do maybe a few shoots a month, spend the rest of the time reading parts and getting them off straight. She'd started already; had been on a Ben Hecht jag all week -- The Twentieth Century and Design for Living -- but her lousy hostel room was next to the can; the walls were made of Kleenex and spit, and the girl across the hall was an actress too so she was home all damn day, took a leak every half hour like she was trying to drill a hole through the water. Drove Susan crazy. And since she hadn't had so much as a sniff at an audition since summer stock ended, it was all the more important that this stuff for Earl kept on the rails.     So it was unthinkable that Alice -- the only person she knew in this city, the one who got her this job, the one who maybe knew the people who could stamp her visa into the future, the one she put so much work into last summer, for God's sake -- could be mad at her. Susan smiled sweetly down, but Alice bared her teeth back in a grin full of malice, her makeup hard-faced and trashy, her garters cutting deep into the white flesh over her hips as she crouched to do Susan's other ankle. However disconcerting this was for Susan, it was perfect for the camera, as it clicked and whirred -- Good , Earl grunted, but always a moment too late, too slow with distraction to catch something as it happened, so you were never quite sure whether what you were doing now was good, or whether it was before you moved, or maybe before you moved the time before that. It was all too weird.     But even the basics had been mystifying. Susan had known they were going to be posing for the kind of mail-order stuff that you don't open at the breakfast table, but she'd thought it would be tits and ass -- sweater-girl poses, bending over in tight shorts, maybe some art shots with the clothes off and the lights down. When she'd changed into the lingerie Earl had provided and gone down to find a basement with a torture-rack in the middle and a table to one side covered with whips and what the hey, she'd balked, demanded what the hell kind of set-up this was. Earl had barked round his cigar at Alice.     `Ya bring me anudder princess? I toleya, I don' want no princess. Christ ,' and he'd turned away.     `It's okay, Earl,' Alice droned, her voice at least an octave lower than Susan knew it. `She's just nervous is all.' What's with you , she'd hissed sideways at Susan, who just widened her eyes. They're just for show , she went on, pretending to adjust Susan's brassiere strap for her. Skin don't get past the censor, and no one buys plain underwear shots. That stuff's just to make it more interesting. I'm not really gonna whup yuh, c'mon .     So Susan had shrugged her shoulders and submitted. Now, Alice cinched the last rope tight and tottered back behind the camera to fetch the blindfold. Susan was glad of it -- the gag she could've lived without, but she was starting to get a headache from the lights. She wished Earl would maybe play the radio or something -- it was kind of boring, especially when he stopped to fix the light levels -- but it was giving her time to think: thoughts that weren't necessarily about strategy, and in time when she needn't feel guilty she wasn't doing something more remunerative than just thinking. She could kind of drift away, the way she used to when she sat for life classes at college. It'd paid her tuition but she'd hated it -- bunch of rich girls, daughters of movie actors and atomic scientists and cough syrup tycoons, frowning over sketchpads at Susan toga'd up like Isadora Duncan. Here she was again, but until the actressing panned out, what could she do? She was beautiful. She couldn't go work in an office because she ruined everyone's day. Men, though generally flushed with success by the post-war-effort profusion of women at work -- where they could get at them all day -- nevertheless shied away from her. It was her beauty: there was no conduit for it between her and them, so it stayed locked up in her face and body, where it represented, to those sorry-looking weekday wolves, only distance, unlikeliness, and failure.     It was even worse with nice guys, the kind she wouldn't have minded some attention from, the ones who didn't go out of their way to bother women like her. Some guy'd come in to work, thinking that maybe, okay, things weren't going too great but at least he could switch off a few hours and get through to another five o'clock, when bang! There she was. And then he had to think about how he was never going to be in her league -- and he was right, not even out of charity, buster -- but it loused up everything. It ruined his day and it ruined hers. Nice guys thought she was out of their league: it was only jerks who had the blind self-assurance to try it on. The nice guys, the ones she could see trying not to look at her because it'd only make them feel hopeless ... so office work was out. Nursing was pretty much the same way -- she didn't want to think about old women, let alone touch them -- and as for teaching school, it seemed she was allergic to chalkdust as well as children. She was drop-dead but she'd dropped out of college; there wasn't much she was going to be allowed to be successful at, so if she didn't find Him that was pretty much it. Her jury was still out on whether it was better to pass this up than persevere, but here she was anyway, wintering in Chicago.     