after language, the novel that isn't Part 22
Written by William Kherbek on Monday the 17th of October 2011
That was the easy
part. Not even a need to nudge. Her phone rings. Schneidermann. Wants Ludo for
"I'm afraid that won't be possible
Herr Finanzminister. I think he may be dining with the Chanzellerin today...”
"I pity him. She is a most dour
lunch companion. Her Eastern upbringing makes her so serious-minded as to be
entirely without an appreciation for the small luxuries that make life bearable.
Perhaps the South Korean president has not been informed of this unexpected
change of plans...”
"Ludo has some very interesting
insights, Herr Finanzminister, she may be able to work him into her busy
"Ludo with something interesting to
say? That would be a red letter day...”
Earth Science: at the anahelion of
Watson's consciousness. Jan's given him books, Straler and sons, Diamond,
Lovelock. Watson faintly fixed. The Project: Taming Radvanice. Raise
awareness (methods various: signs, flyers, buckets of slag in Wenceslaus Sq.),
campaign directly to the Poslanecka, the Senat too. When that fails: direct
action. Watson's on board. Jan takes him around his university.
"You'll love my supervisor...”
Love: A strong word. Prof. Ptacek,
spirit-geologist. Not exactly Highfill but Watson can respect: look-up-to-able.
Still: more hippie than hard-nose about the man. Hair: pony-tailed. Not a good
Ptacek's office: Paper towers
wobble. Pamphlets strewn. Ethnic totems abut the windows. Book piles: obstruct
the way. Ptacek encourages Watson to perch on a pile.
"They're very stable...”
He's been to America. Loves the Rockies (He would). "I had a fellowship at the University
of Boulder...I never wanted to come back, but of course, there is so much work to
be done here...”
Asks Watson a lot of depressing
questions: Has he been to Burning Man before, Bonoroo? Uh-uh.
"I've heard they're wonderful
gatherings. I'd like to go myself someday, but I think I may be of another
His spirit-home: Colombia. "She bleeds...” Off to the
races: "We've lost perhaps 45 trade unionists this year. It makes one lose hope
sometimes, but as our science is a dynamic science, so must our politics be a
Sees where Jan gets it. Sees how it
could be seductive. Jan applies the brakes. Ptacek shows Watson around the
labs. Gannet faced-kids at computer crunching stats. Watson meanders.
"To be in Radvanice is to understand
purgatory,” Ptacek, almost shouting amid the keyboard polyphony, "have you read
Dante, Mr. Watson?”
"The people see their situation as a
form of punishment, they accept it, and why is this? To accept punishment is to
become free. Have you read the Brothers Karamazov, Mr. Watson?”
"And our purgatory in Radvanice is
not so dissimilar from the one posited by the church, the sooner one accepts
their station, the sooner they can be freed from it. Dependency is the great lesson
of the universe...The term 'particulate' is no doubt familiar to you?”
"Someone from the
session with Ludo. She'll have to deprogramme him later. They're maneuvering
around her now. Grubenstein figured her out, "She's against us. She's with the
she does work with poor Ludo, you can hardly blame her...”
can't be everywhere at once. She isn't superhuman. We can crush her...”
punishes Grubenstein. Whenever he walks by, she witches his trousers. Two
speeches: given with undone fly.
He's losing it... "Don't tell me I didn't zip my trousers! I should know...”
Herr Minister, they were unzipped...”
leak here, a leak there...Herr Finanzminister: has a brother-in-law in the
building trade. Interesting contracts...Russians...
know it's war. They know who's commanding the troops. They cease holding back.
Smear her to Ludo. Ludo knows the game: She's "Ludo”. Couldn't hire anyone
else. Not even if he wanted to.
it happens: Crisis
So the FAZ reports: "Death of two Germans in
Mali...The FAZ has learned that their presence was connected to the renewable
energy programme negotiated a month ago by FM Ludo Osterberg...Elements within the
foreign office were found to have sidestepped Osterberg's authority in
deploying the security contractors...rumours of a coup were not passed to the
Who knew what when? This is how it
happens: They play the hardest ball possible. It's her or Ludo. They're calling
for heads. Maybe both.
claims an infinite supply of stooges. Ludo's just the easiest. The consensus
Ludo's choice? Drop 'the Ossie Bitch' or 'Elements' within the
Government will call for his resignation.
it happens: "The FAZ (by stealing the notes of a drunken Le Monde reporter-unprinted)
has learned that one of the key backers of the coup was the disgraced, American
writer, Nathan Highfill...”
