The Death of Stalin (2017) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes.

Director: Armando Iannucci

Stars: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Andrew Riseborough, Michael Palin, Olga Kurylenko & Adrian McLoughlin.

Review by Damocles

Ensemble Cast, Dark Comedy & Modern Historical Setting? This film never puts a single foot wrong.

A rather avid student of history, particularly the modern era, the moment I saw the trailer for this film, I knew I was going to like it.

The Death of Stalin, is a darkly comedic film, that centres around the actions of Stalin’s Committee directly in the aftermath of his death. What ensues is a scathing political dissection of the power struggle that opens after Stalin’s death and an insight into the anxiety that all Russian citizens felt under Stalin’s thumb in the 1950s.

What I particularly liked about this film, was its’ ability to balance something as horrific as Stalinism with darkly comedic dialogue that relies heavily on the strength of the actors’ skills and delivery.

This is a film that doesn’t rely on strong cinematography, nor score, nor costume design, but instead is a pure actor’s film. The Death of Stalin created an environment where the stars are truly allowed to perform and outshine every other element of a film.

None of the cast bothered to try to do a Russian accent, a fact that is now lauded for adding extra comedic value to the film, especially when the dialogue is contrasted with the extremely Soviet sets and accurate uniforms. None of the cast even really look that Russian. But they are all having immense fun on-screen and it is a joy to watch them perform and bring some type of bizarre humanity to these inhuman monsters that history remember them as.

Every single member of the cast, from Jeffrey Tambor’s snivelling and indecisive take on Georgy Malenkov, to Jason Isaacs’ scene stealing turn as the brash and supremely confident Georgy Zhukov, brought their A-game.

But it is the interplay between the unscrupulous and despicable Simon Russell Beale as Laventiy Beria and the more reasonable but still sinister Steve Buscemi’s Nikita Khrushchev that really creates the film.

Watching these two great actors scheme, plot and slowly develop their characters more and more, as the situation deteriorated was one of the best parts of this film. Much of the film is a showcase about how both men crave the top seat and will do anything to appear genuine and kind-hearted to those who will support them, only to turn on them viciously, moments later when the time is right.

It is this irony that supplies so much of the humour in the film, with both men desperate for power and control over the lesser minds of the committee, resorting to schemes and moves that mirror each other’s low tactics amidst this power vacuum.

I found myself laughing uproariously at some of the ridiculousness of the dialogue that is laden with profanities. So much of it, was bickering and humorous situational observations that seem ridiculous and ludicrous given the extreme nature of the scenario.

Then, moments later, I would be aghast how the cruel nature of the Soviet machine at work, and the depravity showcases by these men in power, and their tone-deaf approach to the situation.

It is this delicate balancing act, of humour and horror that really creates the unique tone of the film.

From a cinematography perspective, the film is shot in a primarily documentary format, with a lot of wonderful fly on the wall attributes that add to the hilarity and shock of what is happening on screen. There is nothing particularly note-worthy though, beyond glory shots of set dressing and surprisingly faithful recreations of Soviet era buildings.

As for the score, there is again, little to really discuss there, with appropriately styled Soviet-esque music playing in the background and always just there to emphasis certain dramatic points. Christopher Willis’ work never soared by the scenes enough to distract, which I personally believe to be a wise move, considering the documentary style that Armando Iannucci chose.

Overall, I had a great time watching an ensemble cast act, plot, connive and bring some humourous humanity to some of history’s greatest evil apparatchik. The film moves along at a great pace, and never overstays it welcome.

As fictional retelling of historical events go … this one is as fun as it gets.

A scene to recall: The glorious slow-motion entrance of Jason Isaac’s Field Marshal Zhukov, as befitting this war hero. What a man.

Apparently, the director had to tone down the sheer number of medals on Zhukov’s chest, because in reality he fielded a lot more on his chest. Reading the career of Field Marshal Zhukov is like realising this man is essentially a Russian Caesar, without the political ambitions.

Traceur 5-O

A shot from Banlieue 13: Ultimatum (2009), a decent French action film with a focus on parkour sequences.

Detective Alex Dujardin was finding it difficult to breathe.

The typical thrills of hunter-prey dynamics were starting to get to him, accelerating his anticipation and excitement.

It did not help a single bit that he was sitting in a truck beset by armoured men with intimidating rifles. The infamous Special Operation Group (SOG) of the Victorian Police were the Australian equivalent of the famous American SWAT Teams, called in regularly to deal with armed offenders and other sensitive, high risk crime.

The 6 men that sandwiched Dujardin in the armoured truck were dressed head to toe in extremely dark blue uniforms, with balaclavas masking their faces and the word: POLICE emblazoned in bright white letters across their chest and back. The atmosphere inside was deathly quiet, nerves and steely resolution mixing and fighting together in each man’s mind.

As for Dujardin, he was dressed like the casual Sunday version of the SOG men, with jeans, a polo shirt underneath his armour and radio, with his pistol and baton on a thigh rig across his right leg. Attached to his left hip was a taser gun and CS spray. As the lead case officer, his job was merely to observe the take-down and allow the bigger men with their rifles, shotguns and other paraphernalia do the heavy lifting.

Routine thought Dujardin, even though he knew that anything involving the SOG was quite far from normal.

At a modest height of 175cm, with soft hazel eyes, Alex Dujardin was not the most intimidating of police officers in the Metro area. What he lacked in brawn however, was aptly filled in by speed. His body was hardened and lean after years of competitive athletics, excelling in the 400m and 600m sprint.

His acceleration, in spite of the standard police equipment, was immense, often out-sprinting criminals and rugby-tackling them before they were even aware of what was happening. In his patrol days, Dujardin’s prowess was so highly respected, any officer that had to run to catch their collar made the joke that they performed a ‘Jardin that shift.

It also helped that Dujardin was a practitioner of parkour, the French phenomenon that was borne out of a desire to conquer a obstacle course as efficiently as possible. His weekends were often spent with the Melbourne Parkour community on the CBD’s Southbank, leaping from wall to wall, vaulting benches and answering kids’ questions about his job.

Simply put, there wasn’t an officer on the force more suited for chasing down criminals than Alex Dujardin.

Feeling a rumbling beneath his feet, Dujardin looked up as the truck began to slow, approaching its’ destination carefully and quietly. As it halted a few hundred metres later, the point man of the SOG team cranked the door open and the men filed out quickly.

Looking around, Dujardin noted their location with a familiarity that only a locally born native could. They were near the Carlton Gardens which hosted the Royal Exhibition Building, and the Melbourne Museum.

The contrasts between the two buildings could not be any more dissimilar, with the Royal Exhibition Building a testament to old-school architectural styles, the entire structure Italianate in looks, complete with a Florence Cathedral inspired dome, whilst the Melbourne Museum, showcased the contemporary post-modernism styles, with sharp angles and abstract colours, a more complex mess of glass, metal and concrete.

However such historical architectural footnotes, were of no relevance to Dujardin, who had visited both many times as a child, and was more eager to prevent the criminal residing in an abandoned building across the street from escaping to said Museum and Exhibition Building.

At the corner of Rathdowne St and Victoria St, the abandoned building in question, was a former Cancer Council Victoria office building, the charity organisation having moved to greener pastures in South Melbourne, leaving behind a dilapidated, and ugly squat building. With its brown styling, dark tinted glass windows that was prone to dust and dirt collection, and dull interior, it was slated for demolition, the ugly style of the building only worsened by incessant amount of graffiti and poor maintenance.

The place had already been stripped clean, with nothing of value inside, however, for the brazen thief known as the Spectre, it had proved the perfect staging grounds for some daring B&E (Breaking & Entering) raids into affluent people’s homes and a particularly messy robbery at a restaurant that had escalated to murder.

Little was known about the Spectre beyond his physical description which was caught on camera, after the gunning down of a restaurateur as she was closing her business. At a lean 180 centimetres tall, and possessing dark hair with blue eyes, the Spectre was surprisingly attractive, in a rugged mid-30s way.

However, his panic over the restaurateur’s death had lead to many uncharacteristic mistakes and proved to be the break Alex Dujardin needed to track his target down. Now, only hours after the murder, Dujardin stood outside the lair of the Spectre, eager to see his target in cuffs.

Handing the warrant over to the SOG pointman, Dujardin watched as the elite team began their approach towards the building’s walls, each man scanning in all directions.

Due to the proximity of the civilians, a safety boundary had been established 200 metres out, with patrol cars blocking streets and people from moving around. Since the operation was being conducted late at night, at 10pm, traffic was mercifully quiet and the Museum was already shut down.

Dujardin heard, rather than saw, the teams making entry into the building, with flash-bangs creating lights inside a building that had not seen them for years. Loud yells of POLICE, COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP! came billowing through shattered glass.

Waiting impatiently, with his right foot tapping the ground nervously, Dujardin was waiting to hear the sounds of an arrest being made over his radio, when he felt a strange prickling sensation across his neck, causing him to look up.

Just in time to see a man bolt onto the roof of the abandoned building and without hesitation, aim a zip-line launcher that shot across the street and pinned the line into a Greenco Carpark.

Dujardin scowled, as he watched the SOG team burst onto the roof, only to fall back into each other as the Spectre unleashed a torrent of gunfire from a pistol. By the time the point man could bring his rifle to bear, the Spectre had already dropped the pistol, attached a T-bar to the line and begun his swing, 50 metres across the street.

Within seconds, the Spectre had cleared the police cordon and was now sprinting through the carpark that would allow him to disappear into the city populace as it connected onto Latrobe Street.

However, even before the final shot from the Spectre’s pistol had finished echoing across the urban jungle, Alex Dujardin was vaulting over police cars, leaving his fellow officers behind as he ran underneath the Spectre’s feet.

Bursting through the doors of the Greenco garage, Dujardin sprinted furiously past rows and rows of cars, as he made for the opposite side. As he was halfway through, a banging noise could be heard up ahead and Dujardin made his way over, sliding over a shocked BMW driver’s hood, as he braked furiously to avoid a collision.

Noting that the fire escape door was still swinging on its hinges, Alex put his shoulder through and immediately scanned left, then right.

Remembering that the Spectre was wearing a dark blue jumper and green cargo pants, Alex felt fear when he couldn’t see any traces of the man on either side of the street, until he saw the alleyway to his 1 o’clock.

Dashing across, and nearly getting hit by another car, Dujardin swore when he saw the Spectre halfway down the alleyway, his boots clattering on old cobblestones.

Pushing himself into a more comfortable rhythm, Dujardin blasted down the short 40 metres of the alleyway, gaining every so slightly, as he noted the Spectre turn the corner and nearly collide with a businessman on a call. The two men stared at each other, the businessman yelling angrily at the Spectre, only to go down in a heap as the criminal pushed him hard into the wall and ran in the direction of Melbourne Central.

The busiest shopping centre in the entire CBD, replete with multiple entryways, dozens upon dozens of restaurants and shops, and more crucially a train station.

Dujardin blasted out of the alleyway, only checking his speed a tiny bit, as he took a wider line onto the opposing footpath to the Spectre and pressed a button on his radio.

Suspect is moving down Little Lonsdale St, in the direction of the State Library! Get the MC PSOs up here now! half yelled Dujardin as he watched as the Spectre nearly collide with a couple walking out of a Uyghur restaurant.

His hazel eyes widened with opportunity as he noted the Spectre recklessly running across traffic, cars screeching horribly to a halt, and the man desperately trying not to get hit.

Seeing a tiny metal fence obstructing him, Dujardin smoothly gripped it with his weak hand and vaulted over with ease, before taking 2 steps and performing a kong vault over a silver Mercedes, a move where he placed both hands on the hood and then hopped his legs through in a smooth motion.

The elderly couple in the Mercedes could only stare in astonishment, as they saw the casually dressed police officer in tactical gear, smoothly slide over the bonnet of a stray Uber Toyota before exchanging incredulous looks with the Uber driver and his passenger.

As the Spectre glanced behind him, he was shocked to see a police officer keeping pace with him. Not only was he keeping pace, it seemed he was only getting closer.

In desperation, the Spectre crossed from the Library side of the small street and into QV, another one of Melbourne’s famous shopping malls. Nearly crashing through the glass doors, the Spectre made a beeline for the staircase with an escalator beside it, shoving and pushing people aside, yells and screams erupting behind him.

As he reached the bottom of the escalator, he could hear the policeman yell about the PSOs from MC, making their way down Swanston St, which was adjacent to the direction he was heading.

Swearing, the Spectre ran across the small food court and out onto a small alleyway, where he could see another shortcut through a car-park which lead into Melbourne’s Chinatown district.

As the Spectre waited for a break in the traffic to allow him to cross, he heard a loud thud behind him.

Turning slowly around, the Spectre’s blue eyes widened in shock, as he beheld the dogged policeman, recover from his 3m drop to the ground, in a smooth recovery roll.

Aware of the Spectre’s intention to lose him in QV, Dujardin made a calculated gamble, and had bluffed a call about the Protective Services Officers (PSOs) that normally patrolled and guarded Melbourne’s busy train stations making their way down Swanston St.

Instead of following in the Spectre’s descent to a lower level, Dujardin had simply sprinted across the upper square to the surprise of the many young people who were resting on the artificial turf, and without pause jumped the 3 metre difference in height down, behind the Spectre.

The Spectre, now properly spooked by the sheer determination of this police officer, sprinted across the traffic once more, his panicked expression now beset by flashing red/blue lights, as Dujardin’s fellow officers, tracking him on the GPS, were now joining the chase and were pouring down Lonsdale St in their patrol cars and sirens.

The Spectre ducked under the car-park gate.

Alex Dujardin leapt over it.

The Spectre shot through the car-park, before putting his shoulder into a fire-escape door and knocking back a sleepy bouncer who was pacing the length of the street, outside the door of the Shanghai Club Pokies.

As the bouncer fell on the floor, dazed by a door slamming into his face, the Spectre stepped over him and looked up and down the red-lantern lit street of Melbourne’s Chinatown.

Seeing the Target entrance that would take him to Bourke St, via a quiet strip of Chinese food and boba shops, the Spectre hauled ass, just in time to look behind him and see the dark expression on Dujardin’s face.

By now, both men had slowed down considerably, their initial furious pace, unsustainable over such long distances. The Spectre was especially breathing hard, his feet now lumbering a bit more as they pounded their way through the arcade, in vain hopes of keeping ahead of Dujardin to Bourke St.

Dujardin, whilst feeling fresher, was struggling as well, his exertions compounded by the gear he was wearing and the explosive energy he needed for parkour moves wearing him down.

The chase was nearly at an end.

It was now, just a matter of time.

As the Spectre burst out onto Bourke St, he swore even louder, when he realised that he had just put himself into police custody, as less than 25 metres away, the Melbourne’s Police HQ was right there.

Before he had time to run away again, Dujardin had caught up and launched himself at the Spectre’s legs.

The Spectre, moving quickly, was not fast enough and tumbled to the ground. But he was able to roll away from Dujardin’s grasp and lurch to his feet, only this time facing the policeman with a switchblade in his right hand.

Dujardin’s strong hand went for his baton and flicked it open.

Don’t do this. cautioned Dujardin as the two men eyed each other.

Just give it up man. There’s no need for extra violence mate. Just put the weapon down and get down on your knees.

The Spectre said nothing and continued to warily circle Dujardin.

Don’t be stupid man. PUT THE WEAPON DOWN AND GET ON YOUR KNEES. shouted Dujardin. The words were barely out of his mouth, before he was swatting the Spectre’s knife hand out of the way with his baton. The blow was enough to push the Spectre off-balance and Dujardin took the opportunity to go for his taser with his left hand.

However, before he could properly draw, the Spectre moved in again.

With his hand on the grip of the taser, Dujardin could not effectively block the incoming knife due to his awkward body position.

Without hesitating, Dujardin did the only move he could.

He tucked down small and rolled himself at the Spectre’s legs.

The knife thrust sailed over his head by the smallest of margin, and the Spectre buckled as his leading leg took the full weight of Dujardin’s body. Yelling in anger and pain, the Spectre whirled around, only to receive 50,000 volts to his system.

Convulsing, the Spectre went down hard, his face smashing directly into the hard smooth stone floor of Bourke St.

Alex Dujardin exhaled heavily, as he held onto the trigger of the taser, before letting go in an explosive effort.

As one of the most iconic and busiest streets in Melbourne slowly began to light up in red and blue flashes, and the murmur of the crowds, began to get replaced with siren wails, Alex Dujardin stepped over the twitching body of the Spectre and wrenched the man’s hands behind him, slipping on the cuffs.

As Dujardin did a rough check for any other weapons, he did his best to ignore the dozens of phone cameras that were recording his every move. It wasn’t long before the crowd dispersed before the onslaught of officers who had finally caught up. As cars formed a barricade and officers piled around Dujardin, Alex could barely stop shaking under the weight of congratulatory back slaps and handshakes that poured in.

Dujardin smiled wearily at the point-man of the SOG unit, who gave him a thumbs-up in approval, before walking the Spectre over to the police station only metres away.

The chase was now over, now … the real work began with the paperwork that awaited such a public and messy foot-chase through the city.

Dujardin’s self self-congratulatory mood soon disappeared as he realised that every single person affected by the chase today, would have to have a statement taken off them and that there was going to be a very long review process, especially after the spectacular body-cam footage that he had unwittingly taken.

Can’t outrun everything … thought Dujardin wearily, as he took off his body vest and sat down at his desk for a long night ahead.

Author’s Note.