It wasn't going to work, she could tell. It wasn't going to come to any good because it was just like any other first day on a lousy job. There was even a load of dumb jargon to confuse a new girl. Once Earl had been satisfied that she was, in fact, enough of a professional to get on with it, he'd grunted Okay -- Alice, bottom -- new girl, you're the top . Susan had been as bemused by this order as by her first view of the props, but Alice had immediately launched into some dumb story about her armpits -- how she had a rash from the cold and couldn't shave them too close -- and since the bottom was going to spend most of the session with her wrists tied above her head, she'd have to be the top. Susan deduced from this that top was tyer, bottom was tied. Earl, complaining that since he'd only borrowed the chainfall and pulleys for a couple of days, and there was no way he'd get another blonde at short notice, appeared not to have any choice but to agree; so Susan had stepped up to the rack. But as she did so, Alice had sotto voce'd can you believe I only ever get to be understudy ? And Susan'd had to laugh at her cheek -- it was obviously easier to be the butch than the bitch, and Susan would've gotten out of it if she'd thought of it.     But if this was going to be typical first day, Susan resolved, then let it. Besides, college had taught her that whoever you buddied up with in Freshers' Week was the one you spent the rest of your time avoiding. So the hell with Alice, she decided. Alice could kiss her pucker. Susan could do this, like most things, better than her. She'd get on the right side of this Earl guy and see where it might lead her. A guy into this sort of shit would have all kinds of connections. She'd dropped her chin forward so that her bangs hung over the blindfold, but now, as Earl muttered head back , she offered her throat to the lights, shaking out her hair reflexively before the cords of the ball-gag were tied tourniquet-tight around it. Earl snapped off a few, then Susan heard him crack the camera open, and a slithery whirr as he wound back the film. Alice lit a cigarette, and the scent of the smoke seemed doubly fragrant now Susan was blind: a symphony of mellow richness. She figured that those Madison Avenue guys were wasting their time. She ought to've told them: forget the soft-focus lovers being winsome under the trees; just go to the cinema, tie up the audience, blindfold them, then puff a few passing clouds their way. They'd be gasping. The corset and six-inch heels were strictly optional.     `Okay, let's go. And get that damn smoke out of the frame.'     Earl's accent was thick Bronx -- he said his own name like it was something that drains out of a sump. Susan didn't know how he'd wound up in Chicago and she didn't anticipate finding out. When she'd showed up earlier, for example, he'd just grunted when she asked him how he was doing, but she figured that his surliness might have an upside. When Susan had auditioned he just had her strip to her underwear while he smoked up some stinky old cigar -- he'd barely even looked at her. Easiest audition she ever did. Best money too.     The camera was snapping again, so she redoubled her efforts, tossing her head back, breathing heavily, straining the sinews in her exposed throat, then letting her head fall forward in exhaustion, drawing hard on the ties. The camera stopped.     `Hey, give it a rest, huh?' barked Earl. `I don't want that stuff. It's corny. Look like, I dunno like you're tryna stop yourself from laughing.' The whirrs and snaps resumed.     Huh! Corny? This from a guy who drove up that morning in a two-and-a-half-ton candy-pink space rocket, with chrome tits on the front and astro-blasters in back? Sheesh. But suddenly Susan started to feel weird. That mountebanked sexual exertion seemed to have done something to her. Alice was stroking what felt like a cat-o'-nine tails along her legs and -- this was the strangest thing -- it was kind of cool. It felt so unusual through the nylon, then up, over the tops of her stockings, the raw strips of leather teasing the smooth flesh of her thighs. She had to admit, this wasn't so bad: she guessed the average stenographer didn't get to have someone play with her as part of her job description -- she started to let herself go with it. The way she was tied, star-shaped, pushed her chest out to relieve the strain on her shoulders, and maybe it was something to do with being blindfolded, but she was acutely alert to her breasts inside their stiff satin bombshell cups, the pressure at her waist where the corset cinched her, the electric sheen of nylon on her legs, and the coarse tightness at her wrists and ankles from the ropes. It was hot in this basement -- the furnace for the whole warehouse was just through the wall -- but she didn't need to be able to see to know she'd got chickenflesh all over. She was suddenly aware of the warm air around her, brushing every tiny hair on her body this way and that with eddying thermals, sending a thousand sweet signals to her breasts, now full and firm and straining against the material, and she was thinking, hmmm ...     When the loading-bay doors crashed open, and the fat growl of a V8 engine swelled the room. Copyright © 1999 Matthew Branton. All rights reserved.

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