She leaves work after lunch.
Ludo calls her in: Moment she's been
waiting for. Full-witch: can't let him have a thought of his own.
"My girl, this is very serious...”
She briefly tunes in LudoVision: No
more tennis victories. Sad Ludo in Prison...
"It's not as if you're going to be
put in prison.”
went on in your mind?”
"There were no options.”
are very few options now.”
are more than you think...”
laughter: brief, almost mirth-fee.
people respect him...”
me two weeks. We can destroy him.”
girl, what are you saying? Even if he has to resign, there is still
is vulnerable too...”
girl, you will destroy the entire cabinet...”
a new card:
do that for you, Ludo...”
not what I want.”
what shall we do?”
was hoping you would know, my girl...”
He agreed. Serious tugging:
required: "Perhaps...No, it is pointless...I swear to Heaven, my girl, when I talk
to you it is as if I can't control my own thoughts...I will agree, but if it
doesn't work, then, my girl, you must go...”
Spokes-bot: "The Office of the
Federal Prosecutor of the Deutschesbundesrepublik has lodged a formal request
with the government of the French Republic to the effect that the disgraced American
writer, Nathan Highfill, should be turned over to German authorities in Bamako for extradition in connection with the deaths of
two German intelligence officers in the recent attempted coup in Mali. He is
currently being held as a material witness by the French Republic
and is being housed in their Embassy in the capitol. The Office of the Federal
Prosecutor hopes that the Government of the French Republic
will act expeditiously in this matter as The Prosecutor's office intends to
charge Mr. Highfill with two counts of premeditated murder. With that, I will
be happy to take your questions. Yes, Greta...”
"The Foreign Minister has spoken
with his American counterpart, they will not interfere in Highfill's
Ultra-Right: entranced. Flags: being
Schneidermann and Grubenstein:
rolls on, slow, silent as grey ice. Cannot keep thoughts of the Barbarians
away: Suevi leaders with ceremonial haircuts, Alanic crazies, the Empire
neither dead nor living...
He walks along Cecilienallee, the green
Rheinpark under dewy rain. His straw hat bows. He is careful of his shoes. His back aches. Had a boy in his hotel last
evening: overzealous. The flexible years: behind him. Perhaps there's an
untreated injury somewhere, he'd care not to know. He cares not to think of
many things now. Sits in a beer room of Reinkneibrucke: Somehow it feels right
to be in Germany.
He goes to the flimmuseum. They're screening (
). Lovely, dark, empty. Bleak and necessary as his mission. He drinks as
often as possible. Stops in a bar near the train station. Gimlet. He wanders
the University environs. Plays tourist in a student bar. Nothing left to hope
hope of a boy.
the toilet he lingers over an events guide. He would welcome any distraction
however ephemeral. He thinks of dead faces.
August 20--: Emile Zoloft, place off LichtStrasse.
Whatever 'indie-rock' is...
Knows there will be boys there. So
many lonely boys....
secretes the events guide.
Train to Heine-Allee. Let it happen.
Let it happen...
Ptacek: bien forme. Likes a long
lunch. Watson on the grass, Prague summer. At Sarka-Lysolaje. Ptacek likes the
lake and the footbridge, the footpath and the quaint houses, the serpentine
trees. Vastness disturbs Watson. He could shout, only Ptacek would hear.
Prague-life: ticking right along.
integrating. Lots to love here. Eva's got him bar-backing two nights a week:
"Just take the empty glasses and occasionally rotate pretzels...no need to talk
to anyone.” At the collective: Watson's the utility man, variety of roles,
helps Jurgen with his thesis: 'Anarcho-syndicatism and the Haymarket Martyrs'
('Chicago is in the middle of America...”), helps Rocco with his screenplay
("Iranian Womans in Space” Watson: "I'd work on the title...”), kills spiders for
Eva. No one else will. Does it remorselessly, like a man working something out.
Awareness Campaign: Watson: assuming a behind
the scenes role. Jan's been on the frontlines with Tycho and Stich. Latest:
arrest. Refusal to pay fine for "affray”. Jan was handing out leaflets.
This isn't even illegal.
