Croke got to the hotel and checked in. God had smiled on Croke this evening, or, perhaps, the Devil did. Croke obtained a fabulous room on the sixth floor with a terrace the size of a tennis court. He was giddy over his environs for the next two days, and, as a celebration to God / Devil, he flipped on a pirate radio station on the Bose system, cracked a beer open, and started dancing on the terrace while London’s bright lights twinkled around him. He looked towards Tower Bridge and thought about what he wanted to do this evening. He decided to call Mishkov and set up the dinner near Old Street.
Croke dialed up Mishkov as he wiggled his arse and danced to a beat being spun by a husky-voiced pirate dj. As he waited for Mishkov to answer, he reckoned that his personal life was like a long dj set, in which patterns and motifs would seamlessly change, almost unbeknownst to the interpreter. His life was constantly being beat-mixed, as it were, from the California track, to the New York track, to the Florida track, to the Paris track, and soon, it will flow into a session of the London experience.
“Croke, haha, yes, indeed let us meet at very cool restaurant. I told you, yes? You take tube to Old Street and then go to Rufus, eet very small street, but you find it. Cru, eef that not open, then pizza. I make table for 8PM. I hhhave two nice Russian Girl coming. You vill like them.”
“Take my number, in case problem. Eef we not there, then go to bar around corner.”
“Great! See you there!” Retorted Croke as a twisted Gospel refrain was sung over the deep and thick basslines of a track that he would have never heard in a quiet city like Paris.
Croke was too antsy to concentrate on the pending meetings he had in the morning, and hence continued to suck down bottles of beer and dance on the terrace. He looked his watch every three minutes or so, until it was time to go out and explore London. In fact, he really didn’t know much about London except for a few of the obvious landmarks that fat tourists visited with abandon. He wanted to see something different. He wanted to see an underbelly that was exotic and revealed certain truths about Mankind that he could map to his own Life’s issues. And hence, one hour before the scheduled rendezvous with his Russian friend, he ventured out towards Hoxon Square.
As he was sped away in the ubiquitously found boxy and stylistically antiquated cabs, he pondered the juxtaposition of visual images- contemporary curvilinear glass buildings nestled against fourteenth century churches, dilapidated structures snuggly resting next to neo classical stone foundations that could weather a nuclear attack, the old cabs being passed by new models of Audis and Mercedes that conjured up images of space-travel and the digital age, and all shapes, sizes and colors of human beings. Of course, every city has its complexity and diversity, but for Croke, London was decidedly more exotic than Paris, or even New York for that matter.
Croke thought the city looked haunted by the Ghosts of ambitious minds, as the cab meandered through twists and turns of streets that were squeezed into narrow pathways by Gothic, Victorian, and contemporary buildings. There was an unnatural logic to the streets; they were a little too haphazardly designed to be even from another epoch. He wondered if these streets traced out a zigzagged path fit for the Cartesian plane because that was how the ancients designed them, because a relentless rain of German bombs created such an span of urban destruction that a new and decidedly inefficient infrastructure was required, or perhaps it was simply that the old cabdriver, as honest as he appeared to be, was simply taking him on a wayward path that would end up at the right destination via a circuitous yet preplanned path for an extra quid or two.
Croke was a banker, and he had a lot of banker friends. His world was concerned with the passing of capital from one party to another through increasingly efficient venues. Whenever people questioned Crok’s inner circle of bankers about what they did, they responded, like Croke did, that they created ideas for making financial markets more efficient. Yes, greed disguised in a thin veil of economic altruism was distilled into a science for bankers such as Croke. Croke sniggered to himself from time as he realized that he created nothing, and yet he was compensated beyond his childhood dreams for a sequence of thoughts and click points that erupted out of his crafty mind at a precipitous rate. But for a second a thought haunted him as he passed a fourteenth century church. He didn’t fully understand the nature of the spirit that invaded his thoughts until much later, but I will relay that it was certainly was spawned by the mundane images of London’s buildings. As he sat in the cab and looked at the endless layers and arrays of buildings, roads, churches, monuments, and other signs of civilization, he reckoned that the shear social organization of the humans who built these massive structures had comprised a large complex of human cells- a human cell automaton, whose individual tasks were simple enough, but, upon a larger scale displayed the workings of astounding mental complexity. He realized that Supermen were handling the strings of a vast cell complex of cooperating meat puppets. These Supermen, men who made sure that blocks of Earth would be fashioned into a remembrance of their existence, held all the cards of the day in terms of what would be done to secure immortality, chose who would do the work and decided how it would all be recorded in history. These men were greedy, intelligent, shrewd, and yet they all possessed the rare trait of understanding the importance of passing on to their posterity the sole seemingly out-of-grasp concept that all that mattered on Earth was achieving immortality; Croke mused that the promise of Heaven was not enough, and that, for these men, the Enlightenment always existed even before the rest of Mankind knew it. Croke knew They, the Supermen existed, he saw it everywhere he turned while snuggled in the boxy cab creeping through the angular streets to the sound of antiquated gadget on the cabby’s steering wheel that chirped with every brake-pedal press.
More twists and turns ensued through the damp streets of the City, while Croke imagined many other ideas. The scenery gradually changed from the juxtaposed images of old testaments of Mankind’s will to endure and conquest, followed by vast stretches of curvilinear contemporary structures encasing unthinkable machines and processes dedicated towards making money, and then finally through a vast expanse of exotic and dingy Graffitti-stained storefronts and bars. It was a dirty and uninviting environment, and, despite that the fact that Croke had never ventured into these parts of London, he trusted his various friend’s advice- this was the Radical Chic part of town, this was where things were happening, this was “it”.
Croke stepped out of the cab, handed the old cabbie ten quid and told him to keep the change. He then walked down Rufus street and peered into a few bars and restaurants. Rufus Street looked tired and worn out, like a down and out w***e who’d been trampled on by the feet of thousands of disrespecting denizens in search of cheap thrills. And yet, from the vantage point of a street stroller, the insides of the bars on this street appeared to glimmer and shine, as if a coterie of lanky catwalkers were laughing at the physical street itself; the bars were chic, sexy, and filled with equally chic and sexy modern bohemians who, reckoned Croke, slaved over spreadsheets, worried about email wordings, and played phone tag during the working hours, and then transmuted into glowing creatures of depeche mode extraordinaire. He heard snippets of conversations emanating from passersby of nebulous sexual orientation, and all of the words centered around fashion, art, wine, and France. He wanted to interject on a certain conversation, but was too lazy and tired.
He tried to compare the Polis of London to his other experiences in Paris and New York, and was at a loss. Paris was “out of it”, out of the league of London for sure, but then he wondered what invisible energy drove this city. The French certainly had their glory in a thin slice of time, and yet, that glory seemed to be fading into nonexistence, while London still sparkled even in the tired streets near Old Street. So, the only other city that would be comparable would be New York, but it wasn’t, for a reason that he could not at this moment fathom.
“Stupid and trivial thoughts”, thought Croke.
He then looked for his friend in the designated Pizzeria. It was 8:15PM, and he had a clear idea that the Russians were, along with wealth and materialistic proclivities, catching up to all of the fashionable things, concrete and abstract, that were of value to the West. It sounded silly for Croke to even contemplate this. But, he did. The Russians were quick studies when it came to the obvious concrete measure of success. There were little details and minutia to conform to, if one wanted to be a real cool, hip, intelligent capitalist though. So, one of these things to know was to be fashionably late. Yes indeed, to be late was to indicate that one had things to do, people to see, and oil companies to take over. The other obvious benefits to being late are numerous and obvious. I won’t list them all. Croke knew the situation though, and he started to ponder whether his prophecy about the fashionable tardiness of his Russian friend would come to pass. Then, minutes turned into an hour, and Croke became antsy and in need of social and visual stimulation.
Croke decided to wait at the entrance of Il Fornaio, a popular pizza joint in the middle of Rufus Street. He waited for several minutes, during which time a strange woman in a white wool cap approached him and stood about five feet away. Croke noticed that the woman was attractive, and yet there was something slightly cockeyed about her demeanor. She had shoulder length dark hair that was flattened with a certain oily texture that spoke of lack of hygiene, perhaps implemented with a certain Radical Bohemian Chic mode in mind. She was dressed in a style that reminded Croke of all that he conjured up about London in its groovy days; She sported a knee length shoddy coat with houndstooth patterns, black go go boots, black stockings with a few runs here and there, and she was toting a preposterous bag resembling a lunch box from the sixties with a cartoon character painted in purple and green on the front. Croke didn’t notice each of the oddities about here and how the getup seemed to be consummately makeshiftl. Rather, the ensemble on his first glance looked chic and well thought out in terms of creativity and flair. But then, as he examined each component on its own, he realized that it spelled out nothing more than acute bad taste. However, she was attractive, if a little odd in appearance.
She stood there motionless as Croke stole an occasional glance at her. He felt self-conscious as he chain smoked and pretended that she didn’t exist. Minutes passed and it took some time for Croke to surmise that people were passing by him and into Il Fornai and saying “Good Evening”, “Hello”, and other salutations because they actually thought he worked there; In fact, Croke did resemble a short and compact bodyguard with a shaved head. So, Croke looked like a bodyguard and the woman looked like she was possibly waiting for a friend next to a bodyguard, but, then again, Croke was fairly sure that she was waiting for nobody. He felt she was waiting for Croke to say something, to acknowledge her existence perhaps, and then maybe something else would be demanded.
Finally, he approached her and asked, “Are you with Miskov’s party?” This seemed like an obvious question given the fact that they both had waited for some time now, and Mishkov did in fact indicate that two women would be accompanying him.
“No. So, why would you use his name in asking that question? You assumed that I knew Mishkov, and that means that you asked a loaded question. That is a fallacy you know.”
Croke scratched his head for a second, while glancing at a dilapidated building housing an Indian restaurant. He didn’t know how to respond, and thus offered “Mkay, well, I’ll be running along now….due to meet some friends….”
“Wait, you ask a loaded question and then just walk off like that as if nothing happened? You have no manners. And, you obviously know nothing about Rhetoric.”
Croke was agitated by her response. Even though, as a man, he did at least subliminally entertain the thought of having s*x with her (he’s a man, ergo…), he was not in the mood to engage in petty accusations and twisted small talk. So, he waved his arms and head and said, “Whatever.” He turned around and walked in the opposite direction.
Croke lit a cigarette, took in a long puff, then turned around to be faced with her long face and big dark eyes. There was something in her eyes that, on the one hand, soothed him and on the other hand, seemed melancholic to the extent that it drummed up memories of someone or something that he once new a long time ago. He didn’t like thinking about his past in a gloomy and ill-defined context, and hence he winced for a second, as if on the fence on whether to respond.
The woman broke into his response with “Don’t call me lady, I’m not a lady, do you know what a lady is?” As she said this, Croke could see that she was not very old (not that this defined lady in any English sense as it is known in England). In fact, she looked like a scrappy and attractive street girl, possibly not more than twenty five years old.
“How would you assume that I am a mademoiselle? You have no skills in speech, logic, and Rhetoric!” She shouted.
“Er, will you just shut the phuck up so I can say something?” shouted Croke, as he shot out an expression that looked like it came from an ill-tempered body guard. She shut up.
“Girl-woman, do know Mishkov or don’t you? Answer me that and maybe, just maybe, we can exchange a few more words…otherwise, I’m outta here….woman-girl!”
“No, wait, ok….I don’t know Mishkov. I’m a film critic prowling around the streets of London at night. I love this area, it gives me a lot of inspiration.” Replied the woman.
“Inspiration for what?”
“Inspiration to make the perfect movie. I’ve written several scenarios, but, haven’t finished any of them, since it’s so hard to focus on one idea. I think they all have promise though, really….”
Croke rubbed his head in puzzled state. He then said, “Making a movie? You’re a critic, not a film maker. But, I understand, the action is in the creation, not in the opinion making, right?”
“Is that a rhetorical question? Well, anyway, I guess I can let my guard down for a second here, yes, well, I’d naturally rather make films than write about them. But, alas, my day hasn’t come yet. But you know what? I’m looking for subjects and protagonists for my ideas every night, and, I actually think I’ve found a nice anti-hero- you.”
“What the phuck are you talking about? Me? Why? I’m just standing in front of a restaurant looking for Mishkov, and, surely you can’t think that I’d make an interesting character for any form of theatrical expression…I mean, well..”
“You have an interesting presence. Ok, you’re not Adonis, but, you have an interesting face and you move your body in interesting ways. I actually spotted you sometime ago, sorry for that, but I saw you back near Tower Bridge station. “
“What? This is getting just a little too creepy for my taste….” Croke then turned around and began to walk away for a second when the woman tugged on his coat, deploring him to just hear her out for a few minutes.
She then prefaced her justification with a series of apologies. Then, she said, “The way I see it, I want to be a character in your story, and I feel you have a story to tell, right here in London. I can tell you are American, although you have an odd accent….Anyway, I want to write a scenario in which you meet me here in London, and then, we play a certain game. The game is this…..There are two men, Russian actually, like Mishkov I suppose, who are here trying to do something really bad. I can’t tell you where they are right now, but I will give you one and only one hint. They are planning to take over a country, more or less, and a certain man by the name of Jean-Pierre is going to help them. I want you to find them and I want you to stop them from executing their plan. You must go to Soho in order to do this. If you accomplish your mission, then, well, maybe I’ll be a real close friend to you, and, I think you’ll like that, a really close friend that could help you in your life. You have a few problems I can see that in your eyes, you want to forget your personal history…..isn’t that it?”
Croke smiled and waved his right index finger at her with a coy smile, “Ha ha, that is pretty funny, so, when is Mishkov arriving? What is your name?”
“My name is Nadia, but, I don’t think it is particularly funny. Ok, this is a game, ok, there are no Russians, nor is there a country in danger. Look, you are waiting for Mishkov, he isn’t here, and I can see, it is clear really, that you have nothing better to do right now, here, on Planet Earth, in London. Play along, you’ll like it…..Now, what I want you to do is kiss me, Stupid.”
“What, hey, what are you doing?” replied Croke as Nadia grabbed him and kissed him intensely for about thirty seconds while a loud malfunctioning muffler could be heard within earshot of our fair hero. Croke tried with effort to unlike the vice-like grip of the young woman, and he noticed that her kiss, while pleasant, had a certain effected countenance to it; it didn’t feel real or appropriate, but it did feel nice. While she kissed him, she watched with glimmering eyes as a large van with a loud muffler drove past them.
She finally unlocked her lips from his and said, “Ok, coast is clear, all is well in Rimrock, hehhehhee. That man has been following me for a long time, I think he’s just a mad piker, but, you never know. See, look….” She pointed to a large van manned by a bald large man who was peeking out at them. The van itself looked like an extension of the driver’s seemingly flamboyant presence, and, for a flickering moment, Croke began to believe Nadia. He began to believe in things that she subsequently said were false, but then these thoughts subsided and a degree of reasonable suspicion set in.
Then, Nadia continued with “Mkay, I know you are American, it is clear. One thing I was thinking about recently was how much the American Empire has in common with the Mongolian Empire. “
“Mongolian Empire? What are you talking about?.....I really should be getting on.”
“No, hear me out on this. The Mongolian Empire was one of the greatest empires in terms of its duration and shear size, and yet, can you show me one thing, one physical thing that was left by the Mongols, really let’s start with buildings. Show me a Mongolian building? Why do I say that? In a thousand years, I think someone like me will come up to someone like you and pose the same thing about America. I was in the States recently, covering a film by a young and promising American, of Indian descent by the way, and I couldn’t get the following thought out of my mind- there is nothing here that shows permanence, nothing exists in the States that will test the Ages. I know it sound silly, but, hey, think of London. Well, there are a lot of buildings that are firm and solid and will stand for many more centuries. I know it is a facile concept, but, the buildings of an empire do reflect the desire of that empire to be remembered, yes, er, remembered even though, when you look at a building that is 1000 years old, you may have a hard time contemplating life during those times. Perhaps you will doubt, just for a second, that those times existed, and then your thoughts will come into line and you will shrug it off as nonsense…;and then you will continue to believe in life on Earth before you existed, and you will rely on historical documents and believe that they represent unadulterated truth.”
“Will you shut the phuck up for a few moments while I register your existence, and decide if you are a figment of my imagination….hehehe, I must admit though, your lips feel quite nice.”
“mkay, so you agree. What is your name by the way?”
“Hahahha. Croke? Is there a first name? Or, maybe that is your first name?”
“No, I am only Croke.” Said Croke.
“Well, now I think I need to do a reality check here, I meet a strange man with a shaved head outside of a pizza restaurant called, ‘Croke’, nothing more, nothing less. Hahhaha.” Nadia continued to laugh for a long time until she could control herself. During this time, Croke examined her body and decided that she wasn’t a figment of his imagination, and that, his desire to ravish her, as odd as she was, were stronger than the odd looming fear that he had about knowing her.
“Ok, Nadia, I’ll play the game. Where are the Russians?” Said Croke, as he noticed his genitals grow in size from the influx of blood.
“They are in Mayfair.”
Croke looked for another cigarette but noticed that the pack was empty. He then searched all six pockets in his coat and jeans, and nervously gestured to the sky as he showed signs of desperate need. He then said, “Ok, Mayfair, let’s go, after I get some cigarettes…where can I pick up a pack?”
“Around the corner, there is a small store, you call them ‘Bodegas’ at least in New York. I’ll wait love, and then we’ll go to Mayfair and I’ll help you get the evil Russians.”
Croke became very excited and henceforth ran around the corner to a small store called ‘Ashok’s’ in which he bought a pack of Silk Cut Blues. The cashier, a dark and sullen faced Indian, spent a long time locating the Silk Cut Blues, during which time Croke gazed at rows of snacks and strange patrons who looked like they were coming down from unnatural highs. He finally got his pack and then scrambled out of Ashok’s, turned left, ran down a sidewalk lined with graffiti laden tin doors and small Chinese take out joints until he reached Rufus Street. He turned the corner left, and noticed, much to his chagrin, that his dark-eyed love, his short term Nadia, was gone.
She was gone. He looked around right and left, while he pondered her absence. On the one hand, he was relieved, since she was just another cog in his life’s engine, and even though the cog was a mere wavelet of information, it seemed to have a pronounced meaning for him. On the other hand, he genuinely liked here, because she was, well, first of all, attractive and second of all, she was a seemingly wavelet constrained reflection, a biological mirror as it were right down to even a gender flip, of himself. He could not articulate all of the layers of comparison and contrast, but, he had faith that they existed.
