after language, the novel that isn't Part 20
Written by William Kherbek on Monday the 17th of October 2011
No stranger to
scrums. Word leaked. Pissy French Amb., no doubt; didn't like Highfill from the
start. Offended by the suggestion membership in the Legion d'Honneur might be
for sale, 'Monsieur Highfill, I understand Americans are a people most
There they were: short sleeved
semi-formals in the courtyard. Incongruous boom hovers. Teleprompter being
fixed in place. Blackberries and laptops crackle to life. Highfill could almost
hear the clicks. They said they'd keep his name out of the press. He was
watching CNN: Nope.
Highfill had a room: Their
concession. Overlooking the square, the podium on which the Amb. spoke, the
scrum: "Madames et monsieurs de l'press, merci beaucoup pour votre attention...”
reading papers. The Plot: Barely worth a Spaghetti Western. Even if he hadn't
informed (silly of Gamy, really, it's a writer's job to tell stories...), they'd
have had them by nightfall. As it was, had them in ca 90 minutes. Disorganisation,
friendly fire incidents. Gang that couldn't launch a rocket straight. Blew up
one police van. No casualties. Broken windows and blasted fire hydrants.
at l'Embassy: Kids from the Banlieus could have done worse.
wouldn't face prosecution. Duress. Probably saved a few lives.
His body: preliminarily identified.
Burned badly. Weapons cache explosion. Thanks bazooka...
Read the papers, full of
mischaracterisations. Highfill: accustomed. London Independent: had the story
closest: "Reports have emerged that the explosion was connected to a plot to
overthrow the government of Mali and replace it with a junta composed of rural
tribal leaders hostile to Islam...Malian police and French intelligence are
conducting investigations into the funding of the plot, which apparently
included the blackmail of the disgraced novelist, Nathan Highfill. Reports have
emerged that Highfill is being held at the French Embassy in Bamako as a
material witness. Highfill rejoiced in the low readership. Mathew Norman:
cackled on the op-ed page. Among the dead: Two German security contractors...
Obits for Gamy: Unforgiving. New York Times:
"a largely forgotten television actor who starred in a hokey programme about a
detective agency run by two brothers.” Le Monde: "B-list actor turned bizarre
vigilante financier...” Guardian:
"...known to have done business with prominent Russian oligarchs in the 'wild
west' period of deregulation...” Only the Washington Times had sympathy:
"Longtime activist and crusader for personal freedom with a colorful past in
television and film...”
tears for Gamy.
What about Ganglion? What if he escaped. Fear evoker. Not inclined to take
prisoners. Not inclined to understand Highfill's position.
Rummel, rummel, schepper, schepper:
Echoing in the bowels of the Reichstag, bouncing off the walls and stairwells,
settling like dark clouds in the dome.
A cabal: forming in the cool modern offices,
under gooseneck lamps, over shiny desk blotters. In swivel chairs.
Finanzminister, Minister fur Wirtschaft und
Technologie, und zwei oder drei andern: Believe now's the time for 'historic'
change in the workings of German finance. Best chance in a generation to take
the shackles off the market. Chanzellerin: unlikely obstacle. Chanzellerin:
acting strange lately. Serious right turn expected after elections: not
happening. Sorrowful conclusion: Chanzellerin:
doesn't have the stomach for serious reforms. Maybe it's her inner Ossie. Or: "Maybe
the ovaries get in the way...” "heheheheheheheheheh”; "Heeheeheeheeheeheeeee”.
building: Ludo's the man to stage a palace coup. Well, maybe not, but the girl
("Ludo's balls” they call her. She's witched and seen it. She's witching too
often now, knows it's risky, she's nudged, and not just Ludo...), she can
convince him...She witched the first inklings in a cabinet meeting. Stunned
her, like the humps of a sea monster grazing the surface tension of a man-made
lake. Locked onto Finanzminister mid plot. Spilled her coffee...
Finanzminister: seriously deranged.
Helmut Schneidermann, worked at a bank in Amerika before politics 'found him
slogan: "Let's put the public sector on a diet.”
like: "Let's give it anorexia!”
Herr Popularitat. Barely scraped into the cabinet. Dealmaker. It's known he
knows people Outside the Reichstag, people with companies that might find
themselves with vacant seats on boards of directors, people who like retired
politicians to speak to them after dinner...
and Wirtschaft Minister, Otto Grubenstein (Slogan: "The Chinese use the same
word for 'crisis' as 'opportunity': So Should WE!”). Frightening. Dead soul.
