Johnny America




Illustration of a cup of tea

Justin woke with a start.

“What is it?” Aaron asked.

Justin could feel the sweat-soaked pil­low cold on the back of his neck. The world around him seemed tac­tile enough but just for a while it had been in a state of con­stant motion.

“Salzburg,” he whispered.

“Shall I turn the light on?”


Be­cause the sodi­um glow from the street­lights was com­fort­ing. He imag­ined the elec­tric­i­ty con­trol room out there, some­where. A man in a white lab coat car­ry­ing a clip­board, mon­i­tor­ing every­thing, light­ing away people’s nightmares.

“Why don’t you tell me about it?”

“I’ll be fine.”

The mu­sic was com­ing from Mozart’s house. A fog had come in down from the moun­tains, and Justin didn’t re­al­ly know where he was, but the mu­sic, oh, that harp­si­chord, it seemed to drag him along through the dark­ened streets.

An old la­dy leaned out from an over­hang­ing window.

“If you’re off to Wolfgang’s, tell him to shut up. I’ve got an ear­ly start in the morning.”

“He’s a genius.”

“So they say.”

“You can’t sti­fle the work­ings of an artist.”

“I’d like to sti­fle his…”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

She slammed her win­dow shut.

The fog made the mu­sic sound muf­fled. Fin­gers of air­borne mois­ture curled and swirled, he could see the fine droplets lit by the gas lamps. Around him, too, he could sense the Aus­tri­an moun­tains loom­ing, like gi­ants gaz­ing down on him. And the mu­sic, oh, that beau­ti­ful music.

“Do you want a cup of tea?” Aaron asked.

“Not right now, thanks.”

He car­ried on walk­ing along the nar­row street. The build­ings were so close to­geth­er that they seemed to be lean­ing in to kiss one an­oth­er. The cob­bled sur­face was slip­pery with mois­ture. He came to a junc­tion and the mu­sic seemed to echo all around him, but he did­n’t re­al­ly know which di­rec­tion it was com­ing from.

“Are you Agent X?”


A fig­ure stepped for­wards from the shad­ows. He was wear­ing a 1940s trench coat tied around the waist and a brown Hom­burg hat.

He recog­nised his boss at once.

“Yes. I’m Agent X.”

“You’ve got on­ly one shot at this,” he said, pass­ing the bomb.

“There was a bomb,” Justin whispered.

“In­ter­est­ing,” Aaron yawned.

“I dis­tinct­ly re­mem­ber. Oh my god, they want­ed me to kill.”

“Was it round with a lit fuse?” Aaron asked.

It wasn’t. But that was all that Justin could think about, now.


“How did you know?”


“Agent Y…  I don’t want to do this.”

Agent X leaned in and brushed away an imag­i­nary fleck of dust from Justin’s shoulder.

“I shall call you Napoleon,” he said, “be­cause I don’t want you to get blown apart, Bonaparte.”


“I must go. And when the deed is done, we shall be pick­ing bits of Beethoven out of the gut­ters for years.”

Agent X van­ished in­to an al­ley­way, en­veloped by the fog.

“It’s not Beethoven!” Justin said, look­ing at the large round bomb he was now hold­ing, the lit fuse get­ting small­er and smaller.

And the harp­si­chord mu­sic, oh, it was so beau­ti­ful, but now it seemed to be pulling him along, drag­ging him through the fog­gy city streets to­wards Mozart’s house.

“I don’t want to do this,” he whim­pered, as he held the bomb in front of him, at arms’ length, fol­low­ing the sound of the mu­sic. “I don’t want to do this…”

Justin turned the pil­low over. The oth­er side was dry­er. He didn’t feel quite so hot, and some of the de­tails of the dream had start­ed to dis­si­pate, as if they were a part of the fog that had en­gulfed Salzburg.

“I was speak­ing to Mar­cie the oth­er day,” Aaron said. “You know she lives in a ground floor flat. Her neigh­bour of­ten gets su­per­mar­ket de­liv­ery lor­ries turn up at all times of the night. You know, some nights its gone ten ‘o’ clock when they ar­rive? Any­way, her neigh­bour had ob­vi­ous­ly or­dered this de­liv­ery and it was brought to their house af­ter Mar­cie had gone to bed. And there was a big ad­ver­tise­ment on the side of it, you know the sort of thing. The ad­ver­tise­ment was of a woman look­ing very pleased with her­self, a fork hold­ing a piece of broc­coli inch­es from her mouth, a big smile on her face as if eat­ing that piece of broc­coli was like the most amaz­ing thing ever. As a side note, do you ever think that the ac­tors and mod­els they use in those ad­ver­tise­ments ac­tu­al­ly eat the veg­eta­bles? Or per­haps they’re not even re­al veg­eta­bles, they might be plas­tic, for all we know. They use all kinds of tricks in the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try. Heh heh, imag­ine be­ing a mod­el, and you think you’re go­ing to lead this life of ab­solute ad­ven­ture mix­ing with celebs and loung­ing around on yachts, but then the work starts to dry up, and one day your agent rings and he says, hey, I’ve got you this gig, to pre­tend to eat some broc­coli, and it’s go­ing to be on the side of a fleet of su­per­mar­ket de­liv­ery vans. I mean, you might as well give up af­ter that. Any­way, so this van pulls up out­side Marcie’s neighbour’s house, and Mar­cie does­n’t know this, and she can’t sleep, and she looks out the win­dow and boom, all she sees in the gap in the hedge is this huge, huge face glar­ing at her, grin­ning. And you know… And you know… That must have been pret­ty scary for Marcie.”



“Shut up.”

Justin looked up at the stip­pled ceil­ing and tried to imag­ine the cracks were a road map lead­ing to the cap­i­tal city of the lampshade.

Mozart had been play­ing jazz, he now de­cid­ed. This was a de­tail he had ob­vi­ous­ly for­got­ten since the dream. Or had the de­tails now start­ed to change? He imag­ined the tech­ni­cians in their white lab coats, late at night, glanc­ing up from their clip­boards and see­ing a gi­ant face out­side the win­dow, a gi­ant fork, a gi­ant piece of broccoli.

“Bloody hell!” one of them yelled, and ac­ci­den­tal­ly flicked the switch that turned off all the street lights in the town.

“Now where am I go­ing?” Justin asked him­self, still be­ing drawn along by the jazz mu­sic, but plunged in­to a sud­den all-en­com­pass­ing dark.

He could just about make out the sur­round­ing build­ings by us­ing the lit fuse of the bomb. He saw his re­flec­tion in a shop win­dow. He was Napoleon, of course. The jazz was catchy. Mozart was go­ing for it.



“Per­haps I will have that cup of tea.”

Filed under Fiction on October 30th, 2020

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Derek wrote:

This is a strange one… I love it.

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