Abraham “Thunderclap” Jones was a man who was used to doing – and getting – what he wanted, when he wanted. He was a rake and philanderer, a seducer of women, and he regarded the entire world as his hunting ground. So, when in the winter of 1922, he received an excited telegram from his American drinking buddy Scott, advising him to return to London without delay, he didn’t think twice. He had the wallahs pack his chests, beat and fucked the maid, drove into the village to buy some powdered fukkummuppa root from Mr Midnight the witchdoctor, and then sped his British racing green Bentley Speed Six into Zanzibar, in the hope of finding a ship bound for England.
The telegram had read:
HEY BUDDY STOP
SERIOUSLY MAN YOU NEED TO COME BACK TO ENGLAND STOP
I KNOW YOU LIKE THOSE AFRICAN WOMEN BUT SHIT STOP
YOU NEED TO MEET THIS GIRL STOP
FRIEND OF ZELDA’S STOP
SHE’S A BURLESQUE DANCER IN LONDON STOP
I THINK SHE WOULD MAKE YOU A FABULOUS WIFE STOP
SHE’S GOT IT MAN STOP
SHE’S CALLED BUNNY STOP
CALL ME WHEN YOU GET HERE STOP
The phrase “friend of Zelda’s” gave him a brief moment’s pause – in his opinion Zelda was a mad and aggravating bitch who should be in a lunatic asylum, and he couldn’t for the life of him work out what his friend saw in her – but he trusted Scott’s judgement otherwise, and if Scotty said he’d found a girl who looked like feasible marriage material, he owed it to himself, to Scott, and to the world at large, to check her out.
Abe was 23 years old, and – as he had told Scotty one drunk evening, at a Benny Goodman gig in Paris the previous summer - his mind had recently turned to such unsettling subjects as his mortality, his future, his lineage and his legacy, and he thought it was high time he got hitched, if only to father a handful of good healthy red-blooded males to ensure the continuance of the family line. He had children, to be sure; he was probably responsible for half of the little savages in the village. They could hardly be considered legitimate heirs though, and if his father knew he’d been rogering the natives – and he’d moved halfway across the world precisely to prevent his father finding out about such things - he’d probably threaten to cut him out of the inheritance, again.
Which would be a drag.
Not only that, but, much as he adored the African girls with their musky aroma, their nosebones and spears and their breasts like ripe coconuts, bare and brown and glistening in the Tanzanian sunshine, he missed the “raa raa” totty that could be found around Knightsbridge and Mayfair, and the panty-soaked, knee-trembling awe that was the inevitable result of the appearance amongst such dim-witted upper-class debutantes of the dashing and legendary philanderer and playboy, libertine and lady-killer that he considered himself to be.
Such being the scenario, he sent Scott the following return telegram:
KEEP HER HOT FOR ME BABY STOP
AM ON MY WAY STOP
GOT THIS MAD ROOT OFF THE WITCHDOCTOR STOP
YOU’LL LOVE IT STOP
DESTROYS ALL THOUGHT PROCESSES AND REVEALS THE UNDERLYING REALITY STOP
WE’RE ALL ONE THING MAN STOP
STOCK UP ON GIN, HOOKERS AND PERUVIAN MARCHING POWDER STOP
SEE YOU SOON STOP
Upon arriving at the harbour and making his enquiries, however, he was informed by the harbour master that there were no ships going that way, no sir, but that he was welcome to book his passage on the next boat that did, if that was his pleasure. The next ship to England would be leaving in three weeks.
“Three weeks?” he thundered at the harbour master, indignant with disbelief; “What do you mean three weeks? I haven’t got three weeks. I need to be going today. Now. Right this instant.”
“I’m sorry sir,” said the harbour master, with as much dignity as he could muster, “it is impossible. Perhaps try sailing from one of the northern ports. There are many more ships sailing from there. You will be bound to find one that suits you. Perhaps you can find a Captain who will take you. There are many Captains for hire in the bars around here.”
“Yes, yes,” said Abe absent-mindedly to no-one in particular, having dismissed the harbour master from his mind some time ago, “thank you so much.” And with that he was gone.
