The Antipope

Robert Rankin


Prologue

 

A long finger of early spring sunshine poked down between the flatblocks and reached through the dusty panes of the Flying Swan’s saloon bar window, glistening off a pint beer glass and into the eye of Neville, the part-time barman.

Neville held the glass at arms’ length and examined it with his good eye. It was very clean, small rainbows ran about its rim. It was a good shape too, gently rising to fill the hand with an engagingly feminine bulge. Very nice. There was a lot of joy to be had in the contemplation of a pint glass; in terms of plain reality of course, there was a deal more to be had in the draining of one.

The battered Guinness clock above the bar struck a silent 11 o’clock. Once its chimes had cut like a butcher’s knife through the merry converse of the Swan’s patrons. But it had been silent now these three long years, since Jim Pooley had muted it with a well-aimed pint pot. These days its lame thuds went unheeded and Neville was forced to more radical methods for clearing the bar come closing. Even the most drunken of revellers could understand a blow to the skull from the knobkerry he kept below the bar counter.

At the last thud of the Guinness clock Neville replaced the dazzling glass. Lifting the hinged bar top, he sidled towards the saloon-bar door. The Brentford sun glinted upon his Brylcreemed scalp as he stood nobly framed in that famous portal, softly sniffing the air. Buses came and went in the morning haze, bound for exotic destinations west of London. An unfragrant miasma drifted from the Star of Bombay Curry Garden, sparrows along the telephone lines sang the songs their parents had taught them. The day seemed dreamy and calm.

Neville twitched his sensitive nostrils. He had a sudden strange premonition that today was not going to be like any other.

He was dead right.


1

Jim Pooley, that despoiler of pub clocks, sat in the Memorial Library, pawing over ancient tomes in a never-ending search for the cosmic truths which might lead a man along the narrow winding pathway towards self-fulfilment and ultimate enlightenment. “Looking up form and keeping out of the rain” was what the Head Librarian called it. “Mr Pooley,” she said, in those hushed yet urgent tones affected by those of her station. “Mr Pooley, why don’t you take your paper around to the bookie’s and there study in an atmosphere which must surely be more conducive to your purposes?”

Pooley, eyes fixed upon his paper as if in a trance, mouthed, “You have a wonderful body on you there, Mrs Naylor.”