Sunday, June 17, 2012
When Lonergin arrived at the Fallon airport he hired a taxi to drive him to the hotel in the center of town. From what he could see out the cab window it seemed an average little mill town, tucked into a fold in the foothills and surrounded by lush green meadows and verdant forest. A tributary river, carrying runoff from that section of the foothills some five hundred kilometers to where it flowed into the big river running north, split the town into two equal sections. Strangely the houses along the banks seemed the same as those farther in. “Where are the houses of the rich?” he asked the cabbie.
“Ten Kilometers north,” replied the cabbie.
“Out of town?”
“O yes,” said the cabbie. “Taxes.”
“And outside on the south?” asked Lonergin.
“That’s where I live. Can you guess?” The back of the cabbies hand resting on the steering wheel was brown. Darker in the summer perhaps but even in deep winter it would be brown.
“I don’t have to,” said Lonergin. The cabbie laughed. “There are small farms out there, going way back. With a little farming and occasional work in town, people survive.”
“And the mill?”
“Only town people work at the mill.” The mill, out of town and to the west, was hidden by series of small hills. These hills protected the town from the stench in all weather excepting that blowing a direct east wind and that was rare. Today the wind was from the northwest and all you could smell was freshly cut grass, moist air carrying the scent of water from the river and the rich forest smell coming from the fully leafed trees both in the town itself and the woods surrounding.
Lonergin felt a little depressed. In the past ten years he had been in so many of these little towns and they were all similar, all depressingly the same. He came, unannounced, with a briefcase full of authorizations, his mind full of barked verbal orders from his superiors, to put out fires, to squeeze things down so they wouldn’t cause problems, so everything would appear normal, happy, running with the smooth precision of oiled machinery. Lately he found himself doing his job with all his usual cool efficiency but his heart wasn’t in it. In the fall he would apply for a transfer. When the leaves came down he would get an internal job, stay in the city and perhaps revive a few of the hobbies he had abandoned years ago.
When they retrieved his bags from the trunk the cabbie offered to carry them but Lonergin waved him off. The cabbie shrugged and Lonergin paid, him adding on a generous tip. He didn’t like other people carrying his bags. He could bloody well carry them himself. He wasn’t a Lord or a rich magnate, just a bureaucrat and a rather lowly one at that. But when he checked in at the desk he allowed the skinny young bellhop to carry his bags to the elevator and then into his room. How would the poor bastard make a living otherwise? The bellhop’s skin was brown too and he had a long, thin, elegant nose you would think would be perched on the face of an English aristocrat. Perhaps it was. There were a lot of remittance men out this way in the old days.
“Do you live in town?” he asked.
“On a farm to the south.”
“Some. Pigs and chickens too and a big garden.”
“Is there money in that?”
“Not much but there’s food in it. We eat well.”
“Well, that’s half the battle, isn’t it?’
“Yes it is, sir.”
Lonergin tipped him three times the going rate and the boy left smiling. They never queried his expense accounts. If he had a larcenous mind he could have made lots of money out of it but he couldn’t see any reason to bother. He made far more than he spent, the excess going into investments handled by a brother-in-law. Very conservative, very balanced investments, half of it government bonds. He already had enough to live in some warm country for the rest of his natural life, so why bother skulking about to pile up even more? His wife was a bureaucrat too. She made more than he did. The kids were grown and into lucrative professions, one a medical specialist, the other a businessman. It was ludicrous really. Money came to them like they were sponges absorbing water.
He watched a movie before going to bed. A space opera. Formulaic, granted, but well done with good actors and a good script. He was happy when the corner was turned and the good guys won without too much bloody annihilation. When it was over he read his book for an hour and went to bed.
The meeting was set up on a phone call from the Big Boss in the city. That’s the way it was always done. It sent a message to whomever that lack of cooperation would bring out the big guns, that the investigator was the voice of power and authority. Lonergin was grateful for this method of procedure. It meant he didn’t have to convince anyone of anything. He just had to ask questions.
The mayor was a rolly poly man. He sat behind a gargantuan desk in an oversized chair, behind him a window overlooking the river. He wore a three piece suit, tailor made, containing enough material for two or three lesser men. He was telling Lonergin his version of the history of the town, the usual highly edited edition told by mayors, full of mercantile wonders and heroic members of the Chamber of Commerce. Lonergin was an old pro at listening to this sort of thing. He listened with one part of his mind while another part wandered about the back streets looking for other faces and other stories. He thought of the bellhop. He thought of the cabbie. He thought of the woman who served him bacon and eggs in the hotel restaurant. He thought of the young woman who knocked on his door just before he went to bed and asked him if he would like to have ‘a good time’. He didn’t. Professional sex was far too sad an affair for him to find pleasure in.
