Sport 33: Spring 2005
A postcard from a friend visiting Cedar Rapids, Ohio. It shows Einstein at the beach, a beach somewhere. And Einstein looks exactly like Einstein, Albert, physicist and Nobel laureate, but is wearing shorts and sandals. The Einstein face is graced by an expression of mildly amused braininess or pleasant imbecility, take your pick. The Einstein shorts are unremarkable, not particularly dated to look at, and the legs are OK legs, not too bad at all if somewhat hairless, but oh my God the sandals. They seem to have something of a heel; the peekaboo toes consist of dome-shaped apertures, vents like Turkish domes in silhouette. Onion domes or twirly confectioner's kisses. Yes: the Einstein sandals of 1945 … are almost certainly a woman's.
My friend the postman has travelled to the four corners of the world. Travels every year on his meagre postman's pay to some fresh destination, there to revel in fresh discomforts and inconveniences.
I leave the travelling to others. I stay at home and read and watch a bit of telly. When one's own habitation provides a sufficiency of annoyances, why go abroad? Letterbox and telephone furnish all the alarms I can cope with.
My name is Bruno Swan. Some sixteen years ago, I was coming to an end. The lights were going out all over Bruno. Today, I live a posthumous sort of life, one nonetheless replete with quiet satisfactions.
My friend the postman is beginning to limp like a knackered dromedary. 'Seen anything decent recently?' I ask him.
'I haven't been to a film in months,' says Martin.
'No? My late father used to boast that he'd seen every movie made before the end of World War II.'
'Quite. Some people simply swear off the cinema. Give it up, like smoking.'
'They do. But retreat perhaps to the reeking wasteland of television.'
As well as being a traveller, Martin's an omnivorous reader. His long brown face is handsomely lined, and has about it something of sage Arabian dignity, the wisdom of the oasis. 'Television? I'll tell you who likes television,' the weathered Bedouin says.
'Poor old Johnny Bray. Poor old Johnny Bray has taken to knocking on my door from time to time.'
'It's late in the afternoon and there he is. Can he come in and play the piano? Can he come in and watch Spongebob Squarepants?'
'He's apologetic, but.'
'He laughs so much it's almost a delight. He laughs so hard at Spongebob fucking Squarepants, it's almost a pleasure to have him in the house.'
Neil Young has a heartbreaking voice. Neil Young has a heartbreaking voice.
Somewhere back in the 80s, I stood in a bottle store and watched a video clip of Young performing 'Like a Hurricane'. There he was on the screen above my head, singing and strumming while being blustered silly, stormily mauled by a wind machine, I wanna love you but I'm getting blown away …
The guitar work on 'Hurricane' is astral, titanic. Time and time again, I sit in the dark and let it do its thing, sit in the dark and let it take me apart.
I'm stopped in the street by a bronzed, a blond young man. Levis, T-shirt, designer stubble. 'What's that over there?' he asks.
His accent is English. 'It used to be a museum,' I tell him, 'and to the left you've got your carillon and war memorial.'
'Cool,' he says. 'Thank you.'
I walk along Arthur to the top of Cuba. On the corner is the house in which I spent the first few months of my sobriety, living above an empty shop.
It remains a sooty, dim, Dickensian address. Soon to be stomped by the new, obliterating motorway. In a bedroom at the rear, I finished writing Tartan Revolver, the first of my three published books. I'd bought for the purpose a fat little manual in two tones of grey; when you pushed the plump red lozenge of a certain mysterious key, its carriage would track from right to left with an oily sort of thrum: yoddle-oddle-oddle-oddle-oddle.
Behind that window up there, I completed a vivid, skinny novel, yes. And it might be fun to get a picture, to take a photo of those doomed, disappointed-seeming panes. A Fujicolor disposable would do the trick, but I'd have lots of film left over.
My present address is temporary. No sleek savvy cat dozes on the fire-escape, nor are my neighbours prostitutes and members of Black Power, but I like and use the peace and quiet here. If I duck down through the pines to Wallace Street, I can be in the city in twenty minutes.
