after language, the novel that isn't Part 26
Written by William Kherbek on Monday the 17th of October 2011
Settle on the hotel bar. Klaus-friendly menu: takes a eight eggs and
a steak. Watson: knodel.
Watson deflated, bare beneath bathrobe. Slumps in a pillow meadow.
Klaus out on the town, seeking a whey-dealer. Might pick up some knee-wraps
too, just to be on the safe side. Watson bids adieu. Room-services a whisky and
soda. Watson spelunks the visitors guide. Ancient Cottbus: Sorbs, wool-mills
and textiles. Brandenburg, Prussia, Saxony...
notes: Schwartzpumpe and Boxberg. Coal stations. Surreal along the river, like
submerged ships. Jan thoughts: almost involuntary. Could he still be in prison?
Watson could call, has the number in his notebook.
Riffling pages when room service knocks.
The office hums. More to German foreign
policy than Nathan Highfill. Long evenings trying to prep Ludo for OSCE meeting
with his Kazakh counterpart, main obstacle: getting Ludo to stop saying
"It's really very simple, three
syllables, not four.”
It goes on like this...
Then there's Afghanistan. She's had
Freddo on the phone with the FAZ people. They opine: Germany should opt for
"muscular”. Freddo sticks to the talking points: de-escalation, minimising
German losses: the imperative. Presses for Ludo Op-Ed, outlining 'The
Government's' position. FAZ: Not unreceptive. Maybe buys two months.
Then there's Russia. Gas issues.
Pipelines. NATO. The usual.
Then there's China. Trade
imbalance. Currency issues. Environment (Luna pushed for it, Freddo seconded...)
Then there's Poland. Clowns in
charge, ultra-right clambering at the doors, clowns give succor: campaign of
hate: anything and everything: Russia, Germany (of course...), scientists,
working mothers, international financiers (hint, hint...), anarchists, ecologists
(probably witches too...). Complaint to be filed after images of the Chanzellerin
appeared on billboards: giving the Furher suck.
Then there's Turkey. Best not to
Then there's France. Best not to
Then there's the Plot. She's witched Schneidermann
and Grubenstein in cabinet meetings, sees they're moving beyond Ludo. Think
they can turn the Defence Minister (CDU too, doesn't look like a Rightist coup,
no fingerprints...). Luna plays her last card: tells Ludo she's behind the move
on the Chanzellerin, 'his' move that is. He's wary but open. She feels the
ickiness: whole edifice may come tumbling...it doesn't matter now. She's gone
over the top.
Pinball joint in Mitte. Young
fellows lounge. Drinking forbidden arak. Some: Bud Light. Slight twinge as he
enters. Echoes of home. Peeled shiny silver labels like flags. Summer shirt,
baggy chinos, windswept hair. Every inch a man on holiday. His back hurts from
the previous night. It's an every night thing now. So many night-spots, so
free-and-easy. It's beautiful, no? It partially destroys him.
Settles into a corner. Pretence of
reading a French newspaper (may signal his intentions).
"Drink? Ah, yes, my reading must
have distracted me, it's a charming establishment you have.”
"A vodka gimlet please. And don't
scorn a lime please.”
Gruff bar-chatter. Troubles him.
Perhaps he was too open. Gimlet arrives. He doles Euros. Fellow departs.
Could he do without it tonight? So
strange that its like this now. Remembers his slip up back home, with Spanish
John. What became of the lad...He chases it away.
the risks: too severe. Perhaps this new order is decadent but it is a fallen
world, one does what one must.
Tries to read amid pinball clatter, pinball chime.
Two gimlets later, notices the
barmen shoot glances in his direction. Something lost in translation. The
possibility they're thinking along the same lines: grotesquely exhilaration,
first the stocky one behind the lacquered bar, square as a box of anger, then
the tall boy, the hollowed one, the waiter.
darker prospects: they want to give him pain.
Rustles the Figaro. Bids the young man come.
"My compliments to the tender.”
Jerky movement: denotes: "I didn't
hear you, maybe you're glad I didn't...”
"An excellent drink,” gimlet aloft,
"I wondered if you might have a
cigar or something similar for a gentleman.”
Shrugs. A robotic stomp bar-ward.
Box of cigars: roughly opened. He's
dumb. Dangerously dumb. Tastily dumb...