Short, sweet and sharp, I wanted to make this smaller and leaner, a bit more of a quick read than my usual entries. Inspired by every single foot chase ever, with cops and robbers involved. But mostly financed by my dreams to film a foot chase in my home town one day.

Until the next one!

~ Damocles.

ONE OK ROCK (IMPACT Series)

Arguably still the most important band to me, to this very day. From left, Tomoya Kanki (Drums), Toru Yamashita (Guitar), Takahiro “Taka” Moriuchi (Vocals) & Ryota Kohama (Bass).

Welcome to the IMPACT series where I dissect notable and iconic sequences from games and movies, and how they broadened my mind and left a lasting impression on me, years to come. 

For all of the times that they say it’s impossible
They built all the hurdles, the walls, and the obstacles
When we’re together, you know we’re unstoppable now

The Backdrop.

I have always longed admired the Japanese music industry. The breadth of genres in which they cover is immense and impressively unique, unlike their Korean counterparts. There is a reason why there is a J in front of the genre “J-Rock” because it mixes the sensibilities of rock with a unique Japanese touch.

ONE OK ROCK (OOR) is perhaps the perfect example of J-Rock done right. Heavily inspired by another legendary band, Linkin Park, OOR blends English and Japanese lyrics, with deep social themes and just good old fashioned hard beats that make for a nearly unbeatable combination.

But how did I first discover this band?

It was through a film of course, the Rurouni Kenshin series which always ended their films with a ONE OK ROCK number.

The moment I heard the song The Beginning play over the end credits of the first Rurouni Kenshin (2012) film, I knew that I had to go find more of their songs and see if they were good.

I was dumbfounded and ecstatic to find that so many more incredible tunes were to come from ONE OK ROCK, and yes … they could sing English as well as Japanese.

To this day, you can play a OOR song and I will immediately jump up and start belting out the lyrics. They have been a staple for me, on every single Ipod, phone and whatever else device that can play music, because to put it simply, there are times I cannot last a day without hearing an OOR song at least once.

I will delve more into how their songs have helped me get through tough times later.

But what is important to me about OOR is their incredible ability to create really emotional songs without compromising their overall message and melodies. They have gone through so many versions of rock, without ever really losing their unique flavour. Emo rock, Pop Rock, Hardcore, Alternative … but throughout it all, OOR has never lost their intensity and their relevance in appealing to struggling young people and inspiring them to be better.

ONE OK ROCK, to me is the personification of the angry, angsty, teen that resides in all of us, but uses that energy to create instead of destroy.

ONE OK ROCK at a sold-out Yokohama Stadium in 2014. This concert was so good, I felt the energy all the way through my screen and downloaded the entire damn thing.

The Impact.

One of the only bands that caught me so wholeheartedly, that I had to attend their first ever concert here in Melbourne.

It was amazing. I was jammed into a tiny concert hall, that could barely fit all the other hardcore fans like myself and the energy was contagious.

For those who know me, I am generally a bit of a paranoid wreck when squished so close to hundreds of other people. I am always afraid that someone will hurt me, steal my wallet or do something else that is despicable.

But for ONE OK ROCK, the intensity in which they played live and sang so hard, made me lose my inhibitions. For the first time, I went wild and was fist-pumping, screaming and jumping up and down to every beat, every word and every song.

I don’t think I screamed any harder than I have, when I heard Taka sang The Beginning. The whole crowd was just so amped.

What makes OOR so good, are their powerful vocals, catchy lyrics, along with hard hitting rock melodies. Taka himself is a vocal prodigy, with the ability to soar high above trashing metal sounds and capture deep angst within us all. He can project like no-one else and maintain high notes all whilst running and jumping everywhere on stage.

His English pronunciation is practically perfect, a very rare sign of a man in possession of perfect pitch, as often Japanese people struggle with English sounds.

The band itself named themselves ONE OK ROCK, because of their habit of practicing at One O’Clock in the morning. Japanese wordplay actually dictates that the sounds of “R” and “L” are almost indistinguishable from one another, so it slowly morphed from OK ROCK into ONE OK ROCK.

If I am honest, there is a reason why Taka is the face of ONE OK ROCK, because his vocals are just so amazing, that they elevate the rock melodies that accompany them. His earnest delivery of every line and seamless transition from English to Japanese then back to English is remarkable.

Every song, from the harder rock anthems like NO SCARED to the softer soothing songs like Be the light really proves how Taka’s voice seems to just represent the cries of millions of young people who are in strife.

His voice simultaneously soothes you, comforts you and lifts you higher. His delivery lets you know that it’s OK to be in pain, and at the same time, reaches out to give you a helping hand to get back up.

It’s why, whenever I am in a dark place, I listen to ONE OK ROCK.

Its emotionally poignant to me, to hear their songs.

Taka’s raw vocal talent and energy is absolutely incredible. He has one of the best voices period, a true prodigy.

The Enrichment.

Every single one of us have that band that you own a lot to. For me, OOR is that band.

I found them on my own, and grew deeper and deeper in love with them, with each song I heard from them. I was probably the only hardcore OOR fan amongst my friends too, for a very long time, so the connection felt even deeper.

What really cemented my love for this band was my first ever solo travel trip, to Queensland for University Games, which was held in Gold Coast.

At the time I was a member of the fencing club and was competing up there for fun. But it was also strangely lonely, and I found myself wandering around alone a lot.

What kept the feelings of isolation away was OOR. They inspired me to fence better in the competition, explore more of the tourist town and just have a good time, venting my emotional state.

What I learned through OOR is that sometimes, your favourite songs can become the perfect emotional catharsis you need to banish bad moods and lingering thoughts.

Songs like The Beginning, Mighty Long Fall, Renegades, Broken Heart of Gold and Deeper Deeper helps unlock something inside of me that I can’t express anywhere else, even in writing. It allows me to experience the highs of certain emotions without really compromising my own emotional well-being.

In a lot of ways, it allows me to scream and vent my frustrations and anger to the beat of a great meaningful song and get a sense that some of the weight on my shoulders have been lifted.

And it is always those songs that give me that release.

Beyond the strong emotional attachment I have to their songs, OOR also opened the door to a lot of new J-Rock bands that I wouldn’t have found otherwise.

Bands like NOISEMAKER, The Oral Cigarettes, BAND-MAID, MY FIRST STORY (Taka’s younger brother’s band) and dozens more populate my Itunes Library and all their work would have never been discovered if I didn’t fall in love with OOR first.

Honestly, I probably don’t give OOR enough credit for just allowing me to really helping me express how I feel deep down inside about a lot of things, about situations that I struggle to control emotionally and to have a song that I can really plunge myself into without any inhibitions.

They really do represent a voice inside of me that needs to sing and scream.

Takeru Satoh and Takahiro Moriuchi chilling out on the set of Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (2014).

The Culmination.

ONE OK ROCK isn’t just another band to me. They represent a voice that sometimes needs to scream and emote above my usual rational self. I spend so much of my time controlling and understanding myself, that sometimes I need an escape, a way to express myself beyond my own control.

Listening to OOR does exactly that. The lyrics, the melodies, the beats and the voices just allow me to vent everything inside of me and make me feel like I am not alone.

No matter what anyone says, the band that you chose to follow as a teen, will always be the band that truly lets you explore the depths of your emotions. You can get older, wiser and supposedly more mature, but the moment you listen to your favourite teenage band again, you get that rush of adrenaline and energy that can only comes with young angst.

ONE OK ROCK, is more than just a truly unique band that mixes Japanese and English together. They’re the voice of hundreds if not thousands of young fans from all over the world who want to know that what they are feeling, isn’t just limited to them. It’s the roar of a crowd that understands you and is with you.

Only through rock, do you get that power.

And that is why they are my favourite band of all time and will always have a special place in my heart.

IMPACT.

~ Damocles.

These guys, with their songs, lyrical meaning and powerful melodies have probably done more to banish any mental issues I’ve had over the years than any other form of therapy. They are still the first band I know where every single album had multiple songs I liked. Will love them always.

With Love …. (Espionage 6)

London, England

Being invisible in today’s world is not difficult. With the advent of smart-phones, wireless earbuds and ever increasingly feelings of self-isolation, a spy could be wearing an outlandish outfit and still be unnoticed for hours.

Dressed in a smart suit, Gabriel Woods stared out from a cafe on the corner of a busy London street, a newspaper in his hand, with a coffee mug in front of him. As stereotypical a “spy” pose this was, in the city of London, such behaviour was almost obligatory once you entered a English cafe.

With his deep cover now assured by the SIS and stripped of any American gadgetry, Gabriel Woods was now operating as quietly and efficiently as he used to in the days of his Prince career. Anonymously, low-tech and armed only with his instincts and the Glock 19 in a shoulder holster, hidden underneath his dark navy blazer.

Gone were the smart surveillance glasses, the disguised earbuds that acted as a microphone and recorder and the voices of handlers in his ears. The British were stubbornly steadfast in their old-school spycraft, and James Ashford trusted his man to such a level, that he allowed Woods to operate completely on his own and instructed the Queen’s Assassin only to report to him if absolutely necessary.

It was this unique freedom and trust that made Gabriel Woods agree to come back into the intelligence community. Only the British would give him this amount of leniency. There weren’t even any support units to assist him, the 14th Det, the usual grey men that tracked terror suspects across the UK, having been repositioned elsewhere to track other elements of the Sphinx’s cell.

The Prince was finally allowed to operate on his own, to his own discretion and rules.

Woods kept his eyes alert as he scanned the streets, occasionally turning the page of his newspaper to mime the act of reading and relaxing with his morning coffee. Le Petite Cafe made decent coffee, but it was their fresh baked goods that enticed the likes of Sofia Sumarwata, courier to one of the world’s most feared terrorists.

Situated as he was outside the cafe, with very little opportunities to miss him, the moment Sofia Sumarwata would make entry into the cafe, she would notice him. The Valentine’s Day deadline was ever approaching and Woods had to be bolder in his attempts to track down the Sphinx.

As his watch ticked over to 10am, Woods saw an attractive woman come down the street, her long shapely legs encased in figure hugging jeans and calf-length brown boots. Her svelte figure was accentuated by a matching brown long coat, and a flattering cream turtleneck.

As she drew closer to Woods, he felt his breath catch slightly, as he noted that photos of her in the dossier, did little justice to attractiveness of the woman walking towards him. With her curly brown hair, tied loosely in a bun, soft brown eyes, full lips, and an attractive straight nose, Sofia Sumarwata stood out from the more conventional English Rose beauty like a warmer sunrise.

Nodding politely to Woods, she went inside and ordered her baked goods in a English accent that sounded natural. Woods paid an absent ear to the exchange but there was nothing untoward about the conversation. As Sofia waited, Woods continued to look at his newspaper, resisting the urge to look behind him, and into the cafe.

Holding her brown bag of baked goods, Sofia walked out and went back in the direction she came. Woods waited patiently for a good minute, when she had almost disappeared in the distance, before folding up the newspaper, and waving goodbye to the shop-keeper who nodded politely.

For Woods, urban tracking was a skill that came naturally to him. He instinctively understood body language and a key component of ensuring you are never spotted following someone, is to read the target’s behaviour with great skill and perception.

Little gestures like slowing their pace, hesitating before stops … turning around …. Woods could anticipate and predict these gestures and knew how to break line of sight, often dodging into shops or simply hiding behind poles, turning his back on the target.

Such skill was often underappreciated by the target themselves, unless they were a professional, which to Woods’ suspicion, Sofia Sumarwata was. Her elegant pace never changed once, but her alertness was high, as judged by her constant scanning of her surroundings. Woods also noted that she was a taking very circuitous route to her home, which to his concern, was not where she was heading at all.

The distance between her flat and Le Petit Cafe was no less than 4 kilometres, a simple right angle route that would take her only 20 or so minutes to cover.

They were now in the opposite direction to her flat and Woods could sense that Sofia Sumarwata was heading somewhere else, somewhere where her every movement wasn’t observed by UK intelligence services and every single electronic item in her home wasn’t teeming with bugs.

Woods’ original plan was to introduce himself her at her home, stating that he had only just moved in to the flat near hers, using his considerable charm to present himself as the “affable neighbour” but now that plan was scrapped.

As his mind raced to determine where exactly Sofia was going, Sofia herself made the answer known.

Stopping front of a completely unknown building to the SIS, Sofia fished out an electronic fob and waved it in front of the card reader.

In the 30 seconds that the entire process had taken Sofia to enter the building, a myriad of things happened in Wood’s mind.

The apartment building that Sofia was entering, was extremely upscale. It was christened the Londowntowne, and was promoting itself to be a home away from home, one of those new fads where people could rent an expensive place out for a week and enjoy luxuries that couldn’t normally be afforded at home.

With its contemporary design, all glass, steel, obsidian rock and carefully placed greenery, the Londontowne was a symbol of modernity amidst all the history that ruled much of the capital that had stood for 2000 years.

Naturally, it was an affront of English sensibilities and was an attractive eyesore to all that beheld it.

Owning to the newness of the building, Woods realised that he could still enact his plan.

As Sofia was about to let the shiny, automatic doors close behind her, Woods rushed forwards and banged on the glass.

The sound startled her and she turned around, nearly dropping the bag of baked goods.

Sorry! I forgot my key fob … do you mind letting me in? half shouted Woods.

Sofia nodded, and opened the door for Woods to enter.

Thanks so much. I only just moved in here. said Woods breathlessly, as he mimed a man in panic.

It’s not a problem. replied Sofia as she balanced the bag in her hand, whilst reaching for the elevator button.

Woods and Sofia stared at each other as they waited for the elevator to arrive, before Woods made the first move.

Say …. weren’t you at the cafe earlier today?

Sofia looked at him puzzled.

I only say that, because I recognise that bag. Le Petit Cafe right? queried Woods.

Yeah …. oh wait, you were the guy at the front weren’t you? said Sofia, as recognition dawned in her eyes, along with what seemed to Woods, a trace of suspicion

Yeah that was me. smiled Woods in a placating manner.

Sofia looked at Woods more closely and sighed.

It’s not going to work. she said softly and quietly with an air of resignation. There was a weariness in her tone, a quiet sadness that hinted at something darker within.

Any good spy knew instantly when their cover was blown. Woods hadn’t anticipated to be uncovered so soon, but then he was dealing with a fellow professional. Coincidences didn’t exist in the world of shadows. Both of them who each other was.

No more lies. Only the truth and a plea directly to the heart.

Woods didn’t reply to her, but merely ushered her in the elevator silently and looked at the buttons expectantly. Sofia pressed the button for the 9th floor. As they rode up in silence, Woods looked at Sofia with a blank expression, revealing nothing that was going on in his mind.

For the first time, in her life, Sofia felt a strange mixture of fear and hope blossom in her heart.

As the doors slid open, Woods checked both aisle of the corridors quickly before taking Sofia by the arm and leading her out gently. As they walked to the room 904, Woods kept his hands loose, ready to draw his pistol at any second.

How many inside? asked Woods intensely.

She shook her head. Woods glared at her and held out his hand for the electronic fob.

As the door beeped open, Woods motioned for Sofia to go in first, as he followed closely behind, his paranoia almost at a feverish pitch.

After a thorough search of the apartment, which was luxuriously furbished with contemporary aesthetics, Woods only found Sofia’s overnight bag. Going back, he motioned her to stretch out her arms. To his surprise, Sofia was completely clean. There was only her phone, wallet and keys.

Everything so far matching the intelligence gathered on her … whatever methodology she was using to communicate with the Sphinx was well-disguised. Her movements might be suspicious, but then so was the behaviour of people who cheated on spouses and that didn’t indicate mass murder on a international scale.

Motioning her to sit on the couch in the centre of the room, Woods took his place opposite her. He adopted a comfortable position, crossing his legs and leaning back. This only seemed to put her on edge further.

It was the tan wasn’t it? asked Woods with a cold ironic sense of humour.

Sofia looked at him puzzled. She didn’t know how to respond.

Yeah I figured … answered Woods to his own question. Do you mind if I ask you something?

Sofia didn’t respond.

Do you love him?

Her brown eyes widened in surprise. She was unable to hide her true feelings

Of course you do surmised Woods. Why go through all of this if you weren’t in love?

It can’t be out of revenge. Your husband’s ghost has longed been silenced in your mind …

It definitely can’t be out of religious zealotry. I know you pray everyday, but your clothes, your lifestyle … it fights who you see yourself before God.

There’s no real money in all of this either … I mean …. all of this Woods gestured at the phoney apartment they were sitting in. I know you didn’t pay for.

So … if it’s not money, revenge, fanaticism or patriotism … why be a courier Sofia?

Sofia Sumarwata looked at the spy before her, his emerald eyes boring into her own, eager to uncover the truth behind her actions, her long career as a enabler of terrorist acts.

She was certain that he was working for the other side. He was far too well dressed, and had an strange accent that seemed to blend American, English and Australian inflections. Then there was the suspicious timing of their meeting. Why, with only 2 days until the Valentine Day deadline was a person meeting her, at her safehouse?

That was, until Woods asked her in fluent Farsi

When did you fall in love with Hassan Malik?

Sofia Sumarwata did a double-take at the change in language. The man before her was speaking in her mother Iranian tongue with a curious dialect that could only be mistaken for a native. Now confusion reigned supreme in her mind. She was unsure how to respond to the man before her.

It’s OK Sofia, I am a friend. But I need to know that you are still loyal to the cause said Woods beseechingly in Farsi.

So tell me … when did you fall in love with Hassan Malik?

Sofia tore her eyes away from Woods, unable to speak. For some compelling reason, she believed him. Of course Hassan would send someone to test her on the eve of his biggest event. She had never felt lonelier than the past 6 months without him and here was a man who was part of the cause and wanted to know, so that he … and Hassan could trust her still.