In one of the seedier dockside bars, he knocked back a half bottle of rum while considering his options. One thing was certain, there was no way he was going to be waiting around in Zanzibar for three weeks. When you got that urge to move, baby, you just had to move. He had his travelling shoes on now, and his wandering head. And no way was he getting on a train, with all the bodies and the heat and the flies and the stench. He considered the pouch of powdered fukkummuppa in his pocket; perhaps if he poured some into the rum it would help him think straight. On the other hand, there was always the chance that it would stop him thinking at all, that the world would melt away and when it reassembled itself he’d find that three weeks had passed and he’d missed the boat anyway. I suppose I’d better try and find a Captain for hire then, he thought to himself as he poured several grams of mind altering root into his rum without noticing.
Abe’s father was the infamous Jeremiah “Sledgehammer” Jones, who had originally gone to India in 1881, where he was employed by Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff, the Governor of Madras at that time, as Head of Native Intelligence. Sledgehammer’s reputation spread like wildfire; he was a man that you would not want standing behind you in a dark alley at night, nor, for that matter, in front of you in a street full of policemen in broad daylight. In fact, Sledgehammer Jones was a man that you would not want within a thousand miles of yourself or your loved ones, or to know that you even existed; not if you had any sense. The eyes of his lackeys peered from every shadowy corner, and he was feared for his ruthlessness, his lack of mercy and the extreme violence he visited upon the hapless subjects of his investigations. This reputation suited Sledgehammer down to the ground. For him, India was a hunting ground in open season. He could do whatever he wanted without fear of retribution, and did. He had a harem of beautiful Indian women, all of whom had been abducted, taken as payment for “protection”, or “donated” by their fathers and husbands in the hope of ending an unremitting campaign of intimidation by his Native Intelligence goons.
In spite of his profligate extra-marital activities, his wife Isobel remained faithful and dedicated to him, and bore him three children; Abe, his only son, who was born in 1899, and his twin sisters Eunice and Erica, who came along a couple of years later. Izzy became pregnant for a fourth time in the year 1904, but the baby was stillborn, and Izzy died too, of complications.
Money was no object to Sledgehammer who, as the Governor’s most trusted aide, advisor, enforcer and “problem solver”, received a commensurately high salary, to which he added the profits gained from his illicit entrepreneurial enterprises of kidnapping, blackmail, and extortion. He was as rich as any man needed to be. Any more would have been gratuitous and unbecoming. Nevertheless, he was called “Sledgehammer” for a reason, and the reason was this: Jeremiah Jones, known to the natives of Madras as “the Bad Man”, or “the White Devil”, believed that to accept the cards life dealt you was to be a flaccid he-bitch of about as much use as a street hooker’s slack and torn arsehole, and that it was incumbent upon any Englishman created by God in His Holy and Perfect Image to be the shaper of his own destiny. Therefore, in 1902, he consolidated upon and expanded his financial concerns by setting up a private import and export company, dealing in “exotic luxuries”.
Importing vast quantities of high grade opium from China, he flooded the entire Indian sub-continent with it, creating millions of hopeless drug addicts at the drop of a hat, and giving birth to a goose that laid more golden eggs with every passing year. To double the productivity of his transports, he had his thugs round up Indian women and children by the hundreds, shipping them to the darkest corners of civilisation, to be sold into slavery or the sex trade, or as game to reserves that specialised in “man-hunting”.
Man-hunting was a recent and sudden phenomenon. Touted as an “exciting and exclusive leisure pursuit”, and promising the thrills of “barbarity, brutality and bloodshed”, it was aimed exclusively at the obscenely rich; people who were so mindlessly rich that they had forgotten they were people, or that they were in any way connected with others or the world around them; people who were so stupidly rich that they believed morality to be a primitive and outdated concept which didn’t apply to them. Personally, Jeremiah despised such people; he felt the same way about them as he did the dogshit that comes in on your shoe and fucks up the carpet; he found them to be emotionally and intellectually retarded, and he considered the existence of such a class of society obnoxious. Had Sledgehammer ever taken the time to read Karl Marx, or been on more than nodding terms with the “shaking Quakers” he sometimes met on visits to the States; had he learnt more in history lessons about the English civil war and activist groups such as the Levellers, who fought for the equal distribution of wealth, popular sovereignty and equality before the law; had it been twenty years later, and had Sledgehammer been able to admit to himself for one moment that he cared about such things, he would have undoubtedly been a communist. But, as the Americans are so fond of pointing out, “if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas.” Besides, he was a businessman, and able to put aside such feelings.