He wanted her in a nontrivial sense, and he was at the same time perplexed by her existence. Her thoughts of history and references to the Mongolian Empire seemed to coincide in important ways with his most recent thoughts and recollections, although, it could be discerned by Croke as well as the writer and the readers of this story that She, Nadia, articulated this connection in a much clearer fashion. There was only one History of Earth, although that one History had certainly gone through several revisions and reshufflings of ideas and artifacts. In the same way, one’s history on this planet also goes through a myriad of changes in self-interpretation, each change of which is precipitated the most inconsequential of motifs such as a change of city, a change of context, or a change of friends and acquaintances. His current context and city was London, and he had been around the block many times, in many cities, and he had endured many trials and tribulations in social and other categories of intercourse. And thus he felt like he was on the crest of a wavelet of revolutionary proportion, a wave that was constrained in time and space, but which, despite its immediacy, demanded a profound recognition.
So, what was this wave, and what was the change of paradigm. Croke was forty four years old? He was born in California. He studied Physics at Stanford for eight years. He went through an array of female relationships that ended with nothing, much to the chagrin of his family. He traveled the world, taking on postdoctoral positions for small stints of time. Then, he snapped and exited academics and entered the world of banking while still in the fits of adolescence at the unripe age of thirty. Still unattached, with immediate family moving out in several random dimensions from ground zero of Crokeness, he felt even more unattached to the real world and like a smoke particle moving about randomly on a two dimensional manifold whose topology matched that of a sphere. He roamed and roamed and roamed the planet as a Phycisist and then as a banker, and he never became attached until he met a nice young French girl by the name of Alexandra. They were married and lived and roamed throughout the world for several years, childless, unattached to the roaming particles comprising immediate family relationships. And then Croke went through a crisis known to human’s as a midlife crisis, and this really meant that he was becoming a man at the age of forty. Unfortunately, this meant that he had to decide on whether his current situation was correct and in line with his view and philosophy on life, and, being the case that life’s path was so riddled with random bumps and reflections, and, being the case that all connections to the past were severed through separation of space, he was prone to make a decision based on a Markovian model of existence- all information was captured in the present, and if the present didn’t feel right, the write a new present. And this revision required the revision of a past. Yes, write a new past, just as billions of humans have written a new past throughout the ages. And, the only haunting proof of the true past, only things that humans, and Croke, could rely on with a cold recognition of physicality, were things in the MeatSpace of the here and now- buildings, humans in immediate presence, geographical references, and so on.
Then, his mind stopped thinking for a few minutes, during which time his eye muscles relaxed to the extent that focus on any particular object became obscure. For these few precious moments, he was in a blissful state of nothingness. Then, his Nirvanic state was interrupted by a familiar sound; the sound of a sonorous muffler loomed to his left. He looked left, engaging his eye muscles in the process, to gaze at a large white van driven by a man with shaved head. The van puttered up to stop just in front of Croke.
The driver wound down the left hand window, and said, “Mate, do you know where Gul’s Bar-B-Que is?”
Croke stared at the strange man that he remembered just moments ago during a blissful kiss with a strange woman. He paused for a moment and then said, “Er, sorry, I don’t know.”
The man hesitated for a few moments and stared at Croke with a look that suggested a certain degree of disbelief. He then rubbed his left hand on his head and smiled. Finally, he replied with, “Mate, sorry for bothering to ask, but, are you waiting for someone?”
Croke didn’t reply. He was nervous.
“Mate, I saw you talking to a woman earlier and I thought, well, I really thought that you looked like the type of person who may be waiting to meet some mates, er, you know, some friends. Now, I see that your mates are not here, not now at least, and, well, you being a person who seems to be waiting for some mates, and, er, I being a person in search of Gul’s Bar-b-que, well….hey, you are alone, and I am lost so, what do you say that we team up and, er, I will be a friend for an hour or so, and you and I will find Gul’s.”
Croke then thought about the short span of time that he shared with Nadia, the woman in ill-matched clothing just minutes ago, and how pleasurable they were even though while that time passed, he wasn’t sure whether he liked it. But, compared to being accosted by a bald man in a large white dirty puttering van, those moments seemed like a rare golden treat in the immense span of one’s lifetime on Earth. He imagined, in an instant, that his lifetime was a finite interval of absolute time, and yet, with respect to an internal metric, perception stretched that interval unboundedly backwards and forwards, and, as such, those few moments with Nadia were finite compared with infinity, and, sadly, that they would be ultimately lost into nothingness, since it was the recurrence of real physical, absolute things that created lasting impressions on his conscience.
This thought then evaporated into its own nothingness, but, just at the right ended limit of its existence framed as a decent idea, worthy of further contemplation, he thought about a short anecdote that he heard while he was at Stanford. He recalled that someone had told him that at the Institute for Advanced Study, roughly in the epoch of Einstein, that there was a park near the Institute’s grounds in which notepads were placed near benches amidst the greenery and foliage so that great minds could record random thoughts with pencil and paper. His last thought, after this seemingly inconsequential thought, was that he wished he had a pencil and paper to record the last three or ideas. Alas, they were lost into nothingness and he had a vague recollection, which only lasted a sliver of a second, that he didn’t need to remember everything that he had thought of, rather, that previous ideas would be retrieved as needed.
“Mate, I’m talking to you. You want to come with me or not?”
Croke thought for several moments about what he wanted to do. In fact, the risks seemed small, he had no plans, Mishkov was obviously arriving just a tad bit fashionably late, and, the icing on this logic was that maybe, just maybe, he might meet up with Nadia again. The reason for the last conjecture was that she did point the strange man out. Even though Croke surmised that her gesture was a ruse, he suffered from a common trait of all men; he fooled himself into believing that this man was fallowing her, and that, perhaps, all of the things she said were true, including the Russian conspiracy theory involving an as-of-yet unknown country. Thus, he nodded and sauntered over to the large white van, opened the passenger door, and hopped in.
The man with the shaved head smiled slightly deviously, extended his hand, and said, “Brad, nice to meet you.”
“Oh, hi, Croke.”
“Croke? What kind of name is Croke? Your Christian name is?”
“It is just Croke, just call me Croke.” Said Croke as he smelled a slightly unpleasant odor pervading the van’s interior.
“Hahahaha, Croke! That is a pisser! Ok, Croke….where do you want me to take you, mate?”
“Er, I don’t know, I was supposed to meet Mishkov for dinner, but he didn’t arrive on time, not sure if he’ll come at all….”
“Mishkov pulling a no show, eh? B*****d….bloody b*****d. Who is Mishkov?”
“He’s a friend of mine whom I met on the train.”
“You met him on the train, you met someone who turned out to become your friend, on the train? That is odd.”
“Well, no, I met him on the train today, but I knew him before.”
“How could you have known him before if you met him on the train?”
Croke became agitated. “I met him on the train tonight, but that doesn’t mean that is how I originally met him, ok, Brad? I met him for the first time some time ago, and then, by chance, I saw him on the train….ok, I saw him, I didn’t meet him. Whatever, you really did know what I meant when I said it, no?”
“How do you know it was by chance? Maybe things were meant to be this way, you never know, right? Maybe this was meant to be, maybe you were meant to go to this restaurant, meet that nice little girl, well, she is actually not so little, er, that nice little big girl just now and maybe, just maybe, you were supposed to meet me and go somewhere in order to accomplish something, some little task, an assignment mate, that will be important for you.”
“Important? Ok, whatever Brad, so, well, where are we going? Gul’s Bar-B-que?” Croke made a gesture of ‘air quotes’ when he enunciated ‘Gul’s Bar-B-Que’, while he rolled his eyes incredulously.
“Yeah, that’s right mate, Gul’s. Actually, Gul’s is in Soho. You ever been to Soho mate?”
“Well, Gul’s is a Mongolian Restaurant. Mate, you ever had Mongolian food?”
“No, I haven’t, what is it like?”
“Well, not much really. You build a fire and throw some meat on it. That is basically it, hahaha.”
“Funny coincidence, that ‘big little’ girl you observed with me was actually talking about the Mongol Empire. It was funny. She compared it with the United States. Strange, no?”
“Mongol Empire? United States? Hard to see the connection. Mongols did in fact rule a very large region of Asia for a couple of hundred years, but, I really don’t see the connection there. One thing, mate, is….well, I guess you could say that there are a lot of Mongolian influences in Asia and, certainly, currently, the only obstacle to the next push-the next big industrial push-requires the assuaging of the Mongolians to, er, well, hey, mate, er….nevermind.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Nothing, er, ok, well, if you twist my arm, hehehehe, yes, mate, I guess I can tell you that the next frontier is China. China needs oil. Russia has oil. China can only get oil through circuitous means, but, hey, if anyone could deliver oil into China, from Russia with a pipeline, that person would be a billionaire. No. a trillionaire, or maybe a quadrillionaire. That person would have enough cash to by Trafalgar Square, hehehee, really…..”
Brad then suddenly became quiet as he navigated through a slew of roundabouts, curvaceous slow moving roads, and long thoroughfares, which, in aggregate, seemed to chart out a path roughly due north west from their original location next to Hoxton Square. There was a long spell of silence in which Croke gazed in wonder at an underbelly of London that he never knew existed; dilapidated rows of nineteenth century structures nestled against graffiti-laden store fronts, colorful denizens milling about with nothing on their minds, and several odd signs advertising a joint called “Kan Kook Klack Restaurant”.
Croke observed the ethnic diversity of this particular stretch of London, and finally felt compelled to say something about it. He was about to say something on his mind related to this observation, and then he thought about the things that Brad had just said.
Croke searched for something to say about the Mongol Empire and the need for Oil in China, but he was at a loss. So, he asked about Kan Kook Klack Restaurant, since he was reminded of its existence about every three minutes on this particular road.
“’Kan Kook Klack Restaurant? What is that? Chinese food, no?” Said Croke.
“Kan Kook Klack? Hahhahahaha, you’re kidding me….hahahahhahaah, Kan Kook Klack? You don’t know what that means? You have no idea?”
“Well, no, not exactly…what does it mean?”
“Mate, that place, my friend, is a front, and a not very intelligently disguised front, for the Ku Klux Klan, UK division, hahahahha…..”
“You’re shitting me……get the phuck outta here! Really?” Croke uttered, as he pondered the degree to which he felt ill-at-ease being in a stranger’s dirty white van. He wondered why he had chosen to ride with Brad. And yet, he felt he was on the cusp of a concept that both of them could laugh at in unison- the Ku Klux Klan- a concept, a group of humans with an antiquated and unfashionable platform for living, a bunch of wacky undereducated people- and yet, for a second, Croke became paranoid that maybe Brad was actually aligned with the Klan. He didn’t know why he felt this for a split second, but he did and then, that thought evaporated and he calmed down. However, Brad continued to chuckle with a demeanor that masked a large vector of potentially nefarous intentions. Then, Brad’s chuckle increased in volume, gaining in amplitude at a rate that seemed to Croke to be highly correlated with a perceived increase in car speed.
“Hahahahahaha, you have to meet these people, really, really, it isn’t what you think it is…they are for, hahahahaa, hey, they are for Solar Energy….Solar Energy? That is pretty politically correct, isn’t it...? Solar Energy! How can we build that phucking pipeline with the Klan against us? Hahahhaa…..”
Croke was immersed in one of those moments in which he was not interested in the topic being discussed, and in which he didn’t know the proper reply to a statement that was meant to impress. Should he have said, ‘no kidding? Really? Get the phuck outta here?’ Or, maybe he should have uttered ‘I hear ya.’ He opted for the former class of responses to uninteresting statements and barked out, “Impossible!”
When Brad heard these words, he sneered at Croke for a few seconds, then he floored the gas of his dusty white van, which created a remarkably large centrifugal force on their bodies. As the van thrust forwards onwards like an angry machine, Brad looked flitted his eyes and impressed upon Croke the gravity of our fair hero’s seeming disbelief. Then, Brad slammed on the brakes, which precipitated a tail spin on a stretch of street that was lined with a several colorful bars and restaurants. The sound of the skidding vehicle coupled with the smell of burning rubber sent clear perceptions of pure fear through Croke’s body, and, for a moment, he was disoriented so much that he forgot what city he was in. The van spun around at least a full three hundred and sixty degrees. Croke screamed. Brad laughed. And then, the van finally came to a halt, pointing backwards, nestled on the sidewalk next to a Tandoori Restaurant called Tikka. A large group of people quickly surrounded the van and proceeded to holler in anger at this event. Croke felt guilty about what had happened, although he soon realized that this feeling didn’t make sense; why should he have felt guilty? He should have felt angry that the angry mob didn’t care about his welfare, his physical state, and whether he needed medical attention.
The engine of the van finally ceased its whining noise, and, other than the screaming street denizen’s shouts, the only other sound came from what seemed to be the release of steam from an engine part. Then, Brad gazed at Croke, unfazed by the converging and increasingly angry mob next to the van’s windows, and said, “Never, ever, ever doubt what I am saying mate. I only tell the truth, and if you cannot handle the truth, then, well mate, you have no future here, or in the United States of America. The Klan is into Solar Energy, trust me on that one. I never tell lies. I tell things the way they are. I understand that the Klan is bad, that we all hate the Klan, and all of that. Not that I hate every person in the Klan, but I hate what they stand for, and, of course you should to, irregardless of the history of the Klan. “
“Now, I need to tell you something. You are going to help me build a pipeline into China. We are going to Gul’s and meet two Russian men who have the motive, the means, and the opportunity to see this through. We are going to pay enough money to a few Mongolian officials to make this happen, because China needs oil, not Solar Energy, oil. China is the future, as well is it was the past, and Russia has what China needs but we need to assuage the Mongolians, because we need to plant the phucking pipeline right through the middle of their country and we may need to destroy a few artifacts of civilization and history in the process. But, don’t worry mate, history can be rewritten, always has been, always will be, just as Klan can all of a sudden be for Solar Energy and call Africans non-European, so, we will execute our strategy, stuff a few large billion in our pockets, and, we will be heroes of democracy and economic advancement. Ok, it is a long stretch, but you will help because you work at a bank that is completely disentangled from all of the mess in Iraq.
Croke was incredulous and yet he was thoroughly disoriented. The recent past receded into the darkness, taking with it all thoughts of how the young Nadia joked with him about Russians and targeted countries in play. Just as he was thinking these thoughts, a police car arrived.
The angry crowd then dispatched into receding seas of chaotic human motion, while a bunch of policemen circled around the van with pistols and rifles cocked and aiming right at them. The policemen seemed equidistantly displaced from the van. In ensemble, they formed a discrete semi-circular ring spanned at a radius of around twenty meters. Croke became hysterical and henceforth pleaded with Brad to give himself up. Much to Croke’s chagrin, Brad seemed to not even compute the presence of the gun-toting cops armed with deadly force and intent to kill. He continued to stare into Croke’s eyes. Then, still gazing at our fair hero, he fumbled for an object with his left arm in the seat behind him. He let out a snigger and then, yelled, “Yowza, I found it, the object of our redemption, here, look at this”, after which he brandished his shiny tool of destruction- a semi-automatic pistol. He then winked at Croke and laughed.
One cop broadcast the following message via an unseen source of significant magnification, “You are completely surrounded. Follow these instructions. Raise your hands into the air. Look into the ceiling of the vehicle. Raise your hands up in fashion that we can see all of them. We will then approach your vehicle slowly. Do not move.”
Croke immediately obeyed. He raised his hands and looked at the ceiling of the car. But, he felt that Brad was not partaking in this. He itched to gaze at Brad, and for a second, he thought about Nadia, then, he thought about checking into his hotel, then, he thought about Mishkov, then, about the train ride, then, about several recent days in Paris, then, about moving to Paris, then, about life in New York over a decade of existence, then, about moving to New York, then about school, then, in a flash, he quickly tried to tabulate all of the important, if not detailed and granular, events in his life. Then, he thought of the Russians who were due to take over a country, connected that thought with Mongolia, then thought about the Klan, solar Energy, and oil.
Just then, he heard Brad’s voice.
“Croke, you think that I am insane, but I am not. I do want to build this pipeline, but I do think about other things as well, just so you know. I know what you are thinking and I know what that nice little big girl was telling you. There is only one history of the world, right? Yes, I know, I think about that all of the time. Every day in which I drive by Trafalgar Square and ponder its significance, I think about life on this one little spec of dust that just happened, just happened randomly. Think of Trafalgar Square. Think of Tienamann Square. Think of Babylon. Think of Ghengis Khan. Hey, that rhymes! Think of all that has transpired on this planet, I know you have thought that, as you have thought about all of the things and thoughts that have occurred here on Planet Earth. The thoughts! How many thoughts have occurred on Planet Earth, let alone the number of humans that have existed and created crazy MobPsychoian thoughts! Let us start with the staggering number of humans who have graced, hahaha, graced, a funny word, no? have graced this planet. There are around six billion humans on Earth. It started with zero some time ago…you can do the math, think of adding a bunch of numbers together, like Gauss did when he figured out how to add all of the numbers from one to one hundred! Yes, that is an anecdote! A meme, embedded in the consciousness of those who are interested in such thoughts, but, think about it nevertheless! Work the numbers out under any number of assumptions. Then, let us do another exercise. Start with six billion humans. Each human has two parents, one mother, and one father. If there was no phucking around, no phucking cousins, no phucking father daughter pairs, hahaha, what a laugh, then, you can easily work out the absolutely astounding and improbable number of humans who are your anscestors, Croke, your ancestors….take 100 generations ago, that is maybe at most, Croke, at most, my friend, at most 1700 years ago…That is…. 1 267 650 600 228 230 000 000 000 000 000.000000 ancestors.
Clearly, impossible. So, there was a lot of insidious, kissing cousin, phucking going on…Yes, a lot, how much, figure that out Croke….But, this is only the tantalizing, tree logic provoking, graph-inspiring pondering aspect of it all. When you pass to the shear number of atomic thoughts that were involved along the way, along the path of human existence, then, we are talking about mind-boggling complexity, and, as such, concepts, whether they be mere fleeting moments of reflection, or ominously organized thoughts that have transformed into Alexander the Great, the Iliad, the Pyramids, Christ, the dark ages, democracy, and all of the myriads of evidence of the presence of human intelligence, are there for us existing six billion to ponder! And yet, there is only certain things, memes, objects, ideas that are verifiable. You can verify that you exist, and that you are in a van with me surrounded by police. But, you are a Christian? I assume you are, well, maybe not, but, you can’t even validate, other than through a vague looming thought of faith, that He, the so-called Son of God, even existed…hell, how can you even prove that that nice little big girl, that nice little heehehe, nice girl even ever ever existed! Hahaha, perhaps, yes perhaps, you have always been in this van, with me, and that your mind is playing tricks on you. Perhaps, you are only a character in a twisted author’s story, and, this is quite ominous, perhaps that evil author is merely strung out and temporarily inspired to tell your sad little tale, on the waning wings of a splendiferous, bacchanalian lunch and is laughing into the winds of contemplation, and that, at the end of the day, he will turn off his computer, have a beer, and go home to a nice wife and a nice but whining little baby and think about other issues in some parallel universe that neither you, nor I, nor these odious cops, who seem to think they can win our proselytizing so easily, can ponder!!!!! Muhahahahaa!!!!”