Holding back a big emotional sigh, Sofia told the Queen’s Assassin the whole story.

~

My husband was a man who looked after his family. For Hakim, there was nothing more important than his younger brother, Assad who loved to make trouble.

It all started with Assad, when he decided to join the Taliban in their fight against the Americans. Hakim didn’t want any part of it, because he was betrothed to me. He made Assad promise to only join, after we got married so that he could look after him better.

But Assad didn’t listen. Only a week later, he got into a firefight with an American squad patrolling our area. He managed to escape, but was wounded in the fight. This was on the night of our wedding. Hakim heard what happened, kissed me once and ran into the night to rescue his brother.

I was left alone, in my wedding dress, screaming for him to come back. He didn’t once look back at me.

Hakim never returned.

Because when he finally found his brother, Assad had bled out in a ditch, alone. That very night, he marched into the caves and demanded a vest. Of course they gave him one …. and he immediately walked over to the checkpoint that had been set up near where we were getting married and killed 7 soldiers.

I heard the blast from my home and at that moment, I knew I had lost him.

My brothers later told me, that he was still wearing his wedding suit when he died.

I knew Hakim for 10 years. We grew up together, played football together, shared tea … He was my first and only ever crush. We kissed each other when we were 16.

Hakim and I made a promise to each other to stay together forever.

Then in one night, he was stolen away from me. By the Americans. By the soldiers who can’t seem to understand us, by men who think they have the right to decide what is good for our people.

4 months after Hakim’s sacrifice … someone came to my family’s home and asked for me.

They told me that if I wanted to honour Hakim, I was to enter the caves and be reborn a fighter.

They gave me a week to consider it.

I only needed 2 days.

The next 6 months, changed me forever. By the time I left the caves, I wasn’t a girl anymore. I had become a warrior.

My very first mission was when I first met Hassan Malik. I never thought I would ever meet anyone like Hakim.

Hassan changed all of that. He knew I would be nervous and afraid. My mission was to lure an American Officer away from the base, so that we could capture him and demand a ransom. But I didn’t know how to.

Hassan showed me the way. How I could be more of a weapon, how I could use my feminine wiles to further the cause. How much of an asset I could be. How I could bring justice to the memory of Hakim.

How I could be loved again.

I’ve never made love to a man as skilled and gentle as him. I felt like a woman reborn under him. Hassan gave me more than purpose, he gave me life.

After that first mission, I didn’t see him again for months. I did what he asked and maintained a low profile. But I missed him terribly.

It was only in the spring of that year, that I finally saw him again. He was just as gentle as I remembered, as beautiful as the green grass that surrounded us and as warm as the desert sun.

I am forever his. I will love another man, as deeply as I love Hassan now.

We used to chat online, but that became too dangerous.

Now we just deliver food to each other. It is not the same, but that is the only way I can continue to communicate with my love.

~

The Queen’s Assassin left the latest eyesore of London and the beautiful, grieving, romantic widow only minutes later, his mind racing at the genius of the Sphinx’s terrorist cell communication method.

Before he left, he had comforted Sofia the best he could, with one hand around her heaving shoulders throughout her lonely sobs and the other, hacking into her cell-phone to extract all the meta-data hidden in her apps.

Somewhere, deep down, he pitied her, but he couldn’t afford to spare any true sympathy for her. Her love made her vulnerable to manipulation and at the end of the day, no matter how tragic her story was, it didn’t give her the right to create more widows like herself.

The genius of their communication methodology could not be denied though.

Through the use of Just Eat food delivery service, Sofia had been coordinating all the individual cells, at their safe houses, with encrypted messages added onto the food delivery in the meals. It would be brief sentences that would contain the encryption key for cells to unlock further instructions online.

This avoided unnecessary online communication that could be intercepted, and also made everything subtle, as delivering food could be seen as a kind gesture. Even then, as Woods trawled through Sofia’s order history, she only made food deliveries occasionally, no more than once a day, to ensure the operational security was tight.

Hence why everyone missed this.

Gabriel Woods smiled coldly to himself. It was only hours into the chase and yet he was closer to the Sphinx than anyone before him.

Hailing a taxi to drop him back to his car, Woods checked his tail several times, making random loops around London to ensure no other operatives were following him, before driving back to his safe house in St James.

As Gabriel Woods began to make his dinner for the night, and prepare the steps for the next 24 hours, he wondered what was going on in the Sphinx’s mind right now.

Author’s Note

It has been a long time since I returned to make another entry into the Espionage series. Sometimes I get huge writer’s block and need to step away before re-reading my own material and knowing where the story can go next.

It was originally planned to have Woods seduce Sofia into revealing the method in which the Sphinx’s terror cell communicated, but I couldn’t justify a completely random, out of the blue sexual tension between opposing side without a huge amount of build-up (one of the many lessons I learned not to do from Spectre (2015), that horribly written James Bond film).

So instead I wanted to delve deeper into why Sofia was doing what she doing and I think I took a lot of inspiration from the Gabriel Allon series which always highlight the common tragedies that plague the Middle East and how both sides suffer.

The food delivery idea is just something I happened to create on the spot, and personally would like to thank my own genius. Obviously the Sphinx’s terror cell must be well funded to afford the exorbitant prices that come with food delivery and doubtless an accountant in the terror organisation would be having a stroke at the running cost, but it is a very sneaky and clever way to deliver messages.

I am of course, not advocating for terror organisations to start using Uber Delivery Drivers as couriers and I definitely do not want them to adopt the idea!

If you wish to read the previous entries, merely type in espionage on my search bar!

Anyway, hopefully the next chapter comes soon!

~ Damocles

Trauma

As a person who regularly moderates and observes his own mental state and emotional range, even now I am struggling to comprehend what happened yesterday, on the 11th of July, 2021. The gambit of emotions I have run through in the past 24 hours is testing every fibre of my resolve.

From a cold, objective perspective, what I witnessed yesterday was a systematic, calculated and Machiavellian plot to take down an elder statesman in the community.

It was … honestly, brilliant. A rather remarkable display of politics, insinuation and calculated slander. Always hinting, never directly targeting the blame. Always skirting the issue, yet the problem is clearly labelled.

A textbook example of how to ruin a man, whose untouchable reputation in the community was ironclad and ensure his fervent supporters were powerless to stop the slow decay of his mental state.

As the elder statesman bore more and more of the blame, of the fact that people despised him, despite his previous achievements, his stature and reputation, the head got lower and lower, until it finally reared itself from his hands, in a final, explosive burst.

He was all alone when it happened but literally seconds later, he was surrounded and pulled in every which way. A mob had surrounded him, his family desperate to tear him away from screams, hands and pleas to the car, as cameras filmed the entire debacle.

That elder statesman left in a blaze of anger, depression, trauma and scorned pride. Never before in the community, has a man been so humiliated, publicly decried and cast out in such a dramatic fashion.

The entire debacle was quite possibly the most divisive, destructive and pathetic thing I’ve ever seen and as a dark horse myself, it was also surprisingly illuminating into how politics work. I had flashbacks of infamous assassinations in history, from Caesar’s betrayal to Trotsky’s death.

If an injury has to be done to a man, it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared – Niccolo Machiavelli.

This injury was so severe, the man was hospitalised soon after, his entire world upended by the past 4 hours.

It just so happens, that the man who left the public inquiry, (more or less a public trial) in hysterics and tears was my father.

Speaking from a more emotional side, and as his son, I am torn between 70% pity and 30% resignation.

I pity the man and am sorrowful for his mental collapse. This is a man who has sacrificed everything, including his family, for the Vietnamese community.

All his work, passion, thoughts and energy went in service of the community. Every second sentence out of his mouth, was about how much he loved serving the community, how much he despised the Communists for taking over Vietnam and how his current project, a community centre in Victoria, meant everything to him.

He lived, breathed and now …. sacrificed everything for the community.

The other part of me, is resigned because this was a long time coming. His passion sometimes fuelled his pride too much and caused clashes with other headstrong individuals in the community. His inability to apologise for faults of his own making, and words had created dangerous enemies. There is a stubbornness of an ox in him, and naturally it was bound to cause division.

The past 7 months, he has become a brow-beaten individual. I have witnessed a incredible decay slowly tear away at him, from the inside. At first, I thought he was recovering but now … he is finished. Finished in every sense of the word. He has given up the fight inside of him, and is now more or less on autopilot. He doesn’t sleep properly, nor eat, nor can properly string together sentences well.

To provide context into what has caused the downfall of my father, you need to be aware of a couple salient facts.

  1. He is essentially one of the toughest individuals I know. Stubborn, resolute, honourable … his moral compass is unwavering. He has passed on better paying jobs, because he refuses to bend his moral code.
  2. Sacrifice is almost normal for him … only recently, has he really opened up about how he feels tremendous guilt for not being there more for my brother and I when we were growing up. This devotion to the community, has nearly robbed him of his family too.
  3. Stoicism is another trait of his that has really developed some questionable mental health issues that should have been treated long ago. Whilst I describe myself as stoic, I am also highly aware of my own emotional issues and perform weekly mental checks to be aware of my own state. From the moment I am awake, I am always hyper aware of my emotions and my consciousness works tirelessly to ensure my sub-conscious does not take over. My father does not have that level of self-awareness. He is ill-equipped to deal with his own failures, successes and his own mental health. Thus he hardly ever opens up, preferring to build upon the rot that is taking hold of him from the inside. This is a quintessential old man attitude to problem solving.
  4. He has dedicated more than 30 years of his life to the Vietnamese community. He is revered by many and respected by almost all.
  5. Lastly, were you to meet him in his prime, the only real way to describe him is a fervent revolutionary and patriot. Whilst I am sure he would object to the word, a fundamentalist is not an inaccurate term. For him, the world is very black or white, friend or foe, hero or villain.

Hence to accuse this pillar of the community, with suspicions of embezzlement and poor management is an incredibly deep blow to my father’s reputation. This is in light of his already touchy trigger point when it comes to money, due to a 2-year long lawsuit several years prior in which another member of the community accused my father of embezzlement.

His short fuse, becomes essentially a trigger, the moment any mention of money is involved and this was in the context of the community centre which he has ran from decades and is his biggest passion project. To strike so deeply at his very core, shook him immensely. It didn’t help one iota that these accusations came from his best friends, his proteges and people he had known for many years.

Naturally to have an public inquiry into his conduct, only one man had the power to call for such a open discussion into my father, the President of the Vietnamese Community, a man, my father once called a brother and personally groomed for the role, after his own retirement from the role.

Much like the Cain and Abel story, the current President had transformed into an entirely different person, his conduct becoming more political and phony, with every conversation I have had with the man, dripping with condescension, arrogance and insincere remarks. He behaves as if he is always standing in front of a journalist, with a mic in front of him …. his political double-speak and roundabout ways of describing things, a rather sickening aspect of his personality.

It doesn’t help that he lacks many loyal supporters, is indecisive and far too pedantic about small things, to really see the larger picture and the futility of his angry actions.

Petty, cowardly and spineless, the current President pinned the blame for an increase in land ownership payment squarely on the shoulders of my father, a move that is typical of his ilk. The irony of the entire situation was not lost on me, as in a move to try and cement his power, he underlined the weakness of his own, for in failing to address this payment it only highlighted the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of his leadership.

It would be amusing, if it wasn’t all so pathetic.

In the lead-up to the trial, my father had become so distraught and lost, that he ventured down a very dark path. Constantly watching samurai films, reflecting on the potential loss …. indulging in nihilistic thoughts … it came to a head that he asked for a family meeting and handed us his suicide note.

I ended up being the only one who read it, having had experience in writing and reading other people’s final thoughts before.

My brother and mother couldn’t bring themselves to do it.

When you view someone’s note, it always make for heart-wrenching reading. The whole note reeks of desperation, a plea for help and a futile helplessness that always ends up making the whole experience pathetic.

Because in many ways the truth is pathetic.

Everything we do is small in terms of the universe and such a concept is too humbling because we lose ourselves in it. Hence when you read someone’s final thoughts, you feel wretched reading it, and you know that the person felt equally terrible writing it.

But my father held on for this Sunday’s public hearing.

He had this hope that justice would prevail.

However, when I walked in and observed how the trial would go, I instantly clued in to the trap.

The facilitator was a compatriot of the President. The President didn’t seemed fazed by the video testimony of my father’s. My father’s supporters had their time cut short, due to “time constraints” which honestly had zero merit nor meaning. The facilitator would ask his own questions, chiming in to the interrogation and shouting over answers which his ridiculously tone-deaf attitude.

Then there was the hostile public, who often asked questions that had zero relation to the context of the meeting, and in a stereotypical Vietnamese fashion, would ask the same question in a different manner, just to have their ego stroked. This ensured the meeting went on much, much longer than necessary, a tactic that would be applauded by interrogators world-wide as it ensures the mental strain is enhanced by the slowness of everything occurring.

My father’s already fractured mental state would have broken even more under the constant barrage of questions which is again, another well known interrogation technique used in questioning suspects.

This trial wasn’t really a trial. It was essentially a trap designed around breaking down my father to a raw emotional state, so that it seemed that he was too emotionally distraught to make any rational decisions, thus nullifying his power and position as the lead of the heritage centre.

In contrast, the President would seem cool, rational and saintly, for having tolerated such an emotional subordinate for so long.

How could such a trial be a trial, without a clear outcome at the end? What was the purpose of this actual meeting? Why present my father before the public, as a scapegoat if the outcome was to prove/disprove his innocence? No such answers were provided at the end of the meeting, only political manoeuvring and heavy insinuations.

Instead, they asked the public to contribute questions on how to fundraise more money. That was none of the public’s concern. It was the committee’s job to think about how. Not the public.

But it did provide the opportunity for the public to ask even further questions and drag my father’s name further in the dirt.

It worked.

Because up until now, it seemed OK. My father was holding it together. The trap wasn’t too horrible to bear. Then they asked questions about one of his closest friends and before she could probably answer, the overbearing, pompous facilitator interrupted her, cutting her off.

This was the final straw. My father whose hands were covering his hand, could no longer stand by idly. Something inside of him snapped and he screamed at the entire crowd, before rushing out. His closest friends tried to stop him, afraid that he would do something rash. Opponents also rushed him, demanding him to stay and answer questions. My mother and brother screamed at everyone to let him go.

Utter chaos, mass hysteria.

I was frozen, unable to comprehend that sheer panic that had just happened. But I did note the expressions of his detractors and noted the smug expressions. So I merely picked up my father’s belongings, my own and followed the mob out, shutting off phones in the process, and staring at my father going stark raving mad.

I managed to push my way through to his car, and opened the door so that my family could get in. I only had just shut the door and said sternly, for everyone to Fuck Off when one of our closest family friends got in and drove off.

He was admitted into hospital literally 20 minutes later.

I followed suit in my car, with my best friend beside me. Everyone was concerned about me, but I knew that I had held everything together. I wasn’t going to get emotional, despite what I had just saw.

I was in control still.

A brief glimmer of pride blossomed inside of me, before it was instantaneously replaced with concern. So I followed my family to the hospital, where thankfully my father had calmed down enough.

There are some things that are traumatic to witness from a child’s perspective. Seeing your father essentially go crazy for a brief period, with hands grabbing at him constantly is one of those things. Tears, screams, wails and crazed expressions are horrible.

Fathers, for all their stereotypes, aren’t meant to weep nor show strong displays of emotions. Even in the family meeting he was subdued. But here my family and I were, confronted with a true image of the demon that controlled him inside.

Even now, I get the feeling I will never shake that image out of my head.

There is a reason why I am writing all of this now, because first and foremost, writing has always been my greatest therapeutic asset. I write when I am stressed, nervous, afraid, concerned, or confused. It allows me to recognise, sort and decipher all the complex emotion I am experiencing.

Even now, as I type these words out, I can feel my mind coming to grips with what happened yesterday better and better. I don’t have any particularly strong feelings of revenge, like my brother and mum. I am purely focused on helping my dad recover, to rediscover himself and find a new purpose.

He had sacrificed being a human being, with a curiosity for the world and other worldly pursuits for the community. I was determined to ensure this wasn’t going to happen again.

A big part of why he had turned into the shell of his former self, was because he devoted every waking moment to the community and the fight against Communism. He had no other pursuits, no other hobbies, nothing to take his mind off his work.

He was curious as to how I knew so much about fashion, about history, about guns and militarism. I told him flatly that I wasn’t devoted to just one thing, like he was.

I took him golfing, because as a man in his 60s, he wanted to keep up with me in tennis, but his body wouldn’t let him. So what better sport than golf? Out in the sunshine, beautiful greenery and swinging a club …. he could actually relax and focus on something different entirely.

He told me he had fun.

I told him, that fun was crucial for a good lifestyle.

He desperately needed a hobby where he could detox away from his phone and responsibility, and thus learn to appreciate the small things in life, whether it be a fine wine, the sensation of club against ball or the scent of rain.

He had lost his zeal for life, and thus when his only purpose was taken away too … he had nothing to live for.

The classic salaryman issue that plagues a lot of Asia.

Working with him, to rediscover himself, won’t be easy. But he is a strong man, and I have faith in his strength that he will get over this setback. The war might be over for him, but in a way, I am sure, deep down he is happy he can finally retire from it all.

It is always a freeing feeling to be away from toxic people and there were no better examples that those in the community who cast him out, despite his achievements.

