Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bombs, and bad manners

I just don't get it. Maybe I'm dim, but it seems to me that if I had a political cause I wanted to promote then I probably wouldn't immediatelty reach for the bag of explosives. The latest round of explosive political argument in Indonesia is not only stupid, it's also, well, bad manners.

The idea of slaughtering innocent people to promote your polical or religious cause in time-honoured, of course. Mankind's been doing it for millennia. And it can hardly be described as a bad thing to defend yourself from such hairy-eyed idiots. But what I don't get is why they think it's a really good idea to turn a bunch of of strangers into jellimeat? how is that ever going to helppeople understand or sympathise with their arguments?

Yes, of course they're fanatics. They are incapable of listening to another's point of view. Their way is the only way. They have no tolerance for argument, for nuance, for empathy. They are emotionally and intellectually stunted. Even so, they must have the odd rational moment. I can imagine their boardroom meetings (and, in order to not sound racist, or culturalist, or even istist, I'll name my Terror Executives as B1, B2, B3, and so on. The "B", of course, stands for Bomber.):

B1: Order. The Hairy-Eyed Terror Executive must come to order. Thankyou.

B2: Thanks, B1. Now, like all true Hairy-Eyed believers, I know that it's impewritive that everyone we know, and as well as everyone else, must follow the hairy-Eyed creed. Am I not right?

(General mutterings of yeah, too right, well said B2, etc.

B2: So what I'm suggesting is a nice ad campaign. We'll start of small, and,as funds roll in from new Hairy-Eyes, we'll expand it out so that by the time the World cup comes around we can make a positive statement to the entire world. Remember that 17 billion people will be watching the Grand final, live from Eden Park: a well-placed message there will surely help everyone see us as the serious candidates for world supremacy that we really are.

B7: Nicely put, B2. I have a friend in advertising. She can help us draw up the positive paradigms of our campaign. Put an emotionally uplifting spin on our objectives. It's not much we want, after all: simply world dominance. And who doesn't wnat that for their children, eh?

B1: Hang on, B7. Nice offer, but aren't you forgetting rule 3 (B[iii]IV) of the Hairy-Eyes Charter? The one that says that even before we try winning their hearts and minds, we have to kill a whole bunch of people? I've perrsonally always found that killing strangers has been of enormous benefgit in promoting a cause. Why, when i was in the Jolly Rogers -

B2: (sotto voce) Here we go again, guys*.

B1: We blew up a holden Commodore full of Trappist monks. Worked a btreat. One minute nobody knew about us, the next minute we had a Trappist jam, and the whole world knew of us. Brilliant. Ah, those were the days.

B7: Right, B1, thanks for that. So we bomb the Grand Final, kill a lot of folk, and immediately everyone else in the world will come flocking to our cause? That's the basic argument?

B2: Flocking well said, B7. Calm, rational, didactic. Whatever that means.

*They're always guys.

Dumb. The terrorist in Indonesia are just dumb. Brutally so. Andwe can'tgo easy on them. It's up to Key and his cronies to offer the peoplef Indonesia all the help we can give to stamp these mad buggers out. Remember that Indonesia's the fourth most populous country in the world... and they're our neighbours. It's only good manners to offer to help your biggest neighbours. it's also good politics.

READING: Kelly Armstrong's "Bitten". Hilarious - a modern day feminist werewolf yarn.

LISTENING TO: Ry Cooder's "My Name Is Buddy". Excellent.

WORD OF THE DAY: Polemic. lookiit up.

Time for more Henry, folks!