Croke heard Brad fiddle with his gun. There was silence for several minutes. Then, Brad began to sing, “Da doo doo doo, Da doo doo doo.”, while the cops continued to blare their message in the direction of the van. This continued for a long time. Then, Brad finally said, “Ok, phuck it…..if the police don’t get me, then the Russians will, surely…..phuck it my friend, I’m outta of here!”
With that, Brad fumbled with the door latch for a few seconds, panting heavily in the process, as the blaring message from the police increased in intensity, frequency, and volume. Croke thought that this was it; he continued to stare at the ceiling of the van, but he imagined that within seconds the van and the two occupants would be riddled with bullet holes. He thought of his wife and son in Paris for a split second, and, oddly, he was perplexed for an even smaller interval of time that he didn’t precisely fear death. He didn’t even fear the fear of death. He was convinced that he was going to die, and concluded that with extremely high probability, these thoughts would be his last. He often had thought about the final moments before death, and had figured that the last moments of a human’s life must be intensely frightful, full of desperation, and wrought with shear terror. And yet, he was surprised by his current reaction to his ostensible pending demise. He wasn’t afraid. He wasn’t struck with panic. He wasn’t desperate. He was simply….sad. He was sad that he would never ever see his wife and son again. It was that simple, and all of the complexities of life’s existence seemed totally preposterously unimportant, and all that mattered, in these last seconds on this little spec of dust, was being able to have a wispy, fleeting, extra moment with the inner circle of humans, the immediate equidistant graph of human relationships, in one’s life. In that instant, Croke finally realized, that all of the complexity of sixth-degreed-seperation, monumental social organization, remnants of human grandness from the Pyramids to abstract beauty of modern contemplation, to every thought that a single human ever has, were completely meaningless, irrelevant, and forgetful. All that mattered was the immediacy of one’s connectedness to those who would care, and, if one were not in the extreme tail class of humans for which many thousands, possibly millions or billions would care, then, one should care about the small number who could reciprocate in thoughtfulness. These were is last thoughts before Brad exited the van and yelled out, “Mother Phuckers!!!!!!”
Croke froze as he heard Brad’s feet run across the road for about three seconds, then, he heard one “pop” sound followed by a chorus of gasps in coming from the outer reaches of the circle of cops.
Croke peeked down and right onto the street to see Brad, now lifeless on his back and drenched in blood.
Then he heard the following message, “This is the police. Keep your hands above your head, and stare at the ceiling of the vehicle.”
Croke’s heart jumped and his hands were clammy as he retreated back into fearfulness, away from the grand philosophizing about one’s demise. Suddenly, he was thinking about beating this situation and surviving, the result of which was that he now feared death and somehow knew that he would probably not die. He began to cry. Slowly, a looming collection of radio transmitted messages emanating from the walkie-talkies of converging cops could be discerned by our hero. At first, the sounds were too muddled to decipher, then, he could make out a few phrases here and there like “Suspect down” and “apprehending suspect two, confirm”. Finally, Croke knew that the cops were within a few meters of the van. One of them yelled into the van and said, “Don’t move! Police. Keep your hands up! Keep your hands up! Keep your head up, don’t look at us!”
All of a sudden, he heard the startling sound of glass breaking. A policemen had broken the glass of the passenger side and subsequently put his arm across Croke’s body in such a manner that Croke was incapacitated, incapable of even flinching a nanometer. He then heard the cop on the right side say a few quick words to the cop on the left side of the van, but he couldn’t make them out clearly, as they were muddled in a thick and odd English accent that a mere American could not fathom.
The two cops exchanged some words, then the one next to Croke pulled him out of the van and onto the ground, face down. He then quickly handcuffed, blindfolded, and lifted him up. Through the blindfold, Croke could see a vague luminescence of red and blue swirling flashes, which he surmised came from the colorful lights of a few of London’s BMW police car fleet. He thought for a second about the conundrum of the English using German cars for policing the streets, and then he chuckled. Then he snapped back into a mode of pure fear as the cop shoved him forward, holding his neck and hands in the process towards some unknown destination. Croke also heard gasps, sniggers, and conversations from all directions and he figured that a very large crowd had probably amassed to partake in this spectacle. He felt his heart pump and for another snippet of time, after which he thought again about his wife and son, safely and warmly encased in a sleek penthouse apartment in the most Nouvelle Riche district of Paris, the seizieme, and what they were doing this precise minute.
Finally, Croke was pushed into a police car, or so he figured. He could hear some of the cops laugh and joke, while others seemed to be involved in a very intense and vastly procedure-intensive process of radioing into headquarters, providing a slew of information about what had just transpired, and registering an array of numerical ids and codes that, for those in British Law Enforcement, must have been as easily discernable as a Sunday comic strip. The cop slammed the door next to Croke, and for a few moments, Croke seemed to be alone in the car, although he did hear a few radio blasts, separated by a channel of static, just in front of him. It sounded like the voice of a radio dispatcher in the process of juggling a dozen incidents of malevolent actions against the structure, social organization, and hierarchy of London, in the UK, on Planet Earth, revolving around the Sun, immersed in an ordinary solar system, which, in turn, was part of a rather regular Galaxy.
Croke’s cop car sped away at a precipitous speed in an unknown direction to our hero. There were no sirens blaring, no cop car lights that he could perceive, and the only aspect of his blind journey that compelled him to think that things were tail-spinning into a preposterous state mixed with fear was that he distinctly heard two London cops in front of him laugh and talk about their horrible shift on the streets. The ride to the presumed police station lasted around twenty minutes, by Croke’s estimates, and ended with an abrupt stop, and the accentuating sounds of the little things that un-blindfolded people notice. Croke heard the sound of the keys of the car jingling after an quick flick of the driver’s wrist. This was followed by a rude burp from the policeman in the driver’s seat. About the same time, the policeman in the passenger’s seat laughed and then he spoke about how much he hate his job.
Croke was then let out the car and his blindfolds were untied. He was surprised to see that his two captors were plains-clothes cops, were rather large and intimidating, and that a bright spotlight was shining down on the trio from a source that seemed to be located on the firm grounds of a terrace overlooking an idyllic square bordered by tall walls of rock.
The light stung Croke’s eyes. He thought of his wife and son. This was a preposterous situation. He knew that, and yet he was scared stiff.
Then, a voice echoed from various speakers that he couldn’t see, “Bring the suspect into zone A, strip him down, process him, and transfer him to group 1.”
The two large men nodded and led Croke off into a black and ominous entrance.
The trio walked down a long, damp corridor that smelled to Croke like a finely-aged Burgundy. All he could hear was the click-clack sound of shoes against wet floors, interrupted by an occasional dripping sound of water drops from a distant pipe. The sound was oddly pleasurable to him, since it conjured up a familiar sign- a sign that spoke of film noir and mystery- then, he snapped out of this fleeting moment of sensory fulfillment and realized that he should be scared, not pleasured. His heart raced as his captors pushed onward and forward towards an unknown destination. He thought of his wife and child again. Then he thought about fate, and what an absurd moment in life may mean in the grand scheme of existence. He thought that this current experience was decidedly impossible, and yet, upon a pinch of the skin, he realized that is was all happening, that he would not wake up, and that reality was indeed full of surprises. His thoughts looped back unto themselves to the extent that sequences of obvious hypotheses and conclusions repeated into a seemingly never-ending sentence of experiential language- perceptions were letters or words, conclusions were nodes in a grand automaton comprising his brain, and the letters, words, connections, and the finite yet infinitely complex arrangement of his sum total of experiences rendered an infinite loop that was disturbing, then pleasant, then more disturbing, then more pleasant, etc. etc. He became dizzy, and then it all made sense for second, while envisioned a shape of himself immersed in a grand play of absurdity, marked by accents of the reality of two large and menacing semi-thugs who were ostensibly carting him into a further and deeper circle of absurdity. And then, all of a sudden, lights appeared, accompanied by the sound of resonating vibrations of switch-flicks that would make a Hollywood sound engineer cum in his pants; He was suddenly immersed in room that was vacant, save for a steel table, four chairs, and a seated man who was smoking a cigar.
The man saw Croke and his two captors, then he took a puff from his cigar and then rose and paced back and forth near the steel table. The two captors pulled Croke forward with their force, during which time Croke went into shock over having just witnessed someone being killed on the street. Croke thought about Brad’s life, his immediate family, and the vast array of relatives and ancestors that spanned a tree of relationships into the past. He agonized over Brad’s death for a few minutes, and realized, like so many humans have, that life is indeed very cheap. Whatever cause these men with power had over Brad, it seemed mindless to extinguish a life, even if that organism exited a car with weapon. Croke thought about the utility, at least the moral utility, of not using weapons that only disable but not kill an adversary, but then these thoughts were extinguished by the immediacy of his personal, preposterous incarceration. He was sad, scared, and depressed for a second, and then his mind clicked into a mode of survival as he approached the pacing man with the cigar.
“Mr. Croke, we have been expecting you for some time now. Please, have a seat,” Said the man.
Even though the man spoke politely, everyone knew that the intonation was one of sarcasm rather than that of good intent. It was farcical and everyone with a half-witted brain could surmise this. Croke sat down and looked gingerly at both sides at his apprehenders for a moment, then, he brushed off a few specs of fleeting dust particles on his suit. For another second, this process promoted a certain phase transition of confidence to a higher state reserved for characters in Hollywood movies, but then fear overrode that thought and he was back smack in the ground state of fear, bewilderment, and anxiety. And yet, it seemed so unreal, so preposterous, that he, a mere American banker who worked and lived in Paris, France, would be immersed in a such an improbable plot.
“Mr. Croke, we have been watching you for some time. We know the situation concerning you, your Russian friends, and….a certain country. We feel that it is appropriate, proper actually, that you tell us your version of the story, and then we can sort of sort out differences, as it were, of opinion.”
Croke shivered. He then almost began to cry. He managed to utter, “I don’t know anything, really, honestly. I was on a trip to London in order to meet some clients, and..”
“Clients? Russian clients, no doubt?” said the man. This was followed by guffaws from a number of individuals out there, in the black void of the room.
“No, no Russian clients, just regular clients, just normal clients….I only have a….”
“You only have what?” Said the man.
“I, I have a Russian friend, I don’t know him very well, really not very well, really, I….I swear.”
“You have a Russian friend…..I see, a Russian friend, a Russian friend who you possibly, just remotely possibly, met on a train?”
“Well, I didn’t meet him on a train exactly….”
“No, you didn’t meet a Russian friend on a train? Really? Are you willing to test that? Are you willing to put your life on the line on that one statement? Do you know what it is like to have a pistol stuck next to your right temple? We are not joking Croke…this isn’t….this isn’t a history lesson here, I am not teaching you about Russia, or Oil, or pipelines….mkay, do you get my drift? You know about these things, and, frankly, I think you are in up to your pathetic little heals with all of these people involved.”
“who exactly are you?” managed Croke. He was frightened and in the state of shock, but he wanted to stand some ground in this absurd situation.
“It doesn’t matter who I am Mr. Croke. What matters, right now, in this dimly lit room bordered by walls of steel strength, is that you understand that I have a power over you right now. Think of it that way Mr. Croke; An unnatural and imbalanced tête-a-tête with a human who knows more than you do about things that are currently, in this localized element of the space-time fabric, is much more important than knowing historical dates, the history of the world, or whether you got laid yesterday. Hmmm? Getting laid, forget about the history or Eurasia, hehehee, did you get laid last night, Mr. Croke? Er, my faux-paux, did you phuck your little dish-Nadia? We know about her, and we know that she was with you, just minutes ago, ok, maybe not minutes ago, but, not long ago near Hoxton Square. We know that she was giving you instructions to do a task that you have known for sometime was important to accomplish your organization’s goal.”
“I…I …I don’t have any clue what you are talking about! I want a lawyer! I am an American citizen…I demand justice right now!”
“Justice? You want justice? Justice is a mere construct of the human neural net; it does not exist. If you asked for a banana, I’d gladly give you a banana, but, you are,…haha, you are asking for something that it impossible in a thousand years, in an eternity, to produce. Justice. I need not bore you with the details of the ample proof that manifestations of justice are fleeting and of a set measuring zero in the grand probability of things on Earth. Nevertheless, I will point out that there exists a certain village in a certain country that a certain organization, of which you are a part of, that was extinguished to further your cause. Men and women were murdered in the presence of their children, but, before the men and the children were killed, the women, that is, the wives, were raped, and then the men were killed like pigs, and then the children were thrown into a pit and buried alive. You may not believe me, but this is true, and there is no history book that will tell this story, no pictures, nothing, nothing, nada, that will tell this despicable story, this antithesis of what you call ‘justice’, in the world. Empires will continue to be built up, banks like yours will cash in on various processes that formed the apex of grand power point slideshows, which, in turn, turned into financial contracts that were price up by rows, arrays, of slaving propellerheads….and, we, that is, my organization, with the help of the more reputable governments of the world, will reverse this plague of moral entropy that has caused a this tiny little spec of dust known as Earth to spiral into a phucking disgusting little black hole of…..of….”
A day went by. Croke’s employer phoned Mrs. Croke, Tanya, and asked if she had seen him over the last twenty four hours. Tanya replied in a terrified manner that she had not seen him, nor had heard from him. After the short conversation, she hung the phone and screamed. She grabbed their son, Alex, and told the nanny that her husband was missing. She ran nervously back in forth in the apartment on the top floor of the 16eme Nuveau-riche apartment and shook her head. Alex began to cry. Tanya tried to collect her thoughts, but the television’s volume was very loud in this instant; she had it tuned into the RTR Planeta station- a Russian station on the cable system that covered news, variety, and other types of entertainment from Moscow and St. Petersburg. She tried to find the remote control in order to lower the volume. During this time, the TV blared out the sounds of a program that promoted in a very unflattering manner the culture and tourism of Portugal. She could not find the remote, and, for some reason, she could not turn off the TV; She fiddled with the buttons and the knobs of the set, but it was to no avail. She then ran to the master bedroom and packed a suitcase, or, actually, she simply through a bunch of clothes into it, and then she ran back to the living room in search of a laptop computer. She found it and logged onto Pagesjaunes.fr and looked up the number for the Eurostar. She called that number, and, owing to her poor French, she was left hanging in an infinite loop of synthetic voice sequences, decision trees that required knowledge of French and, more importantly, a knowledge of what you precisely wanted, and an array of handoffs from one customer service agent to another. To wit, she knew precisely what she wanted: a ticket to London pronto, on the next train. She thought that maybe, just maybe, that her husband were dead. She thought about all of the different possibilities, and all of these potential outcomes comprised a vast graph of relationships with nodes and connections and potentialities weighted by probabilities that were constructed under the duress of shear terror and anxiety. I will not go into the fractal nature of the resulting mental graph, but, suffice to say that the graph had good outcomes, medium outcomes, and very very bad outcomes and, she was sure, actually and unfortunately confident, that the conclusive node in this mental construct was that Croke was dead, possibly hacked up, possibly set ablaze amidst a gang of reveling thugs on some dingy street in that dirty, disgusting, hodge-podge of an excuse of a city-London. She imagined that she would have to go to the morgue and identify a tooth, or a hair plucked from penis shaft, or a wart from an a*s. And then she figured that DNA could possibly do the trick of identifying her poor hacked up, bloody, ex-human of a husband. Yes! That was it! She may not have to go and identify him! Maybe she could just sign some papers after the shear miracle of modern science assuaged the unmanageable experience of identifying the dismembered articles comprising the person of her ex-husband, her dear ex-husband that was only an ex-husband because things got really nasty on this little spec of dust for one human, one human, the only human that she cared about, save for Alex and her mother and father. Oh, the agony of it all.
She finally got a ticket, grabbed her small bag, ran to Place Victor Hugo, and waited in a queue for a cab. The queue was long. She tapped her feet and looked at her watch. Then, a bunch of cabs sped off as if their operators did not want business. One after one, a cab sped off amidst several “Oh-la-la” sounds of the waiting patrons. Several people in line said “Pas Possible!” and “C’est terrible!” while shaking there hands, waving their cigarettes in the air, and generally looking displeased. Tanya panicked. The next train left Gare du Nord in one hour and fifteen minutes, she had to check in thirty minutes prior to departure, and, depending on traffic and the desire of Parisian taxi drivers to actually work, she did not have much time. On the positive side of things, actually, most likely on the Algo-centric side of things, train departures were conveniently spaced at regular and frequent intervals. But this did not allay her anxiety. Seemingly oddly, she thought that her husband was not only dead, but dead from the vile forces of the evil nature of Man, but, she nevertheless felt that it was important to learn of the cause of death and see her husband, all dead flesh and lifeless blood, as soon as possible. Even she, in her agitated state, understood the contradiction of it all; if she was so sure of her husband’s death, then why was there such a hurry? This gave a sudden flicker of hope in her soul, since, according to her logic, if she urged for immediacy of ticket registering, traveling to London, and contact with the authorities, then, it really meant that she didn’t really, truthfully, at the bottom of her soul, think that her dear husband, Croke, had, no pun intended, croaked. No! Possibly, possibly, things were not as bad as she imagined, meaning that Croke possibly hadn’t croaked. But of course, if this were the case, then, of necessity, the immediacy was what was precisely important and, thus, she had a right, an obligation, if you will, to seek out immediacy. She had a right to be anxious and full of apprehension! This thought assuaged her deep rooted, if malformed and illogical thought, then, she flushed out all of these thoughts and then concentrated on the thought of simply being reunited with her dear Croke.
She finally got a cab, and instructed the driver to go to Gare du Nord. There was a fair amount of traffic, which precipitated more anxiety, but, after a seemingly endless process of stop-and-go movements from the 16th, through the 17th, into the 1st, and then up and into the tawdry environs of Gare du Nord, she finally arrived at the station. She scurried to the ticket office on the second floor of the station. As she stood in a slow moving line, she heard announcements that altered in French and English, and she chuckled to herself that the bilingual messages conjured up images of a sixties James Bond film. It seemed comical, and yet it served a purpose. It was one of those instances in which the glibness and campy messages embedded in a film genre created a logic that made a reality- a reality that had a purpose- seem preposterous. “How could they need messages in English and French?”, thought Tanya. But Tanya was privy enough to understand the simple axiom that the in the age of two hour travel between the arguably two most visible European countries required a thoughtful messaging system. The thought subsided and she continued to build up anxiety and fear. Her short, fleeting comical construct wafted away, never again to be caught with the mental grappling limbs. For a second, she wanted a pad of paper to record the thought, but it was too late. It seemed to her like it was a reasonably deep observation, but, a lass, it was too late, and the pending issues of life and death were present and prescient.
