SHORT STORIES: A Burnt-Out Case

“Steve, we’ve got a call-out.”

“Where to this time?”

“Brough Park. Some act of vandalism.”

“Ok then, off we go.”

The vandalism turned out to be a car. A VW Polo Estate. Or what had once been a VW Polo Estate. It was now a burnt-out hulk. “Joy riders,” said Nick. “Looks like it’s been here for a few hours.” I nodded. “Do we clean it up now?” he asked. I shook my head.

“Nah, it’s knocking off time. Cordon it off and we’ll deal with it in the morning when the garage is open.”

He nodded and we left.

In the morning it was still there but next to it, affixed to a wooden post approximately two foot high, was a plaque. “What the fuck’s that?” I asked.

“‘Elected Disobedience, 2016, installation sculpture by Nang Peng. Please do not touch. Even clean hands can damage fragile works of art,’” said Steve, reading the words on the plaque. “So it’s not vandalism or joy riders; it’s art!” he continued.

“Doesn’t look like art to me.”

“Then why’s this plaque here? Besides, since when did you know anything about art.”

“I don’t, but that to me looks like a burnt-out car, not something by Picasso or Beethoven.”

“Beethoven’s a composer, mate.”

“It’s all art, innit?”

“How would I know?”

As we stood there discussing this ‘installation sculpture’, a bloke came up. He looked like a student, long hair, beard, you know the type. He whipped out his phone and started taking photos. “Good, isn’t it?” he said. He had a posh southern voice like you’d expect a student to have.

“You done this?” I asked.

“Do I look like Nang Peng?” he replied.

“Dunno. What does Nang Peng look like?”

“Sounds Chinese,” suggested Steve. I could’ve killed him.

“Is this some idea of a joke?” I said.

“Nah mate, it’s art. Clever art as well; really thought provoking. ‘Elected Disobedience’, clever…” His voice trailed off and then so did the rest of us, leaving us alone again.

“So are we going to shift this?” I said.

“How can we? It’s art.”

“Is it, or is that just someone’s idea of a joke. Stick a plaque in front of something and people’ll believe owt.”

“Can’t be sure though…”

“Nah, can’t be sure.”

“Fuck it.”

“Fuck it.”

“Let’s phone the council.”

“I’m sorry Officer, but I can’t help there,” said the voice on the end of the line. “I have no record of there being an artwork recently installed in Brough Park, but I can’t be sure; we’re not always told about these things.”

“So what are we supposed to do? We were going to get a pick-up to move it.”

“I appreciate that, Officer, but if it is a work of art…”

“So what do we do?”

“I suggest you contact Cultural Services. Here’s the number…”

It took a full twenty minutes before anyone with any authority could be located at Cultural Services. “An art installation in Brough Park, hmm… interesting… ‘Elected Disobedience’ you say, fascinating… a burnt-out car, intriguing… one of ours, no, I don’t think so although I can’t be entirely sure; we do sponsor several sculptures in the city… what to do… tow it away, but if it is art then… who might know, maybe you could try the Art department of the university perhaps…?”

At the university though, the response was similar. “An intriguing proposition; a burnt-out car entitled ‘Elected Disobedience’… perhaps the fact that it is a Volkswagen is important, a symbol of a dominant European elite… or possibly the aspect of it being an estate car, the death of the nuclear family as a bedrock for society… is it one of ours… no, afraid not, or at least, I don’t think so… no, we don’t have a Nang Peng on our books but then that could be a nom de plume… tow it away, I wouldn’t if I were you, whoever has installed this has probably paid a lot of money to do so… who might have done so, well… possibly the council… oh, you’ve tried them, then how about the Metropolitan University, they have some really innovative approaches that they explore and…”

The Metropolitan University was similarly ignorant of things, as was the College of Art, the Art departments of several local high schools and the Flux Art Collective. All however, found it “intriguing” which didn’t really help matters.

“Fuck this,” said Steve, “it’s lunchtime. Let’s go for a bacon sandwich.”

We went to Belly Busters and ordered our sandwiches. In the background the local radio station was playing, Kev Plank’s Monday Phone-In. After the advert for the butcher down by the railway station, Kev came on the air.