I keep the joint uncluttered, low on visual noise. The spines of a hundred books and a Chinese wall-hanging—I confess to finding colour enough in these.
With regard to my worthless Chinese banderole: in search perhaps of balance, centredness, I sometimes contemplate its ghostly torrents, its floaty crags.page 140
The Chinese seem to manage not to rear psychopathic monsters. The Chinese are sane and fill their jeans nicely (I've noticed that the young men tend to have good legs).
The truth of the matter is, I like the Chinese. I like their restaurants and cafés; I like their tanks of goldfish, their glossy black enamel, their lanterns with scarlet tassels. I like the sweet and sour of their temperate, amusable demeanours.
As the coal-burning city steams its way toward nightfall, I picture myself living in some muggy Chinatown, renting a room above a busy kitchen, playing noughts and crosses on a grimy little board of teak and porcelain. Smoking my opium.
'You wouldn't like it,' says Martin. (A dollop of clarification: my friend the postman is not of course my postman. We meet in town, if we meet at all, only when he's completed his route and is making his way home.)
'You're right,' I say. 'Forget the opium.'
'I'm not depriving you of your narcotic. It's just that you'd find the Chinese world too populace and hectic.'
'Probably. What with all that gambling, all those tong vendettas.'
'Quite. So what are you reading, at the moment?'
'Don DeLillo's Underworld. For the fourth time. Underworld is the book for me.'
'The one you take to the desert island?'
'Absolutely. There are more stories in Underworld … than are actually in Underworld. The Don DeLillo of Underworld extends to infinity in all directions.'
'High praise indeed.'
'Indeed. And don't get me started on the prose itself.'
I seem to be forever buying milk. Buying milk or thinking that the blood-vessels in my right leg are collapsing. And yet I've had my picture in the paper, been on the radio.
My dream goes something like this:
Good Friday in a detox ward somewhere. The sweet, metallic smell of Wattie's canned spaghetti.
A pathetically sweaty Greek gangster has the bed next to mine. 'I'm shaking like a jelly over here.'
'Just hang tough,' I tell him.
'When's our next medication due?'
'I can feel some kind of seizure coming on. I've wrought some fucking havoc in me time, but I don't deserve this.'
'What goes up must come down. Or something.'
'Them Nazis out the nursing station—the filph is toffs compared!'
My dead but ageless father appears. Suit and tie, hair parted wetly, familiar gold ring. 'I've always liked this town. Denny Mahon and I were stationed here during the early part of the war. I thought I'd take the bus out to the old aerodrome, have a look around.'
'Do that, Dad.'
'Will I see you at all, you know, when you grow up? Will there be a number I can ring?'
Dr Mephisto is next. Earring, three days' growth, soap-scented hands. (What do they want with me, these attractive young men?) 'Your pancreas is inflamed. Likewise your already fatty liver.'
'Ever had a shot of benzoethylcryptotriplicate?'
'Hurts like hell, believe me. What are your thoughts on Dreiser?'
'I've never read him. The last ten minutes of Carrie were terrific.'
'You're referring to the William Wyler film?'
'With Laurence Olivier, yes. With Laurence Olivier being utterly tragic.'
'I put it to you that Don DeLillo is not the totally groovy, funky and together, hip wizard seer you think he is.'
'He's merely very good. Is what I think.'
'Don DeLillo sucks. Ditto Bruno Swan and Tartan Revolver. I'm tempted to reach for the hurty stuff.'
The city has Finnish-looking trams. Ferries, helicopters and Finnish-looking trams.
A tennis-court stands next to a cathedral. A sandwich-bar embarrasses a Theosophical temple.
Some of the smaller banks have tinted windows, science-fiction panes the colour of petrol. And the Yohst and Kubrick Centre in Bilton Square wears copper epaulettes; at night, it's painted by floodlights of lime and guava-pink.