The mayor was a verbose but ignorant man. His language never rose above the deep fried rhetoric of tourist brochures and town council resolutions. His syntax was tortured, his thought without leaven and he was totally humourless. His smile never touched his eyes and not a single thing he said had even the slightest whiff of the genuine to it. He took himself very seriously and assumed through a fog of ponderous, bright, highly upbeat projections, that everyone else did so as well. In short he was a pompous ass. But Lonergin neither liked nor disliked him. To him the mayor was like a cow in a field chewing her cud, with the exception that the cow, as lowly as many might see her to be in the hierarchy of creation, was at least engaged in the performance of an act having behind it the full force of her animal nature. When the Mayor came to a pause in what Lonergin judged to be a far too long oration, which, if allowed to continue, would not only consume the morning but poison it as well, he broke in.
“Is there a union at the mill?”
“No,” said the Mayor. His face took on an expression of deep displeasure as if while speaking with a man he had assumed to be a sympathetic gentleman, it had suddenly been revealed to him that he was conversing with an unsavory character.
“Not so unusual in this day and age, is it?”
“People around here settle things through the family.”
“We like to think of the town as one big family.”
“You may like to think of it that way but is it true?”
“I think so.”
Lonergin took his eyes away from the mayor’s face and looked out the window. It was mid morning. The bright sun was lighting up the surface of the river in a great display of sparkling and reflection. He studied this for a while. The mayor was pretending to look at the papers on his desk but he was really studying him surreptitiously to see what was coming next. Without removing his eyes from the river Lonergin asked, “Did they tell you why I am here?’
“Yes.” the mayor replied.
“Five young men murdered within a single year. Rather unusual, isn’t it? Perhaps you have an opinion on the subject?”
“Not really,” said the mayor.
“OK, if you don’t have an opinion on that subject perhaps you have one on another. Five young men murdered and yet no one charged. In fact, according to the reports forwarded by your Chief of Police, not only are there no charges but there seems to be no evidence or suspects either.”
“The police do the best they can. We don’t have the big bucks out here like they do where you come from.”
“O, I don’t know,” said Lonergin. “On my walk from the hotel it seemed to me that this is a prosperous little town.”
“And it stays that way by not wasting money on useless investigations.”
“Useless? Isn’t that a strange word to apply to a murder investigation?”
“Well, perhaps useless isn’t the right word. What I mean is we have limited resources and we must use them judiciously.”
“Yet surely you are aware that in a situation like this you can apply to the central government for extra funds. Five murders in a single year for a town this size would almost certainly qualify. Yet you haven’t applied. Perhaps you could tell me why?”
“If a gang of thugs outside the town want to kill one another why should we waste money getting too excited about it?”
“So you think the murders were committed by outsiders against outsiders.”
“My Chief tells me that’s where the body’s were found.”
“Bodies can be moved, Mr. Mayor.”
“The Chief tells me they were killed where they were found.”
“Did he? It seemed to me from the reports that that was a matter of opinion rather than investigative fact. In the reports there seemed to be a great scarcity of investigative fact, almost as if the Chief didn’t have time to find any.”
“Well, he is a busy man.”
“And you too are a busy man, Mayor.”
“Good. Then you will be pleased when I tell you that an investigative team arrives tomorrow to give you a hand. To take over the investigation in fact. When do you come into the office in the morning, Mr. Mayor?”
“Keep the first hour open then for the team. For the next two weeks or so.”
“Well, I don’t know…”
“Do what you like then. If they want to speak to you they will simply walk in and order anyone present to leave. It’s up to you.”
“Well of course then. I’ll keep it open.”
When Lonergin reached the door he opened it and turned. “Why are you convinced these murders are revenge, the settling of debts, whatever, among the outside people?”
“They are lawless ruffians. None of them have a pot to piss in. You always find high murder rates among those kind of people.”
“Then why is it,” asked Lonergin, “that before these five murders, for a period going back twenty years, was there not a single murder among them?”
“These things go up and down,” said the Mayor. Lonergin stepped into the outer office and closed the door.