Doesn't linger over selection. Takes
a thick one. Box clicks shut. Bar guy snips. Lights him.
On the road to exquisite...
Gimlet bravery. It's now or never.
Summons the boy. Proposes a drink, himself, the boy, the proprietor. What will
he have? Brow beetling.
"I would not deny its potency.”
Ah: The luscious fire of it.
Not exactly as he'd planned it. They
drank together. The others slowly dispersed. Finally, then the door closed and
the lights dimmed he showed them the book. Then or never. They looked it over.
Uncomprehending, passing it to each other. Hurried talk. Finally, the
bartender, after a long face-scrunch seemed to have a revelation. Taking the
book he wrote with a stubby green number 2.
gimlet swallow. Cryptic, an address near Onkle Toms Hutte. He doesn't press.
Doffs the gimlet, shakes hands and departs.
don't trust a man with a waxed mustache.”
"Your trust is not my primary
concern. My primary, indeed my sole concern is your acquittal.”
Doesn't trust men in shark-skin
suits and gaiters either but no point in wasting his consultation.
makes me think you're Rollie Fingers.”
"Who's to say I am not, Herr
Highfill? If you are acquitted, I could just as easily be W.G. Grace as far as
your concern runs surely?”
"Again, Herr Highfill, perhaps we
should discuss more pressing matters...”
"The publishers hired you?”
"Herr Highfill, I was hired by a
consortium that is funded by a blind trust the Friends of Todger Hollande LLC. ”
"The trust, like justice is
blind, and I for one feel no impetus to look any more deeply into the matter.
You of all people surely understand that in some instances, individuals may
want to remain nameless as they pursue their good-deeds. I find it a most
Christian attitude myself, that the left hand should not know what the right
hand is doing...”
"I've read about you.”
"One would never guess as much.”
"You're some kind of...leftist.”
"I believe in a system of justice,
not merely a system of law.”
"Fucking leftist. Why shouldn't I
take the deal?”
"Herr Highfill, you're in prison
illegally now, five more years-and whatever puffery about a two year sentence
for involuntary manslaughter they may have directed your way, you can be certain
you will be in prison for the next five years-five more years of this? I
understand you and Herr Grubbitz have become bosom companions but I should
think you would get more from your relationship if you could visit him at times
of your choosing not at the choosing of the Bundesrepublik.”
"So why am I illegally detained?”
"My dear Herr Highfill, that is a
question for the Federal Prosecutor to answer...”
A frozen sting of disappointment,
then, a deeper understanding. Onkle Tom's Hutte is deserted this time of night,
a few post-industrial squares, a few rectilinear shopping strips. He orients,
finds the street on a bus map. Speak-easy slat in the door. Eyes judge.
"Was machst du?”
Nonplussed, he proffers the paper.
Fingers replace eyes, the slat
clicks. Icicles of panic, then the door grunts open, the obtuse angle gives
little more than smoke, boots.
he not enter? He bows his head and enters the mist. Largely face-free. Then a
second, deeper room, obscured behind a ragged drape, smoke filters and weeps
over the hinge. Could he not enter?
And there it is: the wrestling ring.
Masked men grapple.
Of course...of course!
is lost. He is home.
witch in Plotzensee. Pretext: hollow: inspecting the grounds to ensure
sufficient security is in place so that any attempts to liberate the
prisoner-unlikely as they may be (Warden: Impossible. Witch: Do you know about
the so-called Hague Invasion Act the US Congress passed? Don't know it? It's
officially the American Armed Service Members Protection Act of 2002, not fun
reading. Warden: You've spoken to them surely... Witch: One never knows...Warden
The thought of Highfill inside: like
a tiny burning toothpick in her flesh. What damage is she doing him? What
damage that can never be repaired. Hangs around until his wing is on exercise.
Watches him from a distance as he mills in the rectangular ground. Morose
shoulders, hung Highfill head. Shuffles in circles around the perimeter, as if
measuring his life out in footsteps, in wasted seconds. Did it have to come to
this? What else could it have been? Promises never to witch when it's over.
Whatever it is...
On the U8 back home. The toothpick
twists. That Schneidermann can see him and she can't: its own darkness. That
Highfill could think Schneidermann was his ally: a black hole. She almost asked
the warden to see him, knowing the consequences, the corruption of the case,
the evacuation of the charges, ultimately what she wants anyway, no?
