Sport 9: Spring 1992
The chapel's design did little more than hint at its function. It had tall windows at one end and a lectern at the other. Chairs were assembled in rows, in imitation of pews. Each chair bore a Good News bible. Bede found the locker to which Greg had given him the key. If it contained Windowlene and chamois, squeegee and scrim, it also contained, like missals, an orderly pile of Penthouse and a dozen coloured, pornographic booklets from which the covers were missing.
'No wonder he keeps it locked,' said Bede.
'None. Afraid his Windowlene might walk.' Hart thumbed through one of the oddly anonymous magazines. 'Always intrigues me, the models in these kinds of things. I was in New York. They like the skinny junkie types because their cocks look bigger in the photos. You know, on the subject of the loss of self-respect, I've got a few thoughts. I feel more disgust and shame over a can of sardines I once shoplifted than I do about, oh, I don't know, a lot of other things. And I have days, whole days, when all I can recollect of my alcoholic conduct are the faux pas, the petty borrowings, the sudden descents into sleep. Yet I've lost my self-respect as I might have lost a finger. It's gone, there's a gap, and I don't know where it might be.'
And this is the clinic which gives you back your finger?Bede instead asked something circumstantial.
'Yes,' continued Hart, 'they've got me all trussed up legally. I want to keep my job and complete my training, I must take "treatment".' He drew horns in the air with his fingers. 'And the Admissions Officer in town said they'd only treat me again, again, if I committed myself. The magistrate beamed and wished me luck. Not that he seemed to believe in all the spurious bullshit we went through, either.'
Bede had met men whose sharp, otherwise handsome features had been made the instruments of cunning. This was not quite so in Michael's case. Rather, Hart's voice suggested the threat of reaction, the sort of disengagement in which there is something of menace.
As clouds gathered beyond the chapel windows, Bede had time to clean all but the highest panes. A lecture would follow, then dinner. The light darkened bluely. Rain began to scratch its first, and audible, ticks and arrowheads on the other side of the glass.page 54
Michael sat with Bede at dinner that evening. There was a seating plan, not much amended, which said he should. They were joined without fuss by Powell, a man in his sixties wearing a red tracksuit.
'You may smoke,' he said, making what Bede guessed to be a maritime joke. He set his plate down between theirs. Bede knew Powell to be a member of the staff, a counsellor. He introduced Hart accordingly.
'Not much of a night,' said Powell. 'Pity. I always go in on a Thursday, there's an AA meeting in town I've been attending since Adam was a grasshopper.'
'I've only just arrived,' said Hart. He was kindled, amused, 'But if you recommend it . . .'
'You'd like to come? Splendid. Eat your Olives-Berf. With any luck our numbers will be down and we can leave the van and take my car.' He peppered his food with vigour, not briefly. 'Only a month ago I was in Japan. Where you never have to season anything, once it's put before you. This looks nice, all the same.'
'Where did you go?' asked Hart.
'Kyoto. Spring. It was lovely. I met my wife there in spring.' Powell was wistful for a moment, blank. Then he remembered his knife and fork.
'I know Kyoto,' Michael said with care.
'Do you? We must talk in the car. As to that van, if the boss finds out the girls and boys have been eating chips in it . . .'
After coffee in the lounge with Michael and Greg, Bede went to the dormitory to change. It was empty. Only Greg's reading-lamp burned. The ceiling here was low. The many sounds of the rain burdened the roof, blanketing and soporific. Bede heard a tinkling sound, as if of experiment or distillation, the rain at work. It came to Bede that he was happy here at the clinic.
He stood. He lifted his yellow transistor and clicked its tiny wheel.
'. . . even now. First reports say . . .' Bede heard, adjusting the tuner,
'. . . is a local resident. Just repeating that: in the holiday town of Otaki not far from Wellington, a Ministry of Transport officer is dead after shots were fired in a motor camp. The shooting began an hour ago and reports say it continues. A police spokesman says Armed Offenders Squad members . . .'
Bede switched off the radio. He changed his jeans for a dressier pair. He went to the lounge, a place he avoided at this hour in order not to be reminded that what was watched on the TV was, in theory, voted for. All page 55 the chairs were empty. A cartoon character boinged and spat. Bede sought the channel carrying news but a drama he sometimes watched was under-way.
'Ready?' It was Hart. He wore a denim jacket lined with wool, his hands deep in the pockets.
'Yes. I'm wondering where old Powell keeps his car.'
But a moment later Powell himself appeared. He made an impression on Bede fresher than that he had made at dinner. He was a slight man with high, raw cheekbones. His neat moustache was pronged. He wore a grey canvas jacket with roomy sleeves.
'Ah, here you are,' he said. 'I've brought our wheels to the front. If we set out now we should just about be there by midnight.'
A curious tension, thought Bede, existed in Powell between frailty and its maintenance. His age showed in his cheeks, their broken veins. Bede knew Powell jogged, not cosmetically. If he dyed his moustache it would be because his war against age was covert and opportunistic.
The car was an old Mercedes. Bede guessed it to be Powell's hobby. It smelled of machine-oil and leather. They rolled in darkness down a long, featureless track. From where he sat in the back, Bede could see only rain, an illuminated cone of aquatic insects, swarming.
When they had reached the main road, Powell driving in an unhurried, fluid style suggestive of training, perhaps military, Hart produced a bag of Minties.
'So you've been in Japan, Mr Hart?'
'I was there with my father, a diplomat, for my sixteenth birthday. We stayed in the Tawaraya Inn. It wasn't the first time I'd slept on a floor, but I couldn't get used to the absence of chairs.'
'Quite. I'd seen it after the war, you understand, was there again when I met my wife. She was Russian, matter of fact, a doctor. We loved it all and married there. Who'd have thought it.'
'I'd been a prisoner, you see. Burma.'
As Powell and Hart conversed, Bede remained silent. He took Powell, then, to be a widower. Rubbery, level, their ride was a ride through darkness, past lampposts lit by candles. As if selecting one of these as a cue, a flag of sanction, Powell spoke again.page 56
'Their Burma. As the war drew to a close our conviction was that the Japs would have to surrender, that if they did that they'd butcher all our poor sods.'
He was an officer, thought Bede. Powell's eyes here followed a passing feature, a goat tethered close to the road, so that Bede saw his profile. He hid his chin like a boxer.
'A cop,' Bede said, 'has been shot. There's been shooting in Otaki,' as if, quite soberly, he had seen something stirring, someone gesturing, out in the blackness abreast of their car's dim headlights.