The Police Chief, in contrast to the mayor, was an exceedingly thin man. So much so that at first Lonergin thought he might be ill with a wasting disease. When the investigative team arrived he had them look into it. The Chief was actually in robust health. Apparently even as a young man he had been cadaverously thin. He had a sad face filled with successive lines of rumpled skin. There was a blue black bag under each eye. He had a long, thin nose which reminded Lonergin of the plows the old people used to turn sod. His eyes were round like saucers, watery and pale blue and surprisingly kind and sympathetic, surprisingly to Lonergin for he had expected something else. He sat behind a modest wooden desk with not a thing on it but a small bowl of jelly beans. From this bowl, every few minutes or so he took a few jellybeans and popped them into his mouth. He offered the bowl to Lonergin, as a substitute, perhaps, for a glass of scotch. The Chief didn’t drink. To be sociable Lonergin took a few and tossed them into his mouth. They were truly delicious jellybeans.
“The reports, Chief.”
“Are lousy, I know.”
Lonergin was taken aback. The chief smiled. “You didn’t expect that, did you?”
“They were done by a Lieutenant on the Mayor’s orders. I just signed them.”
“You could have refused.”
“I have seven children. They eat. But I also have a conscience. It eats too if you don’t pay attention. There are sub reports, you might call them, put away where only I know where to find them. They are not much better than the official reports for almost no follow up was done. The bereaved were interviewed for form’s sake. There were no suspects because the Lieutenant was ordered not to look for any. But there is some physical evidence which didn’t go into the official reports and a much better detailing of the condition of the bodies - when they were found, time, place etc.”
“Autopsies? I didn’t see any reports in the files.”
“That’s because none were done. I know that’s illegal but the town refused to authorize payment for them.”
“And the bodies now?”
“Cremated a week after death.”
“Christ. Did the relatives give permission?”
“No. It was just done. But in my reports there is a very accurate summation of the condition of the bodies, the immediate surroundings, approximate time of death and some physical evidence.”
“Shell casings. A footprint in one case. Threads of fabric in the victim’s hand in another. I gathered all that surreptitiously, sometimes going back to the scene at night when no one was there.”
“Because I wasn’t in charge of the investigation.”
“Who was then?”
“The Mayor and the Lieutenant. The Lieutenant is the Mayor’s son-in-law.”
The Chief rose from his desk to pour them coffee. When he placed the full cups on the desk Lonergin asked him. “Who and why?”
The Chief popped in a few more jellybeans. “I really don’t know, at least in a concrete evidence based sort of way. I have hunches. I have intuitive leaps. I have educated guesses. But I don’t have knowledge.”
“Give me some of your educated guesses, then.”
“OK.” The Chief opened a desk drawer and took out a package of cigarettes. “Mind if I smoke?” he asked.
“No.” said Lonergin.
He lit the cigarette with an old time zippo lighter. He reached out with a long leg and pulled over the waste basket for an ashtray.
“Two years ago the outsiders figured they were not being given a very good deal. Low class jobs. None on the police force. In fact not a single one as an employee of the town. And none at the mill. That’s were the real money is. Even a labourer at the mill, with overtime, makes as much money as I do. I suppose they figured if they didn’t do something it would go on that way for ever. So they decided to do something. They looked around them and came to a conclusion – a very intelligent conclusion but also very dangerous. The outsiders come into town to buy everything – food, hardware, booze, building supplies, farm supplies, everything. There are ten thousand people in the town but the outsider population is perhaps twice that amount. Some of the younger one’s who had been away to the university decided to set up a co-op. They held meetings and started the process of registering the co-op with the central government. Apparently they planned to set up a general store carrying practically everything. With volunteer labour they started to renovate an old barn about twenty klicks from here. They were about half done when the first murder occurred but they kept going. After two and three things slowed down to a crawl and after the fourth, a particularly grisly torture murder, they stopped altogether. It’s still out there on the 1169 if you want to take a look. Some say it would have been burned down but the outsiders, at least I’ve been told so, guard it around the clock carrying shotguns.”
“So that’s why. Now who?”
“The Mayor’s son-in-law. But he is on a leash and the holding end of the leash is held by the Mayor and four or five of his pals. Now I say this and am 99% sure of it but there is absolutely no proof that will stand up in a court of law. The bodies are gone. No autopsies. The physical evidence I gathered will never convict anyone. It might give an intelligent investigator who knows the situation a good idea of what happened but it will never convict anybody. But I doubt if it will matter anyway.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because they tortured the last guy before they killed him. Somebody gave the family pictures of the body before it was cremated and a detailed list of its wounds. The outsiders are on the bottom end of the social scale but that doesn’t mean they are stupid. They have their clods like all groups of people do but there are many among them who are resourceful, ingenuous and intelligent. What would you do if someone tortured your son, killed him and then set it up so they could not get caught?”