As three a.m. approaches, the station settles down, achieves a degree of equilibrium. It loosens its belt (as it were) and breathes a little easier. And the mad and the bad and the sad in the cells downstairs? They admit defeat and shut up—finally.
Detective Mark Traven rises from his desk. Time to empty the bladder and stretch the legs. In white shirt and loud floral tie, Mark looks like a shoulder-holstered Mormon, trim and youthful and smoothly truculent.
He drifts toward Stella Greybill's desk. She's up to her armpits in folders papers files, her messy hair a storm of golden wisps. 'Cut your crap, Traven.'
'I haven't said a word.'
'This place stinks of fries and hamburgers.'
'Yours and mine,' says Mark, 'but mostly mine.'
'Ain't that the truth.'
'We should be the subject of a study. The scientists should study us long and hard. Nutritionists with clipboards, probing the mysteries of our bright eyes and bushy tails.'
'Grow fucking up.' Is what Stella says.
'I'm closing fast on my next cigarette. I'm cruising stealthily.'page 143
'Not me. Not this detective. What I want is beef tea, if you're passing the machine.'
'Beef tea? Since when? These are questions the machine itself will ask.'
'The secret is not to bully it. The secret is to let it do its thing.'
The convent is that of the Sisters of Abiding Comfort, a dwindling community of tough, cheerful souls. The nuns have their business in the city, with the desperate, but their home stands on the side of a bushy vale in a quiet eastern suburb.
Convent and playfully Gothic chapel: few people know of their existence. A circumstance that Robert Sharland does his best to perpetuate.
He's here again this morning, in the first pew but one. He likes the altar of white marble, the lilies and the candlesticks of blond brass. Enjoys the windows and the watery stains they impart, palest tincturings of lemon and rose. His bodyguard is armed and wired for sound and sits one row behind his principal, apparently unfazed by the dour Latin mass.
Bread and wine are at hand. Chalice and ciborium. The sacrament achieves its overcast plateau, and the priest says the occult words of consecration. How does Matthew have it? '"This is my body. But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table."' Something like that, Sharland thinks. And Matthew's is a Rembrandtesque effect, with candlelight and gloom interpenetrating.
The nuns like Sharland to breakfast at the convent. Swap pleasantries with the visiting celebrant.
Two places have been set at one end of a long table. The room itself (a small refectory?) has plastered walls, a floor of reddish tiles. Sharland's bodyguard seats his employer, places a cellphone beside Robert's plate and retires to a chair just inside the door.
Stripped of his vestments now, dog-collared Father Conway makes his appearance. 'It's toast and jam and boiled eggs, I see. The sisters seem to want to feed us up.'page 144
'Good morning, Father.'
The smiley little priest's as plump as a sparrow. And layman and cleric are by no means strangers. 'You turned in a brisk performance this morning.'
'Did I now,' says Conway. 'Perhaps I'd counted the house.'
'You'll have noticed that I never take Communion.'
'I've noticed that your minder sometimes does.'
'I'm a product of my education, Vince. I believe in the mass without believing.'
'I believe in the mass. Without believing.'
'Well I wonder now how that can be. I do.'
A nun arrives with more triangles of toast. Orange juice in a stainless-steel jug. 'Shall I do you another egg, Father?'
'I think not, Sister Joan, on this occasion.'
Sharland waits until the nun has gone. Resumes his 'confession' in a somewhat cooler tone. 'I'm a powerful man, Vincent. I make things happen. My puissance flows out into the world to sink and saturate, penetrating systems from top to bottom.'
'I trickle down. Through structures, institutions. I might be likened to the Holy Ghost.'
'Hubris. Blasphemy. To say nothing of the lesser sin of rank hyperbole.'
'I export and import and rake in dividends. Power begets wealth and wealth begets power. But among my hobbies is dealing in pictures. It's well within my competence to annoint struggling artists, and this it amuses me to do. I make their reputations and begin to sell their paintings for surprising new sums. I feather their nests while also upholstering my own. Does this make me virtuous, or am I merely acting out of self-interest?'
