We are delighted to present an extract from Ferdia Mac Anna's crime romp Cartoon City, in celebration of the novel's 20th anniversary reissue.
Set two decades ago in rave culture Dublin, Cartoon City offers thrills galore as anti-hero Myles falls for charismatic redhead, Mia. She’s an artist who paints giant penises, and has a soft spot for Bellinis (only in Venice). Determined to murder her father, she hires Myles to do it. This may not be her greatest life choice, but it makes for a great plot. Need we mention a case full of unmarked bills, a bloodthirsty Leprechaun, and a naked man in a Howth Head convent?
The man was built like a barrel, with small slitty eyes in a round, genial face. He seemed relaxed, as though it was perfectly routine to hold a gun pointed at a naked man's heart. He dyes his hair, Myles thought. As though this observation somehow gave Myles an edge.
He became acutely conscious of his inappropriate morning erection that bulged the bed sheets. He was too scared to cross his legs, however, in case that drew attention to it. Instead, he prayed that the man with the gun wouldn't notice. Myles yearned to put on a shirt. As though denim might somehow deflect a bullet.
This situation was his own doing. Just when things had been going so well. Nobody had forced him to go out drinking and smoking dope, or get trashed in a club for people who were born in the 70s. It was his fault that he ended up at a party God knows where and slept with Little Miss One-Way Street, who was even more of a mystery to him now than when he first met her. She wasn’t even a great shag, just an energetic one.
Now here was a stranger with dyed hair holding a gun on him. "Think carefully before you answer this question." The man’s voice was clear and pleasant with a pronounced American twang. "Don’t try to bullshit, OK?"
It took Myles a few seconds to summon his voice. "OK," he croaked.
"Alright," the man said. "Did you ride my daughter last night?"
Myles watched the man’s face for clues as to how he should answer. The man’s affable expression remained unchanged. OK. The man wants to know if I rode his daughter. Whose father is he? Mia’s? Aisling’s? Stick’s? Myles didn’t even know whose party he
had been attending. He concluded that there was no right way to answer to the question. If he said "No," the man wouldn’t believe him. If he said "Yes," the man might shoot his prick off.
"I wasn’t with anyone last night," he lied.
The man didn’t blink. He seemed to be waiting for a further explanation. Myles watched as the gun’s ugly snout shifted to a point at his bulge.
"Talk to me," the man said. "Make it good."
Myles blabbed, "I was a bit out of it. There was this party in someone’s house and I sort of woke up in this bed."
"Where are your clothes?" The man said.
Myles looked about him. The room was bare except for a chair in the corner and a bedside table upon which a candle had melted into a saucer. Perhaps his clothes were under the bed. He didn’t feel that it would be wise to attempt to look. Not while a guy held a gun on him. Not with a massive hard-on.
"I don’t remember much about last night. Someone must have put me to bed. I don’t even know where I am," Myles said, then tried a smile. "If it’s not too much trouble, could I ask where I am?" The man did not give any indication that he had heard the question. Keep talking, Myles thought. He won’t shoot you if you’re
"We were at a club in town and we ended up in someone’s car and Mia said –"
"Mia?" The man spat it out and the affable expression abruptly changed to one of contempt. "Is that what she’s calling herself now?" Myles was so confused he couldn’t continue. If Mia wasn’t Mia
who was she?
When the man rose suddenly, Myles stopped breathing. Any second he’s going to squeeze the trigger. Myles wondered if it was true that you never heard the shot that got you. Instead, the man threw him a bath towel. "Get up and come with me."
He climbed out of bed, feeling exposed and stupid and conscious of the lance sticking out between his legs that had grown bigger. He draped the towel around his middle. Now he towered over the man who was around five foot five and suddenly seemed less menacing.
The man walked over to the chalet door, opened it and held it for Myles to walk through. Myles scraped his head off the door frame again. Outside, the light hurt his eyes. It was a clear, bright day. Small puffy white clouds sailed across a blue sky. Myles could see fields of gorse winding down to a shimmering sapphire sea. So calm, so exquisite. Refreshingly unimpeded by city bustle and worry.
Apart from your man with the gun.
Where was this place? Malahide? Howth? Skerries?