Perhaps one day, I shall go into detail why the Vietnamese Community in Australia (Victoria) is such a toxic and poisonous chalice, but understand that it has a lot to do with the fact that many of its members are older generations Vietnamese, who had arrived to Australia with little in common with the host country. From English, to possessions, many Vietnamese people scrabbled to make a living, with many successfully doing so.

But the issue itself are the members within this community organisation, whose Anti-Communist rhetoric often falls upon deaf ears on the younger generation of children who are born with a foot in both worlds.

But then who can blame the children, whose very existence never knew the humidity of Vietnam’s jungles, nor the waters of the South China Seas. They can only imagine the world their parents describe, and then count themselves lucky to be born in a country that is technologically generations ahead of their parent’s homeland.

This inflammatory rhetoric only serves to alienate the two generations further. The feeling of isolation and the peculiar sense that time is running out to see their homeland free, causes many members to develop strong fundamentalist and patriotic views towards a country long deceased and forgotten in history; South Vietnam.

This ironically leads to many people, including the President himself, to copy and enforce rulings that are often seen in place at Communist parties.

From restrictions on language, silencing those who disagree, creating an atmosphere of fear, the community has long turned its back on nurturing the younger generation to take over and now exist as a shallow version of itself, focused only on pleasing the egos of the hardliners within.

It is without certain ironic amusement, that I note how my father have become an almost Trotsky-like figure, in which his critiques of the current administration are scathing and annoying. Then there are his loyal supporters, who range from young to old, a far cry from the current President’s popularity which only exists in a opportunistic, and controlling sense from the more old, ultra-nationalistic side.

Now with his banishment, engineered by a Stalinist-type ruler, I can only say that history often has a cruel sense of humour about how things play out.

Irony, upon irony … it’s often funny how no matter whether you are communist, or anti-communist, betrayals and political machinations have the same flavour anywhere and any time in history.

Doubtless my father will probably give me the biggest scolding, for comparing the current situation he finds himself, to the one of the founders of the Soviet Union, but that is the historical comparison I can best find off the top of my head.

But then, the current community itself, is as splintered and dangerous as the Soviets were in their formative years, so perhaps I am not too far off.

On a more personal note, I have decided to resign from the Lunar New Year Festival that has come to define so much of my personality and drive. There was a key moment for this decision.

Shortly, after my father was hospitalised, I wanted to prove something for myself. Such a faux trial scheme clearly took planning and a certain je ne sais quoi to pull off. I would admire it, if it wasn’t my father in the crosshairs.

But what had eluded me was the motive. Understandably, some people need no motive to see a man suffer, but in the case of the President I had to know why he had chosen to take such drastic action against his mentor and former brother-in-arms.

So I rang him. I decided that I would not be angry, nor emotional. I was completely civil, earnest and polite.

I started with a direct question, unwilling to tolerate any bullshit. After all, the trial was already 4 hours of bullshit that I was sick of hearing.

Why do you hate my dad?

The President was silent for a heartbeat, no doubt incredulous. He asked me to repeat my question.

OK, look, I want you to be completely honest with me. I can take it. I just want the truth.

Why do you hate my dad?

I don’t hate your dad! exclaimed the President.

OK fine. A bit of a harsh question, fair enough. Fine. Why do you dislike my dad then?

I don’t dislike your dad either! shot back the President.

Then what was the point of this whole thing today? There was no outcome, the entire thing was pointless. You …

He cuts me off indignantly, about how he didn’t say much, despite my own eyes witnessing him take the mic more than 20 times the entire session.

I cut him off again, and ask him why he was avoiding question. He replied with the statement

Look you’re being too emotional. I don’t think you’re in the right state of mind.

I scoff at the obvious statement. “A son has his father hospitalised and he’s emotional. Quite. Yet here I am, sensing you are the emotional one.” I think to myself before saying soothingly.

OK fine, you don’t dislike my dad. That was wrong of me to assume. If you don’t dislike my dad, then just tell me a couple of things you like about him then.

The President goes silent. In my own mind, I’m laughing at the ease of the checkmate.

Look, your dad and I are very different people. We don’t have to like or dislike one another to work together …. I

I cut him off. Political speak has always given me a bad case of allergies. I didn’t want him to exacerbate it further.

OK, I see how it is. You can’t tell me. It’s alright. Look, I just want to say that I am resigning from the TET Festival, effective immediately. You understand?

I …. OK.

I see how this is now. Thanks. Have a good night *click*

As I hung up, I knew that I made the right decision to call him. I wanted to prove without a doubt, that I was dealing with a man as slimy as I saw up in front of 100 other people. I was offering him an olive branch, a chance to see his morals, and how he would react under real pressure. After all, this is the son you are talking to, the son of a man you hospitalised. I wanted to see if the man was as phony behind closed doors as he was in public.

A villain would have snatched the opportunity to rub it in further. He would have laughed at my pain, and explained his motive. I hurt your dad, because he once stole a candy bar from me!

A hero would have tried to lessen the blow. I didn’t mean for it to go this far. I only did this because I believed your father was stopping our community from progressing.

The President of the Vietnamese Community in Victoria, was neither of those things.

Even in victory, he was a coward.

I can work for a villain or a hero. They have motives, purpose … reason.

But I can’t work for a coward.

A man who idly let everyone else do his dirty work? A guy who stands from afar at the mess he creates, letting others fight his battles? That’s not a leader, that’s a hyena. A pathetic scavenger.

A coward representing me? That goes against every single piece of military history, advice, and rule I hold dear in my heart.

So I quit.

Even now, I am still shocked at my decision to let go of a festival that I have bled for (literally), for nearly 7 years.

But I knew that I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror if I worked for a shitty boss. I am my own man for a reason.

And I’ll be damned if I let some spineless sonvuabitch throw me under the bus, much less be forced to have a conversation with that SOB lest my allergies crop up again.

The only issue is the team that have loyally helped and supported me over the years. They deserve to know everything and why I chose to quit and leave them alone finally for a year. I will make a solemn promise though to immediately call upon them and offer payment for services rendered when I am finally my own event manager. They are far too talented, skilled and studious to abandon to the whims of a madcap President.

After yesterday, there is definitely some bizarre trauma still etched upon my psyche. I have no doubt that I will get over it soon, judging from my own emotional performance yesterday, but like a scar, I will always look upon it and remember the circumstances that came with it.

But right now, it is not my mental well-being that needs help. It is my father’s.

If you are reading this, Dad, you should be aware of the Macchiavelli maxim.

Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.

I think you should be proud that everyone you ever met, always experienced what you really are.

~ Damocles.

B30 Week 85 Rundown

Significant investments have been made since my last Rundown.

It has been 45 weeks, since my last B30 Rundown post, all the way back in August 2020.

I’ve since upgraded from running on the streets with just limited T-shirts and one pair of short, to full-blown product placement Under Armour athletic wear.

I have also taken up tennis as my preferred means of staying fit and has kept a consistent diet, trying to limit my meals to smaller portions every day.

Although I will confess that lately, the past week or so, has seen me relapsed a bit. I do need to get my eating under control again.

Mind you, it isn’t anything drastic, but it is more an observation that I ate more sweets and sugary drinks the last 7 days than normal, (which is to say I actually don’t normally eat any of that stuff) so the priority this week is to cull that and really limit the amount of sugar and preservatives I am consuming.

Over the past 40 odd weeks, I have gone through another 2 weeks of lockdown, instability in my work-life balance and resumed poor sleeping times.

Despite those hindrances in the B30 Challenge, my overall fitness has increased and I can happily say that I am nearer my goal of sub-70kgs than ever before.

I am currently sitting at 72kgs, which is the lightest I’ve ever been and the leanest.

I credit tennis for keeping me this healthy and for the obsession I currently have with topspin. Tennis in combination with a stricter diet has allowed me to finally look at my body with pride and develop a healthy ego regarding my fitness.

It has also sparked a lot of side effects that I’ve adopted.

The first real carry-over that being fit has instilled in me, is a healthy work-life balance routine that means that I spend less time at home and more time outdoors, actually being around people and enjoying the sun. My days feel more full, more active and I feel better at home, knowing that I earned a rest, instead of feeling lazy.

Going home feels like I am recovering and that is a much more satisfying feeling than I felt about home for a long time. It is nice to go home with a bit of an ache/soreness in the muscles and then feel rejuvenated after a good night sleep.

The second effect was a desire to maintain my looks. Vanity has slowly crept in, my confidence now soaring higher than it has ever been, and I am now much more conscious of my fashion, hairstyle and skin. I experiment more with my clothes, from wearing a haori casually out and about to colour coordinating my UA outfits to ensure they all match and gel with other.

I have probably spent more on clothes this year than I have ever done the past 3 years and this all stems from a true desire to push my looks forward into something much more confident. I will humbly brag that my colourful wardrobe from UA does make me feel and look like a professional player and indicate that I have some kind of sponsorship (when that is far from the truth). From the mask, down to the shoes, everything is Under Armour and I take a certain amount of pride in that.

Skincare is another element that is now a serious factor in my lifestyle. Working from 10am to 6pm, then doing an additional 2 hours of tennis/football (split – 1.5 hours tennis : 0.5 hours football) means that my skin is taking a whole new level of dirt and particulates. In searching for a skincare brand that would suit me, my ever beauty-conscious girlfriend recommended me AESOP. It ended up being the perfect type of skincare for someone like myself, with my more lazy but expensive approach to skincare.

Aesop is definitely not cheap, but I could instantly tell the difference upon using their basic 3-step process to skincare. Cleanser – Toner – Moisturiser. I only use them once, daily, but the feeling I get from them, is quite luxurious. My skin feels cleaner, softer to touch and seemingly heals a lot quicker too. For someone who has been reluctant to wash my face, due to innate laziness … this has been something of a revelation to me and I now appreciate taking some extra time to clean my face after my daily exercises.

The final point in this vanity section is my haircut, which I have long maintained is the key between an average Damocles and an above average Damocles. I no longer wait 3 to 4 months between trims, instead preferring to go bimonthly to ensure I get maximum use out of my hair, and maintaining a neat, clean look at all times.

Speaking of hair vanity, another crucial development in my conditioning has been football. For Australians/American readers, I am referring to soccer, but I shall be maintaining the rest of the world’s vernacular and refer to the sport as football.

A recent new obsession, and I suppose with the world of sports (F1, Tennis, Football …. I wonder if NFL is next?) I have taken up football in my spare time, to improve my tennis skills. A key ability in football is the skill to accelerate, and perform rapid changes in direction, something that will help me immensely in tennis. I also happen to note that a lot of professional athletes in Formula 1 and tennis engage with a football quite often, as it improves conditioning, cardio, hand (foot)-eye coordination and a whole host of other benefits.

I wanted to emulate that spirit and promptly bought my first pair of boots (UA of course, but soon to be added are a pair of Nike Mercurials) and a football to practice.

Kicking something has never been so fun, and I was immediately transported to the fun I had in high school, as a member of the football team. Curving a football is now my most immediate concern, my desire to top bin the football via a ridiculous curve an obsession that has only grown with each hour of practice.

I’ve yet to pick a team to barracks for, but I am sure that will come soon. My timing could not be more great, as the UEFA EURO2020 is currently airing and I am finding myself absorbed by the game, atmosphere and tension.

Football is not something I want to compete in, unlike tennis, however owning to my ridiculous ego and competitive spirit, I do want to get to a level in football where I can best all my friends easily and hold my head up high, knowing that I can do advanced dribbles, score well and more importantly pass accurately.

I should also mention that since getting into football, a rather large crush has been developed on the star, Cristiano Ronaldo. His attitude, drive and confidence are all things I aspire to, and I’ve also become a lot more health conscious, following his rejection of Coca-Cola ($4 billion dollar loss … incredible). It still shocks me how a role model can truly affect the way how you live, and I am thankful he is one of the best men to emulate.

Tennis still remains my number one priority however, with a true desire to compete on a higher level and represent my club in some form.

The daily practice is slowly paying off too, with my usual tennis partner surprised that I could serve for once, after nearly 5 months of struggling. What also helped was a more critical and objective based mindset in my training, making sure that I could get a more narrow window of consistency and accuracy, really punishing myself when I couldn’t get a forehand in my narrow window of opportunity.

For this, I can thank both Cristiano Ronaldo for his infamous reputation of being first in and last out for training sessions and the quiet voice of Lucas Botkin from T-REX ARMS urging me to have more purpose in my training sessions. After all, I can’t expect to improve myself with sloppy and wasteful training. I need to ensure each session has set goals, and high standards so that my 90% becomes the new 100% and it only continues to rise from there.

The final side effect of my constant training is my competitive spirit, which has gone up considerably. I used to be in denial about how competitive I was, preferring to let things go and seethe quietly in resentment and envy. Nowadays however, there is a motto I live by: Second place is the first loser which I remember was emblazoned across a billboard in Japan’s Suzuka Circuit and has stuck with me ever since.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I despise losing in whatever it is that I do. To lose, without any signs of improving is probably the worst sensation I can experience in sport, and is deeply bitter to me. I can handle loss, as long as it is another step to getting better.

A good example is my last tennis session. Having lost my last set, 4-6 to my opponent in our last practice session, I was not overly disappointed, as it was my first actual attempt at serving properly, with my racket actually serving a couple of aces, and putting into practice a lot of the techniques I’ve experimented with in my training.

Losing 4-6 was a huge improvement over my previous games, which I normally lose 1-6. It also helped that my football dribbling practice came in a huge way, allowing me to really move around the court with speed and precision.

What was key though, was that I walked away from that experience knowing what my weak points are and what I need to focus on in my training.

I’m grateful that nowadays with my routine and life, I can find the energy to be more serious about my hobbies and still get a lot of enjoyment out of them. I am also exceedingly grateful that all my exercise and dieting has actually allowed me to do a normal pull-up for once in my life.

Only the other day, I managed to rip 5 in succession, a huge improvement over my entire life, if I am honest.

It feels good to know that everything I am doing, is improving all aspects of my life, and that I am well on track to beating my personal challenge of being the best version I can be, before the ripe old age of 30.

This is probably the best version of Damocles that has come so far, and the beautiful thing, it can only go up from here if I keep at it.

~ Damocles.

RAC3R

Mazda RX-7 FD3S at Bathurst – All credit goes to The Lowdown for their incredible photography.

At 100,000 strong, the atmosphere around the race track resembled the Ancient Roman’s Colosseum; excited, energetic and predatory with anticipation.

Down the start/finish straight, the pit-lane was busy with preparations for the upcoming race. Drills whirred, cranks creaked under the strain of hoisting machinery aloft, and there was the usual precise, techno-jargon that all engineers and racers understood better than their native language.

Give me a quarter more boost here.

Turn this exactly 2 more quarter screws.

What’s the tailwind like out of turn 5?

Adjust Mode 75, I repeat, adjust Mode 75

Adjust my front brake bias by an extra 4.7%

Button 9 is now used for overtake function.

You are 4 centimetres too left going into turn 14

If the atmosphere, tension and nerves was getting to Daniel Lockeheart, there were no signs of it as he stood calmly in the garage as engineers fussed over his car. At 19 years old, with dark brown hair that was always cut a bit too short, and emerald green eyes, Lockeheart’s attitude belied his youth, with a seriousness that spoke of much more racing experience than he possessed.

He had the scar to prove it too. A long wicked scar ran across his left cheekbone, courtesy of a stray piece of carbon fibre that smashed through the gap in his visor. Even to this day, Lockeheart recalled the number of stitches required to get his face mended.

It didn’t stop him from getting back in the car, and finishing the race though.

Staring out at the crowd, with his headset over his ears, Lockeheart was busy visualising the track layout of Mount Panorama, for the upcoming sprint race to the sounds of Japanese rock, from his favourite game Gran Turismo – Sport, the inspiring lyrics and addicting electronic rock from maestro Daiki Kasho allowing him to create an internal rhythm of how he would approach each corner.

At a length of 6.213km, Mount Panorama was one of the most unforgiving tracks in the world, with iconic ascents and descents that punished drivers for the smallest of errors. With long straights, that dominate Sector 1 and 3 and incredible difficult braking points, with even trickier chicanes and esses for Sector 2, Mount Panorama barely allowed anyone to breathe, before they start another assault on the track.

Earlier that day, there had already been 4 safety car deployments for the Scuderia Ferrari challenge, with their monstrously wide and powerful Ferrari 488 Evo GT3s crashing at iconic locations that have traditionally always claimed drivers, like The Cutting and The Dipper.

The most spectacular of the crashes caused a red flag, suspending the race, after an overly ambitious Taiwanese driver, pushing his 488 to its absolute limit, came flying down the super long Conrod Straight in excess of 270km/h. With horrible misjudgement of his braking in time for the The Chase corner, the Taiwanese driver sent the supercar flying off into the grass and dirt, plowing through multiple speed signage and flipping the car several times, before coming to a bruising and horrific halt.

Through a miracle, the driver survived the crash, with nothing but a sore neck, thanks to the safety features of the car and his crash helmet. However, due to the severity of the crash and damage to the track, Lockeheart’s tuner sprint race was delayed by an hour.

Whilst other drivers chose to peel off their race suits and get comfortable, Lockeheart instead retreated to the simulator at the rear of his team’s motorhome and played with his lap times, punching in his average lap times from practice sessions and attempting to find the mystery tenths that would enable him to get ahead.

By the time the 15 minute warning came, Lockeheart had driven the circuit so many times, to the point he was driving by instinct, the ideal mental state for a driver as it free up his mind to focus on other tasks. As the announcement died away, Lockeheart merely stepped away from the simulator and walked into the pit garage, his mind clear and still focused on the race compared to other drivers who were now struggling to amp themselves up again.