My Mother, who can be an appalling creature at times, has told me that she thought it was delightful.
My son? Well, I think Adam’s still working it through, but he will get it. Actually, I rather think that he may understand that the shooting was a good thing in its context, but the – hell, how can I expect him to understand it? I barely understand it.
The other first – well, it wasn’t, really. I know that Charlie is dining out on the story of how I told people to go away, yes, all right, to fuck off, and how it was the first time I had ever used “bad” language, but it’s not true. I well recall when I was in the 7th Form at Northbridge High, and we were playing our annual First XV game against the Marist boys, and Bill Townsley, the Marist First-Five coat-hangered me: a rigid forearm against my throat when I was running flat out. I well recall telling him exactly what I thought of him, and it did include the use of that word. In fact, I told him he was a fucking loser.
He apologised later, and we became rather good friends.
Anyway. Where was I? Ah, yes. Oddly enough, Wolf – Charlie’s hubby – helped the whole thing along. The telling the family thing, I mean.
The night seemed endless. Mary and I sat together, and sometimes there’d be a burst of words, sometimes we sat in that silence in which we tell each other so much more than we ever can verbally. Charlie was a brick. She phoned around, eventually getting in touch with Sybil at two in the morning. She made no mention of what was going on, simply told the Sybling she had to be here later in the morning. She made sure everyone was set up to come around at 10.30, 11. See, I had to see Barry Thorndike first thing in the morning. Joe Know had apparently called him and told him that I shouldn’t be interviewed, that taking a statement when I was still groggy from Joseph’s gentle and tireless ministrations would not serve justice at all well. Baz had called Charlie’s cellphone, and together we made an 8.30 appointment.
Q: How did that go? The first police interview?
A: You know, I think I can remember the conversation verbatim. Barry knocked on the door on the stroke of 8.30. He was all very fine in his uniform, with that young C.I.D. plain-clothed copper, one of Charlie’s colleagues at his side. Funny guy: he was hugely embarrassed, and very quiet. Well, initially, anyway. Here’s how it went.

Charlie was rinsing a few dishes at the sink, and making a hell of a din. Her mind was still filled with the thought that she’d be losing Henry. Well, no, it wasn’t guaranteed yet, tomorrow’s appointment up in Auckland would sort that out, but still. And Henry just up and deciding to resign! Well, retire, really. Still, he’s always been good with money. Thank god Wolf’s a he-man with a chequebook and credit card: I was zillions in debt when we got together. Anyway, what’s that bloody noise? Oh. The door. Bloody reporters.
“Coming, hold your dick!” She went to the door, ready to slug the reporter who would be standing there. She opened the door to see the heavy blue uniform with the sparkly little silver bits. Barry Thorndike, her boss. Shit. Hiding behind big Baz was a smaller man, younger, a lad trying to grow a moustache. Brian Gibbs, aka Buster, due to an unfortunate incident involving half a dozen coffee cups at the canteen on his first day.
“Oh. Sorry Sir. Thought you were another blood – another reporter. Is it that time already? Come in, come in,” Christ I’m babbling like a schoolgirl. “Henry’s just having a quick shave, cup of coffee or tea? Hello, Buster. Here to take notes? If you can get something out of our Henry then you’re a better man than I am.”
Brian looks at her, knowing full-well that she can slaughter half the men on the force at arm wrestling. “I’ll never be a better man than you, Sergeant,” he replies.
“How sweet,” she smiles at him, and yes, he is dazzled. She is quite an amazing looking woman.
“Coffee, please,” says her boss. “And you, Gibbs: stop looking at Sergeant Schmidt as though she’s the treasure of the Sierra Madre.”
“Shut your mouth, man: you’re drooling.”
Charlie smiles at Buster Gibbs again, is rewarded with another blush, and heads to the kitchen. Really, it’s too easy.
The Senior Sergeant walks through to the living room, and raises his eyes to the painting beside the fireplace. Barry Thorndike’s been in this home more times than he can count, and he’s seen the decor change on almost a seasonable basis. Mary has always been a firm believer in colour, dammit: the beiges and taupes of this world were not, and will not be an option! White, maybe: in fact, she had once tricked out the entire interior of the house flat white – but changed it the moment she saw the same thing on “Miami Vice.”
But one thing remained the same, and that was by Henry’s firm dictum, made more than twenty years ago:
“I don’t care what you do to the rest of the house, my dear, but there are two things I must put my foot down about. One: you leave my study alone. It is for my pleasure, and my pleasure alone, and if I want a brown study, then a brown study I shall have!”
She dabbed some lime-green paint on the end of his nose, and said “I hear and obey, my lord and master!”
“Cheeky wench. I’ll lord and master you.”
“Oh, please!”
“Hmph. And second, that picture must remain there. Please?”
The painting in question is a large piece, perhaps 1700 mill high, 800 wide, and is an early-and-middle-and-late Mary Talbot full-length self-portrait. It is the first piece she gave Henry, and it had arrived on his doorstep in his third year at Victoria. At the time she had signed it “Mary Talbot.”