As the only legitimate son of the most feared man in the Empire, the young Thunderclap Jones enjoyed the kind of privileges and debaucheries normally the exclusive reserve of criminally deranged billionaires and wayward heirs to the throne. He spent his formative years in India, where he lived in a village about eight miles from town, in the family house his father had built. It was of a type known locally as a semi-pukka, being a combination of kachcha (mud and dung) and pukka (stone and clay) architecture, and was a massive engorgement of white stone which gleamed in the tropical sun like the omnipotent erection of Jehovah. A shining edifice that could be seen from miles away in every direction; it was bigger than all of the other dwellings in the village put together. It had a grass roof and bamboo verandahs on each floor and every side, and an army of servants and wallahs that saw to young Abe’s needs and satisfied his every whim.
He spent his days causing trouble and fighting with the local street boys, exploring the boundaries of his mind with the aid of countless psychotropic roots and herbs, and enlarging his education with books that he found in the numerous small and dimly lit emporiums of Madras. He was particularly fond of books on philosophy and spirituality, subjects that, in India, known by many as the “Land of Light”, had been handed down from teacher to student, generation after generation, for several thousand years. His nights were filled with more earthly pursuits; the exploration of his sexuality with any girl he could get hold of, which, to his delight, turned out to be quite a few. He groped, molested, fucked, and sodomised his way through untouchable girls from the slums, lower caste girls from the towns and villages, and high caste prostitutes made wet between the legs by his youthful savagery, fear of his father, and the shock of his monstrously oversized ego.
His weakness for brutal sexual congress with any reasonably attractive and willing female – those qualities being his preferences, not his requirements – grew. He wasn’t particularly discriminating, and whether his partner was awake, conscious, or even alive mattered little to him. His only requirement was a snug fit and – from those lovers who still had a pulse – an enthusiasm for exploration and, better yet, exploitation; preferably in public, and for large sums of cash. Wherever they were and whatever they looked like, however young or old they might be; whatever their colour, nationality, religious beliefs or various moral standards; these things meant nothing to him. He was consumed, obsessed, possessed. He was powerless over women.
As each new sexual proclivity became public knowledge, his reputation for iniquity grew into the urban legend of a notorious debaucher and insatiate degrader of women, detestable and despicable, it went without saying, but also quite charming and rather good looking. A fan club of sorts grew up around him, a vast and secret female army of admirers, groupies, fanatics and stalkers that monitored his every move and were known to the newspapers as “Thunderclappers”. Rumours and nicknames abounded, and he was known diversely and in no particular order as “Abe the Omnipotent”, “the Beast of Britain”, “the Punisher”, “the Full English” (as in “I hope my husband gives me the Full English tonight”) and, slightly more disturbingly, “Satan’s Sodomiser” (meaning variously: “the sodomiser who was sent by Satan”, “the one who sodomised Satan”, “the one who sodomised me in the alley last night in a Satanic fashion” or “the one who sodomised me as if he were Satan, the Beast, the Sodomiser of Sodomisers himself; so cruelly, thoroughly and unspeakably, that in my delirium I became a worshipper of the diabolical and a dealer in depravity and degradation; a convert to the church of the Evil One, and an enthusiastic Satanist, with an unholy desire to sodomise others, and their mothers, whoever they are and wherever they may be; brutally and eternally, with no mercy.”)
But it wasn’t until recently that the perennial nom de guerre with which he would forever be associated had come into existence, when it was used as the title for a section on “the Life and Legend of Thunderclap Jones” in a series of popular encyclopaedias published annually from 1919 onwards. The series was called “Kings of the World” and listed inventors and their inventions; men and the movements they had led; religious leaders, brilliant criminals, paragons of virtue, agents of evil and the irretrievable souls that had been lost to hideous plague or insanity, and telling the urban legends and popular myths surrounding them. It was, in short, a celebration of the highest peaks and lowest troughs of humanity, and of its gods and demons; influential people of all kinds that had left an indelible mark upon humanity in some way, good or bad, in any area whatsoever. Abe appeared in the book without being asked for his permission, although he would have granted it gladly, as happy as he was with his hard won reputation as “the most sexually sadistic Satanist in recorded history”, and as “King of the World” of depraved and diabolically inspired debauchment.