Ninety if a day. Always black suited, red tied. Always dour, groans in sunshine
and shower. Light-bodied and vicious. Almost seems to float above his seat
during cabinet meetings on a cloud of indignation. Luna doesn't even bother
witching him, probably couldn't sleep if she did.
Not that she sleeps now. Ludo's star
shines over the Spree. More Spiegel covers:
'Ludo Rockstar!!!' Pics of Ludo with the Secretary of State von Amerika. Her
assessment: "A charming go-getter...”. Opens cultural events (Beyruth...) Ludo's a
festival. She's event management.
full-time job: keeping Ludo and Schneidermann/Grubenstein out of the same room.
Not always easy. Schneidermann's secretive. Grubenstein stays up late. Calls
come into the office. She tells them Ludo's busy.
Schneidermann: "Liebling, I think we
both know that can't be true...”
She fell asleep in the office one night. In the morning: Ludo
trundling in, whistling Beatles songs, found her there failed to do the math:
"Beat me to the office again,” Ludo
ludic, "Or did you fly in this morning?”
Ludo ha-has himself back into his
office. Finds her asleep on lunch break.
Stern-ish talking t "My girl, you
are working too hard.”
"This is a critical time...”
"Yes, but every time is a critical
time. You must learn to balance your life.”
"I can balance it after Mali's settled.
And the recess is coming...”
"Please for me...take a few days off.”
Lud Won't take no for an answer.
If only he could be so insistent making people work. Probably can't help it, a
subject close to his heart: indolence. She caves. Can't let him get suspicious.
Freddo will take over.
Witch-holidays: depressing, endless
seeming. She calls Freddo twice a day. Is he meeting Schneidermann/Grubenstein?
Not that Freddo knows of. How far does Freddo know? She thought not...
Oh well, she's not witching the
Chanzellerin anymore, maybe she'll float rightward for the next week, head-off
the coup for a while, then, maybe, when Luna's back in the cabinet, she can
nudge things centreward again, yes, yes, it can all work out still...
Wait: This is how it happens.
This is politics.
Luna-witch: Spends the rest of the
day in bed. Ice cream involved. Melty, minty, icy forgetful...
Witch-holiday 2: Decides to take
Ludo's advice, "Go to the Kino, go to a Konzert.” Anything to drive the
thoughts of conspiracy out.
Wanders Hackescher. Bang Bang
Club. Gig tonight: Amerikaner: Emile Zoloft: "Indie-folk damaged goods from LA,”
wie sagt Myspace. Why not?
Freddo at lunchtime for Schneidermann Watch: He asked Ludo about it...Freddo
"Tut-mir-leid, Luna, wirklich...”
In the early evening: Luna in Café
Cinema, gin and tonic. Rotwein. She'll come back Monday and she'll put a stop
to all of it. All of it!!! That's a promise! Maybe she can get somebody to keep
an eye on Freddo too. She could talk to Klaus, he kind of has a thing for her,
or Markus, he kind of has a thing for Ludo...
This is how it happens!
More wein, bitte.
Zoloft show: underpopulated. Then,
it's Tuesday. Semi-crowd gathers around the stage for his set. Him with an
acoustic and harmonica. Occasional organ. Mournful country rock. Music for hair
in eyes. His face is golden in the stage lights. Luna: fragile, looks into his
songs for her story. Sometimes it's there.
It's him and then a DJ set.
He goes for forty-five minutes. Crowd: respectful, quasi-silent. He'll be
hanging around afterward if anyone wants a CD. Folky-heart-broken-y stuff. Not
a bad voice. Strums really hard.
Luna thinks she'd like a CD.
The set complete: Zoloft mock-bows. Zoloft and sound-guy unplug
various cables, Zoloft: strange Hercules, handful of dead cable-snakes with
silver heads. He and sound guy haul amplifiers off the stage, replace reset the
mixing board. Less than 12 labours. Luna watches. Zoloft clicks the hinges on
his guitar case. Instrument: lovingly replaced. A few mill, quasi-fans. Zoloft
chats, laughs, passes out CDs. Such a friendly guy...
Luna's drinking as the club night thunders. It was like this before Ludo, that is, before
Zoloft sips a Polaner, nodding to the speaker fuzz.
Strange geographies: Plate slip? She's standing closer and closer to
Zoloft. Subduction? Zoloft notices her.
"Miner German's nikt so good...”
Highfill was having breakfast.