“Use your own name, Mary. Your own name.”
“I’ll use the name of my love,” she replied. And dazzled him with her smile.

The painting in question is one of two things – well, maybe three - of Henry’s that Barry is desperately jealous of. The other is his collection of single-malt whiskies, maintained at an even thirty bottles, all opened, all tasted, all appreciated. And we’ll leave Mary out of the rest of this equation, despite her membership.
Henry limped into the room, carrying a tray with coffee and buttered toast. He set them down on the table, and poured three cups. Not a word was spoken. Henry knows all too well that Barry needs time with the painting, and respects that time. After all, Henry himself still got lost in it several times a week, even after all these years.
Barry Thorndike drew in a deep breath, sighed, and said “A spot of milk today, if you’d be so kind, Henry.”
“Already done, Baz.”
Gibbs nearly choked. Baz! There’s someone in this world who called The Boss “Baz”? And it’s this bloke! I mean, look at him. All right, a big fellow, obviously fit, but a face that’s as plain and bland as Mum’s vege broth. Nondescript hair, bit of a nancy wave in it, green corduroy trousers! Who wears green corduroy trousers, hell, any corduroy trousers, these days? I’ll bet he’s got one of those tweed jackets with bits of leather on the elbows. And oh good grief, a red and blue-check flannel shirt. Still, they do say heroes come in all manner of shapes and sizes, and he did stop an armed man, getting himself shot in the process.
“And you would be?” Henry asked, with a gentle smile.
“Eh? Oh, sorry, Sir, I’m Brian Gibbs. My friends – including your sister, call me Buster.”
“Well, I hope you’ll extend the privilege to me – Buster.” Henry held out his hand, and Buster Gibbs took it. Christ all bloody mighty! The man’s got a grip of iron. Buster looked a little deeper at Henry, and saw something he hadn’t expected. Something feral. Something with a wicked grin. This can’t have been the same man The Boss had talked about on their way over here.
“Right,” said Thorndike. “I’ll be talking with Mary a little later, Henry. But I need to have a few words with you first. You OK with this?”
Henry sighs. He knows he must do this, but he desperately doesn’t want to. Actually, a part of him is intrigued: he’s never had any dealings with Baz as a copper before, and he’s an entirely different man. “Yes,” says Henry to the stranger in the blue uniform. “Yes, let’s get it done.”
Thorndike looks at Henry closely, and turns to the junior officer. “Gibbs, start the recorder. Good lad. This is an interview conducted on Wednesday June 4th, the time is 8.37, I’m Senior Sergeant Barry M. Thorndike, with me is Detective Constable Brian Gibbs, no middle initial, and we’re talking to?” He invites the answer.
“Henry Talbot, Baz. The one and only Henry Talbot.”
The tape, when you hear it now, has a long pause at this junction. Then it carries on.
“Are you all right, Henry? You don’t seem to be quite yourself.”
“Of course I’m not myself, Baz. I’ve been shot. I am holey, I have been perforated, a perfectly good suit has been ruined, you can bet that the insurance company won’t pay out for it, my car’s headlamp, almost irreplaceable now, has been thoroughly buggered up, I slept very little last night, and I have an important family conference happening here very soon. So, if you’d be so kind as to ask me your Constabulatory questions, we’ll get this whole business done with so I can carry on with my life.”

Six months, Henry thought.