The article about him that appeared in the 1919 first edition of “Kings of the World” was a fairly comprehensive account of his history, peppered liberally with gratuitously violent, sexually depraved and utterly fictitious myth, rumour, and lies. Some of the acts that the authors of the encyclopaedia claimed he had committed were obviously impossible outside of the most deviant and twisted imagination, even for a dedicated “lady-boner” such as he. Just reading about some of the vile abuses the book claimed he had visited upon himself and others was enough to turn the stomach so violently that even the least sensitive reader was forced to race to the outhouse when suddenly and without warning, projectile streams of shit and vomit exploded from both ends simultaneously, as if the very guts of man could not tolerate the thought - let alone the reality - of such acts of desecration upon a body, alive or dead or human or otherwise. Such desecration was abhorrent to the fundamental nature of humankind.
When, years later, Abe finally got around to reading the odious mash of lies contained in the book; lies that the public at large had eagerly lapped up as the truth of who he was, earning him an even more notorious reputation; he was impressed – not to mention repulsed and sickened to his very core - by the twisted imaginations, warped desires and masturbatory pipe dreams of the authors, which shone through the words of their fantasies, where cowards’ confessions of frustrated desire are often to be found, shining like wistful diamonds in the tedious, everyday dirt of reality. He briefly considered suing them for defamation of character, but discarded the idea for several reasons. Firstly, he already had more money than he could ever know what to do with, so any financial remuneration was going to make absolutely no difference to the quality of his life. His quality of life was sure to suffer, however, if he bogged himself down in a tedious and time consuming court case, when he had far more entertaining things to be doing.
Secondly, he couldn’t help but feel some kind of solidarity with them. They were sick men, that much was clear. Anyone who had a mind like that had to be, and because of his own driving compulsions, he had always identified and sympathised with those who found themselves enslaved to a mental obsession that perverted the character.
In Abe’s experience, such an obsession had the power to drive out any sane or reasonable thought that appeared in the mind, with a preposterous idea totally at odds with common sense, decency, and the sufferer’s own experience; which was almost without fail a tragic catalogue of humiliations and sufferings, various in degrees of intensity or the wreckage they had caused to a man’s life, but every one of them the inevitable result of the same, single cause: that of believing an insane idea, and acting upon it again and again, in spite of the fact that it was obvious to everybody, even to the sufferer himself, that it was killing him, or at the very least, turning him rapidly into a dribbling, delusional, semi-vegetable; mostly harmless, but often exhibiting socially unacceptable behaviour; behaviour of the sort that would qualify you instantly for a lifetime residency in your local insane asylum or maximum security hospital for the criminally disturbed. The only difference Abe could see between himself and those poor souls who were institutionalised for life - due to the actions they performed while driven to insanity by the constant demand for the things, people, substances or experiences which were the desired objects of their respective obsessions; actions that were often dangerous and harmful to others, frequently immoral, and even more frequently illegal – was one of position, wealth and influence. Abe could get away with anything, simply because of who he was; the incredibly wealthy son and heir of the most universally feared and notoriously violent crime boss in recent history. If his conduct was deemed too shocking, repulsive or in violation of taboo, he had only to remove himself from the ensuing furore by going somewhere else - anywhere else - in a world that – to Abe, at least - was nothing more or less than open day in the Garden of Eden. He could buy away trouble as he went, bribing officials to overlook his indiscretions, or blackmailing them so they kept their mouths shut. If the worst came to the worst – which it sometimes did - he could ensure their silent complicity and powerless acquiescence by invoking the powerful reputation of his father, and sending round a couple of his bullet-headed bullyboys to threaten the very lives of those who dared to challenge him.
