Story in Sad Man Book+CD 4 March 2022

Posted in Writing

Big thanks to Andrew Spackman aka SAD MAN for inviting me to contribute a story to the Sad Stories CD & book project alongside a host of excellent writers. 

SAD MAN explains the project:

In June 2021 I finished work on my latest album and wanted to do something different to bring it into the world. I approached a collection of music journalists and artists and asked if they would be interested in writing a short story responding to tracks on the album and with their own interpretation of the central character of SAD MAN. Fortunately for me, they agreed, and this book is a collection of their amazing work.

A special shout out to Jay Taylor, whose illustrations capture the stories brilliantly. The excellent image that’s based on my contribution appears below.

You can pick up a copy of the book & CD package here, and the track “Chapter 8” can be heard here.




Chapter 8


The whole summer had been like this. The air was oppressive and thick. Everything seemed to be buckling under the weight of the heatwave giving rise to taut and volatile tempers, a general slowing of motion and the overall sapping of energy. It was like a heavy malaise. As Seymour Wallace cast his eyes on the scuffed and battered suitcase lying before him a bead of sweat ran down his nose, dithering along the contours of his skin before finally launching free and plunging towards the floor. The time it took for the drop to fall was all that was needed for everything to change.

Seymour had moved to his present neighbourhood after he had unexpectedly been laid off from his job at an asset management company, receiving a healthy payout leaving him with plenty of time on his hands and space in his mind. Always technically-minded, he had for years been toying with a human case study he called “The Speaker Project”, and this was the perfect time to implement it. The premise was to anonymously give away a set of stereo speakers with a battery-powered microphone hidden in one of them. The mic had to be configured to upload the audio files to an IP address from which he could download, listen and learn about the new owners’ lives.

It was not foolproof. When music was being played the signal would overload and at other times the room would be silent. Seymour applied an automatic shut off if the signal level reached maximum capacity, something he expected to occur whenever music was played through the speakers. He also employed a sound-activated trigger for the microphone so that it would only record when noise was detected, saving battery life, memory space, and time.

Once the device had been thoroughly tested, Seymour cleaned and polished the speakers’ wooden casing to make them look as new as possible, then he set out late one night and left them close to a line of shops with a note that said ‘Working speakers, please take!’ A venture outside the following afternoon revealed that they had been taken. Knowing that his Trojan horse was in place, Seymour felt an electric ripple of excitement course down his spine.

He fought back nerves as he logged in to discover the first set of recordings. Taking a cold can of beer from the fridge he positioned himself in the crossfire of two electric fans and pulled the headphones down over his ears. The constant use of the automatic activation and shutoff functions ensured that the recordings had the dizzying effect of a sound collage and it was hard to make sense of them when they were played back to back. For the most part the files either contained truncated snatches of conversation or ambient household sounds like the television, or cupboards closing which, although helpful for context, were not much use overall.

He was immediately able to discern that the speakers’ new owners were a man and a woman and it didn’t take him long to realise they were a couple. This was the point from which he started, and although he found that scrutinising so many short clips made progress painfully slow, a picture of the lives he had silently infiltrated was starting to become clear.

The mercury continued to climb, a totem to the stifling torment in the air, and Seymour listened in daily. While there was not always much to glean from the recordings, it didn’t take long for a twist to emerge.

In recent months the media had been reporting on a spate of bank robberies committed by a mysterious mask-wearing duo, and with each news feature their celebrity seemed to swell. Headlines such as “Sad Man Strikes Again At The Mall!” yelled from the front of tabloids and the television news revelled in broadcasting security footage that had been edited to highlight the robbers’ distinctive appearances. Sad Man wore a grotesque frown, the corners of his mouth drooping down like melted wax in the style of a Dalí creation, along with a bowler hat and a pair of white gloves. According to reports he exhibited a polite and affable demeanour and possessed a persuasive charm during the brazen holdups he undertook with his partner Babyface. Wearing a facade of a manically grinning baby with a single peg-like tooth, Babyface never uttered a word during the heists and could often be seen near the entrance of the building, seeking to ensure their safe escape.

Seymour turned off the television and went back to his private broadcast. He heard his couple return home delirious with excitement, discussing events that had happened earlier. Before the recording stopped he heard the female laughingly recall an old man who had opened the door for them with a quaint flourish. It was only later when the evening news was playing in the background that he heard something which stopped him dead in his tracks: in a report on the bank heist an elderly man who had been there at the time was interviewed. When he confirmed the robbers’ identities as Sad Man and Babyface, he added that he was sure because he had held the door open for them as they fled. It suddenly clicked with a wide-eyed jolt: he was inside the residence of Sad Man and Babyface! He pulled off his headphones, exhaled loudly and rushed to the refrigerator. When he returned to his chair with a can of beer, his hands were trembling and a surge of dread had settled deep in his stomach. He knew he had to weigh things up very carefully. Informing the police would mean confessing to his activities, and besides he didn’t know the location of the house. The only thing he wanted to do was keep listening.

The time passed and he kept close track of events at the couple’s house. One evening his body went numb as he  heard Sad Man complain about one of the speakers and try to open the cabinet. As Seymour discerned from the close-up scuffling that it was the speaker with the microphone that was under siege, his heart started pounding. He had gone to great lengths to ensure the microphone was hidden inside but felt physically sick as he listened to the tools at work. Then it was over, the cabinet was pieced back together and life on the other side of the wire resumed. Seymour was reassured, and sitting there in the dizzying humid air he mopped his face from a mixture of sheer relief and the stifling heat.