'Both. You're having a bob each way, like most of the rest of us.'
Robert's cellphone trills. He picks it up and jabs its Answer button. 'You've reached Sharland. Speak.'
The bodyguard approaches and addresses Conway. 'The Rolls will soon be brought to the side door, Father. Can we offer you a lift anywhere?'page 145
'That's thoughful of you, Taube.'
'Sell sell sell,' says Sharland. Talking of course to his dinky Nokia.
It's Tuesday morning, and this is Eric Jones. He's sporting the maroon thumbnail, the big black shapely fuck-you Druid's hood. Yes, hooded is exactly how he likes to feel.
For a period of time. For a period of time, he stands in the doorway of a camera shop and watches the mall. He has money in his pocket and blood in his ralph. He has crisp new notes in his wallet and blood in his tackle.
A blue mid-morning whim fares like a match in him. Prompting him to stir and straighten up, muster and marshal forces.
Bamboo Grove Apartments are tricky to get into. You have to wait for a citizen to exit, then duck inside with no apologies. On the third shallow floor lives Henry Hawke, the oldest surviving junkie in the realm, notorious and grey.
Notorious and grey and pigeon-chested. Like some derelict knight of yore, bony and big-knuckled. 'Look what washes up. Just as I'm about to have my lunch.'
'I pick. I pick.'
'I'm Eric if you've forgotten.'
'Yes. No. I remember you from that Narcotics Anonymous meeting. So how's the battle, Eric?'
'I slipped. I crashed and burned.'
'So what the fuck is new? But never mind. Would you like a cup of coffee?'
The man himself, at home. A steely cook and chemist of the old school, ground and sanded to a narrow-shouldered skeleton, a bristly skull with Auschwitz-ashen temples, skin as grey as dishwater. 'The name of Henry Hawke has entered the textbooks. I've outlived any number of quacks, addiction specialists and hepatologists. To say nothing of cops and probies.'page 146
'I buried my own lovely brother. Also several arseholes of whom I was fond. But Craig lies in a quiet place, and I know I could have taken better care of him.'
'Yeah. And how are you having this coffee of yours?'
A Buddha here, a crucifix there. Many antique LPs are angle-parked along the skirting-board. The silent Panasonic is tuned to the horse-racing channel, its screen a brilliantly colourful display.
Henry lives on Nicorette gum, with hogget and tepid gravy delivered by Meals on Wheels. And Eric Jones observes him, and not without respect. 'I graduated from smack to methadone. I got my shit together,' Henry continues, 'and even began to drink. Imagine it. I took to the grog and thought I'd joined the human race. Methadone and Mogadon and wine. With taxis to the pharmacy, the bottle store. Plus also I smoked to the level of national representative.'
'Carbon monoxide. Tars.'
'Where are you stopping now?'
'Here and there. I'm seeing a chick.'
'And you're keeping your hand in, I suppose.'
'Xylox. I'm moving a little Xylox.'
'What can I tell you? You've got to get back on the horse, begin again. You should at least continue with the meetings.'
'I could maybe handle a treatment centre. When I'm good and ready, like.'
'Shrinks and cardiologists and kidney guys—they all despaired of me. Said I was in for death or insanity.'
'They love that line.'
'Years passed. Decades. And then one day I couldn't do it anymore. I was sick of the hideous weight, the unabating demands of my addictions. I was sick and tired of the huge responsibility of being me.'
As a maker of instant coffee, Henry is not deficient in technique: the milky brew he hands to his guest at last is free from undissolved clots of powder. 'I need a lucky break,' Eric ventures.
'You need a lucky break, which is what I got. It was as if a clock had wound itself down and finally stopped ticking. Some sort of page 147inner, organic clock, the thing that had craved and hungered through thousands of days and nights. Silent now, defunct.'