There was third, final and far more compelling reason that he didn’t sue the authors and publishers of “Kings of the World” for defamation, and it was this: in spite of the tawdry fabrications about his life and deeds, presented as they were like badly written schlock horror, without subtlety or grace, he was absolutely in love with the nom de guerre that the authors of the book had given him. It would eventually be the name by which he was known around the world; whispered in awestruck voices around the globe, from the residences of Sloane Square to the Sydney Opera house; from the wattle huts of darkest Africa to the slums of Brazil; from the leafy green boughs of the English countryside to the Bowery in New York; from the brothels of Paris and Amsterdam to the travelling freak shows of the southern United States; it was his Title, his Holy Name, the nom de guerre that not only defined him as a person, but that finally revealed to him his God-given purpose in life. From that day onward he would proudly wear the Title of his Holy Office that the authors of “Kings of the World” had instinctually known was his alone; the Title that could only belong to a fallen angel; an angel of divine retribution who held the release of death and the liberation of rebirth in his hands, as they called out to the wretched and the poor in spirit to seek the shelter of his all-encompassing black wings. From that day onward he would be the Destroyer of Assholes.
Down on the waterfront, nothing had changed but everything was different. Abe was sat outside on a barrel, taking the occasional swallow from his rum bottle, which was empty, and enjoying himself. He hadn’t found a Captain to hire, in fact he hadn’t done much of anything at all, but gaze around in wonder at how beautiful the world was.
It was all so clear to him now, so simple and obvious. There was nothing that needed to be done. Life was like an ocean, an ocean of spontaneity, and all he had to do was allow the waves to crash over him, and to accept whatever they brought with them. After all, what was, was, and what would be, would be. He began to giggle to himself, and the more he giggled the funnier everything became, until he was in a roaring fit of hilarity, the tears running down his face.
It was the fukkummuppa root that had done this.
The fukkummuppa root was a semi-mythical and highly potent hallucinogenic that was said to exist in the jungle. Known to the shamen and witchdoctors since time out of mind, it was a sacred and magical root that could be used to traverse the worlds of the spirits or the dead, the realms of the ancestors or the gods. There were fukkummuppa ceremonies of cleansing, in which entire tribes or villages ingested the root which would then wash away the scum and detritus that settled like dust on a man’s soul, just from contact with the physical world. It was important to do this regularly, because the thicker the dust on the soul, the more earthbound a man became, and the harder it would be for him to move on after death. Such regular rituals kept the soul shining bright, and closer to the gods. The medicine men also used the root to bring about visions, and to drive out demons and evil spirits.
In order to find the fukkummuppa root, you had to know exactly where to look, how to look, and the propitious time in which to do it, which happened to be in the darkest heart of the jungle, out of the corner of your eye, three hours after midnight on your birthday. And even then you’d probably come away empty handed, because it was invisible. The only ones who could find the root were those who had already ingested it; it was only to be seen inside a fukkummuppa trip.
And therein lay the mystical quality of the sacred root. Fukkummuppa revealed things about the world of which you’d always been ignorant. You saw things that you’d never seen. You understood everything. It wasn’t a hallucination in the sense that you were seeing things that weren’t real, it was the opposite. It revealed what was always there, but had forever gone unnoticed.
Abe was seeing something that he hadn’t seen before, at that very moment. As he sat looking out across the endless Indian Ocean, he noticed something out upon the water, or maybe it was just above the water, it was difficult to say. It was a shimmering, shining sort of something, in the way of a mirage in the desert, or the water that seems to appear on a hot road. At first he thought he saw it take the shape of a big fish, or maybe it was an octopus. Then it seemed to appear in the shape of a small ship, or a large Cuban cigar. The more he tried to focus on what he was seeing, the less comprehensible it became. It was like trying to make sense of a piano recital performed by a tone deaf imbecile with no arms in the middle of a thunderstorm, or trying to catch the wind in your hands. It was impossible. It made his brain hurt.
“I’m sorry, what?” he turned to see a beaming, ruddy face atop a long white beard, garnished with a seaman’s cap.
“I said ain’t she beautiful,” said the old boy with no small pride, his eyes a twinkle, “the ship. My ship. That ship.”
