On The Accidental Death Of A Cartographer : Part Five

Parts One, Two, Three, and Four. This is the fifth and final part.

Back at the Fop Palace, the band were in disarray. Deprived of their leader, they were improvising desperately. Buttercase and the spinettist Chockbung were trying to hold things together by running through some of the older numbers, but the four new players were having trouble with the smoochier passages, and the increasingly drink-sodden crowd began to make ominous hooting noises. Lip Suk Jab’s abduction had been carried out so swiftly and efficiently that the band were still not aware of it. They assumed at first it was some new crowd-pleasing trick which he had not told them about, which would have been in character. Buttercase had never forgotten the time the bandleader had had himself wrapped in sailcloth and carried on to the stage by a team of frogmen, authentically encrusted with whelks and stinking of ooze. The band had been as repelled as the audience – until, of course, one of the frogmen tore a small hole in the cloth, inserted the cornet into it, and the wily Korean let fly with a majestic solo rendition of “Chutney On My Spats” which brought the house down.

If he was up to such a trick tonight, thought Buttercase, he was leaving it a bit late. Several of the burlier elements of the crowd were polishing their scimitars and distributing cudgels. If there was not to be a riot, drastic action was called for. At half past midnight, the cartographer brought a turgid rumba to an end with a high-pitched squeak on the bassoon. He whispered to Skip to relinquish the tuba and passed him the accordion, telling him to do his best. Then, leaving Chockbung and De Strobville to muster some sort of performance out of the hicks, he fled the stage on some pretext and dashed like a maniac through the Palace seeking the cornettist. The eagle eyes which had mapped Sumatra three decades before did not fail him now; within minutes, he had come upon Lip Suk Jab’s cornet, abandoned between the side-exit and the riverbank. From there, it was a small matter to ponder some connection with the tell-tale skate-marks reaching across the ice. Buttercase ran back to the palace cloakroom and, taking advantage of the attendant’s absence, stole a pair of snow-shoes. Delaying only to peer into the dancehall and see that Skip was at least holding the accordion the right way up, he set off across the ice, hoping to heaven that he was not on a false trail. As he clambered up on the opposite bank, he was flattened by the force of an enormous explosion behind him. Alas, Skip had hit a bum note on the intro to “They Call Her Pope Pius IV”. The world of Sumatran jazz would never recover from the loss.

Buttercase eventually made it as far as the airstrip, but of course he was too late to catch up with Lip Suk Jab and his Javan abductors. Luckily, an aeroplane was taxiing ready for take-off, and Buttercase was able to attract the pilot’s attention and get himself aboard in the nick of time. The pilot was an outlandishly moustachioed Dutch hotelier named Van Der Wergo who had been prospecting sites for a leisure complex. On the long flight back to Het Loo in Gelderland he bored Buttercase insensible with a minutely detailed description of his scheme, liberally illustrated with financial prospectuses, architectural diagrams, flow charts, trilingual press releases, and horrid maps. As he brandished these in the exhausted accordionist’s face, Van Der Wergo repeatedly let go of the controls, and it is something of a miracle that he eventually brought the plane safely in to land.

As a reward for listening to all this gibberish, Buttercase was invited to stay at the hotelier’s garish mansion on the outskirts of Het Loo. Although he intended to stay only for a few days, Buttercase ended up spending the rest of his life there. With Lip Suk Jab incarcerated in a Javan prison and the rest of the band dead, he felt understandably reluctant to continue his musical career, with all that would be involved – forming a new band, buying a new accordion, and so on. For a week or two he mooched about Van Der Wergo’s estate, nauseated by the banana-coloured interiors, aghast at the collection of tubular titanium furniture, outraged at the hideous gewgaws which filled every room, each one monstrously ugly in itself, the effect multiplied by sheer quantity. Every day, it seemed, the garrulous hotelier would arrive home with yet more “objets”, as he called them, and tug at his moustachios as he agonised over where to place them to “heighten their effect”. To make matters worse, he insisted on consulting Buttercase over these decisions, dragging him from room to room to contemplate whether a cut-glass pink squid on a green satin cushion sewn with diamante lozenges would look better in the window of the billiards room or set on a nest of tables in the corner of the scullery. Van Der Wergo was generous and affable, and Buttercase was impossibly polite, but the strain of these daily consultations was eventually too much, and the houseguest came down with a nervous malady. Van Der Wergo employed a team of paramedics to give him round-the-clock care. As he slowly recuperated, one of these tireless medicos put it to the hotelier that what the patient needed was some activity – nothing too strenuous, but something that would make him feel useful. Aware that in his younger days Buttercase had had something to do with maps – or one map, at any rate – the mogul offered his guest the position of Chief Cartographer to Van Der Wergo Hotel & Leisure Complex International (Het Loo) Pty. Ltd.

As we all know, Buttercase took up the post. Between 1960 and 1966, he established his reputation as one of the greatest cartographers of the century. From his unutterably tasteless room in Van Der Wergo’s mansion, he sent teams of map-makers out across the globe to draw up sketches for his employer’s increasingly grandiose schemes. Constantly in touch with his juniors via telegraph, he would urge them on to ever more adventurous cartographic innovations. Regularly, the postman would deliver rolls of blueprints and sketches to the mansion, and Van Der Wergo himself would scamper up the staircase to his friend’s room, occasionally knocking over one of the lamentable ornaments in his haste. The two of them would pore over the materials, chuckling with glee and knocking back tankards of hooch. But then the hotelier would withdraw, and leave Buttercase alone to work. Out would come the gigantic sheets of Waterbath paper and the pencils of every conceivable colour, their points as sharp as dirks. And days, weeks, or months later, the map would be finished, and sent by pneumatic tube down to Van Der Wergo’s den, where the hotelier would weep with joy as he unrolled the paper and opened it to his gaze.

On the fourth of August 1966, Ken Buttercase tripped over a peewit while strolling in the mansion gardens. He fell headlong, cracked his skull, and died instantly. That morning, he had put the finishing touches to a new map of Sumatra. Unaccountably, he had quite forgotten to show the location of Blimbing.

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