Interior of the Mazda RX-7 FD3S.

With its average lap time of 2 minutes and 14 seconds, the tuner 20 laps sprint race, was still an exhausting and taxing endeavour, as was atypical of your racing at Mount Panorama. After all, Australian racing, was not so much about clean racing, as it was about who could survive lap after lap of assaulting a course that crashed, banged and trashed every part of your body along the way.

The winner of any race at Mount Panorama was delivered by the elimination of lesser drivers, who cannot handle the stress and were simply not insane enough to post competitive lap times.

45 minutes of long, precise and daring manoeuvring was required by Lockeheart to make up his poor qualifying session starting 7th out of 15 racers. Despite the monumental task ahead of him, Lockeheart was not unduly worried.

His race pace, was something else to behold, and his team knew better than to question Lockeheart’s inherent ability to find gaps where none seemed possible. He was typical of Australian racers …. daring, brash and bordering on insane, but fair on the overtakes and Lockeheart knew he had the machinery to climb where none others could.

His car, a heavily modified Mazda RX-7 FD3S was a 90s JDM that still enjoyed strong competitiveness in hillclimbs and descents. With its iconic rotary engine, providing near perfect power-to-weight ratio, low slung body and precise handling, the Mazda RX-7 FD3S was going to make places over the other modified cars.

But the question was, how many?

As the 5 minute warning came through the garage, Lockeheart stepped into his white RX-7 and listened to the iconic rumbling of the rotary engine at idle. A cross between a growl and a burble, the sound was deafening in the garage, as Lockeheart revved it several times to ensure everything was working well.

Brap … Braappp! Brap .. Brap, Brap, Braappp!

Giving the thumbs up to his engineer, Lockeheart felt the car being lowered down to the floor and waited for the signal from his pit crew, before peeling out into the sunshine and the rough track that only a country like Australia could create.

The starting grid for the Tuner GT Championship, with this final sprint determining the championship leader.

Cheers from the grandstands came through in a muffled roar as they filtered through his distinct red/black crash helmet, and he slid in behind the slipstream of the car in front, a grey BMW M3.

However it was really the top 3 cars that warranted his attention, a dark purple Nissan R33 GTR that belonged to a Japanese racer: Tak Nakigama; a matte red Audi Quattro TT helmed by a young German, Ben Waldorf and the racing green a Porsche 911 that belonged to an Australian, Jordan Chaser. Each car was third, second and first respectively and fine racers all.

It was the Porsche he feared the most though. If Waldorf’s Audi and Nissan of Nakigama could not keep him busy, there was a very good chance, the insufferable braggart at the wheel, Jordan Chaser, would get a clean getaway and pull away on the straights, where the Porsche’s horsepower would outrun anything behind it.

Behind the visor, Daniel Lockeheart scowled at the thought of Jordan Chaser winning the race. Never mind the fact that this race was going to determine who was going to earn a spot at a top level team next season, or that the prize money was enough to cover his rent for 7 months … losing to Chaser was more humiliation than he could bear. Especially after the rude send-off he had given Lockeheart after scoring pole position in the qualifying.

Sighing, Lockeheart looked down at his dash and noted everything seemed OK. Chaser and Lockeheart had a long history and none of it was pretty but his job right now was to catch the man, when he was a full second and a half behind.

As the 20 cars slowly trundled up the track for their formation lap, many began weaving along the straights, attempting to bring more heat into their cold tyres and get them switched on in time for the race. Keeping an eye on the gauge that indicated the tyres’ temperatures, Lockeheart heard his race engineer’s voice over the radio in his helmet.

Just a reminder, 7th position is on the left side of the track when you come to the grid.

Copy that. replied Lockeheart curtly.

As they came through the fastest right-hander that indicated the section known as The Chase , Lockeheart saw Chaser’s green 911 turn left into Murray’s Corner. A strange premonition came over Lockeheart, as he had this strange feeling that his race would depend on a late lunge into that corner.

Shaking it off, Lockeheart heeded his engineer’s advice and parked his Mazda RX-7 on the left side of the track, the inside line as they came to Hell Corner.

The race was now about to begin.

One of the most challenging tracks in the world, Mount Panorama is famous for the Supercar championship and my screams of rage as I scrape the walls and mess up my exits in Gran Turismo: Sport. Many races have been abandoned and sessions ending with me tossing my simulator wheel aside in frustration.

T minus 10 said the race engineer in Lockeheart’s ear.

Silence descended over the grid, with only the rumbling of many different engines to soothe the tension. The crowd’s energy was now suppressed, their excitement now under a bubble of anticipation. People put their food down to watch the start, chatter died away and all eyes were now eyeing the cars on the grie.

Lockeheart flexed his fingers over the wheel of his precious car and found himself murmuring under his breath, as was his habit

Keep it clean. Keep it clean. Clean.

To his rear right, was a eager 8th placed, Taiwanese racer, Tim Wu in his yellow Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, its chassis jumping about as Wu revved his engine aggressively.

His immediate front was taken up by the tail-lights of the 5th placed grey BMW M3 he was shadowing the entire formation lap, driven by an Egyptian, Ishan Koury, a fine racer that had recorded many battles with Lockeheart.

Meanwhile his front right was blocked by a 6th placed orange Holden V8 Commodore, whose engine rumbling was familiar enough to anyone who had the unpleasant experience of being drawn into an impromptu street drag with one at a traffic light and driven by a bogan stereotype, Sam Jones, with his mullet hair peeking out from underneath his crash helemt.

Lockeheart knew his car did not have the acceleration to storm past the Commodore, but if he could draft behind the M3, and judge his braking point right, he could take the Holden in Hell’s Corner.

The 5 dark lights began to flash red, 1 second at a time … one after the other …

5

4

3

2

1

Then they disappeared.

Note the incredible list of decals on the side of the RX-7, each of them indicating the source of the parts in this vehicle. I have always loved RE Amemiya after-market parts and this car exemplifies why I love that brand so much.

Within two tenths of the lights shutting off, Lockeheart slammed his foot down, the rotary engine roaring with all the muscle of its’ 255 brake horsepower and slammed his stick shift into first.

Within seconds, he was shifting into second, and flying down the main straight, following the M3 incredibly closely, with only 2 metres separating the cars from a collision.

Then every single car’s red brake lights lit up, as they approached Hell’s corner.

Up ahead, Chaser had a poor start, mistiming his shifts as he struggled to pull his Porsche 911 away from the pack.

Smelling blood, Waldorf in his Audi nudged closer to Chaser, as they went almost side by side into Hell’s Corner, Chaser desperately trying to protect the inside line, whilst Waldorf struggled for grip around the outside.

Bang!

The two cars touched, bumper to bumper, as the TT’s nose nudged the rear of the 911 and Chaser twisted his wheel to and fro viciously to correct the incoming spin at 90km/h. The over-correction was costly and Chaser cursed Waldorf’s name loudly as the Audi came alongside and overtook him.

The curse became even more pronounced when Nakigama’s GTR also came blazing past, the mighty roar of the Godzilla’s powerful engines screaming in his ears. Slamming his foot down furiously, Chaser punched his 911 down the Mountain Straight, not caring about the small bump that scraped his underside, desperate to regain his lead.

Meanwhile in the pack, Lockeheart had timed his small drag race to Hell’s Corner perfectly, the slipstream behind Koury’s M3 giving him extra speed to out-run the more powerful Commodore. The rotary’s engine kept an running commentary of Lockeheart’s actions with exhaust fire and brapping noises, as he turned the RX-7 into the corner and out-braked Jones’ Commodore by a clear car length.

To both the M3 and RX-7’s delight, Cho’s 86 had gone wide on the exit of Hell’s Corner, the rear wheels of the Toyota scrabbling for grip as it touched the grass. Lockeheart mimicked Koury’s acceleration down the Mountain Straight, as they zoomed past the struggling 86.

Pacing himself and pleased with 2 overtakes, in the space of 1 corner, Lockeheart settled down his heart-rate and focused on following the Egyptian’s BMW through Griffin’s Bend, and then upwards towards The Cutting, the sharp lefts followed by a more sweeping vertical right hander.

As the pair of cars rocketed up the mountain, Lockeheart did his best to keep the car planted and grippy, preferring to not risk drifting his car and destroying the tyres too early. As they reached the peak of the mountain at McPhillamy Park, and begin their slow, technical descent, Lockeheart noted that Koury made a mistake at the Skyline that would compromise the entire flow of his rhythm through the Esses.

Koury had braked too late.

White smoke billowed out from the rear tyres of the M3 as Koury desperately tried to avoid the wall, the car screeching horrifically and filling the cockpit of the RX-7 with the smell of burning rubber.

As the M3 veered raggedly to the right, Lockeheart, without fear nor hesitation, kept his foot steady and the car fast through the smoke of the burning rubber, jinxing his chariot to the left, on the inside line of the corner.

The M3 crunched into the wall, with Koury scrapping the side of his M3 and shattering the left side mirror. Somehow the car managed to right itself, but was now damaged in the most iconic of Mt Panorama ways, the wallrider scar.

Koury’s mistake though, meant that Lockeheart now had nothing between him and the top 3 drivers, with Waldorf still in the lead, Chaser’s 911 having barged its way back into second and Nakigama’s R33 itself only 2 seconds in front.

Clean air, clean laps. whispered Lockeheart inside his helmet, the sweat and perspiration of his concentrated effort soaking into his Nomex balaclava.

The RX-7 slowed down into second gear, as Lockeheart steered the front of the car into the most difficult corner of the track, Forrest’s Elbow, a near blind hairpin, with a steep descent. The turn seemed to last forever, but as the nose cleared the apex, he punched the accelerator, correcting the car as the rear slid out a tiny bit.

It was now time to tackle the Conrod Straight, and achieve top speed.

The rotary engine roared, as the rev indicator went to the red limit, then flicked down as Lockeheart shifted up. Within seconds, the RX-7 was carving a hole through the air, at 240km/h, nearing its absolute top speed, before Lockeheart lifted his foot ever so slightly to swing the car to the left, to prepare for the fast right hander that would end with The Chase’s chicane of left and right turns, a move designed to bring cars from their top speed down to a crawl of 80km/h.

Conscious of the Ferrari 488 that came before, but aware he had to be committed, Lockeheart blasted through the sweeping right turn and then slammed on the brakes, as he approached the turn, downshifting expertly mid-way through the corner, so he could reserve speed. Short shifting as he approached the right turn, he kept his revs high as the car screamed the last 200 metres to the final corner, Murray’s Corner that led onto the main straight.

The braaaaaaapppp of the rotary’s engine thrilled every single spectator on the grandstands as they watched the white RX-7’s front left wheel deftly cut the corner perfectly, millimetres away from the wall, and come shooting through onto the main straight, flames shooting out the exhaust as the engine fired its way up into high revs again accelerating the low slung car across the finish line in a blur of ferocious speed.

Cheers followed the car as it braked hard into Hell’s Corner and once again began its ascent into Australian bushland racing.

The Lowdown has a talent for finding the best modified vehicles, with owners that have an serious eye for aesthetics. Am proud to say that the company is based in Melbourne and that their website is quintessential car porn.

Gap to car in front, is 5-tenths. You are within 2 laps of getting Nakigama. Hunt. Him. Down.

The race engineer’s voice echoed in Lockeheart’s head, as he roared past Hell’s Corner for the 13th time. After the heroics of the first lap, the race had settled down, with drivers now concentrating on maintaining smooth rhythms through turns and chicanes and bumps. Koury in his M3, for a time had mounted a challenge to Lockeheart’s pace, but after 4 laps of chasing, was unable to keep the iconic black strip of the Rx-7’s taillights in view and dropped back to manage his tyres.

On his side of the cockpit, Lockeheart ignored the threat, choosing to focus on his laps and listen to his race engineer as they told him when to brake later and when to relax, to conserve his tyres. Thanks to his smooth and consistent driving, the RX-7 was in a serious contention for a podium finish, with Nakigama’s R33 now within sight, just disappearing around the next corner, as Lockeheart chased.

By the end of the 15th lap, Lockeheart was now within 2 tenths of Nakigama, the 4 red tail-lights of the R33 taunting him only metres in front.

As they both cleared Hell’s Corner, and proceeded down the Mountain Straight, Lockeheart kept his RX-7 directly in the slipstream of the much bigger purple car and felt, rather than saw, his car get closer and closer to the rear bumper of the R33.

With just 200 metres to go of the straight left, Lockeheart jinxed his car to the right, taking inside line to Griffin’s Bend, as Nakigama began his braking early.

Carrying more speed, Lockeheart waited for a heart-stopping second as the rear of his car cleared past Nakigama and downshifted, as the RX-7 screamed in high revolutions into the corner, the front right clipping the off-camber kerb and the RX-7 roared again, as Lockeheart upshifted, and put his foot down, the white paint of his car, millimetres from wall-riding out the exit and to the complete shock of Nakigama, was already halfway up towards The Cutting by the time he accelerated.

The victorious roars of his crew came through the radio, as Lockeheart smiled in relief at the daring move and began to negotiate the next series of turns.

Yes mate! Fucking yes! OK, Waldorf and Chaser up next, they are only 9 tenths ahead! breathed his race engineer heavily into the radio, as he struggled for air after his exuberant cheering.

By the time the 20th lap came, Lockeheart was eyeing the Audi of Waldorf’s as it cleared its way through the Esses, Chaser finally overtaking the German on the prior Lap 18, down the Conrod Straight.

It was also at the critical point of the race, where all the drivers were suffering from massive degradation on their tyres and lap times were increasing, as the cars were unable to push their limits any further. Wallriding was now more common, with Tran’s Impreza and Wu’s yellow Evo X retiring in the pit lanes after extensive damage to their front bumpers and side doors.

Other racers like Koury’s M3 and Lowry’s brown Golf kept going, but due to their wallriding scare, were unable to post competitive lap times, falling prey to calmer heads like Suki Fujiwara, the only female racer on the grid, whose pink RX-8 was now entering into the Top 5, her car now attacking the rear of Cho’s 86.

It was also time for Lockeheart to take advantage of the unique properties of his RX-7 FD3S. With lap times such as they were, drifting was now a viable option, although Lockeheart would have to use it sparingly to save the grip for the long straights.

It was this weapon that Lockeheart intended to use for the two cars that separated him from victory.

Is there anything more pleasing to a gearhead than the sight of a beautifully crafted machine, against the backdrop of a gorgeous landscape and road? The answer is no.

Lap 21 commenced and Lockeheart was still behind Waldorf, his Audi employing dubious defensive techniques that restricted passing. As they roared past the spectators standing at Quarry’s Corner, Lockeheart knew that he was running out of laps to hunt down Chaser who was maintaining a strong 5 tenth gap between himself and the two cars running behind him.

Still pressuring Waldorf, Lockeheart began to feint his car to the inside as they passed Reid Park, the Germa gamely blocking the move with a blatant block that covered the entirety of the track.

Lockeheart backed off, braking for a nanosecond, as he allowed Waldorf to retain the lead into Turn 7, before again baiting Waldorf with a move that was never going to work in Turn 9.

Waldorf took the bait, again, blocking Lockeheart’s feint, moving his Audi over to the left, leaving the right side of the track clear into Turn 10.

As the two cars came through the small straight that separated Turn 9 and 10, Waldorf began to brake for the dip into Turn 10, maintaining his left side of the track.

But as he downshifted cautiously, the brap, brap, braapppp of Lockeheart’s rotary engine filled the cockpit of the Audi and the German could only watch in astonishment, as at nearly 100km/h, the RX-7 FD3S came drifting to the right of him!

The white Mazda blazed past in an arrogant showman display of driving skills and insane desperation, and Waldorf could only watch, his mouth agape as the Mazda continued sideways down the track, tyres screeching and burning, before performing an inertia drift the other direction, the car’s long nose facing the right direction, just in time for the Skyline’s Turn 11 right hander.

His astonishment and fear of a crash, had inevitably caused the Audi TT to slow down and by the time he recovered from his shock, Lockeheart’s Mazda had already gong through the Esses and begun slowing down for The Dipper, a full 6 tenths ahead of the stubborn German.

The cheers that came through the radio, was only matched by the flabbergasted screams of delight from the entire circuit as they watched the replay of the overtake in slow motion, each race-fan’s attention now focused solely on the image of the white Mazda RX-7 FD3S chasing down the racing green Porsche 911.

As Lockeheart sped down the Conrod Straight, and into the final corner, a Mexican wave followed his progress, the crowd now fully invested in his pursuit of a win.

I remember seeing this car for the first time, and just admiring the overall curvature of it all. It is such an undeniably attractive chassis and in spite of its age, still remains a stunning representation of Japanese automotive aesthetics.

Lap 24 of 25.

Lockeheart’s mind was now melded completely into his machine. Every single turn was taken even smoother than it was before. The sensation of driving was instinctual, guttural and beautifully balanced. Even the car’s slight wiggles as the tyres struggled for grip, were corrected within a microsecond. After a single lap, it was clear to all, who had the superior pace.

By the time the RX-7 had climbed to the peak of Mount Panorama on the 24th lap, the distance between Chaser and Lockeheart was now within 3 tenths of each other.

Less than 2 car lengths apart.

Game on.

Lockeheart harassed the 911 all the way through the Esses and even managed to nudge his nose past the 911 on the entrance of Forrest’s Elbow. However the 911 was not a machine to be underestimated lightly, the superior horsepower on the precision driving machine instantly checking the RX-7 in place, as both cars rocketed down the Conrod’s Straight.

