Someone suggested that my less than worldly travel experiences could be worthy of a story, especially the African parts. Which seemed to me would be pretty boring, a chronological tour of mildly recidivist behavioural patters, but perhaps could become basis of a piece of creative fiction. So here goes. Welcome to chapter One.
Codger Spumante stood on the veranda of his club staring into the darkness. The tobacco in his pipe had extinguished, yet its odours mixed with the scent of whiskey to swirl around his head.
Codger loosened his necktie. Dinner suits had never appealed and he only wore them as a necessity. His choice would be shorts and open neck shirt, even if the body was decaying.
It had been a fine evening. He felt gratified to people who had gathered to wish him well in retirement. After all, there was not that many left. Some had died, of old age or other, possibly suspect, reasons. Some lambs still rotted in jail, the sacrificial lambs to a deceased regime. Members of the old crew had brought their wives with them, while others had lost theirs in one way or another. Marcus sat at the back with his husband, which bought a brief snicker to Codger’s lips. It wouldn’t be much more than a decade ago that such proclivities were illegal. While everyone had their suspicions about Marcus it remained unspoken, although he never received a promotion.
Codger realised his brother may have been of the same inclination given he had never married. Which would explain why there was no one to continue the family farm after he was killed in the car accident three years ago. Yet as it had been decades since they had been in contact Codger would always remain uncertain. He wondered what state the farm was in.
He tapped his pipe so hard it almost broke. A twinge of pain crossed his eyes. The words of Botox Delux delivered as final homage, lingered in his memory. Botox, Codger’s chief and long-standing accomplice, had been in full flight, dramatically raising his arms and throwing his voice.
“I am coming towards the end of this little meander through Codger’s career, so let me tell one final story. It is an infamous one that no doubt some of you have heard before but it is a good one that goes to the heart of Codger’s character.
“We had been interrogating a prisoner and the time had come to put the young man out of his misery. We had relocated to a suitable cornfield and I don’t need to tell you the advantages of a decent sized cornfield for disposal of unwanted items.
“Well the damn gun jammed. Wouldn’t fire. We had forgotten to bring any other and it was too far to go back. Couldn’t use service pistols of course as that would leave a trail. So we were stuck with quite a nasty little dilemma until Codger stepped up to the mark.
“Announcing he would settle it he picked up the shovel and before any of us could respond began battering the prisoner. Right across the head. All trussed up the prisoner could scarcely do anything to protect himself. Even after he hit the ground Codger kept going until all that lay at our feet was bloodied pulp.
“We were stunned by the audacity let me assure you. Indeed when it came time to do Codger’s performance appraisal I did have to tick the box that said ‘displays innovative problem solving techniques’. I think I even got you a bonus for that one, didn’t I Codge?
“But the best is yet to come. Codger bends down to check to pulse to ensure that the deceased actually is the deceased. He look up to us and says ‘Well is there a pleasant way to die?’
“Indeed is there? We must have laughed for at least five minutes before we realised that we had forgotten to get the prisoner to dig his own grave. And Codger was too exhausted after his efforts. So we had to dig the damn graves ourselves. Even I lifted a shovel, which is a rare occasion let me assure you.”
Botox held up his soft hands as evidence. He was laughing raucously with many in the audience joining in. But he did notice, “Yes, yes. I can see some of you are shocked. No doubt with good reason. But you really had to be there. At the time … oh dear … come to think of it … I think that is one body that has never been exhumed. We really have to keep that one to ourselves, Chatham House rules and all that. What with all these investigations and retributions going on we do not need any more skeletons coming to light, now do we?
“So in conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to charge your glasses. Let us cheer on dear old Codger to many glorious years in his retirement, and when the time comes that he does find a pleasant way. To Codger.”
Once upon a time Codger had displayed self-effacing good humour when hearing this story, masquerading embarrassment. Now it left emptiness in his stomach that alcohol could not suppress. His stomach gave a small heave. Soon it shall be over and I can be freed of these memories.
He noticed Botox sauntering towards him, in that self-assured way of his, the usual half empty glass in hand.
“Well old boy. A jolly fine evening. Supremely organised, if I say so myself. Everyone was full of congratulations. The best farewell yet they said. We have had too many recently.”
“You can’t let it go, can you?” Codger kept looking into the night.
“What … oh … your most famous action. Well, what ones would you prefer I share? The time when we thought you had crossed? I have kept that little one secret you know.”
“You damn well knew what was going on.”
“Plausible denial, old boy, plausible denial. Yes it was brave of you to take that risk. We did well didn’t we, even if you did have us scared for a while. Thank goodness we managed to pull you back at the last moment. I would have missed you. Anyway, let’s not dwell on it. What is the past for except foundation to our everlasting friendship? Time for a night cap, what do you say.”
Botox finished his whiskey, feeling its warmth run through his veins and tickle his brow. He signalled the waiter to replenish their glasses. Codger looked at his empty glass, wondering if he wanted a refill. He glanced over at his old friend, starting to feel grateful that a separation was coming.
