Ozymandias gets slung out of a nightclub. He’s in the gutter swilling teeth, jaw shattered against the kerb.
Babylon was his once; he was ‘the man’, the ‘king of kings’: money, Maserati and gold tooth gleaming.
A face is peering down; curled lip and cold sneer; a disinclined lap-dancer from Lithuania. She had been his once, one of his ravished girls; catatonic from drugs and trade. Oh, the times he had run his fingers over her, as if she were furniture, checking for dust.
Not just Mr Big but Mr Colossal. He had it all. He was really something.
“Bastard!” She hefts a kick at his kidneys. “You shitty bastard!” Somebody pulls her away, and he grimaces into the darkness. Yeah, the name Ozymandias meant something once; a name to spike your soul. She ought to remember that.
An intoxicated teenager gambols by on giraffe legs, platform shoes deep as house bricks. She vomits extravagantly into the road and a noxious tide washes over him.
They say he over-reached; got on the wrong side of the wrong people; enemies in high places. He thought he was invincible; hoods on throat-slitting duties and roughing up wives. Somebody, eventually, out-hooded him.
So it goes.
Oh yes, there was a time when he was somebody. Coolest guy in the city, Italian nubuck suits, silk shirts and a gold chain thick enough to hoist a car.
A floozy back-strokes into the mainstream – some D-list celebrity – flanked by a minder with mirrored eyes, and Mr Colossal staggers to his feet, rearranging his face. She is wearing black leather thigh-boots; her impossible breasts, round as moons, jiggling in Lurex.
Ozymandias sidles up. “Hey, baby, how y’doing?” He flashes the smile on his good side.
The minder lurches. “Hey, punk. Do we know you?”
In the mirrors is the twin image of a desperate man with a lopsided grin and a fatal bleed on his kidneys.
“Sure you know me! It’s Ozie, remember?”
“Hey, Sherelle, honey, you remember me – Ozie.”
The D-lister stops and lights a cigarette, takes a drag, stares him down with glacial eyes and moves closer. “Yeah, I remember you.” She grinds the cigarette into the cleft of his chin, a small but meaningful incineration, and his eyes seep.
“Cane him, Max,” her gaze glides past him and the minder moves to her command. And this is how the big-shot spleen of Ozymandias acquires its rupture: a lightning strike with a knuckle-duster fist, and Mr Colossal is reeling back into the gutter, his face – the good side – breaking his fall.
The tarmac is gritty against his cheek, and he begins to laugh, mirthlessly, as his life dribbles away, disbelief giving way to despair. But the entourage has shrugged and moved on and no-one looks back.
A millennium passes.
The ash blows cold in this vacant land; over Babylon, the ravished girls and the D-list entourage. And here he lies: Ozymandias who, once upon a time, was really something: ‘the man’ no less, the ‘king of kings’.
Now, a civilisation is spent.
So it goes.