Lonergin didn’t say anything.
“You know what you would do but you just don’t want to say you being a law abiding government official. You know what you would do, don’t you?”
Lonergin took a long time to reply but the Chief waited patiently. Finally he said. “Yes. I know what I would do.”
“Well, I think that’s what the outsiders are going to do.”
The team arrived the next day and set to work. The Chief gave them the sub reports and drove them around the gravel roads to interview the victims’ familiars. They worked for three weeks out of a room in the Police Station. But it was as the Chief had predicted. They arrived at a fairly accurate picture of what happened but had no evidence which would stand up in a court of law. The Lieutenant and a suspected cohort had lawyers at their interviews and said practically nothing. The Mayor refused to be interviewed and without solid evidence they couldn’t force it. The Mayor’s pals were even farther away. They were ghosts moving across the far edge of a field in the twilight. The team wrapped up its work and flew back to the city to file its report. Lonergin decided to stay another day.
He was woken by the phone beside his bed at five in the morning. “This is Phil Gillis,” the voice on the other end of the line said, “the Chief. There’s a body at 506 Compton you should take a look at. I’ll send a car.”
When the car arrived Lonergin was in the Lobby. First light was beginning on the eastern horizon but the town was still dark. When they came to the house the Chief was on the porch smoking a cigarette. There were two police cars in the driveway and the Identification van was at the curb. When Lonergin came up the stair the Chief, sitting in a lawn chair, offered the empty one nearby with a gesture of his left hand. Lonergin sat down.
“It’s the Lieutenant, of course,” said the Chief.
“Right,” said Lonergin.
“Do you want to go in and see?”
“Did you ever see this sort of thing before?”
“Once or twice.”
“Probably not like this though. They were vengeful. People have nightmares for two years after seeing something like this. A lot of times it doesn’t even hit people for two or three weeks. It takes time to sink in. Then they wake up at night hollering, covered in sweat. Still want to see?” Lonergin shook his head.
“You are a wise man. There are enough terrible things we have to see in this world without volunteering for more. I look because I’m a cop. I have no choice. When I was young I should have went into the gardening business with my uncles but at the time I had fool ignorant notions about noble heroes and so on. By the time I realized they were fool and ignorant it was too late. Five kids and twins on the way. I should have worked flower beds and used contraception.”
Two identification officers came out of the house carrying plastic cases. They walked over to the van, loaded the cases and drove away.
The Chief waved his cigarette towards the departing van. “They’ll find a few things. They are pretty good and they always do. But it won’t be of any use. There won’t be anyone to match it to. The guys who did this are already gone. We will ask questions but no one will answer them. Remind you of another situation? That’s just what it will be like.”
“Won’t it matter that he was a cop?”
“Not really. There will be a little of that but not much. Everyone in the force hated his guts. They all thought him a sadistic son of a bitch. He would have been fired years ago if he wasn’t the Mayor’s son-in-law. He was killed because he deserved it. Just about nobody who knows anything about all this will really care if the killers are never caught.”
“What did they do to him?”
“Probably when he got off shift yesterday morning at eight and climbed into his car they knocked him out with something. He lived in this house alone. How could anyone live with a man like that? They drove him home and into the garage. He always kept the door opener on the dash of the car. Took him down into the basement and strung him up by his hands with his feet a few inches off the floor. They duct taped his mouth. When he woke up first they castrated him. They duct taped his genitals onto his forehead. Then they shot out first his ankle joints, then his knees, then his hips, then his elbows and then his shoulders. They let him hang there for a while I suppose then they shot him through the head three times.”
“Just like the last outsider.”
“Just like the last outsider.”
“What a horrible way to die.”
“And what a horrible way to make someone die.”
The murder of the Lieutenant terrified the suspected cohort. He left town and then, after some sober afterthought, never came back. But the Mayor refused to leave. The Chief provided him with a twenty four hour bodyguard. “Do your best but don’t get too close to him. Do you know what I mean?” he told the guards and they all nodded. Even the dull witted ones nodded.