She hopped on the train. She opted for a first class ticket, which meant that she’d have to endure two hours of loud mobile phone conversations concerning the signing of contracts, the conclusions of deal mergers, and other ramifications and indications of the highfalutin speed at which business, intelligent business, was done in the first half of the twenty first century. She knew this exercise, because she had traveled on the Eurostar several times in the last year. She loved it and hated it: she loved being able to map her existence so expeditiously from one quasi-Latin culture to another quasi-Gallic culture in a virtual heartbeat, but, she hated hearing all of the chest-pounding pronouncements of wealth mixed with technology and the savvy and cool-mindedness of the European quasi-elite. And thus, it is documented that she was pleasantly surprised to eavesdrop into a decidedly tawdry little conversation concerning a man named GOB III. Apparently, a man by the name of GOB III was the friend of such and such a highfalutin banker on the train, and, apparently, the said GOB III lived in the 16th arrondismont of Paris, was American, was middle-aged, and had an itchy p*nis on a schedule that was described by the train passenger as “24/7”. Apparently, GOB III had a wife, a little girl, and a dog. And, apparently, GOB III liked to phuck w****s in the 16th in Paris, whenever he could. The story being transmitted over the cell phone of this American banker, that is, the friend, surely just the friend, of GOB III was that he went out into the neighborhood last Sunday, with his little baby girl, not more than one year old, with the dog, the carriage, and a nice cigar, and that he ran into a rather nice looking w***e on the street. He had all of his baggage, as it were, but, since the w***e was so delectable, he made a move on her, saying Bon Jour as his éntree into a negotiation of euros for steamy s*x, and, that, after a fairly embarrassing exposition of himself as man with child and dog and carriage, that, he was able to finally arrive at the fair price for a quick phuck. Supply and demand, as it were.
“So, GOB III is walking along Avenue Foch with his terrier in tote, strolling along with the carriage and the cigar. He sees this poota sitting there next to her Mercedes, clearly advertising her wares, as it were, and he passes her, gets a little itchy, and proceeds to negotiate over a price with her. It was a funny story” Said the man. His story went on for several minutes, and Tanya took in every detail of the tale, processed it, synthesized it in the context of her own marriage, and, like any reasonable spouse would do, she arrived at a calculated probability of her own dear husband, Croke, doing the same thing. While the probability was not numerical in her mind, it pointed to what she deemed to be a vanishingly small likelihood. She then thought about her pending meeting with at the morgue in London, and this created anxiety interrupted by depression and despair, and then, she would glance at a flickering light on the exterior of the train and postulate for a second that she was being foolish and presumptive. He must be alive. What were the odds of him really being dead? And, if dead, what were the odds that he was actually hacked up and unrecognizable? Very slim, she figured, but she could not apply any logical mathematical methods to her decision.
Then, she snapped out of this positive thought, and began thinking about the morgue again, just as she heard a group of women in a few rows up laughing and chattering about something.
“And so, the man was happily married, for years and years and years, I tell you, never had a child with his wife, but, he found someone new, and married that…thing. He just dumped his Angela straight up, like that, poof. She nailed his a*s to the wall though, I heard she took him for all he’s got. Well, not everything, he still has that cottage in where is that, er, that little place down in Spain, ok more than a cottage….Why’d he do it? He must have been taking the piss, he was.” Said a woman with an English accent. Her friends wooed and hollered at the information, and then she continued, “It is funny when I think about, I know him, and he is deep down a good man, he is, he really is, I tell you. From his perspective, it must be agonizing because he has found love in his new wife, he loves her very much, and he had a child with her, and he loves that child more than life itself. And so, from his perspective, he must be deeply unsettled, deeply, by leaving a woman that he loved for another woman, who he learned to love and produced a child that he deeply loves, for, that child is his own blood and hence he must deeply love that boy, really, but, how can he reconcile his past….his past history, does it just go poof, into the air? I know that he did in fact love Angela, but, things just didn’t work out after ten years…God knows why….but, he loved her, surely, when he married Sallie, and, well….it is just a disgrace, I can’t understand how a person can parent a child that is conceived from the outcome of something despicable…but, then, how could he not love his new child? So, he has two choices, either he learns to love all of mankind, or, he forgets his personal history, forgets, poof, it evaporates, into thin air, and he is left with the sad proposition that he would prefer to have that lovely experience, that experience with Angela, just spliced out of his life, as if it never ever occurred.”
The woman’s coterie of friends fell silent after this short exposition. Then, the woman took a shot of wine and shrugged her shoulders. Tanya observed everything, and then she thought about what uncertain future faced her as the Eurostar sped forward onward and upward towards London.
Tanya then thought about several alarming things for the next few minutes before receiving a call from her hysterical nanny. The nanny said that their boy, Alex, was now vomiting and having severe diarrhea. Tanya went faint for a second on hearing this news, because of the shear impossible logistics involved; The nanny only spoke Russian- no English, no French. So, there was no way for the nanny to communicate directly with an immediate doctor, if a doctor was needed. Thus, Tanya would have to worry about Croke’s fate and somehow contact a doctor in Paris on her cell phone while traveling to London. She panicked. Then, she thought about Croke’s ex-wife, and how, in the context of the tale she just eavesdropped into on the train, maybe Croke’s ex-wife were somehow inextricably involved in performing some black magic on Croke’s new family. As nonsensical and irrational such a thought may sound to most people, Tanya did sometimes explain certain events via paranormal psuedo-logic.
However, the worst part was not so much that she believed in magic, it was that she currently, in the context of hearing this short tale from a passenger, deserved any magic that might be imposed on her; In fact, Tanya’s family-Croke, Tanya, and Alex- was created out of ill-formed foundation that required the destruction of another edifice of human relationships, and this disturbed her tremendously for a few moments. She then thought about how, possibly, she was thinking about this nonsense merely to assuage the horrible preconceptions about the fate of her husband and, now, her child. Yes, all of this could be possibly explained by a natural human mechanism for digressing into other thoughts, and, she even reckoned that the mind may be morally inclined to conjure up thoughts that were equally distressing, but, at least, they would divert the immediate thoughts of shear desperation and anxiety. Perhaps there was a psychological conservation law that was being invoked, unbeknownst to her, and that, yes, she would be diverted from the thoughts of looming fate, but, that the new thoughts had to share some commensurate level of dislocation, anxiety, and nervousness. This helped for a few seconds before she overheard the following conversation from a passenger a few rows up.
“I don’t know how long the border is. How many thousand kilometers? Three thousand? I don’t know….don’t know. Dimitri will be at the meeting…..yes. yes. Well, there is this one village, really not much….maybe a thousand people, I really think they are nomads, the place is…what is the name? Ulaan Gul? Yes, the infrastructure must go right through that place, it is necessary……yes, the geography is the issue. There is a mountain range right there, and the pipeline cannot be laid but through a very narrow path that is…..that is, yes…right there, there is little elbow room. Dimitri has the map, the details, everything….they must be relocated, that is the only way…..”
Andy was slumped over and in a drunken stupor over a deep dish of beef chow mein at Gul’s Bar-B-Que at 11:30 PM. Of course, Beef Chow Mein was not a course on the Mongolian menu at Gul’s. Gul’s was a Mongolian Bar-B-Que restaurant in Soho, but, since it had to cater to an array of tastes in a Sino-centric section of London, it had a page of Chinese dishes as well as a few items that were listed as “Korean” and even “Thai”. The menu was in fact several pages long, and was accompanied by pictures of delectable dishes that leaped out at the diner to say, “eat me.” Andy was coming down from a night of debauchery with his brokers in Mayfair, and he was not really in the mood to try something too exotic. Not that Mongolian Bar-B-Que was particularly exotic, but, he wanted a dish that he had heard of and/or tasted before, had a picture associated with it, and did not warrant significant contemplation with regards to connecting the synapses of the brain with texture, odor, and flavor in a complex way. His night started early, just after work near Charles Street. It led to several pub crawls , accompanied by general boisterous merriment, in the early winter night hours. These were the hours that went dark when humans in other parts of the world, in the same time zone, were playing tennis in daylight, or, further south, lounging on beaches. And he thought about this. He thought about how dark, red, and hauntingly glowing London was in the middle of winter at a relatively early hour in the medium clockwork arc of the afternoon. He was in a daze, as he picked at his deep dish of Beef Chow Mein, and he felt nauseous.
It was a bad day in the office. His view was that the market was full of complacency, that the status quo was too focused on low global interest rates, and that it was time for a reversal. And yet, rates pulled back by a mere five basis points. A mere five basis points! Not much, thought Andy, to those lounging tennis players and surfers on the beach at exactly the time that he was drinking pints of lukewarm ale and satisfying a bulging midsection. The thought that others in the world were immune to the slight movements in rates angered him. It was all a matter of the scale of things, and yet, this microscale of movements in rates was his bread and butter, his raison d’etre, his mission, his focus in life. And then, he snapped out of it because, after all, he, not they, he, was tuned into things on a micro scale that others would never understand and this understanding gave him temporary solace that he was part of a very exclusive group of humans- the set of humans that dictate by brute force the dynamics of the world economy. And, so what if others were happily and, more importantly, mindlessly playing tennis, surfing, sunbathing, or even just being home with family and friends? He was connected to the pulse, the micro pulse of what really mattered in the grand machinery of intricate cogs known as the global capital markets.
Just when he thought this thought, it faded away, and he heard two Russian discussing a grand plan to change the world.
One of the Russians then received a phone call on his Blackberry. Andy eavesdropped in on the conversation.
“Yes, Francois will give the blueprints tonight. Yes, all of the blueprints, including the village, how shall we say, the solution blueprints. The solution, you know the solution about the village in that little valley. We need to…yes, we need to do that very quickly. By the way, How was your trip to Paris? Yes,…yes, you are where? Sanderson Hotel? I heard that is very nice place….a lot of talent, yes. What? You are breaking up…ok, I hear you now. On the train? Yes, nice woman? A Russian? Sounds very nice….and she is at Sanderson too? I must see? Well, we will finish here in a few minutes and then maybe we come over for a drink. Ok, enough of this…..business….the solution is spelled out.”
The man finished his conversation, and then returned to speaking a mixture of Russian and English with his partners in Gul’s Barbeque. Andy heard them discussing the estimated length of the border between Siberia and Mongolia. He was impressed by their knowledge of the geography of this obscure part of the world. He then realized that while Siberia and Mongolia might be obscure to a Westerner, it certainly shouldn’t be to a Russian and, in particular, a Russian banker or dealmaker. They then spoke about a number of seemingly fragmented subjects, although a common theme centered around large scale projects, privatizations of state assets in the former Soviet Union, and the geography of a string of breakaway Muslim republics that started with Chechnya and ended with a few semi-autonomous region bordering Russia and Georgia. One man boasted about selling off a state farm in Azerbaijan, and how, one of his “workers” was shot dead while in the fields doing a survey.
Andy stole a glance at the large bear of a man who had ostensibly wheeled and dealt in brokering the sale of several large state assets. The man was seated next to what appeared to be his son, who, in turn, was a smaller, more cuddly Teddy bear of a human compared to his towering Mishka of a father. Another man, of French origin, was seated at the other side of the father and son team. He was listening intensely as his “client” (Andy surmised that the Russian was the client of this French banker, but, he wasn’t exactly sure). All of a sudden, in the context of hearing snippets of conversations about geography, oil projects, and danger in the fields of some farm in Azerbaijan, Andy felt like his mover and shaker world of interest rates and swap trading was contracting to a point of child’s play compared with these grand schemes of deal making in the presence of shear danger befitting of a spy novel scenario.
The group of Russians and their French banker finally got up, put on their expensive overcoats, and each of them carefully wrapped around their respective necks the ubiquitously fashionable Burberry’s scarf. They then exited Guls. Andy’s eyes remained transfixed on the small entourage as they huddled into a silver, Audi 8-A that was manned by an extremely large Sumo-Wrestler-shaped man with no neck and a white earphone gingerly dangling from his left ear lobe. They laughed as the space-aged luxury car sped off into the night.
Croke was blindfolded and led into a large room that looked like a movie theater. He was escorted by two large men who seated him in the front row. They then unwrapped his blindfolds and tied his hands to the armrests on either side of his body. The room was dark. Not a sound could be heard. All of a sudden, a movie commenced. Croke could hear a projector in back of him making a rather loud humming noise. The screen was white at first, but soon there was a scene of a desert. There was nothing but sand, rocks, and a few bushes here and there. The camera panned the horizon and then focused on a mountain. Off in the distance, he could see a human running down the apogee of the small mountain. All of a sudden, another human appeared behind the first one. It was hard to tell gender or age, as the scene was taking place far off into the distance, perhaps 300 yards away. The film lacked sound, and yet Croke got the sense that the first human was screaming. It soon became clear that the first human was a rather young dark girl and she was being chased by an older man. All of a sudden, the man drew an object with his right arm that looked like a pistol. He raised it, aimed, and shot and the girl suddenly tumbled over down the side of the mountain for about twenty seconds. Croke was shocked and dismayed, because the film did not appear to be fictional; in fact, it appeared to document a real, hideous, violent act. The young girl’s body finally stopped. The man ran down and hovelled over her for a few minutes, checking to see if she were alive. He drew a cigarette, lit it, and smoked for a few minutes. Then, he climbed back up the mountain and vanished onto the other side. The camera then moved forward after a few minutes. Croke grew restless as the film continued, since he had a sense that the filmmaker was going to hone in on the scene of the crime and get a close up of the still-warm body. The camera was obviously hand held, and Croke sensed that the cameraman was running in scramble to get a close up of this poor victim, as if such a hideous act would be washed away by the sands of time by the time he got there.
Tanya grew restless after checking into the Sanderson Hotel in London. She fidgeted and paced in her small room overlooking a stark interior quadrangle. She then felt guilty about staying in a rather chic and trendy hotel while her husband was missing and possibly hacked up by nefarious hoodlums. She jumped on the bed and thought about how selfish she was, and then she worried about Croke. She had tried to make some phone calls to the police, but, she got flustered by the long waits and the seemingly indifferent operators. This happened just minutes before, and she was in the stage of agitation and nervousness with regards to her next moves. She had turned on the Bose radio and was listening to a station playing a rather fast paced collection of dance tracks. She looked at the ceiling, then, she glanced at the drapes that were wafting in the gentle breeze that was flowing into the room. She finally got up, looked in the mirror and carefully and gingerly put back in place a few strands of hair, and then she left the room in search of Croke. She had no idea where she would search for him, but she had to try. She walked down the coolly lit corridor that was lined with an elaborate mosaic of packed stones, which, ensemble, conjured up images of a fifties cartoon called The Jetsons. Retro-futurism, she thought. It was indeed a very interesting aesthetic to her, and then she snapped back into feelings of guilt mixed with a determination to find her dear Croke. She entered the retro-futuristic elevators, which had a seamless mix of Italian disco music piped into its environs, and she hit the ground floor button. As the elevator descended, so did her thoughts into the lower circles of bad thoughts about her poor, hacked up husband. Poor Croke, poor innocent Croke! He was now probably worm food, with muscles and tendons being exposed to creatures not even six feet under! And how could she have opted for such a nice and fashionable and chic hotel with Italian disco being piped into a seamless, flush collection of speakers even in the elevators! The contrast of these thoughts almost made her unconscious with despair and guilt. Why did she choose such a nice hotel? In some sense, she should have picked the most un-glorious flea-trap of a hotel! She should suffer too, like her dear husband! Oh, these thoughts were a burden on her soul, and yet, she did take a few seconds to appreciate the small touches of shear genius of interior design, yes, it was a very very cool and hip hotel.
When the elevators opened up on the ground floor, she was instantly inundated with a myriad of visual and audio pleasures of the lobby; there were scores of milling beautiful people everywhere, and the seamless music pervaded the air. Patrons were floating about carelessly with colorful drinks in tote and everyone seemed happy and gay as if there were absolutely no worries in this world. She smiled for a second at a very handsome man who passed her and winked. And then she felt guilty again. Why did she do this, she thought, and she finally came to realize that her highly focused life at home, with child, with all the responsibilities of being the good wife and the good mother were possibly getting to her and that this respite in this stark yet brilliantly designed hotel was in fact a certain oasis of visual pleasure for her. Possibly, she needed this, and, sadly, she had to contemplate all of this in the context of a possibly hacked up husband! She then decided that she would calm down from these thoughts by walking over to the bar for just one drink! She was in fact very nervous and agitated! Just one drink!
She walked by the long bar in the lobby and then hesitated. Then, she ran out of the hotel and instructed the doorman to hail a cab. She entered the cab and asked to go to the police station.
“Which station love?” said the octogenarian driver.
“I don’t know, the nearest station, what is the nearest station to this hotel?”
The cabbie scratched his head and talked to himself for a few minutes until he uttered “Snow Hill, yes, Snow Hill!”
Tanya began to cry upon realizing what she was about ready to do. Then, she got a hold of herself, wiped her tears away with her blouse, and said, “Ok, Snow Hill, go….go now, and fast.”
The driver accelerated forward at a speed that seemed to be just a few notches lower than what Tanya was used to in Paris. She became agitated and henceforth complained repeatedly to the cabbie. “This is kak skazat… you are driving like honey.”
“I’m sorry Love, I can’t hear you very well, what did you say?”
“I said you are driving like honey….” Repeated Tanya, although the word she was trying to find was molasses.
“Sorry Love, I don’t quite understand what you are trying to say….”
“why are you driving so phucking slowly? Drive faster! I need to get to Snow Ball station as soon as possible!” replied Tanya as new tears of despair ran down her soft high-boned cheeks.
“Snow Hill, what?”
“The station is called Snow Hill Love, not Snow Ball.”
“I don’t care what the phuck the station is called, just drive faster….much faster you idiot!”
Tanya then noticed that the driver seemed to be going in circles, as she recognized the same café appearing twice in her view.
“what are you doing? We passed this point five minutes ago..”
The driver chuckled and then explained that streets in London were laid out in a complex fashion, after which he mused about how it might have been due to the incendiary bombs during World War II, and how London had to be almost completely reconstructed. He went on for several minutes talking about the war, and how he had participated in the landing at Normandy. Normally, Tanya would have been polite and listened with an open jaw at the tale, simply out of respect for those who had so gallantly fought against fascism. But, she was not in the mood right now, and it didn’t help that the driver seemed to be taking some liberty in finding the shortest distance from the hotel to the police station. At least, this was her perception. And thus, her rebuttal to his long winded speech about Normandy was as follows:
“I grew up in the Ukraine. My father was almost killed by Nazis when he was a baby. My grandfather fought on the Russian Front and died, along with 20MM other Russians. The only reason why you were even able to land in Normandy was because of the Russians fighting in the East. If it weren’t for us, you would have had no chance…No chance whatsoever. We suffered more than you, and yet, people seem to have selective memories with respect the real heroes in that war…they were the Russians. But, I don’t really care about all of that right now, despite the fact that we continued to suffer for decades after that war..despite the fact my relatives were sent to Siberia or were killed for being heroes after that war….despite the fact that life where I come from was not so easy, not so easy, and now, it seems to be even worse for my parents, who have lost everything when certain hoodlums decided to take things, small slices of the state’s pie, for themselves…..and now, I have this bullshit to deal with, my husband is missing…..” she then broke down and cried.