Anything can be illegal, what country did you grow up in after all, college
was mad: They pepper-sprayed. He got madder. They clubbed. He convalesces at
the collective, talks of going back to Essen...
pouring Riesling, singing Jan-praises "...more, how does it go, 'piss and
vinegar' in the boy than I would have thought...”, producing metaphors: "It's not
as if one can simply say, this nightmare will happen, or that nightmare will
happen, it is more that we are at a banquet of possible nightmares and one may
select from any given dish at any given moment...”
Really rankles, "These fine fellows like the President of our country they
produce a man and he says I live in Radvanice, I am hale and healthy and wise,
and yes, perhaps it is true, but the human body is strange, it is a kind of
metaphor itself, it takes exact science and makes it inexact, but of course, if
you explain this, they say that you are trying to 'mystify', if you say, 'Yes,
and if you play Russian Roulette, and five chambers are empty, you have an
80% chance of a good outcome, but will
you play the game if no one forces you? Will you volunteer? Will you volunteer
with your children?”
Field trip to Jan's prison. Not
visiting day. Cop eyes Ptacek.
Wind up at Eva's beer parlour. TV
grinds in the background. Ptacek in flow: "In a way it is a shame you couldn't
have seen this country before. At least then people could direct their anger,
now it is all much fuzzier. I was your age when the Husek and the boys fell
down the stairs. It was very strange, many things did change for the better but
it was as if an exorcism had happened, but not like the movie, an exorcism of
the decency in people fled along with the communists. The year I graduated from
University I remember not buying a single album by a Czech group. I remarked
that it was strange at the time, but perhaps now I see that it was not so
strange, it is easier to sing from sorrow than from joy in this country...
In the background, TV whispers and
grunts and squeaks. Relaying the day's accrued anguish: India shrieks, Iraq
blazes, America knifes itself quietly in chest. Africa is a chaos bouquet: dead
flower faces, coup in the west...Then there's a word he knows: Highfill.
Learns the Czech word for
'disgraced'. Even Ptacek's amazed.
Suddenly it all washes over.
Watson's 'talking' in an abstract sense, no real relationship to it: Yeah,
he'll visit Jan in prison tomorrow. No, it's a promise.
"This is our struggle now, we have
to own it. If we let down, what will happen? What will history say about us?”
Watson toasty, has to get going, no
really, busy day tomorrow. He won't forget about Jan, of course not...
Watson on the train. Ding-dong of
stations. Highfill in prison. So much worse than he'd imagined. Highfill in
manacles, led off a plane. German police flanked. Trousers: crease crispness:
impossibly true. Highfill complexion: like translucent paper, almost cobalt,
you can almost see his blood circulate. Watson watched him bundled into a
secure vehicle: to where?
Ding-dong of his stop. Watson exits
into the early evening. Prague soft and pretty under the fading pink of the
sky. Watson clocks in. Stich moans hello. Watson pats Stich-shoulder.
The spinning of the world: Watson's
mental landscape. He falls to his futon. Highfill in dark-glasses, disappearing
into the secure vehicle...What was the accusation? Watson only caught fragments,
something about Mali, some kind of coup. Could it be true? So many Highfills
he's encountered, in the minds of the people he's met along the journey all
Highfill Haters. It can't be true. All these lies. What if it is? Highfill
merely a ghost, something from the toy chest to be put away for good. He can't
accept it. The thought of Jan in prison, of Highfill in prison. Surely they're
both martyrs. A fearful symmetry. Watson speculating: Highfill framed?
Blackmailed? No proof. But still...No one to fight his corner. Highill will be
handed the regulation narcolyptic defence attorney, railroaded into a long
sentence, Watson knows how Europe works, convenient whipping boys are always
welcome. Highfill's proximity to the ex-Pres (however repugnant): excludes a
Watson sits up, breathes the warm
air from the window, almost sweet, hard to believe the world suffers as much as
Crunch time. Watson: must become
Captain Crunch. He can't leave Jan, must not leave Jan, critical point, the
function may change direction shortly...But he can't leave Highfill either.
Thinks back to their brief encounter: Highfill on the couch, listening to
Watson's ideas, kindly-indifferent. That
man in prison now. Can Watson serve both Highfill and Radvanice/The Planet?
Highfill could atone. Watson as fulcrum of Highfill redemption. Bigger than
just the writing, bigger than the genius: Highfill reborn putting right his
skewed legacy. Watson sees him in Prague, before the crowd in Wenceslaus,