Myles’s bare feet trod on soft grass mixed with hard pebbly grains of earth. He walked slowly, trying to pick his way along. Daylight gave him the illusion of safety. Nothing could happen to you in daylight, could it? He saw a gate at the bottom of the hill and beyond that what looked like a cliff path. Jesus, a cliff. What was this man going to do with him? His legs felt hollow. Chilly fingers played along the back of his neck.
"Open the gate," the voice behind him said.
He lifted the latch on the wooden gate and went through onto a narrow pathway. Beyond was an abrupt drop to jagged rocks and swirling water. A body could be tossed into the waves to be pounded to bits against the rocks. His remains would be washed out to sea, never to resurface. His father had never given Myles advice on what to do when you were naked and scared on top of a cliff with a psycho holding a gun on you. He looked around but there was no sign of his father either.
As the man closed the gate, the latch made a sudden clacking noise like a rifle being cocked and Myles jerked involuntarily.
The man leaned over the gate and held out his free hand. Assuming that for some inexplicable reason he wanted to shake hands, Myles extended his own hand.
The man slapped away Myles’s hand. "My towel," the man said gruffly.
Myles unraveled the towel and handed it back over the gate. He felt mortified and isolated, with a sore hand, but at least his erection had gone.
"Don’t ever let me see your mug again," the man said. "Go on, scat."
"What about my clothes?" Myles said.
The man pointed the gun at Myles’s feet and fired a sharp crack. A shower of earth stung his legs. He took off down the cliff path. He was too terrified to look behind until he had turned several corners and put a lot of distance between himself and the man with the gun.
The gunshot had sounded flat and unreal, like someone snapping a stick. Only a distant cousin of the gunshots in the movies or on television. Maybe it wasn’t a real gun. It could have been a starting pistol. But the guy had seemed like he meant business. That American twang. Mixed uneasily with a Dublin accent. Like someone who had been unable to shake off an old identity to properly absorb the new. Myles guessed the man had been Irish to begin with. The way he had said "ride" instead of sleep with or fuck or seduce. Perhaps he was a drugs baron. There were a lot of shady rich people around these days.
He stopped to rest on a corner. The ocean stretched out before him, vast and blue, unimpaired except for a small island on the horizon as well as a few sailboats. Below, a huge outcrop of jagged rock reared up from the swell like a great sculpted dinosaur. The sweat felt cool on his skin. He was surprised how natural it felt to be running around naked on a cliff path.
Far off he heard voices and splashing. He leaned over to scrutinise the line of the coast until he made out a beach in the distance with tiny figures on it. Swimmers. Where there were swimmers there would be swimmers’ clothes. He could lift someone’s gear and get onto a roadway. Somehow get back to the city. Out of this mess.
He began to walk in the direction of the beach. Above him, on the hill, he could make out the tops of houses over the gorse and trees. Sometimes he caught a glimpse of a large mansion far above. All the houses he passed seemed to have extensive areas of land around them. All owned by drugs barons, probably.
Rounding a corner, he saw two people on the path ahead. An elderly couple out for a stroll. There was no point turning around, so he broke into a run. The couple might not notice that he was naked. They might mistake him for a jogger on a morning run. Or they
might start screaming. As he drew closer he saw that the man had a long stick and the woman a scarf around her head. They looked at him with friendly smiles.
"Good morning," the man said cheerfully. "Morning," Myles said as he passed.
No fuss, no screaming the man hadn’t even taken a swipe at him. Perhaps the old couple were half-blind, or they could have been well disposed towards naked joggers. Maybe he was in a nudist area.
He continued running. Further along the path, he came upon a scatter of skateboards. They were parked together like a row of shrunken motorbikes on a small clearing above a cliff path. The path obviously led down to the beach he had seen earlier. Kids. Perhaps teenagers. If he wanted to grab someone’s clothes, he would have to follow the path. If they were all youngsters none of their clothes would fit him. Unless he chanced upon the clothing of a teenager who happened to be six foot six and a half. What if he was seen? He would risk being labeled a flasher, or worse, some kind of child molester. He was trying to decide what to do when a small boy and a woman appeared below on their way up the path. They were accompanied by two scrambling dogs – massive ravenous-looking black brutes with bright pink lolling tongues.
The boy looked up just as Myles took off. "Mam, that man’s starkers," he shouted.
"Ignore him, Austin, he’s sick," the woman replied.