Andy entered the Sanderson Hotel, turned right in the lobby, and ambled towards the famous Long Bar in search of the Russians, and, hopefully, to view the beautiful Russian woman that was the short topic of conversation at Guls. He was feeling sleepy and his stomach was heavy with barbequed beef with a certain spicy sauce, but, he was alone and agitated. His girlfriend was on business in Tokyo, and so he was treading solo in London this evening, and he always felt a little agitated when he was alone. He wanted to meet a woman. He wanted not so much to have a s*xual encounter; rather, he wanted to feel like a teenager again, a little drunk and filled with unsatisfied hormonal desires just by being in the presence of a pretty girl. So, hence, he walked into this bar with a sense of adventure and a strong feeling of being lured into a spiral of inappropriate and childish behavior. Plus, he wanted to watch vicariously as others, others with less strings attached than he did, fondled each other in a chic bar. He knew this bar was filled with rich men on the pull and beautiful buxom exotic women being pulled into the inner carnivorous lairs of the rich men on the pull. Of course, Andy was not poor. Andy was a swaps trader, made high six figures, wore a Pacha Cartier watch, and drove a Porsche through the spidery and spooky streets of London in the wee hours of a working night. But, he also was sure that he was nothing compared with the Supermen of London at bars like this, and he even felt a little sad that certain Russian Oligarch patrons at a sleazy and greasy Mongolian barbeque could be larger movers and shakers of the world, replete with quivers of stories about selling off large state assets and images of intrigue fit for a spy novel. And so, he wanted to feel like he could fit in and maybe make some sort of brief, fleeting connection with a beautiful and hard to get Russian woman, and maybe he could even befriend a few oligarchs in the process as he sipped a colorful drink in a bar whose images and music and beautiful peoples seemed to rotate and swirl in his conscience like a grand and bacchanalian kaleidoscope of worldly, chic, meatspacian proportions.
It is ironic, from our perspective, to fully understand, unbeknownst to Andy- mere poor sod drunk and full from exotic meats and too many pints of beer- that lives were at risk this evening, that the beautiful Russian woman was at the verge of nervous breakdown, that her husband was being subjected to ridiculous mental tortures, and that people in another part of the world, young, and innocent people were being slaughtered in a wanton fashion for no other purpose than to further a sinister plot to deliver a commodity from one poor nation to another. Ironically, Andy was oblivious to this, and, we may have certain angry reactions to his breezy, innocent, and naïve reaction to his current surroundings, but, then again, keep in mind that on any given second, each one of us is a witness to something going on, here, on Planet Earth, and at every second, as we lust after men and women and crave and covet things and vicariously thirst after another life, on the other side of the fence, in another epoch rich with intrigue and desire and other mouth watering morsels of physical satisfaction, that, scores, hundreds, thousands, possibly millions of people are suffering that very second in ways that are so surely connected within six degrees of separation from our experiences. We know that, right now, as this is written, and yet, Andy did not know this as this unfolds.
Andy located the Russians near the long bar. He meandered close to them and ordered a Kir Royale from a young, blonde, woman with sad eyes and a slender body. He looked around at the sterile yet chic surroundings and mused about the level of coolness in the air; milling swarms of rich men were drinking, laughing, and chattering amidst the Philippe Starke cold and stark yet aesthetic interior. A bored and decidedly gay looking dj mixed a strange and technical set of seamless, brilliantly beat-matched tunes. The young blonde, sad-eyed waitress scurried to and fro with colorful drinks, while her sad, droopy, yet sexy dark eyes blinked at a precipitous rate. A middle-aged man with a very finely and form fitting cut wide-pinstriped suit looked out at the crowd with a glib countenance while his young, buxom, willing, ready, and able chick sat by his side loyally, dangling a cigarette in one hand and a sweet cocktail with a rainbow swirl of hues in the other. The man looked almost exactly like Rod Stewart, and in fact Andy did a double take on this chic man who seemed to have the world as his oyster. No, it was not Rod Stewart, but, whomever this confident man was, he certainly deserved all of the luxuries of Rod Stewart, thought Andy. Or, at least by the pure visual presentation of the several thousand quid suit, fancy shoes, and nice understated yet expensive shining watch, he deserved the life of someone like Rod Stewart, thought Andy. Then Andy was angry for thinking this. Phucking Rod Stewart wannabe. Phuck him, and the horse of the woman that he rode in on. Oh, but, maybe that horse of a woman was a nice, er, ride? Hmmm, thought Andy, as he guzzled his Kir Royale and searched out for the missing, beautiful Russian woman.
The lithe blonde girl delivered a Kir Royale to Andy. He sipped it gingerly and watched the ebb and flow of people around. Just then, a group of large men entered the hotel and meandered towards the bar and stopped at a table just to his left. They looked pensive and wary. They took off their coats, and looked around. Andy noticed them for a second, and felt that they seemed apprehensive about something, then he shrugged it off. He then continued to eye the small group of Russians and the French banker. They were laughing, joking, and occasionally making coy advances on a few girls in their vicinity. Andy gazed at the dj again, then he looked at the Rod Stewart ringer, then he looked at slender blond waitress, then he looked in his glass, as if searching to find some truth, solace, or answer for something slightly out of grasp.
He was not happy, but he did not know why. For sure, he was pleased to be in a very nice bar and have a lot of interesting and seemingly high class and high quality things and people to look at. And yet, he felt shallow and hollow for no particular reason, other than he was currently and vaguely coveting what other people seemed to have right now in this bar. And, he also was not happy about the thoughts he had about unseen people in the same time zone who were baking in the sun and had nothing better to do. Thus the immediacy of the situation in which he could concretely understand what he coveted visually, coupled with the abstraction of coveting blissful ignorance afforded by being in another side of the world, not thinking about swap rates, and generally being empty in thought, precipitated a very bad train of thought. He sunk lower and lower, and he hated himself for this.
His thoughts spiraled for more than an hour, during which time the seas of the very people he coveted flowed out of the bar. He gazed again at the pensive men, then he gazed at all of the other aforementioned characters in his view. He drank a few more Kir Royales. He finally asked the waitress where she was from, and was unhappy with his clichéd and heavily intoxicated delivery. She answered that she was Polish. He nodded his head, managed to smile in a sort of self-conscious way that was embarrassing for him, and continued to brood.
All of a sudden, the pensive men approached the Russians. Andy noticed this, but he was not particularly alarmed. Slowly, it became clear however that they were not the Russians friends; in fact, it was clear by their respective serious demeanor that they were adversaries of a sort. Finally, one of the men drew a firearm and pointed it gently into the side of one of the Russians. He tried to do this in a subtle fashion, and from Andy’s perspective, it seemed like Andy was the only one to notice this.
Croke was strapped in a chair in a steel hued room. A woman came in and injected a fluid into his arm. He vomited immediately. He thought he would die from vomiting and the pressure in his skull. He then fell into a sort of dreamy and emotionless state for several hours, in which time he didn’t think or mind too much about his nausea. The woman returned eventually to administer more of the fluid. This time, he did not vomit. In fact, this time, the sensation was euphoric. It nullified all bad feelings, emotions, and acted as an anesthetic. His mind then wandered off into a certain blissful state for a few more hours, before coming down back to the reality of worrying about his life and feeling real pain in his body. He felt horrible for what seemed to be several hours. Then, the woman came in and shot another dosage into his veins and he felt like he was floating on the clouds of heaven again. This process repeated for several iterations to the extent that Croke lost count of the number of times in which he felt blissful, followed by an emotional and physical crash, followed by a strong and unbearable desire to have more of the dosage, followed by the relief of the sight of the woman, and so on. Within good time, Croke became fully physically and emotionally dependent on this drug, and he knew it. By the time he became aware of his encroaching dependency on the drug, he had bouts of shear psychological terror from realizing that clearly, these people were gaining full control of his person.
Finally, a man entered his steel room. The man looked vaguely similar to Brad, the man who ostensibly was shot by an ostensible police force somewhere between Hoxton Square and Soho. But, Croke was not sure. Croke was currently down from his drug, and his mind was swirling in a vortex of hysteria mixed with paranoia and anxiety. He thought of his wife and child for a second, and then he thought only about himself and his fate. The man introduced himself simply as Mr. Cathar.
“Mr. Croke, as you can surely feel, you have been injected with a certain drug that only we have. We are the only humans alive who know the pharmacological content of this drug. You need this drug at this point. If you do not have this drug, then, frankly, you will die. You will die of the shear terror of not having it. If you do not kill yourself from the lack of having a periodic injection, you will die from the forces of your body’s reaction to its absence. It is definitely not a good situation to be in. If you knew what this drug was, you could, in theory, try to find it somewhere on Earth. But, you do not know what it is. So, in essence, you will do anything for us in order to get more. You will always need more! It is not a pretty picture, and I truly have certain empathy for your situation. But, consider this. We need you. We need you more than you need this drug. Haha, in some sense, you are our drug, and we need an injection…..of what you can do for us. That sounds silly. Sorry.
Ok, here is the situation. You know someone who is engineering a project on behalf of a cartel of greedy, selfish people. This person will be killed by you. Why are you going to do this? If you don’t do this, you will die, simply because you will not have access to your drug. And, even if that doesn’t work, we will kill your wife and child. It is that simple. We know Tanya. We know your son. We will kill them. So, we have two layers of protection that will ensure that you will do this for us.
Your friend likes the flesh of a woman….and of a man. You are going to kill him during a certain, how shall we say? Commencement of a ménage a trios….hehehehehe, yes, involving you, this person, and a certain female. We will supply you with the weapon, the venue, and the woman, and you will kill your friend, Mishkov, just when we tell you to. Before we do this, we need to train you on how to kill. And thus, I will leave you for your….training…..”
Croke’s body contorted as he heard the name “Mishkov”. His dear friend Mishkov was somehow involved in this absurd plot? It couldn’t be! Ok, he knew Mishkov reasonably well, but, after a quick inventory of his thoughts and experiences of interacting with one Mishkov- a rather meaty, handsome, and intelligent Russian man- he realized that he didn’t really know Mishkov very well. What he knew was that Mishkov was involved in an array of schemes related to private equity in Russia, but, he didn’t really think that Mishkov was capable of orchestrating such a diabolical scheme. Then again, Croke wasn’t very precisely clear what the diabolical scheme was. He had spent days in a cell watching video clips of seemingly innocent people getting killed for no apparent reason. He was lectured on a vague plot to build a pipeline from Siberia, through Mongolia, and into the heart of China. He was injected with a powerful drug that had, over a short period of time, changed his physical well being and shriveled his will-power and discipline into a little ball. He was down at the bottom of what he considered to constitute membership of the human race. He was a mere human-dog, a Sharikov, a weak and vulnerable hairy beast, who begged for a drug and, with a certain prescient thought, was willing to do anything for his newfound masters. And yet, even though he had these thoughts, the more powerful physical signals from his body overpowered the ability to contemplate things, and he accepted his fate in return for a short term fix afforded by a mysterious drug. He accepted that he would kill Mishkov in return for another five to ten minutes of chemically induced pleasure.
And thus, he offered not a slew of objections, not an array of heroic efforts that would conclude with a dreadful demise in the absence of the needle encasing the drug, nor any wrestling response that would kick him up into membership of the human race. No. He simply probed further into the logistics of the plot.
“How am I going to do this?” Uttered Croke as beads of sweat drenched his clothing.
“You will meet Mishkov in a certain nightclub. You will be accompanied by a very attractive, actually, I would say stunning woman. She will be your escort. The two of you will meet Mishkov there. You will drink, laugh, dance, drink more, and then she will give a number of obvious signals that the male animal, in this case Mishkov, hehehe, will understand. And yet, she will be fondling you, as if she were ready for you to ravish her there at the table. It will surely be obvious to your smart friend, yes, it will surely. She will make a coy suggestion on what to do, which, will amount to a short trip to his house in Shepherd’s Market, followed by a modicum of foreplay, mostly between you and her….there are some risk management issues here, requiring minimum physical contact between her and Mishkov….then, she will hand you a silencer…you will shoot him. More details will be provided to you later…..”
Mr. Cathar then presented the woman who would accompany Croke to the nightclub. She was indeed stunning. She certainly towered over Croke by about six inches. She had long brown hair with golden highlights, she was exceedingly lithe and toned, she had legs that stretched out like sensual lean curves designed by the Gods, she had slightly puffy deeply rosy red lips, but not so puffy as to be obviously injected with a chemical, she had high cheek bones that supported slightly upward slanting eyes of deep blue, she had a small nose, she had small ears, she had the perfect complexion that a man wanted to graze with supple fingers, she had a coy look that conjured up very graphic and detailed thoughts about what could be, with her, under the right circumstances, she had a white, fashionable, tightly fitting yet slightly kinky-looking dress suit that outlined every subtle curve in her midsection, breasts, and shoulders, and, she was very thin but not too thin. She was perfect. Croke was impressed, and, had it not been for all of the layers of responsibility coupled with the current predicament of having been transformed into a living, breathing, drug addicted dog-man, he would have spent an inordinate amount of time either finding out how he could ravish her or why he was not worthy of doing so. In fact, he became temporarily hard from just the visual presentation of her, and, for a second, he reveled in the thought that not every ounce of male humanness had been squeezed out of him by the torture of incarceration and drugging.
Then, he thought of Tanya, his baby boy, and the looming act of murder. He imagined the act of shooting Mishkov, and wondered if he would have to do so at the heat of foreplay, while hard and ready for entry into this fine specimen of a woman. He wondered what position he would be in at that point, naked, on the bed, with her, and with poor Mishkov excited about the kinky act about to commence. He thought of what his wife would be doing exactly at that point, if she would be held hostage by a group of enemies of another group of unseen and unknown Russians, and if she would be thinking of him that instant. He realized that, after the act of murder, he was a deadman. He was certain that either he would be killed by this group of people, or, he would be fingered in a line up and would have to suffer months of trial, ridicule, and the agony and stress of being convicted by a jury of his peers. So, if he weren’t physically killed, he’d certainly be dead figuratively, equipped with a rotting corpse in prison hundreds, possibly thousands, of kilometers from friends and family. And, what family would there be? There would be no family to speak of. His dear Tanya would surely leave him. In fact, he would demand that of her. Her happiness would certainly be the only thing he could live for after the fact, trial, and legal and morally correct incarceration. He had failed, failed to take the higher moral ground and stand up to this despicable yet murky group of people. He had failed to be a Human Being and stand up the rights of one’s person, in the face of a test from God Himself, to act out in a heroic way. Death at the hands of these murky villains was the real answer, and, because of his immediate needs for the drug, and the need for a few more hours, days, weeks, or years of life- a certainly horrible life but life nonetheless- he opted for life. And yet, the equation of life would be balanced at a net gain of zero, since in order to achieve a small slice of lifetime, he had to kill a friend.
Andy watched as the man holding the gun spoke into the ear of the large Russian. He smiled and finally kissed him on the cheek, during which time nobody in the bar seemed to notice what was going on. Then, the Russian began to raise his voice in anger, unfettered by the gun that was nudged in his stomach. The man with the gun rose his voice as well, and soon, a row broke out amongst the new assailers and their Russian prey. Soon, other patrons took notice of the verbal altercation. Andy became nervous. His heart increased in beat proportionally to the volume of the men’s voices. He began to sweat as the men appeared to be heading towards a full fledged fight in the middle of the bar. Then, a few of the Russian men laughed, after which time the man with the gun smiled for a second. At this point, Andy figured that he was imagining things and that these people knew each other. He felt relieved upon contemplating and rationalizing his temporary paranoia, in the same way that one is relieved from a smooth ride after turbulence on a plane. For a few minutes, their voices were almost indiscernible, almost, and during this calm, Andy reflected on all of the issues that made him angry and depressed this evening.
Then, all of a sudden the Russian grabbed the gun and wrestled the man to the floor. A woman screamed. Then, more people screamed. A few other men ran over and tried to break up the scene, but it was of no use. Within seconds, all of the Russian men were engaging their assailants, and the man with the gun was on the ground, face pressed to the tile floor, and screaming at the top of his lungs. Then, there was a loud pop, followed by a sequence of immense chaos. People screamed and began to run for the door. Andy jumped up and thought for a few seconds what to do. He saw that one man was down, and that blood was diffusing onto the white tile floor. For a second, he admired the contrast of the deep red color against the white floor, but then sheer fear took over. But, he was oddly frozen for a few more seconds as several shrieking cries could be heard, along with shouts such as “Oh my God”, “He’s shot”, and “Call a doctor, call the police….” People flooded out in a frenzy, as a few other bold men with white earphones raced in the opposite direction to the scene of the crime. Then, Andy realized that his curiosity and lethargy were endangering his life, and this thought created a heightened state of anxiety precipitated by a rush of adrenaline. He felt like he was looking into the face of death and was overwhelmed with certain internal chemical secretions that almost felt euphoric. He dashed for the door. His legs felt like lead as he moved forward, almost perceptibly in slow motion, as in a nightmare, and he was totally conscious in a supped up heightened state of awareness of every little nook and cranny of the goings on in this bar at this second. As he ran through the sea of people, he looked over at the dj, who had a whitish fearful expression as he tore off his knit cap, ripped off his headphones, and huddled for a second close to the floor. He saw the man who looked like Rod Stewart, who, only minutes before proudly was showing off his person and presence, but, who now was running faster towards the door than anyone else, including his sexy tall girlfriend. More shots were fired, followed by more screams. The door leading to the street was still seemingly infinitely out of reach for Andy. Andy tripped and fell onto the cold floor. He felt several people trample over him. He thought he may have broken a bone in the process, but he wasn’t sure. More shots were heard. He looked back towards the men, and then, all of a sudden, he was kicked very hard by the foot of a patron who was running with the fear of God in his soul. Andy became unconscious.
Tanya, all tied up and huddled on the floor of a room devoid of light, felt another human brush up against her. She had industrial strength tape over her mouth and her hands were tied together in the back. She had just spent an inordinate amount of time crouched on this cold floor, in the void, with nothing but the thoughts of her missing husband and her possibly sick child in her mind. She had plenty of time to retrace everything from the first phone call in Paris, to the dismay, to the train ride in which she observed the Russians talking about some plan, to the journey to the Sanderson Hotel, to the longwinded trek to the police station, to her abduction at a small restaurant called Gul’s Bar-B-Que in Soho. How she had chosen that restaurant, she couldn’t fathom, and she pondered for a second a version of the Butterfly Effect in a specific instance of her own life. Oddly, she did not think much about her own fate, and this angered her, but only for a few seconds that interrupted the long and windy thoughts of the potentially horrible things that may have happened to her family.
