after language, the novel that isn't Part 21
Written by William Kherbek on Monday the 17th of October 2011
"She's doing well,
thank you, for asking. I bought her a place in the City, you know, so we can be
closer...well, maybe I should say you bought her a place, heh-heh-heh...”
"I was in love once, Alan, more than
once...you can be in love more than once...”
"So, anyway, my brother, Marcus the
Financier, big shot, calls me up the other day and you know what he asks me,
"I was wrong. I know it now. You
don't realise how small you are, how small your story is...”
"He says-and this is after about two
minutes of 'hi-how're-the-kids' bullshit-'how's Marie'-I bet you want to know how Marie is, asshole, I bet-read any
good ones lately? You're so good at what you do...'-that kind of crap, that kind
of utter fucking ostrich shit-he thinks I don't know he's doing it, but of
course I know, he's been doing it since we were kids-but then he gets down to
the real shit, the stony ground, Todge, the stony ground: 'Alan, how did you
get into being a literary agent anyway?' Isn't that great, Todge? Don't you just want to shit a fucking rhino from the
sheer metaphysical beauty of it?”
"There's nothing left...All the names,
all the people...Winona,
I miss you...”
"...He thinks Literary Giants grown on
trees, doesn't he, Todge? Yeah, just start an agency, Marcus, see what happens.
Please do it. I'm begging you...See how many Van Gogh's you buy next year. Just
try it...But we know better don't we, Todge? Don't we?”
told him, Marcus, take my advice, I know the market is slow now, I know there
are problems, but just teach for a few years. I know people at Columbia who can help you, they've got a good
finance programme. You're not going to find another Nathan Highfill out there,
there's only one...”
Silence in Bamako.
"There's only one Nathan Highfill,
buddy, and I got him! He's mine! He's all mine! Hands the fuck off...”
Highfill stands. Receiver sags.
Agent blither squawks:
"...Seriously, Todge, seriously,
you're going to be fine. They don't even have the death penalty in Germany anymore.
Prison is good for writers too, think about Dostoevsky, 'Crime and Punishment',
Bamako is silent.
"...And before I lose you, there's
good news, too, Todge: the paperback of Couples
was having a strong autumn anyway, after this, I mean, I swear, Todge, it's
like counterfeiting...Todge, there's talk of a comic book it's gon--”
They come in swiftly. Highfill: in a
blazer and tie, ready at the edge of the bed. Grim Amb. looks on, hands clasped
behind his back. Faces the carpet. Not a word.
Highfill will miss the carpet. Will
miss his bed. Will miss the afternoon sun as it warms the courtyard below.
They handle him: rough but
"Watch your head sir.”
They're going to the airport.
Chatting in German. Good-bye, Bamako.
On the plane: He asks for drugs.
Natty German policemen look at each other. One shakes his head.
Long ride to Berlin. Highfill's going to be in
Plotzensee. Charlottenberg. At least it's got a history. Perhaps he can have a
tour while he's incarcerated? Someone will speak to him in the morning. Right
now: He should sleep.
Plane taxis. Highfill led off,
another car, another group of determined police faces. They throw a blanket
Plotzensee at night. Squat building,
unspectacular along the sleepy road. Goofy paint job: belies. Summer trees
menacing in the floodlights. Highfill processed. Information taken. 'No fixed
address...'. Prison garb: suitably drab. Fits him well. Has his own cell. May not
"It all depends.”
"I don't know.”
Highfill reclines. Listens to the
cars in the street. Listens to the jail noises. Soon he's asleep. Might as well
In the morning, they send someone to
tell him the score. He'll be kept here awaiting trial for murder. There are
requests to extradite him to the Hague,
but as he's an Amerikaner, they're not going to risk it. Besides, his testimony
to the French Ambassador, should help at sentencing. He's been issued a lawyer.
Can meet him later on if he likes.
Highfill wants the news paper.
He's not allowed newspapers.
"How about Stern?”
Exchange of glances.
This is how it happens: Luna and
Zoloft after the gig, during the giggling. Zoloft tales of LA: Kind of
"It's a nice place to visit...”