“Welcome back and we’ve got more on today’s big story: the new art installation, if you can call it that, by Brough Park. Now, I’ve got Mick on the line. Hiya Mick, what d’you want to tell us?”

“It’s a disgrace, that’s what I want to say, mate. Spending all our money on that, it’s a total disgrace! World’s gone mad! We’re in hard times and that money could’ve been spent on the hospital for them sick kiddies and that, or to improve our bus services and instead all they do is waste it on rubbish like that… and when I say rubbish, I literally mean rubbish. Should be in a scrapyard that.”

“Well Mick, you seem to be echoing the views of a lot of our callers today and those who are contacting us by email and Twitter. I’ll read out a couple here: Bluesforever says ‘First unmade beds, now burnt-out cars? What madness will come next?’ whilst Nikitabix1989 writes ‘What are the police doing about this eyesore? Get them to move it!’ Well, strong emotions there…”

“We’d better get back over there,” said Steve.

“Aye.”

“Whilst we’re driving over, look up this Nang Peng on t’phone,” I said.

Steve googled it.

“It is a real bloke… I think,” he said. “Look!”

“That says ‘Nang Ping’!”

“Could be a spelling mistake?”

“Aye, but that bloke there is a graffiti artist, not a burnt-out cars artist.”

“Could be a new direction?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

When we got to the scene of the crime – if that’s what it were – then there was a crowd of mostly elderly people there along with a bloke holding a TV camera and a girl with a mic. They were introducing a politician who was well-known for his rather extreme views. “This here,” he said in his educated, elite voice, “is an example of the waste caused by excessive bureaucracy coming from unelected officials in Brussels. This is our money that they are wasting in these vanity projects for their own liberal elite…” The crowd nodded.

“Prick!” said Steve.

“He’s got a point though,” I replied.

We had a conflab over a mug of tea. “Fuck it,” I said, “we’ll go over there now and shift it.”

“But what if it is art?”

“So what? No one we’ve spoken to has commissioned it and the public’ll be happy if we fuck it off. Order the pick-up and we’ll get over there once we’ve finished this.”

But when we got there, there was another problem. The politician and the pensioners were gone and, in their place the pick-up and a bunch of students sat in a circle around the car.

“Can you move, please?” I said, walking up.

“No,” said one of them, “we aren’t moving.”

“But we’ve gotta shift this heap of junk!”

“No you haven’t, this is artistic expression, and this is personal freedom. We will not be dictated to by the neo-liberal corporate establishment and the fascist flunkeys of the far-right press. Besides, where’s your permit?”

“I need you gone by seven,” I said, turning on my heels.

“So what the fuck do we do?” said Steve.

“I know what we do; a perfect solution.”

“What?”

“I’ll give Dodgy Dave a call.”

“Scrapyard Dodgy Dave?”

“Aye, Scrapyard Dodgy Dave.”

“But he’s dodgy as fuck…”

“Hence the name…”

“We can’t use him.”

“Officially, no, we can’t, but if we mention that asbestos that he’s illegally disposing of then…”

“Aye, good call. Plus, he’s one of them right-wing pricks that’d like to piss all those students off anyway.”

“Exactly.”

Steve was right; I was right. Dave was glad to help. “I’ll be there at around three this morning,” he said.

“Send a text to this number,” I told him, giving me wife’s mobile. “Just write ‘Done’.”

That morning when I woke up, the text had arrived. Sent 03:12.

I wandered into the station. Steve was already there making tea. “How goes it?” I asked.

“You don’t want to know,” he replied.

“What?”

“The car.”

“Dodgy Dave’s shifted it.”

“I know.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Look!”

We drove out to Peel Park and pulled up beside the burnt-out vehicle. The plaque beside it read ‘Opaque Motives, 2016, installation sculpture by Nang Peng. Please do not touch. Even clean hands can damage fragile works of art.’

“Fuck me!” I said.

“It’s a Renault 12 tonne Midlum,” said Steve.

“It’s worse than that,” I replied.

“What d’you mean?”

“It’s Dodgy Dave’s…”

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