Lonergin was back in the capital when the Mayor was killed. It was on a September day with a nice fresh breeze coming in the window one of the night cleaning staff left open. When the Mayor arrived he found it so refreshing that he decided not to close it. They shot him through the window with a 222, a rifle with a flat trajectory, and as the window was open, there was no glass imperfections or glare to cause sighting problems for the shooter. The shot was well aimed. The slug entered the back of his head at the joint of the spine and the skull. The slug was hollow point. It broke into four parts rattling around the inside of his skull chewing up his brain as if it had been placed in a blender. The Mayor wasn’t the sort of man to have regrets. This was just as well for the way it turned out he was given no time to have them.
There is a co op now operating on the 1169. It does a good business. Most of its customers are outsiders but it does a sprinkling of business from townies who come out for the bargains. There are now two outsider police officers and three outsiders have just started to work at the mill.
Lonergin decided not to tell his wife about the details of the murders. So when he began to wake at night hollering, flailing his arms about, he told her it was the return of childhood nightmares. After the third night of this she demanded he go to a psychologist and he did. The psychologist, who considered himself to be a radical shaman type of healer, told him he was a spoilt bureaucrat, a soft and useless creature and thus easy prey for malignant furies. He suggested Lonergin sell his sailboat and give the money to the poor. As Lonergin did not have a sailboat he was unable to follow this advice. Instead he bought a membership in a gym and took up weight lifting. After three months of pumping iron the nightmares went away and he was able to leave the guestroom and rejoin his wife in the connubial bed.
Chief Gillis retired early, a year after the Mayor’s murder. He and his family moved to a farm outside town where they breed sheep and Lamas. At first the kids complained bitterly but they stopped when their mother bought them three horses and they started to play hockey with the outsider kids on the local pond. The new co -op is just down from their farm which pleases the Chief for since his retirement he doesn’t like going into town. He finds the streets too crowded and the faces too innocent and imbecilic. Saturday mornings the Chief can be seen at the coop hovering his hawk’s nose above the tool displays while his wife does the grocery shopping. Saturday afternoons he sits on his front verandah drinking coca cola and eating jelly beans. Old friends from town, out for a drive in the country, sometimes join him there along with people from around the neighbourhood. Everybody gets along. Sometimes they even sit down together at the Chief’s table for supper and have a delicious meal of fresh pork and garden vegetables.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Marriage Arising from Intellectual Speculation
Gregor wrote metaphysical poetry. He had begun writing it at the age of sixteen due to an excess of eros combined with a Catholic upbringing. He didn’t want to write metaphysical poetry; rather he would have infinitely preferred to write love poetry or poetry celebrating the lush earth or political poetry, anything other than metaphysical poetry which was completely out of fashion, and, to many, a sign of weakness of mind. But he couldn’t help himself. Try as he might to write other kinds of poetry it always turned out metaphysical. This disgusted him so much that for several years in his thirties and forties he wrote no poetry at all and in fact swore to all his friends he would never write another line. But he was spitting into a powerful wind. Regardless of his own opinions on the matter he came back to writing poetry and the poetry was metaphysical.
At one time, in his thirties, he worked out a theory that time would break him of the habit eventually and a new type of poetry would emerge. Time, he told himself, robs us of our illusions and surely his biggest illusion was the existence of something above the physical. He was willing to admit that something mixed in with the physical was possible, even probable, but above was ridiculous. But this theory of his turned out untrue. At the age of sixty, when he retired from his ragtag patchwork of small jobs –apartment caretaker, proofreader for a German newspaper, unpaid editor for a magazine publishing metaphysical poetry, newspaper vendor and so on – he said to himself, “Well, now that is all done, thank goodness.” But it wasn’t. After a brief hiatus of writing two detective novels filled with metaphysical speculations, but no poetry, he began once again on his lifelong obsession with writing metaphysical poetry. Finally, at the age of sixty-three, after thinking seriously about throwing himself into the river, he woke one day filled with what was at first was a bitter but then a hopeful acceptance of his lot. For some strange reason he had been born to write metaphysical poetry and any more rebellion on his part would be fruitless and sterile. He had finally come to the point where he accepted his fate.
“There is no such thing as fate!” said Andrew in response to his explanation of the above process.
“So there is no DNA then?” replied Gregor.
“DNA and fate are two completely different things.”
“No they aren’t,” said Rudolf. “They are two different words, yes, but they mean much the same thing.”
“Nonsense,” said Andrew. “The idea that we are preprogrammed, that we merely act out the instructions of The Great Computer, is pernicious.”
