Authors: Irvine Welsh
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Thrillers, #General
Jim Francis has finally found the perfect life – and is now unrecognisable, even to himself. A successful painter and sculptor, he lives quietly with his wife, Melanie, and their two young daughters, in an affluent beach town in California. Some say he’s a fake and a con man, while others see him as a genuine visionary.
But Francis has a very dark past, with another identity and a very different set of values. When he crosses the Atlantic to his native Scotland, for the funeral of a murdered son he barely knew, his old Edinburgh community expects him to take bloody revenge. But as he confronts his previous life, all those friends and enemies – and, most alarmingly, his former self – Francis seems to have other ideas.
When Melanie discovers something gruesome in California, which indicates that her husband’s violent past might also be his psychotic present, things start to go very bad, very quickly.
The Blade Artist
is an elegant, electrifying novel – ultra violent but curiously redemptive – and it marks the return of one of modern fiction’s most infamous, terrifying characters, the incendiary Francis Begbie from Trainspotting.
Irvine Welsh is the author of ten previous novels and four books of shorter fiction. He currently lives in Chicago.
ALSO BY IRVINE WELSH
The Acid House
Marabou Stork Nightmares
The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs
If You Liked School, You’ll Love Work . . .
The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins
A Decent Ride
You’ll Have Had Your Hole
Babylon Heights (with Dean Cavanagh)
The Acid House
For Don DeGrazia
‘Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.’
As he elevates her skywards, the bright sun seems to burst out from behind Eve’s head, offering Jim Francis a transcendental moment that he pauses to savour before he lowers the child. The hot sand will soon punish his bare feet, he thinks, turning away from the solar flare, and he’ll have to watch she doesn’t burn. Eve is fine for now though, her bubbling, machine-gun giggles urging him to continue the game.
The glorious thing about working for yourself, setting your own hours, is that you can always take time off. Jim appreciates being here on the deserted beach, so early at sunrise this July morning, with his wife and two young daughters, while everybody else sleeps off their Independence Day celebration hangovers. The beach is absolutely deserted, bar some squawking seabirds.
When he’d first moved to California, they’d stayed in Melanie’s two-bedroomed apartment in the small college town of Isla Vista, close to where she worked at the university campus. Jim loved the closeness to the ocean, and they’d regularly walk the coastal trail, from Goleta Point to Devereux Slough, sometimes only seeing the odd beachcomber or surfer. When first Grace then Eve had come along, they’d moved to
a house in Santa Barbara, and the treks were curtailed in favour of shorter jaunts.
This morning they rose early, the tide still low, parking the Grand Cherokee up on the Lagoon Road. They walk in old sneakers, as the beach is littered with tar balls, produced by the nearby Ellwood Oil Field, the only point of attack on mainland American soil during World War II. Ambling down towards the ocean, they passed the low sandstone cliffs that separate the University of California’s Santa Barbara campus from the Pacific, towards the still, richer blue of the lagoon. The tide pools, and the crabs left stranded in them by the outgoing sea, mesmerised the girls, and Jim was reluctant to move on, sharing in their wide-eyed joy, which took him back to his own childhood. There would be more crabs to see later at Goleta Point though, so they roamed further, setting up camp under the cliffs, beyond which sat the university and Isla Vista. The storms in the night have combined with the holiday weekend and the college off-season to leave the beach bereft of human traffic.
The uncharacteristically severe weather has been easing off lately, but the unruly sea has created large sandbanks. If you aren’t inclined to wait for the tide coming in, those have to be negotiated before you get to the ocean. Jim has kicked off his shoes and picked up Eve, knowing that his three-year-old shares his habit of impatience, while Melanie has smoothed out the beach towels and is sitting with five-year-old Grace.
Paddling in the sea, Jim hoists Eve up, once again enthralled by the stream of chuckles this induces. Because
of the sand dunes he can’t see Melanie and Grace, but knows that Eve can. High in his outstretched arms, she has her mother and sister in her line of vision as she gurgles and points their way each time he raises her above his head.
Then something changes.
It’s the kid’s expression. At the next skywards swing, Eve lets her hands fall by her side. She is looking in the same direction, Jim chasing her eyeline to the top of the sandbank, but there is confusion on the child’s face. He feels something thud inside him. Pulling her to his chest, he walks quickly up the dune, his bad leg heavy in the sand. But when Melanie and Grace come into his view, far from slowing down, he strides forward in greater haste.
Melanie is both relieved and scared to see Jim rising from the sand, in the hazy overhead sun bursting through the clouds, Eve in his arms. Perhaps they would go now, the two men who had emerged onto the beach from the gravelled paths that wound down from the cliffs above. She’d been vaguely aware of them, but had scarcely given it a thought, thinking they would be students, until they had come over and sat right beside her and her daughter. She had been applying suntan lotion to Grace’s arms and had started to do the same to herself.
