On A Spook’s Briefcase

He had a spook’s briefcase. Asked to present his credentials, he said “Fang past tern”, as if telling the time. Wristwatch, wristwatch. There was a complete lack of potable water. He had the eyes of a baby gazelle and the heart of a crocodile. There was a detector screen to be walked through, and fierce buzzing to be endured, heart in mouth, walkie-talkies. Rags of satin. Cobalt haze.

They used to say of opopanax that it is the noblest of incense gums.

Wading was one way through. Briefcase clutched to chest. Thumping headache. Why do we say a thirst rages? The glint of his glasses a reminder of past glories. The Scheveningen dilemma. When lightning strikes, hide under the table, like Joyce. There are no such things as ghosts. There are no such things as pampocrats. It is all a question of linkage, coinage, chains of reasoning, copper. He was ferried across the Styx, remember.

Ferry, ferried. There are too many buttons on his coat. An owl hoots somewhere in the night. He heard it call his name. A leak in the dinghy and your best bet is to hide your light under a bushel. They have lit the lanterns, so many of them, and now you can see the canaries in their cages. Oh God our help in ages past. But come Tuesday there will be drinking water again, and what then?, what then? The taps will be turned and the sergeant, in his mess, cloven of hoof, goat-eyed, will he give a fig?

It was a rainy night in Georgia.

Holed up in a bunker, he made an inventory of the contents of the spook’s briefcase. He mopped his brow. Something had to be done about the moles. Confluence of rivers on the plain, compass points uncertain, navy blue colour code. Broken transmissions. Broken bread, on this holy night. In his cups. It had to be Formby.

Spud bashing with his band of brothers. He had dozens of cousins. The scar tissue was livid. Reciting the names of the seven dwarves over and over again until he fell asleep. Pallid on the pillow, wan under the counterpane, milky white, magnesium flares, so so many lilies and love lies bleeding. The hot salt tears of ruin. Snake’s head fritillaries always excite attention. He would have to be careful.

A treasury of Biblical quotations. Smoke on the water. Poison in the well. How many times must he replace the paperclips on the files, and what will become of the files anyway? To whom must he send them? He awaits revelation, a sign, a signal. Tappings on the windscreen. The swish of the wipers. High dudgeon. Sucking on a fruit pastille. Villages he should never have visited. It came upon a midnight clear.

The sleight of hand necessary to transfer everything to the satchel. A web of deceit. Pansies, phlox, and hollyhocks. He takes the binoculars out of their casing. A second helping of noodles. The strains of the harp and the euphonium from far far away across the dismal plain. All a pother. A glum witch and a glummer scryer. The signs are ominous. Clouds that should not be there, sky the wrong colour, far too many stars. Breathing in strange new gases. Sudden rearrangement of atoms.

Tar pits.

Crane flies and dragonflies. Black pudding. Now there are pangs and cravings and he loses his footing, tumbles, kim kam and distraught, in shock, chance would be a fine thing, not at the dinner table, his whole life flashes before him, blurred, phantom, insignificant in all but one respect, Terence, Horace, Terence or Horace? Kick the pebble. Shake the branches. There are monkeys high in the trees. He knew there would be. He put on his hat and stepped away, lost in wonder.

Jogging bottoms. A circuit of the reservoir. Then another. Mousse in his hair. Pecked at by ravens, but only in his nightmares. There are no birds upon the sill. He said grace. Twice, now, he has had to have an injection, in the same vein, before swooning. Mud cakes his boots. He can barely tie his laces. Memory floods, the Russian prison, the chicken coop, the empty stadium. International intrigue, jet fighters, dossiers and ciphers. Gin and bitters in the colonies. A game of spillikins that degenerated into riot. Flames licking the ceiling. Discarded buttons. Saint Anselm. A pair of gloves.

Sand in the mechanism, it rasps to a halt.

There is silence at the other end. It is like being back in Chappaquiddick. Adopt the correct posture. Straighten your tie. Lips pursed, eyes dull. Fling a pot of paint in the face of the public. Anything to distract the attention. See how the crow flies, the land lies, the spies scheme. Holes punched in a newspaper. There are thousands upon thousands of hotel lobbies. Some of them are in Venice. Peering through the fronds of the fern in the pot. Piano tinkling. Lapdogs sniffle. He clutches at his windpipe, a window shatters, a vase topples. He had one too many.

Now comes the reckoning. Will he leave a tip? How will he calculate it? They murdered Marlowe in a dingy room down by the docks. Outflow of sewage into the river. Scavenger birds, shriek, shriek. Grey sky overcast. Goose pimples. Egg stains on the blazer. He can no longer remember the motto. Look, a couple of blokes are lugging a hamper towards the jetty.

She waited on the jetty like the bride of Frankenstein.

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