“But neither fate nor DNA implies that, Andrew,” said Gregor. “What you are speaking of is the old Calvinist view of predestination. There is no reason why you can’t have fate interacting with individual initiative. Surely that is a maturer vision than a romantic notion of Great Prometheus or the Hero Totally Self Determined. Even our common sense tells us that many things are laid down for us. And then there is the whole question of culture which influences how our minds move, what kind of questions we ask. We can’t dismiss all this and claim a separated existence in a vacuum.”
“Granted there are a lot of things laid down,” said Gregor. “I’m not arguing there isn’t but I am saying there is still a huge area where our own initiative has great play.”
They argued on like this for some time until Rudolf grew extremely bored and offered to buy everyone tea and cinnamon buns if they would agree to change the topic. It was just before the end of the month and Gregor and Andrew, broke and hungry, agreed immediately.
The buns were heated and when Rudolf brought them to the table they slavered them with butter, ate enthusiastically and washed it all down with hot tea. Behind the counter Fritz was rubbing his hands at selling something extra to the ‘three grumblers’ as he called them privately, who seldom bought anything but three cups of tea over which they spent entire afternoons arguing. Occasionally one of the grumblers would hit the jackpot and buy a tray of deli sandwiches but this only happened once or twice a year. In the winter, especially a cold one, he doubted if they paid for their share of the heat, the old freeloaders. He called them grumblers because they always seemed to be complaining about something. They complained about the present state of literature. They complained about politics. They complained about the crappy books being published of late. The only thing they didn’t complain about was the weather. The weather, whatever it was, was always fine to them. If it was raining that was great. If the sun was shining that was fine too. If it was cold it was invigorating, bracing. If hot, it was just the kind of diauretic old men needed. They were radical acceptors of the weather. About everything else they complained.
Yet Fritz didn’t mind their complaining. On the whole the place was rather dead. People sat lined up one at a table staring at their computer screens lost in the la la land of cyberspace. Sometimes the café was totally filled with these kind of people and there was not a single conversation. But when the three grumblers showed up they shook the place up. They knew many of the patrons and teased them mercilessly. They sat in a corner near the window and talked so loudly you could follow their conversation from the other side of the café. The screen addicts glanced at them irritably. If the professor was at his usual table with a crony or two he literally growled at them. Rudolf growled back. “How are you doing you old hypocrite?” Rudolf shouted across the tables at him. “Have the police been around to pick you up yet?”
The professor showed his yellow tombstones to indicate he could take a joke which was untrue but socially necessary. At least once a month he dreamed of murdering Rudolf in a gruesome way. Once he slowly lowered him into a vat of acid. Another time he tossed him off the roof of a high rise. During each murder Rudolf admitted the error of his ways and pleaded for mercy but the professor was relentless.
Asking if the police had come round to pick up the professor was ironically ridiculous, for if there was a man less likely to be sought by the police than the professor it was hard to imagine whom he would be. Other than the occasional lapse with women and that a matter of impious propositioning rather than illegality, the professor was scrupulously law abiding. He had a reverence for authority which leaned towards preferring absolutist government over what he considered to be inefficient, squabbling democracy. Rudolf’s anarchism, to the professor, was dangerously disrespectful of duly constituted authority and unpatriotic. If the old standards had not ‘gone by the boards’, as the professor phrased it, Rudolf would have long ago, along with his black flag friends, been put in jail on meager rations until he came to his senses. Why he was allowed to move about in respectable society spreading his poisons was beyond him. He had spoken several times to Fritz about barring such persons from the café but Fritz just laughed. “I don’t care what they think as long as they eat and drink,” he said. Fritz didn’t care much about ideas and political struggles but he liked Rudolf who was lively and jolly. The professor, on the other hand, was morose. He had much of the undertaker to him - a presbyterian dead pan seriousness. When the professor laughed it was from reasons of policy. He hadn’t laughed out of a sense of delight for more than fifty years.
After buns and tea the old friends decided to go for a walk. The café was close to the river and along this section there was a paved path. They strolled along the path for a kilometer and then sat down on one of the benches in a grassy area leading down to the water. They sat on the bench for some time in silent companionship. Just beyond them there were two young men casting out into midstream. On the grass beside them were three silver coloured fish. They must have been caught some time ago for they were dead and still. Above them stretched enormous cottonwoods, fully canopied and spreading about them a delicious coolness.