Waiting for the morning's Le Monde to survey the damage.
marmalade. Black coffee's smoky scour. Croissant fluff, croissant steam. Orange
juice: from concentrate.
Knows the Amb. gets fresh squeezed: chafes.
doors open. Serious Ambassador. He bows and enters. Something's wrong.
"Bonjour, M. Highfill, I'm afraid
you won't enjoy this visit as congenial as many of our other tete-a-tete's...”
Highfill could do without the irony. Whatever happens-sounds bad-he'll be glad
to see the last of the Ambassador. Maurice. Maurice Fillemont. Hired no doubt
for his easy unctuousness and dashing crudity. Highfill tries to place
'congenial' in any of their exchanges, maybe one. Heavy dinner. Steak tartar,
boiled potatoes with dill, green salad. Vinegarette. Lots of gooey Roquefort
après, bleeding over crusty bread. Highfill asked for gingersnaps. Ambassador
coughed for a full minute to register disgust. Port flowed.
trois verres: Ambassador Maurice: loosened his cummerbund: "M. Highfill, it was
quite an amusing premise, that you should be awarded a place in the Legion.
Perhaps you have found an excellent plot device and could at last write the
novel of which we are all sure you are so supremely capable of realising...”
Highfill: Port-warmed and warming to
it: "I think you've got it backwards. It would be a very appropriate
distinction at the moment. Consider my so-called Crime Against Literature, what
single act could more fully realise the theories propounded in French
philosophy over the last fifty years than my induction in the Legion d'Honneur
for novels it is claimed I had no authorship of...”
"In France, M. Highfill, we have a
concept called the 'metaphor...'”
"What could be more logical, what
could be more necessary, what could demonstrate the limitations of the world in
the face of the text more completely?”
"M. Highfill, that is a most
critical and supreme taunt...” Ambassadorial tear-wipe.
"You'll be familiar with Of Grammatology, Ambassador-Maurice, may
I call you Maurice?”
"Non, merci,” entre chuckles, high
pitched and squeaky, "Absolutement pas, M. Highfill. But yes, please continue
in your otherwise amusing carousal in this garden of luxurious foolery...”
"You'll be familiar with the critique of Levi-Strauss contained
the act of naming-oh, you are a most clever dissembler, M. Highfill-that the
act of naming both creates the being and negates the being...”
"...And that it is at the point of naming
that presence itself disappears.”
"And for your concrete demonstration
of this through your literary non-achievement...”
"My place in the Legion should be
"M. Highfill, you are a most amusing
ignoramus, that I cannot fail to concede. Soon you will be telling me that you
too embody Barthes' great misappropriation...”
"In me the author is dead...in fact,
he was never born...”
"Oh, M. Highfill, do have another
drink and then go to bed so that I can laugh at your small witticisms.”
Those were the good old days.)
Germany: Quite upset about the
contractors. New Foreign Secretary is out bust some heads. Ambassador did
everything he could, of course.
Highfill thought they could protect
him. Highfill thought it was all worked out...
"Yes, I am sure you did. It is a
surprise for us too, of course, but what can be done? You must understand our
Highfill gets a phone call. Chooses
"Todge! Been reading about you. You
have all kinds of adventures don't you. You want to get a tan, can't you go to
San Tropez like everybody else? You want to overthrow a government, can't you
do it in Honduras like everybody else? Nobody even notices 'em there...”
"I need a lawyer.”
"You know what, Todge? I got a call
from my brother the other day-"
"I don't care.”
"Have I ever told you about my
"This is an embassy line. They're
going to cut me off soon...”
"Marcus is his name. Two years younger.
Pony-tail. Powerties. Pleats. You know the type, surely, Todge, you know some
sophisticates. He was in finance for a long time.”
"Do we still know anyone at State?
Does Casey still work there?”
"He's a good guy too, my brother,
he's just-what-he's just in finance,
"It's the Germans, Alan,” Highfill
I sense a tear in your voice. It's almost endearing. Like Patti Page, you know?
You know the 'Tennessee Waltz', Todge?”
you do; who am I talking to? Now, as I was saying, Todge, Marc was in finance,
for like...well for like forever. My mother used to say to me 'You know, Alan,
your brother Marcus makes a very nice salary.' That was her way of saying 'Why
didn't you go into finance, Alan? Why are you chasing those silly writers
around, it's all dirty stuff anyway. That's all that sells...'”
blaming me for everything, Alan...” Highfill knows it's futile now. Talks to
himself, for his own reasons. Says it to make it real.