“It is just one big game for you isn’t it? One jolly big roller coaster ride with every bend another thrill. You care nothing for the havoc left in the wake as long as you get what you want.”
“My good man,” Botox took a breath. “In any conflict achievement of your objective comes with collateral damage. You only need to determine the acceptable level of expendability. We have been though this before.”
“You had kept me in the dark.”
“Some matters cannot be shared outside the inner circle. Anyway, let’s not dwell on it. What is the past for except foundation to our everlasting friendship? Time for a night cap, what do you say.”
Botox finished his whiskey, feeling its warmth run through his veins and tickle his brow. He signalled the waiter to replenish their glasses. Codger looked at his empty glass, wondering if he really did need another refill.
“It’s just one big game for you isn’t it? One jolly big roller coaster ride with every bend another thrill. You care nothing for the havoc left in the wake as long as you get what you want.”
“My good man,” Botox took a breath. “In any conflict achievement of your objective comes with collateral damage. You only need to determine the acceptable level of expendability. We have been through this before.”
“Our battle was for nothing. We lost.”
“Did we?” Codger took his refilled whisky glass and raised it to the light. “Look at the colour of that. Pure gold. If this is defeat old boy long may it run.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I am aware that in you have been remarkably inconsistent your whole life. You confuse yourself and that is your greatest weakness. Really, how often have I put myself out on a limb for you. You should really be more appreciative of the efforts.”
“I’ve been used, abused and bruised.”
“When it comes to abusing you’re the one with form.” Botox stepped back when Codger’s eyes flared at him. “Sorry old boy, I didn’t mean to hurt but you only have yourself to blame for that particular lost love.”
Botox gave one of his smart-arsed grins, the sort that says ‘I might be saying sorry but I don’t really mean it’. He skolled his whiskey and signalled the waiter for a refill.
“There is individual responsibility you know. You cannot spend your life blaming others. Face up to it. The instinct was there. It’s an inherent part of you.”
Codger gazed reflectively into his glass.
“I have to accept responsibility for my actions. But … Bah! What does it matter? That’s what we always say when things don’t turn out right isn’t it? What does it matter? Nothing matters. Who cares? Now I care and it is too late. Perhaps. I don’t know.”
“Just know that when you fail, as I fear you will, here you will find a welcoming fireplace, a comfortable arm chair, and a glass of delightful whisky. Plus the companionship of old friends who will welcome your return with a cheer. We do care for you, you know.”
“With a good deal of mocking I dare say.”
“Only the most generous.”
The night air was filled with subtle disturbances. In the distance a truck revved its engine. In the garden beyond the veranda screens insects buzzed. A moth that had manoeuvred through the barricade attacked the wall light. Nearby a gecko’s darting tongue captured any bug errant enough to come within range.
“Still no word I take it?”
The growl in Codger’s throat grew until he almost spat. “Of course not. After all these years there never will be.”
“Not even from the girls?”
“Cynth called to tell me I had become a grandfather again. Just to humiliate me because I know she will never let me see them. Let it go. It is gone.”
Servants had begun cleaning up the dining room from the evening’s entertainment. The guests had wended their way home, apart from those who continued to deny advancing years and sought out the city’s vibrant nightclub scene.
“You don’t have to go you know,” Botox said.
“Too late now. No turning back.”
“No one would blame you if –”
“I don’t want to. My mind is set.”
“You cannot run from yourself.”
“The hole in the soul? Perhaps not. But I do not have to stare it in the face each day.”
“Not at all.” For the first time that night Codger smiled. “Possibly just a little perverse.”
They stood there. Two ageing inter-dependent colleagues. Whiskey glasses in hand, faces pointed into the crisp night breeze. Botox Delux with the opaque grey eyes known as the man of many face-lifts. And transplants. In vain desire to deny the ageing process Botox had undergone an endless series of surgical procedures – from hair to chin to organs to cellulite. Rumour had it that there were more fine scars on Botox’s torso than flowers on a peacock, or bodies buried beyond reach.
The external scars on Codger were of the more mundane variety. White cuts on the arms amongst the first signs of melanomas on tanned flesh. A nick over the left brow from a wayward strand of thornbush. Calloused hands with a permanently missing nail on one finger as symbols of hard work. If a wedding ring had once left a mark that had long since dissipated. His untamed grey curls and whiskers offset the crystal blue eyes that were too often bloodshot. Codger still stood erect, tall, thin and wiry, but for the bloated belly.
He rested his hand on the timber beam that marked the veranda perimeter. To think I once thought I could be an artist and now I am just a portrait in decay. My best friend taking delight in my worst memories.
Botox was having his own reflections. He was finally acknowledging that he was generally mistrusted by the world at large, and that he was about to lose his last remaining friend.
They neither felt nor heard the person hover into their terrain, as her mammoth frame silently glided over the floor.
“Hello boys,” Lindilulu Oqwanti said in her quietly mocking tone. “Two old spies never bought to justice soaking up remembrances. How sweet.”
* * *
Portrait of Edvard Munch