After they had sat for five minutes without saying a word, two young women came along the path. They were wearing long cotton dresses and sunhats for the day was hot and the sun full. One of the young women walked slightly ahead of the other. The two did not even glance at the men on the bench and seemed to be about to pass them by when the last in line suddenly stopped and turned to face them. She looked at them with an intensity which seemed out of place for such a casual encounter between a young woman and three older men on a bench. Her companion also stopped. She said something to her which the men could not make out. The young woman made a brisk gesture with her right hand as if to brush her off. Then she walked up to where the men were sitting and said, “Are you all married?” She had a slight Spanish accent but the words were enunciated clearly and the friends had no trouble understanding what she asked them.
Andrew answered, perhaps because in his job he dealt with marriages and young women, and it seemed to him most natural that he do so. First he smiled, a generous wide smile half professional, half arising from his usual overflowing spirits. “Why do you ask?” he said.
The young woman considered this question for a moment. Then she said, “I need a husband to stay in the country. Otherwise they will send me back. If I am sent back they will kill me.”
“Where is back?” asked Rudolf.
“And who will kill you?”
“The gangsters. Or maybe even the police who are bribed by the gangsters. My husband was assassinated. He was a drug dealer. I managed to escape and come here but now they are going to send me back. The lawyer says if I can find someone to marry me then I can apply under a different section and will be allowed to stay.”
“How do you know that if you go back they will kill you?” asked Gregor.
“That’s the way they do things. They kill the man and the wife too.”
During this question and answer the other young woman came up behind her companion and said, “Please excuse her, sirs. She is distraught. Up until now she has been able to restrain herself. This is the first time she has approached strangers.”
The second young woman reached out and took the first’s hand and tried pulling her away but the first ignored her. She stood her ground and kept looking at the men.
“I need friends,” she said. “I need someone to help me.”
“But I am your friend, Estanza,” said the other young woman.
“Yes you are but you can’t marry me. I need a man to marry me.”
“This requires further investigation,” said Rudolf. “And this is not the place to do it. Not far from here there is a Vietnamese restaurant. Let’s go there and have lunch. During lunch we can talk.”
At the restaurant they had lunch and talked for an hour and a half. The friends decided than Estanza was telling the truth. They considered it their duty to find her a husband.
“What kind of a husband do you want?” asked Andrew.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Estanza. “As long as he is free to marry and healthy enough to stand up during the ceremony.” She laughed.
“What I mean is,” said Andrew, “Do you want us to look for a real husband or is it to be a marriage of convenience.”
“What is a marriage of convenience?” asked Estanza.
“Real legally so that you can be landed but you don’t live with the man and when things are settled you can get a divorce.”
“I guess one of those then,” said Estanza. “There isn’t enough time for me to find one I would want to live with.”
The friends told the two women to meet them at the restaurant at same time two days from now. They figured by then they would have found a husband. Julia, Estanza’s friend, a cousin who had immigrated as a child, gave Andrew her address and phone number and they went off.
“Do you have anyone in mind?” Andrew asked Rudolf.
“There are a number of old anarchists who might step into the gap.”
Gregor had several bachelor friends, one of whom might be willing to assist them. Andrew had three old gentlemen in his congregation he would ask. They agreed to meet for breakfast the day after tomorrow.
Rudolf, being the most solvent among them, insisted on paying for the breakfast and later for lunch at the Vietnamese restaurant. They ate breakfast in a tiny place just down from the café.
“So?” said Andrew.
“I asked three of the old anarchists I thought might be willing but they all said no,” said Rudolf. “They claimed they were old and set in their ways. ‘What does that have to do with it?’ I asked them. ‘All you have to do is mumble a few ritual phrases and go home.’ But no they said, they were too old to get mixed up with women and complicated arrangements.”
“Last night I went to visit my three bachelors,” said Gregor. “It was the same with them. They didn’t want to get involved. The woman might come after their pension. There might be complications. The immigration people might accuse them of fraud and they would have to hire lawyers.”
“Well,” said Andrew, “ I drew a blank too. The old gentlemen are all widowers and each told me their children would scream bloody murder if they married a young woman. Their grandchildren would accuse them of being lechers.”
“My, my,” said Rudolf. “That means we will have to activate a scheme I have been revolving in my mind since we met Estanza yesterday.”
“What scheme?” asked Gregor.
“No,” said Andrew.
“What do you mean, no?” asked Rudolf.
“The man is a lecher. Even at his age he would insist on his conjugal rights.”
“Yes,” said Gregor, “but would he be capable of exercising them?”
“I doubt it,” said Rudolf. “He’s eighty-eight and has a bad heart.”