'This gives me hope. No shit.'
'I can't see why. My very own brother lies in a quiet place.' Henry indicates a framed photograph. 'The pair of us at the races. Seventy-six, that was. I guess you can tell by the Starsky and Hutch costumes.'
'And what about yourself? Do you have any brothers anywhere?'
Eric shrugs. Sips at his coffee and makes a face. 'Christ. Point me at that sugar bowl, Henry.'
The city grows ever more concrete. The city grows ever more abstract and abstruse.
He smokes a little weed, shifts a little Xylox. And Eric has his hood deployed again; the modelled, glans-like cowl seals and finishes him.
Wednesday afternoon. A whitish glare replaces shadows, contrasts. This is the whiteness of X-rays and photographic negatives.
He's in a mood to maybe go again, trouble the fame a second time, for Henry Hawke has something Eric needs. Not that Eric can put his finger on it. Not that he can know quite what he's in for.
Henry's front door has been snibbed and left ajar.
Eric knocks on the jamb—with no result. Calls out Henry's name—to no effect. But Eric was born to push and probe, to test the elasticity of boundaries and borders, to ease himself forward with pre-emptive stealth.
The beautiful telly thrives, a colour-oven. Old Spice talcum powder scents the air, and a towel lies on the carpet near Henry's ivory foot. Henry himself is wearing a khaki bathrobe. He has obviously showered and clipped his toenails, and now he's resting up. Is sitting on a chair at one end of his Formica table, his back to the wall and his softened eyes in neutral.
And he could indeed be watching Charlie's fucking Angels—except page 148that he's plainly far too dead to be watching anything.
This is Eric's first dead body. Seated as if relaxedly, its left arm supported by the table, it seems a thing of touching poise and lightness. And Eric is not afraid to bend, incline his ear to the slightly parted lips, glance into the clement, disconnected peepers.
No breath, no sounds of breathing. No pulse in carotid, jugular. And Henry Hawke's grey cheek feels less than living, even less than fleshy. No point really in attempting mouth-to-mouth; no point either, much, in ringing for an ambulance. Also, and of maximum importance: the person reporting coming across the corpse is always of interest to the cops. Becomes in fact a popular interviewee, where foul play is suspected. But Eric can detect zero signs of violence.
Best to do the bizzo and clear off. Best to take what's up for grabs and fuck off out of it.
He swishes the $375 he finds in Henry's wallet, but what else is of value? Henry's vintage LPs are useless to Eric. Even if he knew what he was dealing with (Iron Butterfly, Jefferson Airplane and Tangerine Dream, for instance), he has no means of playing them. And then he discovers the. And then he discovers oh Jesus yes the gun. He opens a kitchen drawer and there it is, in the roomy part behind the wells for knives and forks: a bluish, satin-finished.38 that fits and fills his hand, making him feel both smart and ballsy as.
Laszlo Sinclair is twenty-three and works as a theatrical electrician. He was the subject of surveillance from June to September of this year. A number of charges have been laid (see attachment).Detective Stella Greybill:
I'm sitting here. I'm waiting.Laszlo Sinclair:
Fill me in, Laszlo. Illuminate this mess.Sinclair:
You don't think you can? So make like a thing with a spine and give it a shot.page 149 Sinclair:
Xylox is very kind to one at first, but it soon becomes this total preoccupation.Greybill:
Now there's a surprise.Sinclair:
I went to Larsen's Crossing in the early hours of Sunday morning. I'd swallowed a tab at final curtain, and I went to Larsen's Crossing with a member of the cast. And in this actor's shitty little fat, with a neon sign for beer just outside the window, I saw the gods.Greybill:
You saw the what?Sinclair:
Ken plays Mungo in Walking Tall. We'd gone to a neighbourhood bar, slurped some suds and walked back to his place. Thunder and a deluge just as we got in.Greybill:
Kenneth crashes out, goodbye and thanks a lot. Just me and the cat and the beer sign after that.Greybill:
Just you and the cat. Go on.Sinclair:
I look at my watch and it's four o'clock. When I look again, it's ten minutes earlier, the second hand's adopted an anticlockwise sweep and it's welcome to psychosis Lasz' you sorry fuck.Greybill:
Xylox. The good shit, right? A Day-Glo-orange tablet with a wee X on it.Sinclair:
The beer sign stops flashing and the cat stops breathing. And I myself am dead, stopped and null like a disused abattoir. And then I see the gods in their hundreds, the brown gods in their thousands. Tier upon tier of them, back and back to infinity, a sort of tessellation of sage brown faces.Greybill:
Sage brown faces, back and back and back.
