Tales Of Duntblau – I

They clapped me in irons, and read me my rights. Or perhaps it was the other way round. Maybe the clapping and the reading happened at the same time, I can’t be clear. The day was so hot, the sunlight so bright, the meadow so bespattered with buttercups, and here and there a dumb stupid cow, I could not think straight. In any case, they read my rights to me in a wholly unfamiliar language, guttural and seemingly lacking in vowels. Then they shoved me into the back of a van and slammed shut the door.

We drove for several hours, over the mountain pass to Duntblau. I only learned this later. At the time I had no idea where we were going. There were three other miscreants in the back of the van with me, but they were clueless. They had also been clapped in irons, and were as dumb and stupid as the cows I had left behind in the meadow. I soon gave up my attempts at conversation. Instead I studied their heads for evidence of criminality. I have often found phrenology a capital way to pass the time.

When we arrived at the police station in Duntblau, we were bundled out of the van and led through a door along a filthy corridor and through another door and another corridor, less filthy, and oh get on with it. We ended up in an interrogation room. Well, I did. Perhaps the other three were taken to their own interrogation rooms. Perhaps they were shot. I don’t know.

On that day and the next I must have answered thousands of questions. All my replies were spirited and perky, for I was keen to make the right impression and to help them with their enquiries.

The chief interrogator, who spoke my language with an accent I would have found amusing in any other circumstances, was a dwarf. I thought he had a criminal shape to his head, but did not say so. From time to time he was joined by a colleague, no dwarf he by golly!, but this fellow stayed silent, and seemed more interested in contemplating the tulips in a vase on the windowsill. The window itself had been covered over by a poster of the type sold by Athena in the 1970s. It was upside down.

The questions hurled at me ranged over the entirety of my life, from before birth up to the moment just before I was clapped in irons. He was a very thorough dwarf. He took no written notes, but tapped his fingertips upon his temple every now and then, as if lodging what I said into his memory. His trousers were of the drainpipe variety, for what it’s worth, and his shoes were of blue suede. He did a lot of strutting to and fro as he fired his questions, rarely bothering to look at me. I remained perky.

Midway through the second day, there came the roars and flashes of a thunderstorm so terrible and violent that all of us, me and the dwarf and the tulip-worrier, were cowed. We sheltered under a table, much as James Joyce did when so storm-frightened in Scheveningen, in 1917.

Once the storm ceased, and I was back in my chair, and the dwarf was strutting, and the other chap had left the room to fetch some Baby Bio for the tulips, my interrogation lost its focus. The dwarf started to ask increasingly irrelevant and even incomprehensible questions. From details of my life, his attention now passed to such matters as the Munich Air Disaster, the Tet Offensive, and John Major’s traffic cones hotline, none of which I had had any involvement in, as far as I could remember, honest guv. But he was relentless, like a swordfish. I found it harder and harder to remain perky. Eventually, I snapped. I interrupted the dwarf in the middle of a question which, as far as I could ascertain, revolved, none too steadily, around the circumstances of the raid on Entebbe, and asked a question myself.

“Would it be at all possible, captain,” I said, “At this stage in the interrogation, given my cooperation and compliance thus far, not to mention my perkiness and eagerness to help you with your enquiries, for my irons to be unclapped, or declapped, or whatever the correct terminlogy is for the process, for they are chafing most miserably, captain.”

He could not stop himself from sputtering out the rest of his senseless question, but we both knew he did not expect a reply. He gathered himself, like Kate Winslet at an awards ceremony, strutted to the door, opened it, and shouted out for Tulip Man to bring the irons-declapping key.

They released me late in the afternoon, after giving me a cup of tea and a sandwich filled with some sort of godawful reconstituted fish-paste substitute. I would be hearing from them in due course, I was told, but I was free to go so long as I made no attempt to leave Duntblau. If I took a single step beyond the town limits, I would be hanged from the highest of the many gibbets, and crows would feast on my entrails. Understood? Yes, captain.

And so I minced out of the police station into the gorgeous air of Duntblau, windy, and overcast, with drizzle. From now on, and forever after, it would be my home. Wild was the Duntblau wind. I heard the sound of Duntblau mandolins.

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