The Billionaire burn

Don’t hesitate, or exit the car. Being here is a risk. Nearly all areas in all cities are hostile now. If they get a whiff of your Clive Christian Osmanthus cologne, or spot your Balenciaga shoes, they’ll turn feral.

Why do I come to these places? Awe. In the privilege of decadent upholstery I marvel that these slums of disintegrating concrete and scabby cladding can make tens of millions in profit for me every year.

This time I’m on reconnaissance. My focus is an austere tower-block twenty-three stories high. A fellow billionaire is selling it to expand his overseas property portfolio and I’ve made my interest known. Billionaires selling some of their dross has become a trend. Social housing is cheaper abroad, in better condition, and the profits greater, even though the rules around rent are stricter. But remember, where there is a winner, someone loses. Buying property and land here, whatever state it is in, has not failed me yet.

Demand must continue to outstrip supply to keep rent prices high. New social housing developments are kept to a minimum. This maintains our economic position. But the increasing concentration of assets among fewer and fewer billionaires means house prices have reached absurdly high levels. The proletariat have already had their housing disaster, losing ownership of their homes to us, but ours is on the near horizon. A dismal studio flat in Slough with less than three-hundred square feet now goes for £4m.

The war of the day isn’t between class, that has long since been settled. Only two remain, landlords and tenants. All that remains of the housing market is skirmishes between billionaires squabbling over urban decay to see who can become the first trillionaire. While asset value is relative, and what you own still somewhat matters, increasingly it’s about volume. The battle of the billionaires is the only form of meritocracy we have left. And why shouldn’t the winner of that be me?

Unregulated capitalism’s greatest achievement was to embrace rapid technological advancement in concert with financialisation. Together both have quashed the revolutionary spirit of the renting class. First it made our need for their labour largely redundant, this keeps wages stagnant. Second, technological advancement raised living standards significantly, even for the poorest. Third, technology gave them all manner of means to drive themselves to permanent distraction.

Sure, there is dissent. Counter-cultural and revolutionary prose are now merely entertainment products from a bygone age. A few form militant groups, who we pay the media to brand as terrorists. They make threats, but they’re too small in number to gain traction, and the inequality gap is now so vast their message of change no longer seems feasible. Most renters comply knowing they never had it so good. The ennui inherent in social media, reality television and dating apps sees them consumed by petty forms of neuroses and over-wrought introspection. The political class are lobbied or populated by our less capable family members. We own all media platforms, and allow a few media employees to buy a few of our luxury properties. To us it’s a pittance to ensure there is no deviation from the message.

Economically we’ve established a perfect loop where the renters produce roughly what they consume, and as we own the means, we take the profits. The populace’s sense of value is maintained with jobs that are superfluous or serve little practical function. Never under-estimate the power of words and an ostentatious title; advanced admin assistant, deputy assistant manager, quality-control advisor to the supervisor, specialist workstream analyst.

Leaving them enough tradition and routine so that daily life still retains a sense of normality is key to the project’s success. Women eventually succumb and cleave to having children. Male tribalism is assuaged thanks to the ten remaining football clubs, all owned by the wealthiest heads of foreign states. City centres up and down the country continue as the arenas where men violently vent their frustrations on each other. Bingo halls, fruit machines, bookies and casinos hoover up any additional capital they manage to procure through debts, which, of course, we own. Pubs, now the ultimate loss leader, remain open thanks to subsidies.

My rival wants to meet. He selects a gentleman’s club I have never frequented. The exclusivity makes me envious. It was now late at night, and empty but the excessive consumption of cigar smoke and various sprits from earlier still lingered on the nose. We negotiate prices and discuss the demographic of the block’s tenants “a gang of whining cunts”. “Aren’t they all”. He wants £780 million for the whole lot despite it being “in fucking shit condition”. That’s less than three and a half million per unit “a bargain”. Loathsome riff-raff he may be in old-money but on the latter point I cannot disagree. He claims to have an offer of £800 million from a rival, but this rival is richer than he. Pride is a fatal weakness at this echelon. He’s an asset rich, capital poor billionaire, and he needs capital quickly to close on his foreign purchase.

Unprompted, he offers to show me around the tower block, which I take as a sign of desperation. With assiduous smugness he presents his armed protection team of six wardrobe sized HGH farmed mercenaries, who all seem to be called Brad or Gary, one by one. My safety concerns satisfied, I agree to the viewing. He knew I would. If it’s in a worse state than I expect, there’s still some potential for haggling. He’ll have done his research on me. In the unlikely event you’re selling, you have to ensure that the buyer has the cash ready. Money, unless it is converted into holdings, loses value so swiftly due to perpetually high inflation.

Arriving outside the tower block in question it appears even more bleak than on my earlier viewing. Its darkness creates an ominous shadow on the overcast night sky, coloured an orangey hue by the city’s light pollution. The lift is out of order, so we enter the main stairwell, which, similar to the landings, is exposed to the elements. My regret builds as the wintery wind starts cutting through my seven thousand pound handmade cashmere top coat.

“Fancy meeting some of your prospective tenants, then?” I remain silent in the hope of dissuading him. But he ploughs ahead and knocks on the door of number six, floor thirteen. Who does he think he is? Keith Chegwin? He’ll likely be less popular at this hour. Part of me hopes he’s humiliated with the rebuttal of a swiftly closed door. But with who he is to them and his protection flanking him closely – dwarfing him, despite him being of slightly above average height – and consuming the entirety of the doorframe, it’s likely to be interpreted as the menacing imposition it is.