In the days that followed he became aware of the couple’s idea, piece by piece. Sad Man and Babyface planned to leave the country and start afresh elsewhere. Seymour learned about the triumphs and spoils of all the robberies. It also became clear that the money had been safely stowed away, somewhere out of town and ready for collection. Seymour kept himself as close to the pulse of these conversations as he could, hungry for more detail and constantly refreshing his browser window for notifications of new audio. He had to be as much of a real-time participant as possible now that he sensed an opportunity. His focus was firmly locked on the money – specifically, where it was and how long it would be there.

There were extended periods where the couple discussed their escape in close range of the microphone and Seymour felt fortunate to have both of his questions answered quickly. He was easily able to glean that the money was in a suitcase that was hidden at an abandoned quarry twenty miles out of town. He couldn’t help a smile from slowly spreading across his face as the information sunk in. Later in another conversation it emerged that Sad Man and Babyface would be making their escape imminently, the following afternoon, and they would be collecting the money on the way. Seymour’s mind was in a whirr. By his calculations he had around eighteen hours, twelve to be safe. For a decision that would have such far-reaching consequences, and for someone so prone to procrastination, Seymour took this one swiftly, amazed at his sudden appetite for adventure. He knew that he had to move quickly.

The old quarry was easy to find on a local map, there was only one of the kind, and he spent the whole night carefully studying it. The following morning he awoke before dawn and took a taxi ride in the half-light to a spot around two miles away, where he undertook the final part of his journey on foot. He followed a public path across some open farmland before turning onto a smaller track that wound its way through a sprawling forest. The rising sun cast a dappled light through the branches while birds sang around him and for the duration of the walk Seymour felt an unfamiliar sense of calmness prevail within. The structured rhythm of his breathing as he marched between the trees became a sort of meditation, pace after pace, breath after breath, and for a split second random memories flared up in his mind like the dust of a sudden stampede and he was momentarily lost in space and time.

Finally, he reached the edge of an enormous pit that spread hundreds of metres across and at least fifty deep, as if a vast bite had been taken out of the ground. The rocky grey hole was pockmarked by clusters of weeds that had worked their way to the surface and on the far side stood two small buildings, like matchboxes. He cautiously followed a rough track around the rim towards them, keeping low in case of prying eyes. The sun had fully risen now and the air was again stifling, but he noticed that for the first time in weeks there was a heavy smudge of dark grey cloud on the horizon, slowly eclipsing the blue.

The overbearing scale of the buildings became more apparent the closer he got to them and each one seemed to wear a cruel frown. The discoloured cement was starting to crumble and every single window had been shattered through. Seymour knew he couldn’t take any chances and paused several times to scan for signs of activity but at this early hour he didn’t expect to find anyone there. He skirted around the open area in front of the entrance and stopped again, using bushes for cover. He could make out the distinctive pattern of tyre treads embossed In the dust in front of the main doorway but there was no way of telling how long they had been there. After waiting a short time he stole his way to the entrance, all the while imagining watchful eyes upon him in his mind’s eye.

Inside he found a hangar dotted with discarded rubbish (and worse). The space was empty and covered with a film of dust and grime after years of inactivity. He made his way slowly to the other end, scuffing his heels through the dirt on the stone floor, looking around for any sort of sign, he wasn’t sure what, but nothing revealed itself. As he walked to the next building he was too busy scanning the ground for clues to notice that the sky was now overcast and changes were afoot.

He cautiously made his way inside and saw that this space was a similar size to the last one but had been divided into a number of doorless rooms, and he looked into each one as he passed down the dark and crumbling passage. The first two were completely empty but the last one was strewn with rotting wooden pallets and pieces of outmoded industrial junk, cast-iron hulks of different shapes and sizes that were caked in time-hardened grease, long abandoned and left to flounder in obsolescence.

A sudden peal of thunder crackled outside and drops of rain started to thump on the tin roof above, slowly at first but quickly accelerating until the pounding raged as if all the defunkt machines had come back to life, pistons hissing and hammers flailing. The tightly wound pressure that had been mounting for weeks had finally broken and now that nature’s stalemate with itself was over there could be an enormous collective intake of breath.

As his eyes darted around the entrance he noticed footprints. They were surely fresh as they appeared darker than the other marks. Following their trail along the walls of the room, Seymour came across a shape under an old tarpaulin; he leaned down and pulled the cover away. As he cast his eyes on the scuffed and battered suitcase lying before him a bead of sweat ran down his nose, dithering along the contours of his skin before finally launching free and plunging towards the floor. The time it took for the drop to fall was all that was needed for everything to change.

At the same time that the arrest took place at the quarry, a car’s wipers shuddered as they fought to tame the torrential rain battering the windscreen, barely able to manage the job as the vehicle sped along the tarmac. Sad Man afforded himself a smile as he gripped the steering wheel with both hands. Babyface was at his side, the money was in the back and a threat had been avoided. Only the horizon beckoned now as the couple watched the white lines on the road shoot past, over and over, each one blurring into the next while the heavy rain bounced up and vanished into the misty haze.