He said, “buggered up,” Barry Thorndike thought. How extraordinary.
“How’s your coffee, young Buster?” asked Henry.
“Oh, good, Sir. Thanks.”
“Call me Hank, there’s a good little Detective Constable.”
Hank? “Yes, Sir,” quaked the boy.
Thorndike took over. “Right, let’s keep this official then, shall we? Now, can you describe, in your own words, what happened yesterday?”
“In my own words, Baz? As opposed to, say, Mahatma Ghandi’s words? And what part of the day. Come on man, be specific! You’re a gentrified Copper, worked hard to get where you are, got a good mind, stop waffling.”
“Eh?” It must be, what do they call it, Post Stress Syndrome.
“Oh, forget it. Look: I left Joe Know’s little house of horrors,” six months, he thought, “ and crossed the road to 1: get some cash, and 2: get my car. I had just hauled three hundred bucks out of the infernal machine, the ATM, not my car, when I heard a bang, saw a hole appear in the bank window, then this chap came barrelling out and shot a monitor camera thing, so I flung my money in the air, he watched it, I hit him, the gun went off with a surprisingly small bang –“
“That’s when he shot you, Sir?” Young Buster.
“No, I didn’t say that. I said the gun went off. It is, yes, when I was struck by the bullet, but I can’t say that he shot me.”
“But you were shot.” Barry Thorndike is wondering just what has happened to his old friend. In fact, Barry is three years older than Henry, but has always looked on Henry as being the older man. Now, he’s concerned. Henry’s behaviour is not the behaviour of Henry. And what’s this Hank business?
“But not purposely, Baz. I’m sure that it wasn’t done with any malice. If you charge that young man, whoever it was, with malicious wounding, I’ll haunt you so you die young and white-haired.”
“Hmph. You’ll outlive me, Henry. And you know who it was.”
“Nothing is guaranteed, Baz. Not any more. Now, remember, I was in shock, having found myself in the unaccustomed position of being a shootee. Yes, I removed the young man’s mask, but I was in a swoon, having been overcome with the vapours, and I couldn’t swear to his identity.”
“We’ve got him all right, Sir,” Buster says. “James Fletcher. He had gunpowder residue on his hands, three very nice bruises coming up where you socked him, and a sack full of money that wasn’t his.”
“A bit of a giveaway, that,” said Henry. “Nonetheless, I can’t and shan’t swear to anything.”
“How is your leg, Sir?”
“Ha!” said Henry. “Now there’s a thing, young Buster. Baz here, who’s been a good friend of mine for more years than he can count, didn’t ask me that. You want to know why?”
“Because Baz can only think of two things when he’s coming up my driveway: my whisky, and The Painting.” Henry pointed to the portrait.
“It is quite remarkable, Sir.”
“You know, Buster, I’ve a good mind to leave it to you in my will. Just to get up your boss’s nose.”
“That’s enough, Henry,” snapped Thorndike. He is thoroughly irritated now. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but a screw’s come loose somewhere along the line. Switch the tape off, Gibbs. Henry – do you mind if I speak with Mary? In private?”
“Oh Barry.” Henry’s sigh had the breath of a thousand years behind it. He suddenly sounds exhausted, as though he were insubstantial., thin and wraithlike. “Oh, Barry. Yes, go ahead.”

The recording stops here, but a careful listener (and there have been quite a few) will hear the quiver in Henry’s voice. Barry left the room, in search of Mary, and Henry leaned back, seemingly exhausted. Gibbs looked at him with some concern: the older man’s face was pale, and his eyes were closed.
“Sir? Are you all right?”
Henry’s eyes snapped open. “Yes, fine. Sorry, Buster. I suppose events got on top of me a bit.”
“I can imagine, Sir.”
Henry looked at the young Detective. Was I ever this young, he wondered? The lad can’t have been any more than 22 or 23. The lines at Henry’s eyes crinkled when he watched where the boy’s attention kept wandering.
“Actually, Buster, you can’t. And I hope you never will be able to. But never mind. Now, while the good Senior Sergeant’s busy grilling my wife, what would you like to talk about? Hm? Carry on the in-depth interrogation?”
“Well, actually, Sir –“
“Oh, do call me Hank.”
“Right. Sir. What I wanted to know about is – “
“The painting?” There was a small smile on Henry’s face, and Buster Gibbs later swore that Henry Talbot’s face glowed when he turned to the portrait.
“Yes, Sir. The painting.”

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