But it was in the turns where the RX-7 shone, and the crowd were on their feet, as they watched the RX-7 shoot through the chicane of The Chase and gain on the 911 as they approached Murray’s Corner.

They entered the corner, end to end.

Chaser, in his desperation, braked checked Lockeheart. Slowing down more than necessarily, intending for the RX-7 to ram into the back of his 911.

Lockeheart’s green eyes widened, as he recalled the odd feeling he had before the race, in the formation lap.

Man and machine reacted instantly, and Lockeheart spun the wheel, sending his car into a drift, around the rear of the 911 and on the outside.

Boos turned into yells of encouragement as the crowd watched the white RX-7, flames brapping and smoke shredding from the tyres, almost overtook the 911, the two cars crossing the line side by side.

The final lap was now commencing.

Do or die.

The 911 entered Hell’s Corner for the final time, ahead.

The RX-7 completed the same turn, a nanosecond later.

The sounds of the rotary clashed with the aggressive growl of the Porsche all the way down the Mountain Straight.

The RX-7 once again, shows its nose alongside the 911 as they enter Griffin’s Bend almost side by side, the 911 only just edging out the RX-7 as they shoot through The Cutting, then Quarry Corner, up past Reid Park, and into Frog Hollow.

Chaser’s breathing is erratic and his heartbeat is pounding away nearly at the same beat as his engine.

Lockeheart’s breathing is shallow but controlled, the rear lights of his prey all he can see, as he probed for any opportunity.

Then, there it was, at the most critical section of the race, where Lockeheart had seen the most luck swing his way.

Skyline, Turn 11.

Chaser, panicked, stressed and desperate, unaware of the stress his tyres had gone through after 25 laps of hard racing, not caring and frantic for breathing room away from Lockeheart, over-committed into Skyline

Realising a nanosecond after his fatal error, Jordan Chaser slammed both of his racing boots into the brake pedal and yanked hard on the handbrake.

But the tyres had no grip, regardless of how much braking power the 911 possessed.

A huge lock-up occurred, as the wheels refused to spin, and the smoke that came from the rubber burning clouded the track.

Daniel Lockeheart didn’t even pause. He went to the inside of Skyline and neatly overtook the POrsche, as the poor 911 wall-rode for an excruciating 2 seconds, before Chaser managed to peel it away.

Through The Dipper the RX-7 flew, right, left, right, left before slowing down for Forrest’s Elbow.

As Lockeheart came to a crawl around the Elbow, he briefly checked his rear view mirror and within a heartbeat of realising what was going to happen, punched his accelerator harder than he had ever had, as Jordan Chaser came back at him, intent on vengeance.

The 911 almost slammed into the back of the RX-7.

Lockeheart and Chaser flew down the Conrod Straight, both cars whining as they were pushed to their limit for the final time. The 911 roared in Lockeheart’s mind, as it came alongside the RX-7 and was about to overtake him.

NO! screamed Lockeheart in his mind.

But then they had to slow for the fastest right turn on the circuit, and both cars were side by side when they approached the final chicane: The Chase.

It was then Lockeheart did the unthinkable.

He yielded the lead to Chaser. He allowed the 911 to pass him into the final chicane

Chaser braked harder than he had ever done before as he tried to set up his car for a good exit out of final turn of The Chase.

But he had mistimed it all wrong, and he was upshifting poorly as his 911 neared Murray’s Corner. Chaser though was confident. Lockeheart had let him past, he was going to win. No matter what he did, poor entry speed into Murray’s Corner or not, the race was his.

So Jordan Chaser gingerly took Murray’s Corner … much slower than he needed to.

It was then, Lockeheart initiated his plan. He knew, deep down, that the 911 was going to beat him down the Conrod Straight. So this was his only chance. The only time he could catch Chaser off-guard. When he thought he had gotten the final jump over Lockeheart.

The 911 had just begun its left turn onto the straight, to the boos of the crowd, when to their utter shock, delight and disbelief, Daniel Lockeheart’s white RX-7 FD3S drifted around the outside of the 911, the wheels smoking hot rubber on the tarmac of the road, and as both cars found their grip for the final tiny drag race, Daniel Lockeheart with his high revolutions and perfect timing on the upshift, nudged his car a mere 10cm ahead of the 911!

To the spectators, it looked like both cars crossed the line together, but when their eyes ventured up to the leaderboard, it was D. LOCKEHEART that was at the top!

Daniel Lockeheart had won, by a margin of 0.003.

3 thousands of a second.

The roar of a ballistic crowd and his team shattered everything Daniel had managed to build up for himself before and during the race and everything came out in a yell. His joy, his fears, his excitement, and his relief

YESSSSSSSSSS! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YEEESSSSSSS! screamed Lockeheart through the radio, his voice jubilant and echoing through the garage as his team of mechanics hugged each other in a big huddle, jumping up and down ecstatically.

YOU ARE THE MAN BRO! You are the goddamn man! I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT MOVE. You had us so bad with that fake-out out of Turn 22. Insane! screamed his race engineer.

Daniel Lockeheart laughed. Ah man. WE DID IT! YES! Great job today boys. The car felt unbelievable. This one is for us.

As Daniel waved to the crowd on the cool-down lap, through the open window of his Mazda, he looked down at his car, and patted the steering wheel gratefully.

Thank you car. whispered Daniel.

He was now a King of the Mountain. A race winner at Bathurst. A champion.

Author’s Note

Another surprisingly long short story, clocking in at 5K plus words, this one was mostly inspired by my constant re-reads of Hover Car Racer by Matthew Reilly in my teen years. I couldn’t put that book down, such was Reilly’s way with words and my already strong obsession with racing. I tried to do my own imitation of his fast paced writing, but honestly, I doubt anyone can copy his frenetic style.

This one is a love letter to racing, and what I have always loved and raced in video games. I am a self-confessed fan of 90s JDMs, having watch Initial D an unhealthy number of times and falling in love with their aesthetic, despite poor performance in comparison to other cars. Nowadays, the love is less obsessive, but I still harbour a strong soft-spot for them.

In reality, a 911 drive by someone capable, would easily smoke a RX-7 FD3S but then that is half the fun, imagining a scenario where a humble JDM, modified and restored with care and love, could go toe to toe with a high performance vehicle, costing twice as buy. After all, it’s usually the pilot that makes the final crucial difference between winning and losing.

A confession: I have actually never been to Mount Panorama, in Bathurst, but have always wanted to go, after hearing so much about the track and its quintessential Australian nature. I can already attest to the difficulty of the track, mostly judging from the endless number of laps I have put on it, in Gran Turismo – Sport.

I chose this track, because of its hill-climb and sharp descent, as well as iconic straights that can play to the strengths of a lot of different cars. However, that said, it is indeed a power circuit, hence why the Australian Supercar Championship is always held there (and why the 911 was able to stage such a late comeback, despite the wall riding).

Heavy inspiration was drawn from The Lowdown.com an automotive lifestyle brand that is based in Melbourne. I have been a fan of theirs, ever since exploring their high production videos on Youtube and am grateful for all the photos they have taken over the years, many of which are now wallpapers on my PC. I can only express my envy at some of the project cars that they have covered over the years and it was this feature that inspired me to use the RX-7 FD3S as the hero’s car.

As always, I hoped there aren’t too many grammatical mistakes and that you enjoyed reading this.

~ Damocles.

One last glory shot of the RX-7 FD3S, moving at speed at night, it’s luminous paint and black accents looking absolutely resplendent. Nothing beats a drive a night.

Rurouni Kenshin: The Final (2021) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes.

Director: Keishi Otomo

Stars: Takeru Satoh, Emi Takei, Mackenyu Arata, Yosuke Eguchi, Munetaka Aoki & Yu Aoi

Review by Damocles

I think I liked it? But then I’m such a huge fan so this bias is probably clouding my judgement.

Let’s just get one thing very clear …. Rurouni Kenshin has had a substantial impact on me through my more troubled years and I won’t deny the fact that I have a huge blind spot for this series. So expect this review to be forgiving.

That said, my cynical and critical side is always active, so maybe I will be a tiny bit balanced.

One of the biggest issues with the Rurouni Kenshin series, is the fact that it is notoriously good if you know the source material (the original 90s anime, the manga and the darker OVAs) and incredibly difficult to appreciate if you know nothing about it.

In fact, whenever I recommend this series, I always hesitate because those who are unaware of the source material will probably take very little from it, beyond an appreciation for the potential high budget Japanese action cinema has, if harnessed properly and how evocative the score is.

Those same people will also have their appreciation be sharply balanced by the fact that live action anime costumes look ridiculous, as does hair and styling and there is a bit too much melodramatic expository dialogue.

Not to mention there are far too many damnable flashbacks.

But for the fans, like myself, this film was an excellent interpretation of Kenshin’s final arc and the primary reason why we chose to watch the film: the fight sequences, did not disappoint at all.

Regardless of what type of viewer you are, the Rurouni Kenshin series have always excelled at their incredible camerawork and choreography, with some truly imaginative swordplay and action that pushes the limit of what stunt-work can create.

The films have always beautifully crossed the line between realism and fantasy, with the cinematography to match such graceful and deadly stunt work. If there is a reason to watch this film, it is the final action sequence, which arguably puts a lot of the previous sword-fights to shame.

But does the plot work as well to heighten the action?

This is where Rurouni Kenshin’s falters, as die-hard fans such as myself will find the plot adequate, but remarkably slow paced and casual viewers will find themselves checking out, due to the lack of context in which a lot of the expository dialogue is delivered and an under-appreciation for the emotional stakes.

Rurouni Kenshin: The Final’s weak plot highlights the unique challenge in which a lot of anime/manga adaptations must face, when translating a huge story arc into a condensed 2 hour viewing experience. In fact, it more than showcases the challenge, it actively falls into the typical Japanese trappings that plague their normal story-telling style.

  • An over-reliance on flashbacks, that often condense too much in their sequences, without any real stakes established and clear indications of the characters’ (in the flashback) importance.
  • Insufficient development for a lot of character’s motivations, with singular lines that somehow are meant to justify entire betrayals and fight scenes.
  • Too many scenes that showcase a character’s anguish but doesn’t quite seem to delve further into their actual motivation or development.
  • Side characters that are more or less fan service elements than actual people that populate the world of the film.
  • Dialogue that is inherently too Japanese in their interpretation.

To touch further on that, what I deem as excessively Japanese is scripting that requires a lot of viewer’s interpretation and reading between the lines to understand motivations. This is a very short-hand story technique that is common across many Japanese narrative styles, and it was a skill I had to hone after reading the entire breadth of Haruki Murakami’s works all in English.

A lot of the phrases and dialogue in this film will sound natural to Japanese viewers, but will definitely confuse those who are unfamiliar with how Japanese to English is translated and the short cuts in speech the film-makers are employing to inject emotional stakes.

If these elements alienate or detract from your film experience, that is completely understandable

However, it did not affect my own experience as I have come to expect such flaws and narrative quirks, especially in this series. This film did not do any more or less than what I have seen previously in the context of their story-telling.

That being said, there were a lot of backtracking that I thought was unnecessary and padded out the run time longer than it needed to. Many flashbacks repeated lines that I thought were not in need of repeating.

From a more technical standpoint, Rurouni Kenshin: The Final ramps up the cinematography with better shot compositions, more plays on weather conditions and evocative use of slow motion. There are many scenes that stand-out visually, from hot-air balloons over a burning Tokyo, to footage of Rurouni Kenshin performing parkour moves that highlight his speed and agility in a incredibly detailed set.

To highlight the film from a costuming perspective, all the characters, with the exception of the villain, are garbed beautifully in traditional clothing with easter eggs that hint at the anime origins of the characters, like Aoshi’s hint of blue in his dark hair. Kenshin’s wardrobe in particular is extraordinary, with a lot of beautiful subdued colours that highlight the natural lines of the kimono and accent his dark wood scabbard. The final outfits of Kenshin and Kaoru really showcase how rich and layered traditional Japanese clothing can be, and might be one of my favourite pairing of colours on screen this year.

The only issue perhaps is the villain himself, whose outfits are just a bit too outlandish for the period setting and have a strange anachronistic feel to them, in contrast to the traditional outfits on display. In particular the bright orange costume jarred too much with the background, and proved more distracting than fashionable.

Naoki Sato’s score does not delve too much into new territory, with the film soundtrack resembling’s his greatest hits from the previous 3 films. There are just enough new melodies and throwbacks to the series’ strongest themes that overall, create a still pleasing soundscape. I have always love how traditional yet modern the score are in Rurouni Kenshin and this film is no different.

Overall, Rurouni Kenshin: The Final is a decent swan-song to a series that has highlighted the heights and lows of anime/manga to film adaptations.

These films aren’t perfect and will still fall prey to a lot of stereotypical Japanese story-telling problems that can alienate casual viewers but the series has proved that with the right source material, such adaptations can capture the flamboyance of animation without sacrificing realistic settings and still innovate action cinema to another level.

A scene to recall: The film has a lot of attractive shots, that had me pausing. But it was this one that I really liked, with the rain coming in just so with perfect timing. Nothing quite captures moodiness like Japanese forests and traditional garb.

Habitué

Shame (2011). Even now, this film will occasionally creep into my consciousness and remind me how confronting cinema can be in the hands of an auteur. I watched this film, in my university days and it has haunted me since.

WARNING:

This story is about sex, addiction, and pornography. Please do not continue reading if you find such content offensive.

Insomnia gripped me like a desperate woman. Uncomfortably tight and uncompromisingly demanding.

I tossed aside my bed sheets and took several deep breaths. It was another dark, restless night alone. Just another one of those nights where nothing you do will knock you out. It is the middle of the week, and nothing has happened, yesterday or prior, is noteworthy.

I’ve always slept naked. Not only is it supremely comfortable, but it’s a habit I’ve found hard to shake off after lying in so many strangers’ bed in the exact same position, my eyes staring at the ceiling, the feeling of desire creeping up on my mind, and taking it and my body hostage.

I didn’t really feel like masturbating, but nothing else would put me to sleep. I have work the next day, in … 6 hours and I knew that if I didn’t masturbate, I would pull an all-nighter.

So I blearily shoved away my alarm clock and padded over to my computer. As the screen flickers on, I made sure to adjust my headphones so they sat comfortably on my head.

Soon, I am browsing my usual sites and the collection I have building away on my hard-drive. I like to download my favourite clips and organise them by category on my computer. My mind likes to start slow, browsing through artful nude photos of women, in various outfits and poses. My favourite ones involve a woman where she is just wearing panties and a dress shirt.

You can still see the shape of her breasts underneath the shirt, but it is just hidden by the transparent nature of the shirt. The reason why I prefer her to wear panties underneath, is because that is half the tease; half the fun. You can still see the shape of her vagina through the sheer lace panties, and the panties never take away anything from admiring her legs.

Your reward is when she finally takes it all off and lays it all to bare. Nude as the day as she was born and as resplendent as she will ever be.

Breasts, Butt and Thighs … the holy trinity all just hidden or accentuated just so in that outfit.

It’s a combination that never fails to get me hard.

Of course, only European porn does this sort of thing. They tend to try and make porn artsy. Typical Euro-pretentiousness, trying to make something vogue, despite its crude nature. Not that I am complaining, I am an customer after all. I download their photos all the time.

After feeling some heat begin to enter down below and my penis actually starts to awaken, I move onto my hardcore stuff. I prefer POV porn, as it is the only thing that really makes me feel like I am there, pounding and grunting away at the woman beneath me. I love it when the porn actress is a convincing screamer, when she knows how to time her moans and really stretch those vocals when she is about to orgasm.

What is wrong with vanilla sex? I hear you ask.

I’m just not overly fond of the male performers. It takes the immersion out of experience. It feels weird to be watching a couple go at it, even though in POV that is exactly what is happening. But that is just how my mind works. I can substitute another man’s penis for mine, but I can’t unsee his face.

After all, I want it to be me that is fucking the woman I am seeing on screen.

Besides, most of the male performers are damn ugly.

You think there would be more of a harsh criteria for male pornstars and their bodies.

As these thoughts chase through my mind, as I am watching scenes after scenes, I realise that I am still not getting close to that orgasm I crave.

What the hell is wrong with me today? I think to myself. What could it be? Why am I stroking my dick, but nothing is really working?

I move the mouse, onto something that has always worked for me. But now the tip of my penis is cherry red. It is getting rubbed raw. I am holding it too hard.

Cursing, I look at the bottom left of my computer. I’ve been at it for over an hour and nothing is working.

I want to sleep, but now my mind is too preoccupied with nude bodies and the moans of ecstasy.

So in desperation, I pick up my phone and dial my escort service I always use.

The silky tones of the operator answers almost immediately and promises a girl will be over in less than 10 minutes. I keep rubbing my penis the entire time I wait, eager to keep it hard for the call girl that will be over.

Time seems to stretch, and I find myself getting impatient and soft. So I start to envision where I will take this girl. The bedroom, the kitchen … up against the wall. Over by the balcony …. This perks me up again and I find something resembling pleasure creep into mind. My narcissistic, and lascivious thoughts are turning me on properly.

So by the time, I heard the soft knock at the door, I am ready for the stranger that will take me to Nirvana.

Blonde, buxom and bodacious, Serena walks in, and doesn’t even raise an eyebrow at my nakedness. Instead she grabs me by the arm and face and we begin to make out for an intense 30 seconds, before breaking apart.

My hands begin to peel the tight dress off her curves. She doesn’t hesitate to reach down and tug away at me. I toss her dress away and play with her pert breasts, enjoying how her nipples stiffen under my touch.