And now, everything she thought of was interrupted. Now, another human seemed to be in pretty much the same situation that she was in, and she was relieved from her thoughts. Her heart jumped, as she was not scared but delighted! Surely, this other person was trying to communicate with her! She rubbed her body against the other person for a few minutes, and finally, she found the face of the other body. She moved her mouth across the face of the other person, and surmised that the other person had exactly the same type of tape across his or her mouth. His or her mouth, she thought to herself. Was this human a man or a woman, and did this really matter? It was hard to tell, because the other person did not have any whiskers. The other person seemed to have soft skin. It felt nice. She then found a way to rub her tape against this person’s tape, and it soon became clear that the other person had the same thing in mind that she did- they should attempt to rub their respective tapes off by a strong abrasive movement. And thus she rubbed hard against this human’s face, just where the tape over the mouth started. She worked on this for what she thought was one hour at least, and eventually, they were able to unpeel a good portion of the tape. She was very excited. Her heart increased in speed with every millimeter of tape unpeeling! She listened to the sounds of vibrating grunts emanating from her tape-removing partner. There were grunts, sighs and muffled sounds coming from both of them. She thought of Croke and her baby. She thought about life in general, and went through all of the years of her existence, before she could feel, intuitively, that there was just another few centimeters of tape to go before she could communicate with this other person!
She scratched against the other person’s face for several more minutes until it her tape dangled from her mouth.
She was relieved! The tape was off! She thought about this for a second before whispering, “Hey! Hey! We need to get your tape off. I’ve been in here for a long time, and I don’t remember how you got in here. I was robbed, no, not robbed, how do you say this? I was taken by these men, and I think you were too, no? These b******s, we need to free you, or at least get that tape off of your face. I was looking for my husband, who is missing.” She then began to cry, while the other person huffed and puffed a pant here and there, and it soon became clear to Tanya that the other person was a man. She calmed down from her despair and continued to try to rip off the tape from the other person’s mouth, only, this time, she was literally kissing the man’s face. Their respective skin around their mouths was moist from sweat, and she could feel trickles of water meandering down her face as she worked hard to strip away the tape. The man continued to grumble and moan until, finally, his tape was off.
“Finally, finally, phuck! Phuck! This is insane! This is truly insane! I was in a bar, in a bar when some men got into a fight, it was insane! And, a shot rang out, and everyone ran for the door, and…” Andy panted and tried to catch his breath. Tanya listened to him with a strong focus and intent on understanding his predicament, which couldn’t have been wildly different from hers. He continued to pant, and Tanya wondered what he looked like under a light. Finally, he continued, “I was at the Long Bar at the Sanderson Hotel….and;…..it was, insane….”
“You were at the Sanderson? I am, er, I was staying at the Sanderson Hotel! I was! And you were there? What happened, precisely?” whispered Tanya at a higher decibel level than her previous utterance.
“Sanderson Hotel, yes, Sanderson….I went there after a bite at a restaurant in Soho….sheah, I was tired, my girlfriend is in Asia, I was bored….what is the likelihood that something like this would happen? Jesus, I was just going to the Sanderson for a drink in order to….well, nevermind, but I saw these Russian men being accosted by another group of men….and”
“And what? What Russian men? I was taken by men that I think, are from Siberia….I think they are…I am Russian. I don’t know why, but I think these men were Siberian, and they were, I don’t know, they were the types of men that would be willing to do anything to get what they want…I believe they have my husband, they have my husband and…..my little….they have my husband!” She began to cry.
At this point, Andy figured that she was precisely the very attractive Russian woman that was being discussed at Gul’s.
However, the room was pitch black, so he couldn’t see her face. He could feel her breath and her presence, but he could not get a tiny glimpse of her.
“So, let’s get untied, somehow,” said Andy.
“I can feel that I have some very strong ropes tying my hands together, what do you suggest to do?” said Tanya.
“I don’t know….let’s….let’s put our backs to each other, and try to do…something.”
“Ok, I’ll try to get over towards your back.”
They managed after a concerted effort to position themselves back to back. They then struggled with sweaty hands on each other’s ropes, and, both of them for a few seconds thought about the absurdity of it all, and how their current situations were worthy of a Hollywood movie. Furthering their case in thought was the fact that the ropes didn’t appear to be tied together that tightly or with the impossibility of this current scenario in mind.
Andy thought that either his captors were stupid, or they were so confident that their captives would not struggle. The latter thought was reasonable, since it would certainly take not only cooperation but also risk in engaging in this process. There was no light, they had no weapons, and there was no way to ascertain what they were up against even if they freed themselves. They might be surrounded by sensors, computers, cameras, and enclosed in a room guarded with men adorned with weapons and the intent to kill at a moment’s notice. It was in fact a big risk, and yet, Andy reflected for a moment about what his alternatives were, and, in the context of his seemingly increasingly meaningless life at the swaps desk, he thought that this was the thing to do. This was at least some indication that he had a life force in him and that he would not be crushed into an obscure gutter of ineptitude.
Meanwhile, Tanya did not suffer from this arduous thinking of risk, return, and the balance of what to do in the context of a life. For her, there was no question that this was the right thing to do. She did not live to contemplate a meaningless life in anger and frustration at a bank. Rather, she lived for her family, for better or worse. She was the cornerstone, the foundation, of the family of Croke. She gave birth to a son, and she was in charge of everything the family stood for. Certainly, she was not a modern working woman, but, because she was not enslaved by work, she was free to fill the role of the family head, and this situation called for decisive, managerial conviction- yes, there was no alternative, not contemplation, no reflection, on this situation. She was a Queen at the helm of an institution, and she temporarily realized the unique position that she was in. This is not documented in the context and contrast of Andy’s or any other male’s reaction to a dangerous situation, this was realized, coincidentally, at the same time, as Andy’s thoughts. And so, she was at the core of her soul much more willing, ready, and able to take any and all risks needed to free herself, and fight for her family. She drove this process.
“You’re rubbing the wrong way, no, closer…..no, that is not right…a little higher….a little higher….that is just right…rub right there….harder….harder….harder….” Said Tanya, as she instructed Andy to work on the freeing of their Person’s in this dark, damp room. Andy panted and thrust his body against hers as he tried to free himself. Tanya moaned and sighed and continued with the specific instructions. Andy worried that someone might enter their cave of incarceration, while Tanya only thought about the onward and upward movements. Tanya didn’t think about their environment, while Andy thought only about the dark and musty room, the potential electronic eyes, the weapons, and the forces of their lurking, murky foes. And yet, he obeyed Tanya like a slave and continued to do exactly the right rubbing direction that she prescribed, and, oddly, her instructions seemed to be correct; the rope was becoming looser, much looser. It loosened and loosened and loosened. Andy heard Tanya sigh and moan further, and he was getting very agitated.
Finally, Tanya’s rope became loose. It was very moist too. Andy was relieved. Tanya got up and fumbled around in the rear of Andy to untie him. Soon, both of them were up on their legs, like the proper bipeds that they were. Tanya could smell garlic, ginger, and wine emanating from Andy’s mouth, while Andy didn’t articulate any particular smell from Tanya, other than a vague fragrance of a woman, whatever that meant.
“So, now what?” asked Andy.
“We need to get out of this place, now….” Said Tanya, as she panted heavily. Andy heard her move her hands across her pants, and he liked it for a second. He liked the sound of a woman, all of the sounds actually, and he imagined her to be tall and blonde. He thought about her in a typically male way for about three nanoseconds, then he feared for his life in this dark cave.
He thought for another few seconds on a proper macho male response, and finally offered, “Ok, let’s find the door.” He didn’t have any idea what to do when they found the door, but, neither did Tanya. It was the blind leading the blind, they were both hiding deep rooted yet chemically depressed anxieties, and they had lost a certain orientation about their coordinates. Where were they? When were they? Who were their captors? But, at the end of the day, certainly Tanya was the braver. Andy had no responsibilities other than his own existence, and yet, seemingly ironically, he was more afraid than Tanya.
He thought for a second about a short quip he heard from a friend in college, an Australian friend, who boldly told him “ah, if you die in a plane crash, no worries, you’ve lived long enough”. He tried to remember the context, and was sure it was linked to a general fear of doing risky things, but he was not sure. He panicked as he tried to locate the door. His heart raced as he felt the stone cold stone walls, and he noticed that his clammy hands provided a very temporary sense of lubrication when he glided by the surface of one of the room’s sides with his palm. Where was he, damn it? And, at the same time, other thoughts of the woman next to him came into play. He fantasized about having s*x with her right there in the dark and damp room. He could even rape her, really, and this thought conjured up other odd anecdotes of archetypical grandeur- going down on a plunging plane into the Finger Lakes in New York and seated next to a s*xy woman, as the story goes. What does a man do in such an instance? He pondered this quandary until his heart skipped a beat and he felt like God Himself were punishing him for having such a thought, and he thought, for a split second, that it was not simply self-flagellation. No, God was really going to punish him severely for having this thought right here and now!
And God did punish him!
Tanya and Andy heard several loud noises as they tried to force open the door in their black room. After a concerted effort, they finally gave up and rested on the floor next to the door. They sighed and were at a loss for words. Several minutes passed until they exchanged a few words with each other, but the comments were not of substantial importance, and did not serve to allay nor increase their understandable anxiety about their respective situations. They sat there in the black room pensively, thinking about their own specific problems and worries. This lasted for a long time, but neither of them could estimate how many seconds, minutes, or hours had passed. It was as if Time had frozen into a glacial state, and that each increment into the future of their existence took a lifetime. They both, coincidentally, thought about the creeping halt of time, and its effects on their sheer boredom interrupted by terrifying thoughts of what may come.
Finally, Andy began to speak.
“hehehehe, this is ironic. I am embraced by some nebulous foe in some odd plot that I cannot understand, and, just today, I was thinking about how meaningless and uneventful my life has been. I am a trader, I trade swaps, that is, interest rate swaps and I make a good living. Actually, I make more money than I ever thought I would make when I was a wee pitiful trainee. I can afford many things that common folk cannot, and I should be happy about that. But, I am not. I think about the wealth of others all the time; I have lived in London for ten years, and what I hate about London is that I am constantly reminded of the layers in time and space of vastly wealthy, successful people. Ok, I can understand….no, understand is not the right word….I can perceive the present generation of wealthy people that I see around me; I see chauffer-driven Audi 8-As and multi-million dollar bars and sexy woman being pulled in by men on the pull….I see packed exceedingly expensive restaurants and grand houses….I see a lot of living evidence of the vastly wealthy. But, what bothers me more, is the evidence of an even wealthier, more elite class of humans in the distant past…..Ghosts. Ghosts of grandeur, evidenced by the elaborate and intricate buildings and streets and palaces are everywhere. I am inundated with it, and it is, in a way, beautiful and I feel, oddly, proud to be a denizen of this city. But it makes me wonder: How long did it take for this to happen, how were the cards dealt by God to a chosen few, and how were the strings pulled so that thousands of quasi-slaves, servants, and craftsmen of a rare guild were aligned in unison to create structures, art, and other physical forms of color, texture, and, I don’t know, monumental presence for others to see. Were the Supermen in control really heroes, saints, and mental giants, or, did they simply manipulate the masses towards their gain. And, am I a less of a man, even though I make a lot of money, have a good, actually a very good, actually…..an excellent education…..if I cannot plant some monument that hails my existence, and reminds posterity of my life? I wonder about that a lot; for, I am not a hero, I have never done anything that is worthy of remembering, but, I wonder why I should remember some of these people who have their names emblazoned on buildings and monuments. I really…want to live…..and be remembered in some sense commensurate with these men…sorry, that I said men and not women.”
Croke was in a daze and fully flush with his drug as his captors organized the described jaunt out to a club. A lot of electronic equipment, replete with dangling and tangled wires, was brought into his room as he sat on a couch languidly staring at the ceiling. He wondered how all of these organized people could work so arduously for such a seemingly ridiculous cause; what could be so important that it called for a grand orchestration of a meeting between a man, a woman, and another man? He had very short thoughts that pointed to a reasonable answer, namely, that they did not want a pipeline built simply because either their “clients” wanted to live or they wanted to do something just as vast and diabolical.
It was warm and Croke began to sweat.
Finally, a few large men surrounded him and strapped on a number of very thin electronic equipment to his body, and they attached a needle into his wrist, which, presumably, contained the river of fluid comprising his beloved drug, whatever it was. He laughed as they did this. Then, the tall, sleek, and perfect woman entered, and she spoke a few words with Mr. Cathar-the man who had explained everything to Croke. He examined her body and thought about how he would like to taste it, and yet, since he was so fully intoxicated by his drug, he realized that his ponderings about her flesh were merely mentally derived; He did not physically long for her, rather, he knew he was a man, and he knew that men should want attractive women. And yet, he thought about a conundrum with regards to woman. He thought about a hypothetical choice of having either his drug or this woman, and he concluded that he would definitely opt for the drug over a nice ready, willing, and able woman. This realization caused a temporary fright in him, despite the workings of the drug, for, he knew, mentally, that, a man should choose a woman over a drug. And yet, he was so far gone into the spiral of addiction, that his body told him otherwise. It was a short and precise revelation of physical reality, and he didn’t like it.
The men propped up Croke, led him to Mr. Cathar, and held him next to Cathar’s face.
“Ok, Croke, you will accompany Roxanne to Carravaggio, which is a club in Mayfair. It is very very exclusive; it is the kind of place only people like Abramovich and Prince Andrew can get into to. You will drink champagne there, and you will dance with Roxanne. You will dance in a way that is very suggestive, and you will pull Mishkov into your little mockingly illicit activity. He will be there, don’t worry, he will be there; we have made sure of that. You will invite him over for a glass of champagne, by the way, you will order 1997 vintage Louis Roederer- Crystal actually, since that seems to be very fashionable right now….yes, Russians love that. The three of you will get very drunk, and then Roxanne will suggest that you go to a certain place…..it is nearby, and it is owned by us. She will grab your crotch as she suggests this, and this will be your cue to get ready. You will exit the club, take a cab that will be driven by one of our operatives, and you will head off ensemble to our little pad. You will enter the apartment and go directly to a large living room, full of zebra skin covered couches. You will put on a cd at the stereo on the righ, right next to a large and very beautiful Moroccan mosaic. You will choose Kind of Blue, and when it the CD gets to the track called “Blue in Green”, that will be your cue to kill Mishkov. You will walk over to the armoire just next to the stereo, and you will pull out a silencer and you will shoot Mishkov five times in the heart, stomach, and, if possible, in the head.”
Croke was put into a chauffer-driven car along with his sexy accomplice, and he was driven through an array of angular and curving streets towards some club. He had enough time, between the spurts of euphoria afforded by the elaborate apparatus that was strapped to his body to look out of his window and perceive in awe all of the remnants of England’s past; He saw more rows of grandiose buildings, expensive cars, and expensively dressed people on the streets. But, in a flash, with each turn of the vehicle around a block, with each side-track in order to avoid traffic, the scenes changed instantaneously from opulent to the profoundly depressed vestiges of society at the bottom of the barrel. One minute, he witnessed a man and his wife being escorted into a new Bentley by a man wearing a tuxedo and a top hat, the next minute he watched a man struggling with another over a potential target for what seemed to be a drug transaction. It all spoke of power, dominance, and glory- large or small, but it was all shown in his face as he, himself, was on the receiving end of a very concise, localized, form of power of one or more humans over another. He was completely under the control of others, and, he mused that maybe all humans in the past did not fully understand, just as he did not understand, the extent of the reasons and motivations of their dominators. And yet, he had his drug, and he had his sexy accomplice, whom he liked to look at every now and then when the thoughts of being controlled were to much for him to bear, and this made him feel temporarily sanguine.
Croke’s car finally arrived at a drab building on a nondescript street somewhere in, by his estimates, Mayfair. He exited the car and was immediately surrounded by two men who proceeded to escort him to the club in the drab building. His sexy accomplice barked out a few words in an unfamiliar language to the other men, they argued for a second, and then the four of them proceeded to the velvet-roped entrance that was manned by an enormous man who looked completely uninterested in anything other than spotting a troublemaker. Croke wondered how his foursome would gain entrance to the club, but, he soon realized that people with this conviction, intent, and means, would certainly have no problems figuring out how to get into a club that is difficult to enter for common folk.
As they approached, Croke noted that he could not hear music emanating from the club’s steel doors. There was a line of chicly dressed people who feigned disinterest in entering, but Croke figured that entering this club was their focused goal right now; they were too dolled up and pretty to be rejected. The building itself was fashioned out of what seemed to be cement blocks, and Croke thought it looked like a government building erected in a communist country during the 70s. It was very ugly and gray in fact, but, that only served as a very nice contrast to the beautiful and colorful people in line. Croke, despite his deeply sedated state, was able to think about things, and what he thought about was how beautiful these people looked. Then, he thought for a second that maybe they didn’t look so beautiful, but, more accurately, expensive. They were actually more like humans wrapped in expensive cloth, leather, stones, and metal. And while surely Croke was more interested in the appearances of women in the line, he did in fact take note of several well dressed, well coiffed men.
The foursome skirted past the long line of people and went straight up to the face of the main, large, menacing man who guarded the door. The two men on each side of Croke spoke a few words in the same unfamiliar language that Croke had just heard, and, almost instantaneously, as if their entrance were so assured that it was preconceived a long long time ago, the man unlocked the feeble and fake gold lock on the velvet rope hanging gingerly on an equally fake gold post. He then offered his hand, but he really didn’t offer it. It was a mere sign of a weak show of hospitality, but surely it was not even the meakest show of hospitality. More precisely, he was doing something that he was told to do by someone with a lot more power than him, and, Croke even, for a flicker of a moment, caught a glimpse of something disturbing in the bouncer’s eye, as if for a vanishing flash of time, that man knew that he was not in charge and that other people, who were out of the scene for the moment, had total control over this highly localized neighborhood in space and time.
Tanya and Andy continued to converse for hours in the blackness of the room. Then they stopped talking for several hours. Then, they became tense over their situation. Each of them could hear their hearts beating, feel their blood pumping through a network of arteries and veins, and yet they could not even satisfy the simplest of time absorbing activities like looking at a wrist watch.