“For the love of God boy, are you daft? The ship you’ve been mooning over for the last half hour. The one out on the water, hanging there like a mist.”
And suddenly Abe understood.
“That’s a ship.”
“Tha’s right,” said old Sea Legs, “but not just any ship. What you see before you my friend, is the greatest ocean going vessel ever built, the Psychonautilus.” He beamed again, as proud as punch.
“The Psycho-what now?”
“The Psycho-nautilus,” intoned the old boy carefully, to be sure that the half-wit had understood. “You’ve heard of Captain Nemo, right?”
“Well Captain Nemo’s ship was called the Nautilus, and it was the greatest ship that ever sailed the seven seas, y’see?”
“Y’see? Because Nemo was an explorer of the seas, see? Well now, I’m an explorer too, but I explore a much wider ocean. I explore the ocean of existence and the limits of the mind, and for that, you need a very different kind of ship. And that is what you are looking at. I named her the Psychonautilus because I thought it was an amusing play on words.” He spat on the ground, then muttered: “I don’t know why I bothered. No-one’s ever understood the joke.”
By now it had dawned on Abe that by some quirk of grace or synchronicity, the ship and Captain which he had gone out looking to find, had found him. All that remained was to broach the subject with old Captain Ahab here, and come to some sort of an agreement. And that would be done far more easily with alcohol.
“Let me buy you a drink, Captain,” he said, “and you can tell me more about your magnificent ship. And allow me to introduce myself. Abraham “Thunderclap” Jones, Destroyer of Assholes at your service.”
“Trout”, beamed the seaman through his facial hair, giving him a hearty handshake, “Captain Bill Trout.”
As if it could have been anything else, thought Abe, as they headed back towards the bar.
As Abe prepared to embark upon the journey that would eventually take him to England, Bunny was in London working the cabaret clubs, where she was earning a lot of money, and building a very fine reputation for herself.
She was a burlesque dancer, a great burlesque dancer, with the instinctual charms and talents that she had inherited from her mother. She had a magnetism that was all but irresistible, and such a charismatic presence that she was literally impossible to ignore. When Bunny stood in the same room as you, you could feel it. She also had a vivid imagination and was endlessly inventive, creating new personas for the stage, which she could become in the blink of an eye, depending upon her mood or whim. With names to match her characters, she became a theatrical chameleon; surprising and delighting audiences with her spontaneity, wit, and mischievous sense of humour. One night she was Bunny Fantastic, superstar of the stage; another night she was Bunny Black, an insolent sulky faced bag of bolshiness, who danced in the most insolent and “couldn’t care less” manner that anyone had ever seen. Another night would bring out Bunny Burlesque, the rosy-cheeked, raunchy good-time girl of British Vaudeville; and yet another would see the provocative strut of the one who would become her most popular and infamous creation; Bunny Rotten, the filthy little alley cat with the bad attitude; the street punk with the “give it a go if you’re man enough” pout, who was rougher than a drug-addicted east-end whore, and sexier than Louise Brooks and Clara Bow rolled into one. She was the perfect alter-ego, because nobody could tell – herself included - where Bunny Simpson finished and Bunny Rotten began.
It was the advent of Bunny Rotten that catapulted her from the rank and file clubs that she’d been working night in, night out, into the big time, at least as far as cabaret went. She became a regular fixture at some of the most famous clubs of the day, the kind of clubs that attracted wealthy, upper class socialites, such as the 'Coconut Grove', the “Kit Cat Club”, and Bunny Rotten’s obvious spiritual home, the 'Bag of Nails'.
It was in the Bag of Nails, while performing as Bunny Rotten that she came to the attention of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, the king and queen of the Jazz Age, who were instantly smitten by her looks, her attitude, her performance, and the effect that she seemed to have on everyone; an effect that felt like electric static in the air, or an imminent lightning strike. Zelda was particularly enraptured; in Bunny Rotten she saw what she believed to be the epitome of female liberation; the quintessential spirit of the Lost Generation, wrapped up in a smouldering little package of sex and sinfulness. She made it her business to grab Bunny as soon as she left the stage, so they could ply her with drinks and introduce her to the fast moving circles of the social elite that would be her very next conquest.