We start to make out again, no less intensely, as we slowly make our way to my king single bed. She wraps her legs around me, and I carry her to the bed, where I set her down roughly and scrabble at the bedside table for a condom.

She stops my search halfway, with her mouth around me, the sensation so sharp and agonisingly good that I stop moving and focus on the feeling of her tongue all over my cock.

However it is too good. The hour I spent masturbating had made me hard for too long. I ejaculate inside her mouth and at the peak of my orgasm, I feel this hot shame and frustration bubble over and pop inside my mind.

Serena looks disappointed in me., as she picks up a tissue and spits my load out. It was all too quick.

I can’t bear to look at her in the eyes, as she slips back on her dress and is gone from my apartment in less time than it took for her to arrive.

As I lie on my bed, I look across at my alarm clock and note that it was now only 4 hours to work. I had blown my load and 250 dollars in less than two hours, for an orgasm that felt terrible and unsatisfactory.

There was no way I was going to sleep now.

So, for the next 3 hours, I laid in bed, my eyes transfixed towards the ceiling and occasionally glancing over at the open window that overlooked the city of Melbourne. My mind went everywhere, from replaying scenes of porn in my mind to theorising what I was going to do at my job later today.

By the time the sun rose, I was also ready for work. Bitter and sour about my experience last night, a part of me was still fixated on getting a real orgasm.

The itch I couldn’t scratch.

I boarded the train with gritted teeth, and a terrible headache from my lack of sleep. I look a far cry from anything resembling Don Juan. However, despite my splitting migraine and baggy eyes, I still found the time to admire an attractive woman, in her mid-30s, with strawberry blonde hair. She was elfin in her looks, with porcelain skin.

She returned my gaze evenly, and we held each other’s eyes for a long time. I longed to do something with her throughout the entire train ride. My imagination pictured her naked, her long blonde hair trashing in the throes of ecstasy. The way how her voice would sound when I pushed her against the wall. The way how she would run her long fingers across my body.

She got off a stop early, so my chance with her was flushed away.

But I could tell there was something there, it was in the way how she looked back at me, once she left the train.

Perhaps I would see her again, at a similar time, on the same train in the future.

As I entered the lobby for my workplace, one of my colleague came up to me, excited.

Alfie! How have you been man? Keen for tonight?

Johnno, of course I am, my man. I’ll see you in the lobby at 6pm yeah?

You got it bro! Bring you A-Game!

As John dashed off to his desk, I settle into mine. It was going to be a long 8 hours. The work I did for the entire day was mediocre and lacklustre. It was all passable, but nothing to earn me the promotion I had been eyeing. I am unable to resist sneaking peeks at Euro porn throughout the entire shift. It helps that I have my own office with blinds.

To put it simply, I am unable to concentrate properly. Sex is all I have on my mind. I want that euphoria of an orgasm again.

Throughout my entire shift, I fight the urge to reach down and touch myself. Halfway through my lunch break, I think about making a break for the toilet.

The thought evolved into action.

I actually end up in the stall, jerking off. But again, I am unable to climax. Something is amiss today and I don’t know what it is.

Maybe I really do need a woman to get me off. But that’s normal right? There is no shame in that. I just have to score with John tonight and I know I’ll be happy again, and able to get some semblance of normalcy again. I can feel good again with my cock in hand and the sounds of a woman moaning.

The hours count down, until finally it hits 6pm. I look down at my suit pants and relieved that my penis is behaving somewhat normally. It isn’t erect. It’s just slightly engorged, not enough to really see anything. I promise it, that it will have its fill by the end of the tonight.

I meet John in the lobby and we head out to his favourite drinking spot. A watering hole that is more known for its hook-ups than its cocktails.

There, we hit it off with a pair of office-workers like us, two girls out for a spontaneous night of fun. Alice and Sharon. Alice is sweet and a lovely brunette. Without even checking with me, John selects her as his goal for the night. To my surprise, Sharon is the strawberry blonde I saw on the train earlier that day. We both pretend not to recognise each other, and I buy her a drink nevertheless.

As she speaks, all I can hear inside my mind are her potential moans. When she reaches out to touch me, when I make a joke, all I want is her to caress me tightly. Every toss of her hair and flirtatious gesture is amplified to the highest sexual degree in my head.

My pants are no longer able to hide my attraction. Not that Sharon cares, she brazenly touches me twice down there with a mischievousness that belied her casual nature.

As we get drunker and drunker, we eventually call it quits and wave goodbye to Alice and John, who don’t bother to acknowledge us, their eyes only staring at each other.

Somehow, in spite of our drunkenness, Sharon and I end up in a taxi together and she call out her address. The taxi ride itself is the most forgotten part of the night. Only the sense of movement is registered in my mind. I have waited all day for this.

By this time, my head is on her chest, my hands are full of her hips and my mouth is tasting the softness of her skin.

As we stumble together into her small apartment, we start to peel the clothes away. Everything is a haze of sensual alcoholic gratification. My mouth devours her lips, her breasts, her navel and her bush. She is squirming above me in titillation, unable to stop her body from reacting the way I want it to.

In an effort, she spins me around and wrap her mouth around my penis, as I tongue away at her. Soon the foreplay had built up to such an extent that I can feel pre-cum building on the tip of my penis and her vagina getting more and more wet by the second.

I push her head away and without pausing, hilt her. She screams and I ignore them for passionate cries.

But moments later, the fists start coming and flying at me fast. I am shoved off her and deprived of my wanton desires and I snap out of my feverish state to see Alice before me, her hands clutching her lower stomach in pain, tears streaming down, her brunette hair splayed across her face, hiding her pained expression.

I do a double take in shock and horror. Had I unwittingly committed rape? Where was Sharon? Why was Alice here? How did I get the two mixed up so badly? Where was John?

What have I done?

screams my mind above all the other thoughts.

I pick up my clothes and in my rush, hurt my still throbbing penis, it almost getting caught in the zipper of my pants. I stumble out of the apartment, still reeling from what just happened. My shirt is untucked, my blazer is skewed and my shoes aren’t slipped on properly.

What the hell just happened?!?!

I had only taken several steps, down a foreign block, when the weather changed drastically and the first pellets of rain slammed into my head.

I look up and hear the crack of lightning and thunder as it echoes throughout the sky.

Rain lashed at me, the chill killing any lingering thoughts of sex I had been so obsessed over for the whole day and I could only run to find shelter, as water slowly pooled in my shoes.

As the wind and water cut away at me like vengeance from a woman scorned, I struggle to bring out my phone and call for a taxi home. The feat was so difficult, I spent nearly 5 minutes thumbing for the number, my mind still wracked with guilt, shame and confusion.

When it finally arrives, I am soaked through. I am so wet, the driver even goes out of his way to spread a towel over the seats to prevent me from soaking the car further.

By the time I crawl into my apartment, I faced with a similar dilemma only earlier today. Only 4 hours of sleep until I need to get ready for work.

Only this time, no amount of porn, sex and titillation will get me to sleep.

I keep flashing back to seeing Alice. Where was Sharon …. had I made her up?

I glare at my computer and in a fit of rage, delete everything off it. Every single gigabyte of pornography, after years of collecting …. gone in a green bar that indicates deletion.

I feel like trashing my room, but refrain from doing so.

As I lie on my bed, soaking wet, naked and afraid … I come to a horrifying conclusion.

Everything that had happened today … all the misery, all the lack of pleasure, all the shame and delusions …. hallucinations … occurred because I was addicted.

I am an sex addict.

The thought flashed in my mind, as bright as neon, and I knew from then on, I knew I would never be the same person again.

I would never touch a woman the same way again.

I would never experience a woman’s moans without fear.

I would never approach sex again without anxiety.

I looked down at myself and saw for once, something flaccid and sad.

The true price of addiction.

Humiliation.

Author’s Note

Beyond breaking the normal taboo of writing and creating sexual content, I actually breached one of my personal rules, when it comes to fictional writing: I made the story entirely in first person.

There are several reasons for this, the most important, was that I wanted this Alfie character to be as immersive and haunting as possible. He is not meant to be a character to be liked … but pitied. He is a victim of his own doing, and I really wanted to tap into what life might be like for a sex addict. The only way to make this story as shocking and confronting as possible was to go beyond my comfort zone and really pretend I was an sexual addict. That meant writing in first person.

For the story itself, I purposefully skipped large chunks of his day and focused on the sexual aspects, because that is what an addict’s mindset is like …. always seeking the next fix, always chasing a high. The world and time becomes irrelevant in comparison to the chase. It was bizarre at first, and I thought it didn’t flow, but when I read it again, it made sense.

I will also make a humbling confession that some of Alfie’s traits and taste come from my own experience in pornography and that is part of the reason why I wanted to write something as weighty as this. I knew deep down, this story would have to involve my own experiences, my own taste and conclusions and I’ll admit, it wasn’t easy to write it and see it laid bare for all to see.

When I was younger, I was a porn addict. After all, it is such an easy trap to fall into. You make yourself feel good, with stimulus. A simple spell that has doubtless bewitched many young teenage men. Fortunately, my habit was only ever confined to once a day and it never affected my relationships, work or lifestyle. It was just a habit I fell into when browsing the internet late at night.

But the main reason why I felt so compelled to write this, is because it is such a taboo and sensitive topic. I’ve always loved issues that forced you to confront an ugly truth about yourself. Sexual addiction is one that has always held a long-term fascination for me, primarily due to my interest in sex work, prostitution and the psychology behind sexual desire.

I thought Shame (2011) was a brilliant dissection into the mental state behind a person’s sexual addiction and for the longest time I wanted to write a compelling story about something similar. I daresay, this story was one of the fastest I have ever written, with 2.7K words flying across my screen in a mere 2 hours. I would like to thank Abel Korzeniowski’s work on Nocturnal Animals (2016) to really allow me to tap into something disturbing and the romantic song heard in Lucifer’s Season 5 Episode 6: Galleaux – Tether Me for helping me get over the line and reaching a satisfactory conclusion.

My story mostly parallels the journey of Brandon from Shame except I added the hallucinogenic twist at the end to show how his mental state had deteriorated and succumbed so much to his addiction that he wasn’t aware of the woman he had bought home.

I would also like to acknowledge the sex scenes that I wrote. I hope they were written in such a way that it came across as very unsexy. I myself felt no particular thrill in writing them, as the way how Alfie described women and collapsed his self-worth so heavily into his addiction was more disturbing than thrilling. I actually (surprise, surprise) do not have a lot of experience writing sex scenes, preferring to favour violence as my main means of spilling fluid everywhere.

So believe me, when I say, I would pause slightly before I typed the words “penis” or “vagina” … which goes to show what a silly shrinking violet I am when it comes to writing sex. Perhaps in the future, I shall practice writing some form of erotica, just to make sure I am actually capable of turning someone on with words out there and that my mind can display a healthy appreciation of romance.

For those cinephiles out there, I did name the protagonist, Alfie after the titular movie Alfie (1966) staring Michael Caine.

Any addiction is bad. Don’t waste your time on pornography when you can go out there and develop real relationships with a partner as cliched as that sounds.

But coming to the realisation that you have a problem is always the first step to take. Knowing you have an addiction of any kind is giving you wrestling your life, self-respect and agenda back.

That is the first step towards recovering.

Anyway I hope you, my dear reader, did not mind this short story.

Expect me only to dive deeper into more confronting topics in the future!

~ Damocles

Silverburn

Oh.

The tip of the cigar glowed under the darkness of the city smog.

With the strong cloud cover, the usual brightness of the city that glowed under the stars, was dimmed and could only shine under the power of its grid.

Overlooking the entire landscape, stood Raphael Silverburn, at the precipice of the roof, his left forearm stretched along the thin silver railing, as he leaned and exhaled rich Cuban smoke out of his mouth.

The roof itself, was an extraordinary testament to the contemporary style of modern architecture, a near completely obsidian affair that merged glass, metal and stone seamlessly to create an incredibly rich, sleek effect. The dark pool was infinite in its’ concept, taking up a North to South strip, allowing guests to swim to the very edge of the glass on either side of the building, and feel like they were floating above the city. Piercing lights accentuated the ripples and flow of the water.

In the centre, was an all glass room, that housed the upper bar, storage area for deck chairs, towels, and other necessities. It was the island in the middle of the pool, with a central staircase, and four compass point pathways that lead to ends of the roof.

The entire design was disconcerting, disorienting and offered little consolation to anyone but the architect himself, Raphael. He himself, was standing at the North East corner of the roof, a glass of Japanese whiskey beside him, on a permanent cigar/drink stand that was styled in a black wolf howling, in which the outstretched jaws would hold his whiskey glass.

At 2 metres and 9 centimetres tall, Raphael cut a monstrous figure in his bespoke suit, with a physique resembling that of a professional fighter. His arms were cast of granite, his legs resembled tough California Redwood trees, and his chest threatened to darken the sun above most people’s head in conversations.

Silverburn’s face was no different either, with a serious, perpetually cruel expression across a chiselled jawline, complete with a highly masculine cleft in his chin. His mouth was a thin line, that barely spoke, and his patrician nose gave rise to exceptionally bright blue eyes, that were offset by dark raven hair, kept tight and neat by an undercut hairstyle.

His complexion was genuinely well tanned, a result of his younger years spent endlessly outdoors, chasing the rush that was the Iron Man Competition in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, being a multiple podium finisher, as well as 4x winner. Even still to this day, Raphael would train consistently, pleased that he was still able to finish the gruelling triathlon in a relatively competitive fashion, despite his encroaching age.

Glancing out at the neighbouring skyscraper, Raphael noted the curious flashes that were coming the 20th floor, illuminating the rooms with brilliant spots of light. Each spark would be tempered with a tinge of red that left little to the imagination of the initiated.

Picking up a pair of binoculars, Raphael Silverburn focused the lens to pierce through the darkened glass of the skyscraper and smiled cruelly as he watched a pane of glass become splattered with crimson flecks.

Checking his expensive Omega watch, with its dark Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional face, Raphael noted the time and placed the binoculars down, to look across the more North West corner of his roof.

Whilst the explosion of the car could not be heard, the dark, oily, black plume of smoke that rose lazily into the skyline of the city was unmistakable. Below him, sirens blared angrily, as police and fire brigade units rushed to the site of carnage, their blue and red lights reflecting brilliantly across the lower levels of the city’s buildings.

Raphael turned sharply on his heels and meandered across to the South side of the roof, casting his sapphire eyes over at the easterly direction. There, he noted through his binoculars that a certain office complex was now ablaze, some distance away. It was burning with a fury, accelerated in its’ anger by strategically placed gasoline. Silverburn could even almost see a figure on his knees, in supplication before the might of the flames that threatened to consume him.

A secondary explosion deep within the guts of the office complex soon enveloped the figure, and there was nothing left of him to bear witness to the effigy of sabotage.

Fool thought Silverburn. He was quite fond of the building and its’ art deco architecture. The combination of handsome limestone and modernist style with curves meeting clean panes of glass was attractive and striking.

More’s the pity thought Silverburn pragmatically, his mind instantly dismissing the sentiment, as he glanced at his watch, turning his attention west.

In another building neighbouring his, Silverburn cast his eyes upwards as he noted a helicopter begin its descent to the roof of the building. To his amusement, he watched as the door opened, and with almost comical timing, a very large, man, in a pin-stripe suit fell out into open space.

His suit flapping wildly, his hands grabbing at nothing, with his cane falling at the same pace as he was, the mob boss sunk like a stone, for all 35 floors. He behaved like a beetle, helpless on its back, scrabbling at nothing at all, his desperate scream transforming into a wail as his terror reached a feverish pitch.

The amalgamation of his weight, speed and velocity in which he struck the ground, almost vaporised the corpse upon impact, the skin lying loosely, broken in a million places, torn in a thousand others and now stretched across a pavement that was swiftly emptied as citizens ran in every direction horrified by the sudden appearance of a concrete pancake.

Pleased with all the work performed in the space of 20 minutes, in all compass points, Silverburn retired back to his North East corner and washed the taste of victory with a deep exhalation of cigar smoke. He stood there, still, against the railing, pondering when exactly his phone would erupt in a flurry of calls.

Within 15 minutes, his phone had buzzed a total of 4 times. Each of them were ignored, and then it would vibrate again, as a text message would enter the ether of digital communication. Raphael Silverburn didn’t bother to answer any of them. They would soon be marching here, upon this roof.

As the last vibration ended on his phone, Silverburn walked back to the glass room, and pressed a single button.

Yeah boss? answered his right hand man.

Company will be arriving soon.

Understood. replied his consigliere curtly.

Silverburn looked down at the table, at the array of drinks, weapons and cigars. Plucking an elegant Heckler & Koch P30 off the table, Silverburn loaded in a magazine, before slipping on a large belt with an array of equipment, from spare magazine holders to first aid kits. Adjusting his blazer, so that it sat loosely over the belt, Silverburn tucked the P30 into the holster on the belt, and picked up a large futuristic looking HK433 rifle, with a holographic sight, magnifier, laser designator and a torch attached to the rails.

With a smooth precision that suggested long experience, Raphael tucked in a magazine, pulled the charging handle, and closed the dust cover, before looking through the red circle and dot combination that came with all EOTech sights. Pleased that the torch was also working, as well as his red visible laser, Silverburn set the rifle down and poured himself a single finger of vodka.

Savouring the burn as the still, clear liquid woke his senses, Silverburn slung the HK433 around his shoulder and under his arm, and moved to the edge of the roof once more.

Flicking the magnifier to the holographic sight, he looked down at the street, some 30 floors below and noted the huge array of vehicles that were coming in.