The hours crept by before a blast rocked their room. It was a very large explosion somewhere outside of their dark cell, which caused the floors to vibrate, the walls to shake, and, for several seconds after the blast, Tanya and Andy could hear abnormally heavy dust particles hitting the floor around them. They then could smell the odor of soot, dust, and earth. They heard an alarm and several very distant screams from above. They panicked and commenced to hold each other. They heard water dripping out of some unknown crack in the side of the room. They tried to discern what these remote voices were saying in their screams, but, due to the muffled nature of the sounds, they could not figure out any of the words being spoken. More soot covered their bodies. Andy felt his face, which, by this time, was covered in a perceivable layer of dust mixed with sweat. He imagined how he looked in the mirror, and thought that it must have looked like he was drained in a pile of feces. His heart jumped, and he hugged Tanya even closer. Tanya reciprocated with a stronger pull.
Ten minutes later, the following wire was broadcast on various electronic news services:
June 20, 2005, 23:17 Ten minutes ago
A blast rocked a section of Central London today. Witnesses said that a building exploded in plain view and that several separate explosions could be heard. The building, located in the fashionable district of Mayfair, was reported to house a Siberian Cultural Center and that the organization has been very busy of late gearing up for an exposition of business opportunities in Eastern Russia and Mongolia. There are currently no reported deaths, but paramedics were at the scene at the time of this report and were said to be assisting several dozen injured people. Several blocks of the surrounding area, which is close to Barclay’s Square, have been closed off to all traffic for the time being.
Authorities have indicated that, at this time, there is no evidence of foul play or terrorism.
Croke and his accomplice were in the club by the time the newswire appeared everywhere. They milled with the sea of people wiggling to tunes in their midst, drank, and fondled each other, while searching for Miskov. Croke was mesmerized by the opulent décor, the fashionable crowd, the seamless tunes, and the colorful drinks. He felt ‘happy’, if one could use that word, or, perhaps the proper word was satisfied. Yes. He was totally satisfied about his visual, audio, textual experience as the effects of his unknown drug mixed the alcohol took their effect on his body. He in fact thought about whether he could feel the alcohol, and, because of this, he constantly half-joked with his accomplice-who he finally learned was called Alla-that he could not figure out if he were drunk or not. In fact he was drunk from sensations, some dumbed down, others accentuated, and the result of this inundation of perceptions was akin, at least to him, like a plate full of Sichuan delicacies- spicy, overwhelming, invigorating, and yet, dulling to the deep down perceptrons of reality. He looked and longed for certain sexy women, and he laughed at this thought, since, he was with a very sexy woman to begin with. And, so what if this woman were merely a decoy to a grander plot to rob someone of life. He would be able to do a lot of things with this woman, and, at the end of the day, if he could satisfy an immediate physical need that was amplified by certain effects, which, in turn, dulled other perceptions of reality, then, so what? He could, in fact, borrow on his future well-being, forget about what happened, and continue on with his life in Paris with wife, child, and nanny. So what if he phucked this woman and killed a man? It would be forgotten, erased from memory, and would only be conjured up in a rare instance of being alone, in bed, with nothing to do other than jerk off. The down side was minimal, the upside seemed free and immediate, and, in fact, one could shrug at the certain obvious moral issues because he was, in fact, being forced into this situation. He didn’t know Mishkov that well, really, and, he had to think about his wife and child, they came first for sure. Yes, that was the answer. Do the deed, feel good, forget about the future, and, definitely, most definitely, forget what happened after it had happened. That was his logic, and, frankly, he rationalized, very thoroughly, that his behavior and decision-making capabilities were not markedly different from those thoughts and conclusions that had erupted out of the minds of human antiquity. Yes, Man, was, indeed, like, this.
In the meantime, Andy and Tanya crawled around while more explosions ensued. They thought about how each other looked as they did this, and yet the overwhelming emotion was that of primordial fear. Then Andy yelled as a large hole in the ground cracked open by a force of an explosion, after which, he grabbed Tanya’s arm. He fell downward into a black void by about five feet, and the blackness of this void was imperceptible in his mind due to the blackness of everything in his visual perception. But, he was aware of the blackness of chaos, disarray, and death, vis-à-vis the dark void of the situation comprising everything around him, He felt drunk in despair and in the solitude of lack of emotional or physical direction. He panicked.
At the same time, Tanya took his hand and thought about her plight in life. She thought about how she had struggled from the mere age of twelve in school, trying to find some element of elitism- yes, that was it, elitism- a simple slice of human grandeur that could be appreciated by the masses…
There were more explosions. Tanya held onto Andy’s hand tighter. The hole he was immersed in rumbled, and several broken pipes spewed out water and steam. Andy screamed. Tanya was quiet and she concentrated on saving Andy. Other screams could be heard in the building outside of the black room. For a second, as his life was held in delicate tow by Tanya, he chuckled to himself that he couldn’t even see his savior, nor the hole, nor anything else. It was odd to be in a life-threatening situation without visual senses. He thought what it was like to be blind.
Then, fear gave way as he heard Tanya struggle to pull on his weight. He was clinging to the side of ridge jutting out from the wall of the hole’s shaft, and then, suddenly, that ridge broke and he sunk another inch. Now, Tanya was pulling on the arm of Andy with a force equal to Andy’s full weight, and she needed to exude a lot of adrenaline in order to continue to stave off Andy’s death. She forgot about everything in her life for the next several seconds, and focused solely on the task at hand. Then, more pipes- big pipes- broke and they both realized that what lie below Andy was a burgeoning and turbulent river of liquid.
Tanya’s grip began to fade, and with every nanometer of lost contact, they gasped, as Andy sunk lower into a potentially deadly fate. He was just a few inches of contact from being released like a sack of potatoes into an unknown flowing underground stream of water. And who knew where this led? Finally, after a few more seconds, Tanya could not hold Andy any longer, and he slipped and fell. He yelled as he plunged several feet before hitting the bottom of the hole into the water. Tanya screamed, and for a second, did not know what to do. She too may not survive this horrible disaster, and, having weighed all the possible actions, she decided to jump into the hole and attempt to save Andy. So, she jumped. She fell several feet before hitting the water. She plunged under the water for a few feet, during which time she could hear the sounds of water gushing from somewhere, and she also distinctly heard the sound of Andy’s struggle underwater. She groped around until she found his leg, but he was being pulled into something by a strong force, and she held onto his leg. Finally, they were both pulled in tow into a narrow tunnel of water and they were thrust forward at a precipitous rate for several seconds. They held their breaths, and continuously searched for an air pocket above them. They scraped and cut their hands in this process on the various cracks and jutting objects that seemed to be rather sharp yet rusty. They cringed in pain upon each new cut for several more seconds, as their hearts pumped, and their anxiety exploded into upper limits of a human’s capacity to endure terror. Then, for another few seconds, they had the time to begin to contemplate the potential end of their respective lives. And, like so many who have been in this situation, they did not think of fear, nor pain, nor anything else that might bring selfishly derived anxiety.
No. They were sad. They were sad that they could not say goodbye to their loved ones. They were sad for the ones they were leaving on Earth, and they did not even think about the afterlife. This was it, their perceptions of reality would soon vanish and they would be nothing, and, since they were not rulers, conquerors, or other any other type of human that would be remembered by billions of posterity, they would only be known by the future and finally terminating tree of posterity spawned by immediate friends and family. Sure, it would be great tragedy immediately to the one or two degrees of separation comprising their graphs of relationships, and then the degree of surprise and despair upon hearing their deaths would fade in proportion to the degree of separation of the relationship. Even for those immediately concerned- a husband, a son, a girlfriend, parents, uncles, colleagues, and friends- the grief would be fleeting, everyone would move on with their lives, and, in the not too-distant future, a future in the epoch of the next generation of offspring, their horrible fate would be vaguely remembered as merely untimely deaths. As time would march onward, fewer and fewer would care, and, in a larger timescale, they would be completely forgotten, as if they did not exist, while the likes of Nero would always be remembered. They, like Nero’s victims, save for a passing reference in works like “The Twelve Caesars”, would be completely erased from the collective consciousness of humanity.
Just when these thoughts came to a logical conclusion of the absense of thought, Tanya found an air pocket above the swirling underground river. She pulled up and clawed her way up towards Andy’s arms and forced his head into the cavity of air separated by water and rusted pipe iron. They both inhaled air with abandon, panting heavily in the process. Andy then hit the metal above and it cracked open into a cavern above. As before, no light pervaded their environs, and thus they still could not see each other. However, they certainly heard and felt every breath, pant, and they even for a few moments thought they could read each other’s minds. Then, Andy hit the rusted metal again and thus broke away more of a hole. Tanya helped break away more of the pipeline. They continued until there was enough room for Andy to pull himself out of the pipe, while Tanya held onto the opening with her hands.
“Grab my hand”, yelled Andy.
“Ok, lemme try, what is this?” Said Tanya, as she gained some hope in being saved from what she previously thought was sure death.
Tanya then finally found Andy’s arm and Andy pulled her out with a heap of strength. They were out of the pipe and sitting in a dark cave with little space above the pipeline. Andy moved around and tried to find a wall or area of ceiling that was penetrable. He moved around the walls and felt a rough and craggy surface that seemed like dirt and rock. He moved his hands on a low ceiling for several minutes. Tanya did the same, and she was finally able to locate what seemed to be a grill made out of iron.
“I found something, come over here, quickly” she said.
He dashed over into to the direction of her voice and ran into her bosom, which, actually felt nice. Then, he helped her push up the iron grid after several minutes. They finally got the grid displaced onto an upper cavern that was just as black, musty, and uninviting. They then climbed up into that cavern and proceeded to do the same thing. They repeated this process for a seemingly endless span of time until they finally reached the surface of the streets of London. They popped out of a manhole in the middle of a street lined with Queen Ann styled apartment buildings, and, at one end, they could see an array of police cars and paramedics positioned in the middle of an intersection. They gasped, and then Andy passed out, while Tanya yelled for help.
A bunch of paramedics soon rushed to Tanya’s side, and they were subsequently followed by a number of curious bystanders who were previously looking for carnage and destruction in another direction. Andy’s lips were blue, his eyes were rolling into the back of his head, and he looked as white as a sheet. Tanya panicked when she realized how grave his situation was. She also was able to get a better glimpse of her male partner for the last several hours or days; he was of medium height, had dark hair styled in a ubiquitously bland Banker hairdo. He had pale skin, of course it was really pale owing to the situation, but she could tell that it was pale under normal circumstances. He had freckles. He had thin lips and large ears and a large mole next to his right eye. He had the look of a rather erudite and nerdy Irishman who had seen just a little too many negative slices of life; he looked sad, even in his state of not really looking like he could understand or perceive anything. Actually, he looked dead.
With that thought in mind, she realized that the paramedics were in fact trying to revive him, and this realization- that his heart had stopped- sent shivers down her spine. Two men administered CPR to him. One man was hovered over Andy’s mouth, while the other was hunched over his chest. They worked in concert in order to bring life back into him. They both counted out numbers in sequences of simple numerals and repeated each number with the word “one thousand”. Then, they stopped every now and then while the man next to Andy’s lips put his ear next to Andy’s mouth, ostensibly trying to locate a dash of life- a mere flicker of supple breath- emanating from Andy’s throat. The paramedic shook his head, and they would continue for another wave of counts, discrete chest pounds depressed by interwoven hands, and staccato blows coming from one live mouth to another dead one. People gasped, as, in the distance, more explosions could be heard. A few bystanders averted their respective gazes over towards the larger-than-life, more explosive, events that would surely be documented at least in tomorrow’s Tube rags. Then, upon seeing that those explosions were too far off, too abstract for the here and now, they would return to the present, if less globally, topically, and potentially historically less important event of one man who was, almost surely, going to die on the damp streets of London.
Tanya screamed, “Do something! Work faster! Can’t you see he is going to die! He is going to die!” she then fell to the ground in tears and thought about Andy; a stranger whose living face was only relinquished to her eyes for a few seconds, but for whom she thought she had known for a lifetime. She even blotted out the fate of her husband, and this fate was still held in the balance of God as far as a rational mind could discern. And yet, there were little fleeting thoughts that all of this were connected and that her husband could be suffering from a similar fate somewhere else in London, or possibly elsewhere.
At this same time, Croke was milling through the crowds of the fashionable nightclub with his escort-Alexandra. They feigned a casual party spirit, and yet, Alexandra was on the lookout for Mishkov. Then, minutes turned into hours and soon it was around 4AM. Finally, amidst a crowd of drunken, suited men, she spotted Mishkov pounding several shots of vodka. A lanky woman who looked like a glib catwalk model was next to him. She had a taciturn face that was juxtaposed against expressions of drunken merriment. She almost looked like a bodyguard, from Alexandra’s perspective.
Alexandra pulled on Croke, smiling in the process as if nothing were out of the ordinary. Croke was in turn in a fairly oscillating state of sedation around emotional neutrality, right at the border of needing more drug and having spurts of euphoria stream through his veins. He wondered if his apparatus were working properly, and for a second he feared that his drug was not being administered at the precise clockwork rate required to reduce emotional volatility. One minute he didn’t think about anything in his life, including his wife and child, the next minute he felt like slitting his wrists. And he became paranoid that his fluctuations in demeanor were reflected in physical facial spasms that would be very obvious for an onlooker.
Alexandra continued onward towards Mishkov, with Croke in tote, until Mishkov looked up and smiled with a lascivious glimmer in his eye. He looked to Croke as if he were ready right then, to go hop in the sack with the two of them. And yet, Croke was happy that Mishkov smiled at him. It was nice to see a familiar face.
Mishkov drank another shot of Standard Vodka, slammed the glass on a table, jumped up at once and yelled out, at the top of his lungs, “Crooooooke! Crooooke! Where have you beeen! Come here! Davai, davai! His coterie looked up at him, rather than over at Croke and the tall Alexandra, as if all of the action were still centered on each of Mishkov’s actions and not on the approaching couple. Mishkov then hopped over the table and almost knocked over the bottle of Standard in the process. He laughed and continued to yell “Croke” as he ran towards them.
Croke nudged backwards as Mishkov lunged forwards and grabbed Croke’s shoulder. Alexandra smiled. Croke thought about his Tanya and his son. People around Croke laughed as the chugged Vodka. Other people, in a circle around Croke, Mishkov, and his crew, gazed at what was going on. The space was dark and interrupted by an occasional haze of colorful light that, to Croke, appeared like a mutli-dimensional expanse of color emanating from a prism; he felt like he was perceiving a multitude of dimensions this second, and they were very colorful. He sort of relaxed for a few seconds and merely absorbed the visual stimulation of everything around him, and, he was very happy to see Mishkov.
The three of them were led back to Mishkov’s table where they continued to drink vodka, talk, and laugh. Alexandra introduced herself to Mishkov, and said many pleasant compliments to him, ranging from a comment about his eyes, to his intellect, to his never-ending source of energy and bravado. Croke didn’t like hearing these things, at least during his short stretches of clear thinking. Oddly, despite the fact that he should have worried about more important issues, especially right now, he nurtured a certain element of jealousy with respect to the interaction between Mishkov and Alexandra; He fashioned a view that since Alexandra had interacted much more extensively with him than with Mishkov, that she should be more attracted to Croke. Anyway, it was ridiculous, since the whole social discourse was setup by Mr. Cathar, and Alexandra was surely just acting. Surely, she couldn’t be naturally attracted to Mishkov. But, maybe she could be? Croke mused over this thought and it disturbed him profoundly, even though common sense dictated a view that was more realistic, and less centered on hyperbolic assertions in the heat of anxiety.
Then, he chuckled and thought about how silly his thoughts were, and how he should squeeze into a glass, with consummate energy, all of the potential strategies for getting out of his current predicament.
The three of them sat down and Mishkov offered a round of vodka shots. Several shots ensued before Alexandra finally exuded a change of character from innocent escort of Croke to tawdry clubber in search of kinky fun. She stroked Mishkov’s leg, and shot out glances that drummed up perverted thoughts to a normal male. But, of course, it was all done in taste, and it took several minutes, possibly hours in Croke’s mind, to unfold. It was a drawn out foreplay to foreplay, at least in Croke’s angry mind, and this thought burned inside of him like a chili pepper. He was so angry that his thoughts seemed to erase, through brute force, all of the down-tempo feelings brought on by his drug.
Finally, the snowball of desire, at least feigned desire, grew so large that Mishkov was sticking his tongue in Alexandra’s ear while Croke merely looked at the table holding the Vodka bottle while his face twitched uncontrollably. The rest of Mishkov’s crew filtered out, and about one hour after that, roughly by the time the birds were starting to sing, all of the club’s patrons, save for Mishkov, Alexandra, and Croke, were gone. Croke didn’t remember how he got out of the club with Mishkov and Alexandra, but within minutes of thinking that thought, he was in a car heading down a haunted looking road. Mishkov was driving, while Alexandra kissed his neck. Croke, in the meantime, was laying cockeyed in the backseat, still angry for a vague reason, still stoned from his drug, and not very clear on what precisely was going to happen.
Then, in a flash, he remembered that Mishkov was going to be killed, by him, tonight! He became sober in an instant, but just for an instant, as he gazed at a streaming image of Indian storefronts and bars with names like Pissed Hog In the Fog- Freehouse and Hanging Man with Horse and Friends. The latter had a sign dissuading late night revelers from wreaking too much havoc. He became dizzy and paranoid, as he heard the panting breath of Alexandra juxtaposed to a seemingly sinister heckle from Mishkov as he navigated his car down the road. Croke perceived that Mishkov was forced to take several temporary detours created by a combination of police, paramedics, and disaster services personnel.
They finally arrived at Mishkov’s house in Shepherd’s Market. It was a dilapidated three story house that had, paradoxically, inward pointing cameras at the entrance. The cameras looked like the absurdly short arms of a physically malformed human trying to protect himself. They pointed at the sidewalk in front of the house, in a position that was surely meant to catch on video a burglar, though Croke chuckled to himself that the only event most likely captured on tape here was a passing man taking a piss prior to a sojourn at a whorehouse.
They sauntered in punch-drunk fashion into the house, bumping into the walls lining the steep, wallpapered staircase in the process. They huffed and puffed up the staircase, which wrapped around to another level, and then another level. Finally, they reached a long corridor that was pitch black. Mishkov led them, as he guffawed in a seemingly nervous fashion. Alexandra let a few giggles here and there, and Croke was impressed with the high pitched and decidedly youthful tone in her voice. Indeed, she was a tall and strong woman, and, more importantly, she had the conviction to partake in a murder. This plot was mind bogglingly well-organized in Croke’s view, and for a second he mused over how well organized everything was in London, from the way high-end bars had orchestrated cab services, to the infrastructure of law enforcement, to the way call-girl services were run, to the services in the hotels. He had collected these thoughts over several trips to London, and he had fashioned a half-baked theory about social organization and the greatness of a neo-empire that sparkled like no other country, or, more specifically, city, that he had ever traveled to. And so, even a hatched plan to murder a human was well organized, or so it seemed.