He heard barking behind him, followed by what sounded like hundreds of paws scrabbling up a dirt track. The woman’s voice shouted instructions to the dogs, something that sounded like "Eat him, lads."
He came upon a small gate and jumped over. Anything was better than letting the dogs catch up. He ran along a small path that led through a thick gorse, brambles whipping at his legs. A few seconds later, he heard the dogs skid to a confused halt at the gate, then bark like maniacs. Far above, he spotted the roof and high chimneys of a mansion. He ran up the path until gradually the sound of the barking faded. He slowed, then pulled up to lean against a tree stump, exhausted and panting. After he got his breath
back, he noticed a sliver of blood between his toes. He’d been shot, he thought. He’d lost a toe. Examining a gash along the side of his little toe, he couldn’t tell if the wound had come from the bullet or something that had grazed him on his run. It didn’t hurt so it must not be serious. Keep going, he decided. Get out of here first, worry about gangrene afterwards.
He walked forward purposefully. He would try to make it to a main road. If he met anyone who looked reasonable he would explain that he had been for a swim and that someone had stolen his clothes. That sort of thing must happen a lot in seaside places. The people who owned the mansion would surely lend him a coat or a pair of trousers. Even a drugs baron might give him enough for a taxi home.
The mansion looked drab and desolate; tall dusty windows that hadn’t been cleaned or had their frames painted in years were set among dismal grey concrete walls. He walked through an overgrown back garden to the pockmarked back door where he gave three loud knocks.
The knocks echoed gloomily. No hint of activity. Looking around, he tried the side door that presumably led to the front of the house but it was locked. The surrounding vine-covered garden walls were too high even for him, and he could find nothing to use as a ladder.
He was about to give up and head back down to the cliff path when he noticed that a second-floor window was half-open. The window looked relatively easy to reach. He could climb onto the ground floor ledge then scale a series of protruding blocks up to the second floor. He jumped onto the ledge and began to climb. Even with bare feet, it was easier than he had anticipated. Soon he was standing on the second-floor window ledge. Cautiously, he pushed the window further open then climbed inside.
He stood inside an empty dusty room, then made his way to the door, opened it and went out into a long corridor that smelled vaguely of cabbage and dead flowers. He padded past many large wooden doors until he reached a long spiraling staircase with ornate curved banisters. He descended slowly, his soft footfalls sounding unnaturally loud in the reverential hush. The place seemed deserted. Growing in confidence, he made his way
through the hall to what he presumed to be the front of the house. At the front door he tried the handle, but the door would not budge. It was locked in three places and bolted in at least a couple more. He guessed that the house probably belonged to elderly and extremely paranoid people who had not bought anything new since the 40s – except maybe door locks. Either that or it had been lying empty for many years.
He walked back along the corridor, opening doors and looking into rooms to see if he could find either a key or some clothing or both. All the rooms were empty and devoid of objects except basic chairs and tables, and occasionally a picture on the wall. Not so much as a wardrobe.
A kitchen was the soul of a house. He would definitely find something useful there. If this place had a kitchen. He walked to the back of the house and opened a large door that looked like it might lead to one. The door opened into absolute blackness. Inching forward cautiously, his fingers discovered material that felt like velvet; a heavy curtain that blocked off the rest of the room. At the top of the curtain he spotted a pinprick of light. He moved along until he found a gap, then pushed through to the other side into faint light.
It took a few moments for his eyes to grow accustomed to the murk. He had arrived in a sort of chapel. Glancing about him, he saw that he was standing beside an altar. A giant crucifix stood in front of him, lit by a small nightlight. As he moved forward, he saw that the crucifix contained a figure of Jesus, naked except for a loincloth. High above, he made out gloomy stained glass windows, while in front of him were arranged row upon row of pews. The pews were inhabited by dozens of nuns holding beads who sat as still as statues, looking at him as though he were an apparition. The whole scene reminded Myles of an antiquated black and white image in an old photo album.
There was no sound except for a seagull cawing far away, followed by a feeble rustle of breeze from the high windows. Then a small nun in the front row coughed gently, breaking the spell. Myles covered his crotch with his hands as he tried not to be so tall.
"Hello," he began as cheerfully as he could. "I’ve been swimming."
The 20th anniversary reissue of Cartoon City (published by 451 Editions) is out now and available to purchase here for Kindle.