With amusement, he also noted how the 4 different directions in which they were all coming in by, represented each faction.

Without fear, Silverburn waited a bit longer for them to get closer, before flicking the safety off his rifle.

Controlled aggression were the words that entered Silverburn’s mind as he placed 2 rounds into each bonnet of the lead cars, before stepping back to enjoy the show, letting the rifle hang loosely by his side and picking up the binoculars atop the wolf stand.

Predictably, the Triads were the first to scramble out, as they pulled over in their large SUVs and piled out of the car, staring to the west at the Hell’s Angels who were now dismounting their big bikes, submachine guns in hand.

As the firefight erupted between the two, the MS-13 gang rolled up slowly with their low-slung cars, laughing at the eruption of violence in front of them. Unbeknownst to them, directly opposite, on the south side, were the incoming Bratva mob of Russian fame. They were all driving in with modified Mercedes sedans, their leather jackets barely concealing their illicit weapons.

Silverburn waited with all the patience of a saint, letting the firefight between the 14K and the Angels to reach a crescendo, before aiming the red dot upon a pair of MS-13 gangsters.

He had barely registered their slumped bodies, when he flicked the sight over at the Bratva and took out their lieutenant who was ordering the troops to take cover and was in the midst of riling up their spirits with a pompous speech.

The shocked face of the lieutenant as two 5.56mm rounds punched their way through the top of his skull and exited out his chin, caused all around him to yell in shock and the man’s body had barely hit the floor, when the Bratva looked across at saw the Chinese, Angels and Latin Americans staring at them.

Within seconds, bodies dropped faster than they had ever had in the city’s history, as a full internecine war broke amongst all the biggest gangs. The gunfire was beyond immense, the sound reverberating across corridors of wind and concrete, punctuated only by the screams and groans of the dying and wounded.

What was a formidable force, eager for revenge from each respective gang had now turned into a desperate race for survival and pure bloody-mindedness. There was no retreating, no escaping. Insanity now ruled the area.

Each man with a gun in his hand, was now beyond rational thought. All that was left in his mind was a singular thought: kill or be killed. The moment the weapon went empty, they would fumble for a reload and aim in three directions. To the front, to the left and to the right. When no magazine was forthcoming, they would pick a fresh gun off their dead comrades and use it instead.

The 14K was now whittled down to 2 men scrambling for cover behind a BMW SUV.

The Hell’s Angels had fared the worst, with only 1 surviving member of their chapter, hidden by his large Harley Davidson and the corpses of his brothers.

The MS-13 had 4 men, one of whom was gravely wounded and was doing his best to arm a grenade.

The Bratva were survived only in name by 3 soldiers, their weapons being the biggest of the 4 gangs, and now dominating the field with overwhelming firepower.

It was then, within the space of a single breath, the second last 14K was killed by an unknown shot, of unknown origin.

Another exhalation, and the MS-13 man fumbling with the grenade was shot before he could throw it. As 2 of them tried to retrieve him, they too were shot efficiently, with no wastage of time.

The Bratva stared, confused, before 3 of them died, in the time it took the mind to register that the shots were coming from above.

As the last shot rang out, Silverburn’s consigliere with his small squad of men. walked out of the building that had bared witness to the horrific carnage, and swiftly disarmed all of the last remaining survivors, cuffing them tightly with cable ties and dragging them yelling and kicking into the lobby.

Whilst the consigliere stood with the prisoners, the rest of the men walked out and systematically killed the wounded. Singular shots rang out, as coup de grace headshots were delivered dispassionately, the pleas for mercy or assistance ignored with a pithy scorn.

As the men began to collect weapons in garbage bags, the rumbling of 2 large garbage trucks came barrelling out docking bay of Silverburn’s building, the professional cleaners wrapping up bodies in cellophane and assisting the squad of men with the clean-up.

A few minutes later, they were joined by a convoy of tow trucks that began the slow work of removing all the vehicles involved in the carnage. Millions of shattered glass shards were swept up into bags, alongside thousands of shell casings. Each man and woman that worked the scene was silent, focused and fastidious. They were all professionals, used to Silverburn’s methods and unfazed by the daunting nature of the work. Each person was loyal to a fault and prided themselves on being able to work efficiently and effectively to Silverburn’s ever constant watch.

To be late, or slow in their job, was akin to career suicide. Livelihoods depended on the second hand of Silverburn’s expensive watch and it was to be said, that the last person Raphael had to fire was over 5 years ago.

Naturally, his body was removed by the men and women that were still serving.

The warning was enough.

Don’t be late and you will be rewarded well.

Those words echoed in the consigliere’s mind as he lead the 4 remaining survivors into the elevator that would take him to the infinity pool, where Silverburn was waiting.

He had served Raphael loyally for over 10 years now. Each operation undertaken by the pair was meticulous in its detail and near flawless in its execution. For many years, they had toiled together silently, efficiently and effectively. To announce themselves on the map with such a strong show of force was beyond a statement.

It was an affirmation of their inner belief, that the city needed a better class of criminal.

Silverburn’s outfit was to be that new yardstick in which all would be measured.

However, even this plan confused the faithful consigliere. There seemed to be a strange personal touch to it all. An air of distrust and secrecy, that only Raphael could answer. When the consigliere received the orders, he was incredulous. Such bold action invited challenge and a desire to finally throw away the cloak and dagger the two had long wielded for something much sharper and simultaneously blunt.

Despite his misgivings though, the consigliere did as he was asked. His belief in Silverburn was unshakeable. His boss had never once led the organisation astray. He wouldn’t know how to. Privately, later, when they shared a drink, the consigliere would ask what was the motive behind such blunt action. But for now, he would do as he was told and to the minute.

The elevator doors silently rushed open and the consigliere deposited the four wretched survivors at the base of the bar, where Silverburn looked over at them dispassionately. Nodding his thanks, he raised two elegant fingers and waved them in a circular motion.

The consigliere nodded, bowed and made his way downstairs to commence phase 2.

Looking down at the four men that kneeled before him with hatred in their eyes, Silverburn calmly looked at each gangster in their eyes, seeing their defiance slowly melt into confusion, as each man failed to recognise the impressive giant specimen before them. His sheer size and physique dwarfed theirs and when Silverburn laid a hand on their shoulder, almost placatingly, there seemed to be a huge weight pressing down on their bodies.

Fear instead replaced rebellion. They had all realised that this man who stood before them, was a complete mystery. None of them had heard of him, seen him before or could work out any angle that they could exploit. He didn’t belong to any of their crowd. He was a cut above. A figure even more terrifying than their bosses.

Raphael Silverburn, for all intent and purposes, appeared like an angel of death to them. He had just orchestrated a symphony of death, that had laid waste to the best of their respective forces. Who else could wield such power? Nothing mortal. The giant before them, had to have some kind of supernatural ability. Perhaps he was a descendant of a god?

As each man struggled to come up with conclusions about Silverburn, Raphael continued to silently stare at them all, with no emotion etched across his face. He was as still and mysterious as the Sphinx and nothing else unnerved a gangster more than a person who refuses to display any sign of emotion.

Gangsters by and large, run the gambit of emotions every day. They are thin-skinned, prone to violence and enjoy giving in to emotional whims. This is a result of the environment in which they are grown in, and the scarce hold on life they possess. When you live life on the edge constantly, it is the heart that dictates what the body needs. The brain merely acts as a tool to fulfill that heart’s desire.

Steal, kill, rape, burn, punch …. all of these actions are a direct extension of a heart’s too afraid of death that awaits it around the corner of a house.

To be confronted by a man, with complete mastery over his emotions, especially anger, is as terrifying to a gangster, as a hunter face to face with a vicious tiger that has the drop on him.

A mixture of fear, respect, and the sensation that you have finally fired your last round and nothing will prevent the jaws and fangs from closing over your head.

The 14K Triad kept his eyes downcast unable to match the intensity of the ocean blues that stared coldly back at him. His mind was full of regret and contemplation of the past. He was ashamed of himself.

The Bratva tried to hold an air of superiority, as if his belief in his gang would protect him. The sweat on his forehead betrayed his demeanour. Vengeance filled his mind. One day, this giant would get his and he would be the one to pull the trigger.

The MS-13 gangbanger counted the number of tattoos on his arms, and wondered if he would be accepted into heaven or hell. He was mentally preparing himself for death, but in spite of this, he was afraid. He wasn’t ready, he still had so much to do.

The Hell’s Angel was the most nervous of them all, his stomach already churning through his poor diet and health. Without his fellow bikers, he was powerless. His imagination ran wild, conjuring up all sorts of torture and horrific ways to go. His heart pounded away, almost bringing him to a cardiac arrest.

Raphael Silverburn remained motionless and silent, his eyes probing each man, studying their psyche and taking mental notes. This continued for a long hour, the atmosphere thick and intense with fear and terror, all 5 men not saying a word.

It was then, at precisely the end of the hour, Silverburn looked at his watch and cast an eye at the elevator, which opened seamlessly, before the minute hand completed its’ revolution.

The consigliere entered once more, with 4 more men. Without a word, he placed each respective man in front of their surviving member. Their backs were towards Silverburn, and they could only stare at their underlings.

The survivors’ eyes widened in shock, as they beheld their bosses. Each man was cable tied similarly to them, their clothes bedraggled and there were red marks from repeated beatings.

Despite their appearance though, their bosses were still angry, indignant even. These powerful men were still under the assumption that they were Kings. Not reduced to the peasantry that had died under their watches. This rebellious attitude sparked the flame of loyalty and hope in the survivors.

Then, Silverburn spoke.

His speech was one of a natural orator. Time itself slowed when Silverburn spoke. The deep intonation, the clear pronunciation and slow delivery of each word held weight. His accent was mysterious, and an amalgamation of English intelligence, American charm and a hint of Russian gutturals.

He chose only to address survivors.

Doubtless, you are all wondering why I have chosen to take up arms against your respective gangs.

Money? Power? Malice? Godhood?

I have no aspirations in any of those ambitions. Your bosses knew that already. I was a rising player in the their game, but had no part to play against or for them. They have heard of me and the power I possess over the city. Yet they kept me a secret, because it galled them to admit that they have lost control over their regions.

Pride prevented them from reaching out to each other in the spirit of cooperation, to crush the common threat; me. Had they swallowed their differences, the corpses of your fallen brothers would not be liquefied and instead you would be enjoy a different type of liquor at each other’s expense. It would be I, who would be disappearing into the depths of criminal history. No one would remember my name. Your respective gangs would have continued your foolish quests and charades none the wiser.

But your bosses fucked up. They did not obey the rules. If you need to injure someone, do it in such a way you do not have to fear their vengeance.

Had they merely left me alone, I would have responded in kind. But your bosses crossed the line. They stole something from me that cannot be replaced. Something so severe and precious that it forced me to shed my cloak of anonymity and placed me into the light of the damned.

However, such matters do not concern you. All that matters is what you shall do next. I am offering you a choice. Please, make a decision within the next minute.

Silverburn nodded at the consigliere and the bonds of the survivors were cut off. As they massaged their sore wrists, Silverburn stood in front of them and placed in front of them, 4 knives.

Then he stood back and watched impassively as the 4 survivors ran through an entire roller-coaster of emotions, as they beheld their bosses’ eyes which were now devoid of defiance and have been replaced with terror and pleas.

Confusion, Gravitas, Fear and Hope. The most toxic combination of emotions that one could experience in a minute.

After half a minute had passed, it dawned on each survivor that Silverburn expected them to slay their bosses, in the tradition of Cain and Abel. Each survivor stared at each other, unwilling to make a choice or a move, unwilling to look at their bosses who were now screaming behind muffled mouths.

They looked at Silverburn who stared back impassively and merely counted down the seconds in his head.

10

9

8

7

Then the MS-13 gang member stood before his boss and plunged the knife into the man’s throat, arterial blood spraying out and onto the MS-13’s face. He stared at his boss’ eyes, watching the light slowly fade from them, a manic look on his face. He staggered back, unable to comprehend what he had just done, as the body slowly keeled over to the side.

6

The Hell’s Angel stood frozen in fear as he was unable to move. He could not believe what had just happened. The knife felt like a leaden weight in his hands.

5

With a vicious war cry, the Bratva copied the movements of his MS-13 counterpart and almost hacked his boss’ head clean off, the knife slicing through the entire throat, causing the remaining skin to fray and tear apart from the weight of the head, as it toppled over, the silent scream behind the mob boss’ eyes captured forever, as it rolled on the floor.

4

3

The 14K Triad exploded into action, his hands a blur as he rushed towards Silverburn, a desperate scream cutting through the air, as he moved the knife towards Silverburn’s stomach.

With a speed and ferocity that could only come from a professional fighter, Silverburn brushed aside the outstretched knife hand with a casual bat of his hand, and moved towards the 14K gangster, shortening the distance between them.

As the gangster reacted in surprise at Silverburn’s move, Raphael slammed the hard, callused edge of his hand into the man’s throat, crushing his larynx, causing all oxygen to disappear from his brain.

As the 14K Triad staggered back, Silverburn gripped his neck in a vise-like grip and staring at the boss, shattered all the vertebrae and brittle bones in the gangster’s neck with a sickeningly audible crack.

Without pausing, Silverburn allowed the limp corpse to drop, and without mercy, picked up the knife and stabbed both the boss’ eyes out, before sticking the knife in the man’s throat and coldly allowing the man to bleed out, as he screamed in agony.

2

1

Silverburn walked behind the desk and looking at the frozen Hell’s Angel who had still not made a decision, picked up his P30 pistol and blew the brains out of the survivor, with two precise shots that were millimetres apart on his forehead.

He then shifted his aim, and executed the Hell Angel’s captive boss in the traditional Russian way, with 3 bullets into the back of the head, so that the face could no longer be identified once the rounds exited out the other side.

A punishment even beyond death.

Silverburn looked at the two surviving men, The MS-13 gangster whose chest was heaving from the emotional exertions and furious attempts to wipe the blood of his deceased boss off his face. The Bratva, recognising the execution method, merely stared, shell-shocked at Silverburn, before going down on one knee, in subservience.

Silverburn did not acknowledge the gesture, but merely turned around and proceeded to wipe the blood off his hands at the bar.

The consigliere cuffed both survivors once more, before escorting them out of the building and allowing them to walk away, into an unknown future with an envelope stuffed with bills. He waited until they were out of sight before taking a small cigarette break, for precisely 2 minutes. His hands trembled slightly as he lit the cigarette up and the consigliere scowled at his weakness.

As he climbed into the faithful elevator once more, the consigliere took a ragged breath of clean air, before exiting out onto the infinity roof. In the 4 minutes he had been away, the bodies and blood had already been cleared away and it was just the solitary figure of Silverburn staring out at the cityscape, a whiskey glass atop the wolf’s head once more.

Looking at the bar, the consigliere moved towards the glass of whiskey that Silverburn had made for him, and paused slightly at the neat handwritten note on the napkin left behind. Alongside the note, was the key to a safe that the consigliere knew contained several gold ingots.

With gratitude.

The consigliere stared at the figure of his own boss and wondered whether he could do the same as the men did today. Then he realised, he couldn’t. If anything, he would reverse the knife and plunge it into his own stomach before betraying Raphael Silverburn.

He raised a glass to the figure that stood at the edge of the roof, downed the whiskey, before walking back towards the elevator. As he turned, the consigliere saw a small framed photo of a woman tucked away in the corner of the bar.

She was dark, beautiful, mysterious and had an ethereal quality to her.

Disturbed by this new knowledge and aware of what Silverburn had said in his speech earlier, the consigliere gave a sad glance at the giant man on the precipice of infinity and left his boss alone, to grieve.

Author’s Note

Originally inspired by a youtube musical compilation that described itself as A playlist for a 19th century villain plotting their revenge this story has evolved into a very long and surprisingly difficult piece to write, with many stop/start attempts over the course of 2 weeks.

I genuinely struggled to create Raphael Silverburn as a formidable character, as the idea of creating a story with the villain as the protagonist proved to be very challenging. I wanted him to be cruel, dark and yet possess some attractive magnetism that is crucial for any main character for a reader to identify with.

I didn’t want to make his motive as simple either, but struggled to find some real emotional hook as to why he was doing the things he was. In the end, the slain spectre of a lover is still something we can all semi-relate to, so I ended up making it more of a mystery why he was performing such wickedness.

I modelled much of the roof setting on the scene in the first John Wick film, where Viggo has his first discussion with Aurelio regarding the physical punishment of his son. I was struck by the lighting, setting and reflective nature in that scene and wanted to emulate such lonely luxury for Silverburn, only with a slightly more Blade twist to it (recall the strange penthouse sequence with Deacon Frost and the vampire familiar).

As an amateur architecture critic, I have always long admired luxury hotels and their infinity pools and I thought of no better way to capture existential loneliness than to depict a single person standing by one, using it for the adverse purpose of internal reflection, when in reality, infinity pools are celebratory in nature.

I would also like to point out, I took elements of Jack Reacher, Mr Big (in the Bond novel, Live and Let Die) and Viggo Tarasov for the characterisation of Raphael Silverburn. The name itself, had to be intriguing as with all villains, and the only way I came up with it, was by researching old English ancestral names, and then playing on the words that were suggested.

Silverburn is completely made up, but has such a lovely way of rolling off the tongue, so I kept it, whilst Raphael is taken from my favourite quartet of names in any mythology; the archangels – Michael, Raphael, Uriel and Gabriel.

This proved long to write, standing proud at 5111 including this note, but I am glad it eventually came to fruition. I hope you enjoyed it!

~ Damocles.