Then there's Ludo. Can she destroy
him? Sees now he'll be destroyed no matter what, if not by her, then by
Schneidermann et al. Better surely that it be her, she who at least pities him...
Leaf flash. Newspaper rattle. East
Berlin. Her face melting from window to window.
Frankfurt. Klaus huff-and-puff
slows. Watson feels the weight of these days. Klaus lets him down. Clasps his
hands stretches them over his head. Cool down. Watson beside him. The unspoken:
Berlin cusp. Highfill in his tower, alone, a stranger, no doubt afraid. A long
silence between them. Miles since the last "Versager.” Then Klaus shoots an
"Glad I bought the knee-wraps.
You're getting heavy. Fat boy.”
Watson reflects the grin.
Killing Highfill will bring him no
pleasure. In a better world he would spend every evening in Onkle Toms Hutte,
watching those stout young men roiling. In this one, there must be justice, and
justice is never pleasant to administer. It won't be easy, Plotzensee is hard.
Will have to happen at a distance, while Highfill is let out for exercise, will
involve a long-distance scope. Acquiring will be easy, Hutte-folk will know
someone. Pulling the trigger will kill them both.
He cannot live though. Not after
Mali. Thoughts of Dante, traitors frozen in the ice at the inferno's heart.
Shakespeare: Death to traitors. Benedict Arnold, Tallyrand, Judas (the
exception proving the rule). No, there can be no more Highfill after Mali.
Justice is his to mete.
Tonight he will order a fourth
gimlet at the matches (he's taught them how to make it, and made arrangements
with a local liquor store owner to ensure they never lack the raw materials...),
he'll put in his request at the bar for a step-over in the second match. The
second match, Macho Ludwig vs. Cpl. Barbarossa. Over the weeks he's come to love
the malignant finesse of Ludwig, sliver-masked heel, ink eagle spanning his
shoulders, strides the ring like panther. His pulse judders when he sees the
name on the programme. Tender at the bar says he'll pass it along.
Indeed there is something of Highfill about
Ludwig, what it is cannot be quantified. He's dismissed any possibility they're
one and the same, Germany, still in the thrall of vacated socialist fantasia,
has a different conception of the efficacy of "work release”. No, it isn't
Highfill, but nevertheless, their auras meld on some level, some level that he
cannot expect to place this side of eternity. Perhaps he'll cheer him tonight
with a raw throated bark, like the workers who sit on the cold folding seats
beside him, perhaps he'll stand and clap when he sees Ludwig striding down the
aisle in his regal mask, in his sparkling robe like the wet fur of a tiger. Wants
tonight to see him suffer. To suffer for them both. He calls back to the
"See that it's Ludwig, tonight,
who's the deponent, I mean.”
Tender scans his German-English
dictionary. Nod of complicity.
It will be Ludwig.
Berlin. The Spreewald tangles
announced it, planes growling down toward Schoenfeld confirmed. Watson almost
can't believe it. Last news cycle was leaving Frankfurt. At last check:
Highfill continued to rot. Berlin was a dream for so long, now it's almost too
real. The mechanics of finding him, what prison is he in? Could he visit? Could
they correspond? That Highfill would
simply ignore him again, after all this time, after all he's learned: Only too
possible. Watson needs the myths: the waldgeisten, Rhine-maidens, Doktor
Faustus, witches. He gets Templehof ruins, the apron of stone. Ghosts but no
spirits. The centurion trees, the motorway chugs. Klaus lets him down. They can
take their time now.
"Good journey,” Klaus thumps his
chest. Chafed Watson, thumps back.
Walking side by side in to
Kreuzberg. Klaus indicates points of interest: gyms, pet shops. He misses
Sigmarsson. He called to check up in Franfurt. He sounded healthy...
There's a place in Wedding for them.
Klaus can find them work.
"This guy, he's always hiring.”
Watson almost doesn't hear, strange
to touch the earth again, to feel the pavement tick under his feet. He's here.
He's here...Klaus drops him at
Hauptbahnhof, great silver exoskeleton, isobars of sky in the arches. A city at
"See you in Wedding. Five?”
Klaus hug: welcome, but could have
waited until after a shower.