— You need a hand puttin that stuff on? one of them asked, a crooked smile under his dark shades. It was the tone that chilled her; not leering, but cold and matter-of-fact. He wore a black tank top from which heavy muscles coiled out, and ran a hand over a close-cropped skull. His accomplice was a smaller man, with blond straggly hair spilling into piercing blue eyes, and a warped grin of rank malevolence.
Melanie said nothing. Those men were not students. Her previous employment had involved working inside the prisons they stank of. She felt paralysed by a terrible sense of cognitive dissonance, as she’d advocated freedom for such men in the past. Men who seemed plausible, reformed. How many of them would turn wrong when they got back into the community? While Melanie wasn’t easily fazed, the situation dripped with badness. Her knotted gut pulsed insistently, telling her that they were more than just pests. And Grace looked at her in appeal, urging her to do or say something. She wanted to somehow convey to her daughter that doing nothing in this situation was doing something. Melanie had looked onto the cliffs, down the beach, and there was nobody. This spot, usually so popular, now eerily deserted.
Then Jim, striding swiftly across the sand, Eve clinging to him, pointing over at them with a chubby finger.
— What’s up with your fuckin tongue, bitch? the black tank top snaps. His name is Marcello Santiago, and he is used to being answered by the women he speaks to.
Suddenly Melanie is really scared. Jim approaching them,
Oh God, Jim
. — Look, leave us alone, my husband’s here, she says calmly. — You have the whole beach, we’re just out with our kids.
Marcello Santiago stands up, looking towards Jim, who has advanced over to them, still holding Eve. — We reckoned we might share your picnic, he grins at him.
The blond man, who is called Damien Coover, has also risen, and he stays close to Melanie and Grace.
— What’s wrong, Daddy? Grace asks fretfully, looking up at her father.
Jim nods at Melanie. — Take them and go back to the car, he says evenly.
— Jim . . . Melanie appeals, gaping at him, then Damien Coover, but finally regarding the girls and standing up and yanking Grace to her feet.
She moves towards Jim, who transfers Eve into her arms, his eyes never leaving Santiago and Coover. — Go back to the car, he repeats.
Melanie feels the proximity of the girls, glances at the two men, and then moves up the beach towards the small parking lot on the bank above. She looks back and sees that her bag is on the towel. Her cellphone and Jim’s are inside it. It’s open. She sees Coover register this. Jim does too. — Go, he says a third time.
Coover watches as Melanie and the kids depart up the beach. Her body is taut and toned in her bikini, but a stoop of terror has made her habitually graceful movements pensive, fractured and ugly. Nonetheless, he manages a pointed leer. — That’s some hot pussy you got there, brother, he laughs at Jim Francis, and his friend Santiago, who has been balling and unballing his fists, joins in, a low mirthless sound.
There is nothing in Jim Francis’s reaction: just stony evaluation.
So Santiago and Coover are compelled to contemplate the silent man facing them, dressed only in his green khaki shorts. A bronzed body, muscular but pitted with strange scarring, connotes this man as miscast in that family of blonde
Californian females. He is of an indeterminate age: at least forty, possibly around fifty, which would make him a good twenty years older than the woman he’s with. What, Santiago wonders, does a man like that have in order to get such a hot piece of ass? Money? It’s hard to figure out, but there is something about him. He looks back at them, like he knows them.
A database of encounters past, of bar-room and penitentiary faces, starts to roll through Santiago’s head. Nothing. But that look. — Where you from, buddy?
Jim remains silent, his gaze sliding from the dark lens of Santiago, onto the blue eyes of Coover.
— Starin me down . . . Coover’s voice goes high and he reaches into the duffel bag at his feet and pulls out a large hunting knife, brandishing it a few feet away from Jim Francis. — You want some of this? Get the fuck outta here while you still can!
Jim Francis flashes an odd look at the knife for a couple of seconds. Then he stoops, his eyes never leaving Coover, and picks up the bag and towels, turning slowly, following his wife and children up the beach. They notice that he walks with a slight limp.
— Gimpy asshole, Coover barks, sheathing his blade. Jim halts for a second, sucks in a slow breath, then walks on. The two men share a mocking laugh, but it is one underscored with a sense of relief that the man who was facing them has just departed. It is more than his strong build and the attitude he carries that he would fight savagely, and to the death, in order to protect his family. There is something about him,
that scar tissue on his body and hands, as if he’s had substantial tattooing covered up; those thin but extensive cicatrix configurations on his face; but most of all, those eyes. Yes, Santiago considers, they indicate that he belongs in a different world to the one inhabited by that women and those kids.