“Maybe,” said Andrew, “but you never know with some of these old guys. And there are the new drugs.”
“We wouldn’t be able to tell him it is a marriage of convenience,” said Rudolf. “Perhaps we could convince him that Estanza has seen him everyday going by her window and decided that, although a little on the older side, he was a fine figure of a man. And now she must marry or be deported why not approach this fine old gentleman whom she had been admiring for some months. Stoke up the old buzzard’s vanity. Lay it on with a trowel. Freely admit Estanza has an ulterior motive, yes, but why not combine it with marrying a handsome old man with an aura of prestige and standing in the community?”
Andrew was delegated to talk with the professor. They invented an address for Estanza which put her on the professor's walk to the café every morning. Andrew was a little queasy about the ethics involved in such a deception but he was convinced that if Estanza was deported she would be murdered. The situation demanded bold steps; to be overly scrupulous was to be an accessory to murder.
The professor was interested. “Mexican, you say?” he asked. He had often dreamed of dark skinned senoritas flinging themselves about in flaming flamingo dance routines. Many years ago he had been in love with the Mexican actress Ida Lupino. Andrew convinced the old man that Estanza had watched him walk by her window every day for some months and thought him very attractive. It was all he could do to get this out without bursting into laughter. The professor went for it hook line and sinker. When could he meet the young woman? If speed was necessary then it would have to be a quiet affair. But then at his age he wasn’t interested in hoopla and fancy celebrations. Perhaps Andrew could perform the ceremony. Keep it in the family so to speak. Andrew promised to phone him that very afternoon.
“I’ll take my chances,” Estanza said when they explained the situation to her.
The Professor and Estanza were married two weeks later in the Unitarian church. Andrew preformed the ceremony, Gregor was the best man, Julia the bridesmaid. Rudolf, not wanting to antagonize the old man, or give him reason to suspect a plot, stayed away. Afterwards the professor took everyone out to an upscale restaurant where they ate steak and lobster tails and drank six bottles of expensive wine. When the dinner was over, the professor, bride on his arm, left the restaurant and the newlyweds took a cab to the professor’s home, a stately brick three story on the riverbank not far from the café.
There the professor, who drank one and a half bottles of wine by himself, fell asleep on the sofa. Estanza, a strong young woman outweighing the professor by thirty pounds, carried him into the bedroom and undressed him. She found a pair of pyjamas in the bureau drawer and put them on the old man. Then she covered him with a light blanket and left the bedroom. In the kitchen she wrote a note to the professor thanking him for a night of delirious love which, to be frank, she had never thought she would experience with an older man. Such passion! She was gone off to do some errands but would be back in the early evening. She left the note on the kitchen table.
When the professor woke he went into the kitchen and read the note. He was pleased. Although he could not remember the previous evening with any accuracy he was delighted that nature had taken its course and his bride had been satisfied. He was somewhat exhausted after his night of celebrating and went back to bed and slept until noon.
This became the pattern of Estanza’s and the professor’s nights of love. She convinced him that a man of his age must build up a reserve and once a month was the most to be expected. The professor was an imbiber of wine and she always made sure there was three or four bottles of his favourite for their special nights. Together with the effects of the wine, which invariably made him sleepy after a bottle and a half, and the professor having reached the point in his mental activity where dreaming he had done something and having done it was much the same, he was convinced he and Estanza had a night of successful passion every month. He was a little surprised that such happy completion had come upon him in his old age and was most grateful to Estanza who with her round cheeks and peasant face he saw as a grounded, earthy, everyday version of Ida Lupino.
After his marriage the professor became close with the three friends. What is marriage if there are no friends attached to it? He even extended the hand of comradeship (not the anarchist kind, of course) to Rudolf for the sake of his friendship with Gregor and Andrew. They came for supper every second Saturday. Estanza made tamales or burritos and, after dinner, they watched a movie on the professor’s big screen TV (formerly used by the professor exclusively for watching porno flicks).
The professor died at the age of ninety-one, at night, in his own bed. Estanza found him in the morning cold as ice but with a peaceful look upon his face as if he had been dreaming something pleasant when death came by to take him.
Estanza inherited everything, which was substantial for the professor never had a family and was a frugal man. During the three years of her marriage she had become an anarchist under the tutelage of Rudolf. After the funeral she had an apartment built in the third floor of the house for her own quarters and gave the first two floors over to Black Flag Society, the new anarchist organization recently started by Rudolf.