Marcus was released from the clinic on a grey, humid, drizzly day in April.
By five o'clock that evening, he'd found a suitable fat. The block itself was situated in a sodden little gully of a street.
Behold a tiny kitchen like the galley on a trawler, its stinky black stove petite and personable! Marcus was also beguiled by the rest of the mouldy dump—he'd long aspired to living in just such a windowless bunker: a womb without a view.
'It could do with an airing,' said the woman.
'Who the hell are you?'
'I'm Mrs Sykes. From the floor above.'
'Goodbye, Mrs Sykes.'
Marcus wore his wheat-coloured coat in the Continental manner, leaving the sleeves empty. When the Salvation Army van arrived, he directed operations like a caped gendarme, disposing the junk he'd bought earlier in the day. Mattress, blankets, small cuboidal fridge: these and an armchair were all his possessions now. Well, almost.
He opened his only suitcase. Sandwiched between two of his best shirts, the tastefully gilt-framed oil was small and square; Marcus took the painting from the case and stood it on the seat of the armchair.
'Shall I fetch you down a cuppa?' the Sykes woman asked.
'No. Enough already.'
'You can tell me to mind my own business, but you shouldn't wear jeans with a nice coat like that.'
'Should I not?'
'It's a great mistake, in my opinion. What's your line of work, if you don't mind my asking?'
'I don't know how to take you, I'm sure.'
Marcus lifted a bottle from his suitcase. The poison of his choice was Tattoo, a vodka-and-cranberry cocktail with a red-and-green page 151dragon on the label. Bold, romantic, maritime Marcus!—he swigged a mighty swig of dragons and tattoos, toasting distant Shanghai mentally.
'I don't think much of that painting,' the Sykes person announced.
'You really must stop barging in like this.'
'A country road with bits of snow and mud. There's not much to it, is there?'
'Not much at all. Deliciously.'
'Would I know the artist?'
'I shouldn't think so. His name was Maurice Vlaminck.'
'A motor mechanic by trade, he played the violin in the gypsy orchestras of Montmartre.'
'Derain gives him a pipe. A painter and a poet, was Vlaminck. Billiards he liked, and tennis—and wrestling and cycling and driving racing cars.'
'You seem to know an awful lot about him.'
'In 1945, he published a book called Radios Clandestins.'
'So what are you really? A writer?'
'No no no no no, Mrs Sykes. My name is Marcus Darke and I'm an actor.'
'Like Peter O'Toole and Al Pacino?'
'Like Peter O'Toole and Al Pacino, yes.'
'But have I ever seen you on the telly?'
'I prefer to work on the stage.'
'Mind what you're doing with that bottle! You're slopping your dripper, Mr Darke.'
'So I am. How careless of me. Would you like a snort yourself?'
'I think not, under the circumstances.'
Marcus considered the cold lights in his bottle. 'I prefer to work on the stage, but I don't get the parts anymore. I'm resting, Mrs Sykes, and I have been for some time. I've been resting yes for years and now I'm slopping my dripper, and soon I'm going to throw you out and take my medication.'
'Medication, Mr Darke?'page 152
'"I could be bounded in a nut-shell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams."' 'Nightmares, Mr Darke?' 'But not just at night, Mrs Sykes.'