The door opens and we’re met with a portly woman with a scowl and dreadful complexion made worse by the inadequate application of makeup heavily centralised around the eyes, lips and cheeks. “Can we come in luv?” Before she can answer we’ve funnelled in through the narrow hall way into a living room which is cosy, and has become considerably cosier with the arrival of me, the slumlord and three of his mutant henchmen. The sitting rooms of these units are not designed to hold more than four or five at a time. Her six children are squashed together on the only sofa. Despite their father being at work, or, hopefully, getting a vasectomy, none of them are occupying his seat. Perhaps it’s because of the purplish stain located right where his anus would land.

Jollily the slumlord takes his place on dad’s seat as if he owns it, which, technically, he does. The faces of the children seem perplexed by events, or afraid, or apprehensive, and somewhat mirror the cocktail of my own emotions. “I think we should leave these people be”. He tuts and attempts to antagonise me for being “too posh for this”. The ambivalent response from the audience makes me pity him, clearly he seldom gets to posit himself as a salt of the earth rotten pastiche of Fred Dibnah, and this time it couldn’t have gone any worse.

“£770m”. He’s a sucker for hipster billionaire chic, his elbow patches on his checked wool shirt are extra-large, the cuffs distressed intentionally, with dirt under his fingers nails. Despicable cunt. “£675m” I reply. His stupid little mangy mongrel operates as an amendment to his steel toe-capped boots. Fake riff-raff wanker. “£750m. That’s my final offer”. He shifts in his seat as though he’s just farted. Scum. “£725m”. “Fucking hell”, he smirks and stifles a laugh in his throat before continuing “you’re everything I expected.” Sometimes negotiations can be fraught, but the hostility of his tone and the colour of this comment takes me by surprise. He shouts “done” as he rises to his feet. I’m just relieved that we now have a reason to leave. “Let’s do the agreement now”. Now I’m getting nervous. “Can’t it wait?” “I’ve got somewhere to be” he insists. “The paperwork’s prepared, digital money transfer all ready to go” he states, with a pointed urgency. “Fine” I say. It’s not the way a gentleman does business, but then he isn’t one, and I’ve managed to secure land and housing for £75m less than I budgeted. Success.

I catch the eldest girl, who looks around thirteen I’d say, smirking unexpectedly while I fill in the bank details for my funding account on the tablet produced by one of the henchmen. Purposely avoiding her glare I try not to dwell on his nose, which has been repeatedly mutilated to the point that at a certain angle it is imperceptible from the rest of his face. She has a magnetic glint in her eye that suggests an intelligence and confidence outwith her gene pool and circumstances. Little doubt her parents would sell her to me if they could. Most of them will do anything for a reprieve from their servitude to lifelong debt, arrears and rents, even if the feeling of freedom is only temporary.

Money transfer complete. I receive a notification – a legally binding agreement stating the deed has been transferred to my name has been sent to my solicitor. My back muscles relax. “Are we done here? It’s late and I’ve been here long enough”. “Have you?” I see him signal them by simultaneously raising his chin and protruding his bottom lip. My feet elevate off the floor, as severe pressure is applied to my neck. Suddenly the whole room goes black, with only the light from the TV perceptible through the material covering my face.

I’m sitting in the dad’s chair, alone in the living room. Standing up takes more than one go, my neck locked stiff from it being used to support my body weight in mid-air. My pockets are empty, as is the house. I eventually make it out onto the landing and I’m met with an overpowering stench of petrol, tinged with what seems to be rotting meat combined with damp. It is quiet. All the lights are off, the street below is barren, the dozens of parked cars there on our arrival have all disappeared.

The stairs are thoroughly barricaded by a mixture of super market trollies, abused prams, barbed wire, bricks, cinder blocks, rusty push bikes with missing wheels, pallets and assorted timber. I return to the flat to search for my phone. Nothing. Trails of smoke reach my nose, before I hear the sound of cracking above. One of the floors above is ablaze. My ankle collapses after kicking in one of the doors to another flat on this floor. What I assume is a back bedroom window, as there’s no furniture, is barred up. Rigidly. Fuck. I’m drawn back on to the landing by indeterminate wails and sounds which appear to be emanating from outside and below.

I sag over the walkway’s handrail. A raging bonfire of tires, wooden pallets, cardboard and random household debris is being diligently constructed at pace below. A clearly expectant horde has gathered in the street. A constellation of mobile screens are there to record me plead, to humiliate me, before grating me a reprieve. Anything but my demise. Anything. I offer them money. Enough to escape all this and be more than comfortable. After the shouts of “scum” and “fuck off” have died down, my adversary replies through a speakerphone ‘we’re well past that’. It’s met with cheers followed by one clear shout of “Burn the fucking rich cunt” which intensifies the crowd’s excitement.

As the flames grow closer and the chants from the baying mob gets louder all that remains is a choice – jump or burn. Jumping is my only chance at a sudden, painless death.

As my forehead torpedoes towards the pavement thoughts of the unresolved rush in. Is this how the revolution begins? Am I the first they’ve done this too? My last thought is not of dismay at my impending doom, but how easily that simpleton duped me.

About Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard

Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard. 'Mediocre blogger and a piously boring and unfunny writer'. Enthusiastic purveyor of the KLF sheep.
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