"I could live in Berlin...”
Zoloft, clearly semi-lost. She
walked him down to FriedrichStrasse to show him the Museums. Which way is your
"I don't think hotel is the right
They booked him in the 'ostalgia'
place by Ostbahnhof. DDR rooms. Pictures of Honecker. She wants to see it, see
if it's really like it was...That's the excuse at least.
Zoloft and Luna trace
KarlMarxStrasse. Leaf scented air. Night sky: patches of blue. S-Bahn glides
by. Luna links arms. Zoloft obliges, escalates: arm around witch-waist: It
could be like this all the time, aber...
He asks Luna about her life.
She lies and lies and lies...
Tells herself she won't witch
Zoloft: Another lie. She witches. He's under her spell. Naturlich...
Queasy memories. She never stayed in
a hotel in the East but she could imagine it being like this. Sharp geometries:
very heimlich. Hoenecker eyes. Loud clocks. Jostles her mind. Where/when/ is
she? Zoloft orders room service.
"I wonder if the room is bugged.”
"Then it would really be like the
Rotwein. Zoloft in the soft light,
eyes shiny as summer canal water, hair in wavelets...Night weighs heavier every
second. Zoloft fingers twine Luna's: soft roots joining. Luna in a broad Zoloft
shadow, planet and satellite: which is witch? Never you mind...His hand the rover,
she shuts off the witching, he the light. Night gathers: blue darkness. Like
the sky in a dream...
Luna-witch stretches under the
covers. Morning filters. Zoloft feels her nudge.
He means it. Breaks witch-heart:
number of ways.
Zoloft in the shower. Likes to sing:
This sunny morning: Prince.
"It's been seven hours and fifteen
days/Since you took your love away....”
Luna swaddled. It could always be
like this, but it can't, soon Ludo. Soon, The Conspiracy. Soon, Highfill....Maybe
Zoloft muffled: "I went to the
Doctor and guess what he told me/Guess what he told me...”
He sings the Sinead version. Luna
doesn't notice. She's crying? Why? State secrets. Hoenecker unmoved. If she
just put in her notice, if she let Ludo loose to destroy himself, perhaps even
the government would collapse. Good-bye, Schneidermann. Tschussi,
Grubenstein...But then, there's Nathan. She's felt him in Africa,
when she reads the reports. The "Ragamuffins” as they're known. Highfill must
be among them, how can she know? Witching isn't an exact science. She just
feels his presence there somehow, knows he's being manipulated...
She can't save him. Not this time.
She didn't even save him before, at best: forestalled the inevitable by what? A
few months? She sees him in fatigues. She sees him in a jungle somewhere. The
smell of humus and testosterone. She Blackberrys:
The reports are all 'sketchlich': camps of
flotsam: old mercenaries armed only with sun-warped brains and hunger, old
'rebels' who can't remember who's oppressing what anymore, all-purpose
marauders who just like hearing the machetes clink, occasional Euro-misfits
equally distant from everything...Maybe they're going to try to go into Congo,
secure some of Kivu carve their names into a mineshaft, or maybe just secure a
few roads in and out, set up an illegal toll-booth...Rumours-nothing more-of
them disrupting the Mali project somehow. Probably just Ministerium paranoia.
Ludo doesn't know yet. She liaised with Intel people, they sent two guys. She's
Zoloft: "Nothing compares...No-Thing
compares to you...”
Luna can't drive it away. Highfill
as Colonel. Gelatinous salutes. Pretending he smokes around a campfire.
herself in Zoloft's complementary bathrobe.
"...All the flowers that you plant,
sugar, in the back yard...”
Bathroom mirror, steamed and ghostly.
"...all died when you went away...”
She rolls back the curtain.
No more singing. Zoloft's weepy eyes
in the shower-mist.
"Well, fancy meeting you here...”
He draws the curtain.
Showers hide tears.
"I want to go to sea...In a great
"Adventure becomes a boy.”
They're shaking off the rain.
Ostbahnhof: Flush with summertime crowds. The boy, outside by the Galleria
stumbling through his life. The old man found him by the kebab shop.
"You like lamb?”
Asked him if he'd like a
like that: Somewhere quiet. The boy looked him over, reed thin, semi-shaved,
reed slumped, at risk of the wind. The boy accepted. Wanted a Sprite too. Why
They walked to a small Stube in
Jannowitzbrucke. The old man bought two vodka gimlets and they sat in a corner
by the window. Neither saying a word. The old man finished his drink first.
"I've never been in a hotel this
walk through the cramped room, track lighting along the dark curtains obscures
the worn fabric.
"I find that hard to believe.”
No point in lying. "It's true. In
fact this place is kind of shabby, but I don't mind...”
Fit of coughing.
"Are you sick?”
"I'm just a bit tired from the
travel,” pause, "Yes, I am sick.”
"You have a condom, yes?”
"Condoms won't be necessary.”
Look of relief. The boy slumps into
an uncomfortable seat.
"So then, you just want me to...by
Hands him a book.
"I can't really read English very
"Just look at the pictures...page 115.”
"That is how...that is what you want?”
"And nothing more?”
"There is nothing more...”
The boy shrugs. Places the book
quietly on the tabletop. The old man sits on the bed, a few sputtering coughs.
He takes off his overcoat.
"Should I...be naked?”
"If the spirit moves you.”
The spirit moves the old man. The
boy takes his cue.
"Are you ready?”
The old man nods, his face to the
hotel carpet, smells of years and sweat and nameless dirt. The boy cradles his
Everything looks normal. There's her
desk. Just as she left it. Even the same papers in the in-tray.
Freddo, oblivious at his computer. She tries to read his email in the
reflection on his glasses.
pear infused white tea steams beside her keyboard, courtesy of Klaus' courtesy.
It's no big deal for him, he passes by the café on his way into work, she
should think nothing of it...Everything looks normal, and then there's Ludo.
Ludo bounces from the office.
"My girl, you are back, come right
in. We have much to discuss...”
"Where do you see yourself in five
She hears Schneidermann's voice in
Ludo's. Probably how he opened their chat. She doesn't bother witching, wants
to see what Ludo thinks he's capable of.
"I expect in a mirror.”
Ludo pause. Not the answer he
was...Ha's and ha's and ha's...
"You are always very quick. I'm such
a lucky fellow. Very quick. But there is a time to joke and a time to be
serious, of course. Do you like working for me, Luna?”
"I enjoy a challenge...”
"That is exactly what I was hoping
you would say. What if I were to say to you I think there is a way we could
find even more challenges? Good challenges, for us to undertake together...”
This is all Schneidermann. She sees
how it goes, Schneidermann's the Good Cop, that makes Grubenstein...
"I think there are enough challenges
to keep us very busy at the moment, Ludo...”
"Of course, at the moment, my girl,
at the moment, but in, perhaps a year's time, if we defeat these challenges?
"Ludo, are you talking about...”
"Do you think I could be
With great strain the laughter is
suppressed. Presumably this was demo'd on Freddo who nodded along, an obedient seahorse.
Ja, Ludo, ja...
"I think the Chanzellerin is doing a
"Yes, she is doing a good job.
Sometimes though, I think she doesn't take me very seriously...”
"Well, Ludo, perhaps you should meet
with her and talk about it...”
Ludo's getting quicker. See's she's
taking him up the garden path in ten, fifteen seconds...Witch-worries: has she
created a monster?
"But at last, I suppose I must just
say it, I think maybe the Chanzellerin has had her moment in time, and now
perhaps it is time for someone else...”
"But Ludo, you said you didn't want
even to be the Finanzminister...”
"There is a very good Finanzminister
"And a good Chanzellerin!”
"My girl, don't you see? You could
be my chief of staff!”
"Ludo, let's wait a bit, okay?”
"Just see how things go, perhaps you
will like the Ministerium, you meet lots of people...”
"So you'll give it time?”
"If you think it's best...”