They immerged into a room, and, with the flick of a switch by Mishkov, Croke could see that it looked precisely the way it was described by Mr. Cathar. Mishkov sat in a black, cheap, leather chair near a window and yawned like a bored king before offering drinks to his company. Alexandra looked at Croke, winked, then got up and sauntered sensually towards a stereo that was housed in a consol table fashioned out of burled dark wood and which had intricate patterns inspired by a seemingly Chinese sensibility. She wiggled her behind and whistled a tune, as if nothing were of grand importance presently other than the satisfaction of a late night after party involving three people. She flipped through a slew of CDs and nodded her head in the process, while Mishkov stumbled out of his leather throne and ventured off towards a small bar that seemed to have been put in place well after the construction date of this particular house. He laughed, while Alexandra continued to dismiss several CDs as their earful entertainment. She finally located a CD that she liked, and she gasped and groaned as she stroked the cover of the CD, as if she were fondly fondling an old friend in a sexual way. She then turned around to Croke, stuck out her tongue, smiled, and presented the face of the CD cover. Croke blinked his eyes with concerted effort, and he was embarrassed at the fact that he actually wanted to know what CD Alexandra had chosen as music for sex and murder. He discerned that it was a Marvin Gaye CD, and Croke mused that in fact that was a very nice, down tempo choice. It was sexy.
Alexandra popped the disk into a large, black system that appeared to be complex enough to support the logic and code of a inter-Galactic mission. She fumbled for some time with the knobs, controls, switches, and buttons, and Croke noticed this. However, Mishkov did not, and this seemed rather awkward for Croke; Miskov, at the same time, fumbled over the location of glasses, ice, and alcohol. So, while Croke’s host and accomplice were tripping over controls and refrigerator shelves, he was doing nothing but sitting idly with voyeuristically instilled contemplation. It was paradoxical, since, he mused that they, and not he, should be self-conscious about their immanently important activities. Then again, Miskov didn’t know that he would be killed, and Alexandra surely was a pro at this sort of thing.
Mishkov then excused himself after his cell phone rang incessantly. He meandered back into a dark corridor and spoke in Russian softly. In fact, apparently Mishkov did not understand that Alexandra was a native Russian speaker, and henceforth he was careful enough to speak at a low volume but not careful enough to completely disappear behind a soundproof room for his conversation. Alexandra notably perked up her ears to listen in, and she even winked at Croke as she did this. Then, she shrugged her shoulders after several minutes, checked her email on her blackberry devise, and then she settled in to entertaining, for lack of a better word, Croke.
By this time, Croke’s nerves were undulating between euphoric heaven and come-down hell. This was not a good situation for him, since he became fond of Alexandra throughout the evening, for some odd reason that he couldn’t explain. She was in fact a stunning woman, but, somehow he felt like he had spent a lifetime with her. And, she did not help this situation. In fact, all throughout the evening she gingerly inserted a modicum of complimentary remarks to him as well as the overwhelming come-ons to Mishkov. But, Croke erased the compliments to Mishkov and focused on the compliments to himself, and, as such, he began to believe, in his twisted and alternating emotional state, that Alexandra actually liked him. He began to rationalize that in fact Alexandra didn’t really like what she was doing, and that, in another world, they could have simply run off together into the ecstasy of Love, devotion, and reciprocal infatuation. It was definitely a long shot, outside of the box, from our perspective, and even Croke had spurts of common sense to understand that this scenario was a low probability event. But, despite this, he did dream, and his dreams about a life with her vacillated between a sweet fantasy of a perfect life with her, to a nightmare of despair spawned by thoughts of her betrayal.
He then thought about his wife, and how it could be possible to insert a life with Alexandra, nestled between weekends with wife, child and nanny. It was an impossible task, and in the midst of a euphoric rush a few units of his unknown drug, he felt confident and, paradoxically, indifferent. But, when the rush wore off, he spiraled into the state of sheer despair that this adventure would come to a close, that Mishkov would be dead, and that Alexandra’s essence would evaporate into thin air. And, if this bad scenario would end just at that, that would be the best of all the bad scenarios. The average of all these scenarios was more in line with the thought that maybe Croke would spend the rest of his life in prison for murder, without Alexandra OR his dear wife Tanya. Laid onto these anxieties was that if the worst case came into fruition, he would rot in jail, Alexandra would forget him, his wife would leave him, his family would be ashamed, and he would be spliced out of existence by humanity in 20 years.
Mishkov finally finished his call and reentered the living room in which Alexandra was playing with Croke’s ears. He paced back and forth for a second, looked at his two guests, and then he took a swig out of a glass filled with brown fluid. Then, he offered, “Hey, phuck it…you vant to see something.? I theenk you vill like eet…..”
“Alexandra stopped her massaging action and looked around at Mishkov, but, in the process she was coy enough to examine her rear briefly to see if was extended and round enough to create a certain mood swing in Mishkov.
“Sure, I’m up for…anything….” Said the coy Alexandra. She then looked back at Croke and winked at him.
“Follow me then….follow me..hehahhahaha….” Said Mishkov as he slammed down his drink and beckoned his guests with a culling hand-wave.
Alexandra got up, and Croke could see that she had thong underwear on. He thought of that stupid song an R&B song, and a few lines in the song sprung to his mind, but then the thought evaporated. Croke looked up at the statuesque Alexandra, and then he finally garnered the strength, despite his weary and inebriated state, to stand up on his own in a wobbly fashion. Then the two guests followed Mishkov down a dark corridor for about five meters.
Finally, Mishkov stopped and opened the door to a room. The room was glowing in bluish hue that emanated from an enormous computer monitor that hung against a wall like a screen in a multi-plex theater. On the monitor was a map of the globe. In the upper right hand corner were the following buttons with the following labels:
Average Real Estate Prices
Communication Lines and Hubs
Right now, from what Croke could surmise, the application was flicked onto the “Pipelines” category, and the globe had a number of seemingly strategically placed lines around a region spanning mid to eastern Siberia towards western Russia and other areas. It was a very detailed representation of the world and Croke estimated that such an application, with all of its topographical detail, was much more precise and intricate than any Atlas he had ever gazed.
“Look at theeees…..eeesn’t theeees amazing? Watch…..” Mishkov then touched “Average Real Estate Prices” and the map transformed into a geographical representation of the prices of property throughout the world. He then looked at the map, and selected Dubrovnik in the Adriatic. It displayed a number that looked to Croke like it was into the low 6 digits, but he wasn’t sure. He then touched Dubrovnik and it exploded into a closer view of the region surrounding the area. Then, he touched on an icon that explained the specifics, and Croke only discerned a few sentences revolving around big money coming from Russia…Then, Mishkov hit a “Previous Window” button and it transformed back to the map of the real estate globe. Then, he touched history, which spawned a column of buttons that were labeled by epochs of centuries.
Then, he touched a button in the upper right hand view that was labeled “Spherical View”. He hit the button, and immediately the map was represented as a sphere and the button that formally was labeled “Spherical View” was now labeled “Conformal View”.
“Vere do you vant to go now?” he asked, and as he said this, Croke was reminded of a mid-nineties Microsoft commercial on television. Croke shrugged his shoulders as Alexandra’s jaws hung in a display of incredulity.
Mishkov then made a motion as if he were spinning a globe in MeatSpace, and the globe, that is, the image of the spherical globe, spun around at a precipitous rate for several seconds. The room was silent as the three of them had their own private thoughts. Then, Mishkov winked and put his hand on the screen and the globe came spinning to a stop and his finger was nestled next to the coordinates of London, England, Europe, Planet Earth.
Alexandra then spoke up. “Mishkov, love, England is soooo uninteresting, why don’t you choose something else…a place closer to home?”
“Like what, devushka? Hehhehehehe, devushka, that cracks me up….hahhahahha…” Mishkov then took another hit from his curvaceous glass filled with brown fluid.
“Ok, let’s take Russia…..”
“Russia…Russia….” He scratched his head and looked at the ceiling for a second, then he looked at Croke and smiled…”Why Russia? England is very interesting. Why not drill down, as it were, into the specifics of life in England in, say, in the 17th century…think of…think of…the East India Trading Company…yes, that would be interesting to think about…..”
“Yes, maybe, but, maybe we should focus on something closer to our epoch of existence, something that was evil, full of despair, and of Apocryphal proportions….I say…Russia….”
“East India, England…Russia….Apocryphal…..hmmmm….” mused Mishkov as he aped the motion of a person weighing the merits of the choices on an imaginary scale of relevance. He rocked his body left and right in an exaggerated fashion and beamed with a wide smile as if this were not a serious topic to discuss.
Croke, for some reason, was profoundly disturbed by the glib and cavalier attitude that Mishkov had towards the subject of subjugation, subsequent slavery, and virtual genocide being posed as topics for a light late night discussion. Then, the rush of his drug soothed these thoughts and he was sanguine.
“Ok, Sasha, I can call you Sasha…maybe not…but, maybe yes….no, I call you Alishka……why not? What would you like to discuss or view with respect to Russia?”
Alexandra wiggled her behind, and ran over towards Mishkov to sip out of his glass….then, she downed all of the brown fluid and did a little dance around Mishkov. She was obviously drunk, or this was the way it appeared to Croke. Mishkov howled at the gesture as if it were the funniest mime he’d ever seen.
“Let’s pick Stalingrad…..yes, Stalingrad….Summer of 42 to Winter of 45…..yes….that would be interesting to discuss….”
Mishkov paused and stared into the abyss as if he were contemplating something deep, and yet, it looked slightly affected, as if it were all a comedy of diabolical proportion. There was silence. He scratched his chin, and only offered, in a very quick staccato tempo of utterance, “how many lives were lost?”
By the time he pronounced the word “lost”, Alexandra was right there to respond, as if she were playing a game of psychological speed chess with Mishkov, and she blurted out, “Somewhere between one and two million people…..” It came out so quickly that it appeared to be rehearsed to Croke. She nodded her head with a countenance of a person was instantaneously very serious about the topic. There was more silence, just enough silence for Croke to fathom the numbers, and just enough of a time for Mishkov to shift his quiver, his sandbagged collection of clever things to say.
Alexandra commenced with the following statements in a dry tone, as she peered into Mishkov’s eyes, “The Germans engaged in a long slog in Stalingrad in 1942. They dubbed it ‘operation blue’, perhaps chosen as an antithesis to the red color symbolizing their enemy. They wanted to secure a route to the Middle East, and they wanted to have a flanking position on the march to destroy Moscow to the North. They wanted access to a myriad of natural resources, and they were not fazed by the impending doom that awaited hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens. They swept through Astrakan, Grozny, and towards the Caspian sea, and they killed thousands in the process. They took Rostov and a number of other cities, and they were on a firm ground to take Stalingrad, but, this would come at a grand price. For, over the summer and into the fall, Stalin had ordered General Zukov to engage from the South, and, frankly, it was a bloodbath that spurted from the deaths of so many people, house to house, in the city…;and both sides are to blame….In one house, was a baby….a young boy….no more than five years old….he had a mother, a dead father, from fighting in the war…and seven sisters. Neither Stalin nor Hitler knew this boy, that is for sure, but, he existed, and he was set amidst the horrible affliction of man’s most despicable condition of nature- total war. Of course, we know much about Stalingrad, don’t we Mishkov, don’t we? He crouched in a in kitchen cupboard as a swarm of rifle, machine-gun, and knife wielding fascists entered his mother’s apartment. They proceeded to slaughter his sisters, and then, in front of his eyes, they shouted a number of phrases in German to his mother, and then they slit her throat as she screamed like an animal waiting to be cut into pieces for a casual meal. She slid on the floor, the white, cement floor next to the cupboard in which the boy was hiding, and blood spurt out like a volcano over the floor in front of his eyes….He was frozen and held his breath, but he couldn’t hold it too long. And, since everyone but he and the soldiers were dead, he let out a breath that was obviously discernable by the intruders and they frantically searched everywhere for his location. They opened up every door, every cupboard, in order to locate their next target and with each opening, his heart jumped. Then he cried when he realized what actually had happened right in front of him, and, it hurt his soul so badly that he almost fainted from despair. But then, despair gave way to an influx of fear beyond his wildest nightmares, as one soldier opened the door housing this poor, weeping, scared boy. He froze, as the soldier stared at him with a pistol in tote, cocked, ready, and quite at the point of being fired into the boy’s skull…..”
“And so? What is your point?” Snapped Mishkov, as his face sank from the high state of emotional gaiety towards despair and anxiety. “Are you Russian? Or, are you Ukrainian? What is the deal here?”
Mishkov was none the wiser about Alexandra’s background, since she offered no hint about her ethnicity and her accent in English was perfect. Mishkov seemed to be very agitated, which created a certain level of paranoia in Croke as he laid on the couch and waited for his spurts of drug to enter into his veins. Croke examined the transformation of Mishkov’s demeanor, and he could not tell whether it was genuine or fake; Indeed, Mishkov was an actor at heart, and Croke knew this. Was Mishkov acting? Croke oddly wished he were, because he was sick of seeing the emotionally well-balanced Mishkov, who always let things slide off of his slippery back. But, he knew that Mishkov had a number of tricks in his sleeve from time to time, and he wondered how serious this current display of seemingly genuine surprise really was.
Alexandra thought for a second and looked at the window for a second, and Croke felt that somehow something emotional was pervading her soul, as if a trinket of a memory or a story told from a relative were coming into the forefront of her cognition. It was as if all of the perfect planning of this murder were being wasted on a simple error of reflection on one’s past, as told by someone who passed on a story about what had happened. And, clearly, the obvious conclusion that any rational mind could draw was that Alexandra was talking about someone very close to her; perhaps the boy evolved into her grandfather, uncle, or someone else close to family. Alexandra paused and Croke almost noted the creation of a tear in her eye, but, he blinked and that image seemed like a hallucination.
“No, I made that story up….obviously…..” said Alexandra as she stared out the window. Croke liked the fact that she was made of flesh and blood like a regular human, despite her cold and calculating ways this evening. Then he thought that the whole incident were just a charade, precipitated by the b***h. Phucking b***h. She told a story to garner sympathy, and it was all a fake! She was just playing out a sequence of emotional head-fakes to the two men in the room! How dare she? B***h.
After these thoughts, seemingly magically, Croke remembered how he was supposed to kill Mishkov, and he began to think about ambling towards the hidden silencer, the instrument of subtle and silent destruction of one Mishkov- a man to be reckoned with, for sure.
Croke remembered that he was supposed to go out to the living room and search for a gun somewhere. He had a vague idea where it was, and, in the midst of his contemplation about murder, he stood up and excused himself to go to the bathroom.
“Mishkov, I need to use your toilette”, said Croke.
“No problem my droog, go out the door, turn right, walk down to the end of the hall, and the door is on the right.” Answered Mishkov.
Croke nodded and meandered out the door. The hall was dark, so, Croke felt that it was safe to veer left instead of right, and go to the living room. He stumbled against walls towards a luminescence coming from the living room, as he felt waves of euphoria and while he listened to Mishkov and Alexandra debate a certain topic about history. He distinctly heard Mishkov mention the sentence, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” And Croke wondered how Mishkov was able to randomly access another epoch and continent on a heartbeat. Of course, there was a connection, some connection, reckoned Croke, but he was too mentally impaired to figure out the details.
He stumbled down the hall and into the dimly lit living room. He fished around behind couches and consol tables but he could not remember precisely where the weapon was placed. He wondered who had placed the weapon in the designated spot, and this thought amplified itself into a wave of anxiety; he posited the hypothesis that the whole thing was a set up, but he could not fathom why he would be the butt of this joke. Was it all a joke? He could not tell for sure. And if it weren’t a joke, then, possibly it could be something much more serious and beyond his awareness. He dug deeply into his soul to find the motivation for some retribution against one Croke, mere ex-pat peon banker, at least in the grand scheme of things. He thought these things, but, simultaneously, spurts of his faithful memory came into the fold, and little snippets of the instructions from Mr., Mr., something, at that weird dark place came into the fold of his current thoughts. That man told him precisely where the weapon was, and what to do. Yes, if he could just remember the name of that man! And yet, the name would not serve as a guide towards the weapons location! This was becoming too unbearably logical, and Croke almost fainted in the process of explaining away his anxieties, as he heard more seemingly mindless conversation coming from the room with the glowing monitor fit for a giant.
He stumbled over a coffee table and lunged forward towards a stereo system. He fondled a set of drawers in a small cabinet next to the system, and fell into a trance for a second, during which time he thought about every instance of his last twenty minutes, then last few days, then last few years, all the way back until the point of his existence on Earth. This took place in the span of minutes, or so it seemed to him, as he was not in the state of cognition to fully comprehend time. Then, he found the weapon; It was cold and metallic to the touch, and he shivered back and attempted to curl his body into a ball like a potato bug. The feel of the metal sent a shock wave through his system. He immediately sobered up for a second, as he had done for so many miniscule episodes this evening, and thought about the near term future, after the fact of his grisly act, the act of murder. Murder was on the plate for Croke, in exchange for his unknown drug, and maybe some element of safety, measured by something or other. What was it that would save him? He did not know, but he felt compelled nevertheless to follow through like a sheep to the slaughter. His slaughter, surely, would the slaughter of a certain sense of moral intelligence. He wept for a second at the behest of, for lack of better word, a higher authority that seemed to speak to his soul this very instant. That voice said to stand up as a Human Being, and fight back. He wept because he ignored the voice, and continued to fondle the gun as if it were an object of pleasure mixed with shear pain brought on the dipping into the credit card of the here and now. Here and now, thought Croke, was much more important than the quintessentially unknowable future, a future that, with a high degree of probability, did not include Croke in its realm.
And thus, he took the gun, and slowly moved towards the room in which his unsuspecting victim languidly rested next to a map of the world.
He retraced the same steps that he took to get to the living room. He heard indiscernible conversation from the room with the large computer screen as he perceived a cold sweat on his hand that was holding the cold gun. As he approached the blue-hued room containing his pending victim, with each delicate and quiet step he began to register bits and pieces of conversation; He heard Alexandra laugh, presumably at some anecdote or joke told by Mishkov, then he heard Mishkov retort with a string of utterances that sounded like an explanation, seemingly intended to amuse his female guest, and for a second Croke reflected Mishkov’s ability to charm the opposite s*x. These thoughts were accompanied by another rush of Croke’s drug, and then he had a fleeting thought about life before London. The thought was interrupted by an eerie silence in Mishkov’s and Alexandra’s conversation. Were they onto him? Who were they? He forgot for a second that Alexandra was “in” on what was going on, and, thus, “they” must mean “he”. Was “he” onto him? Was “he” waiting, with a shiny knife pressed against Alexandra’s throat just behind the door? But, if this was the case, wasn’t that a good thing? Wasn’t Mishkov his friend and Alexandra an aide in a despicable act?
He then wondered why he didn’t leave the house. The drug made him stay, he reasoned. But, he wasn’t absolutely sure and he wasn’t willing to test this theory with action. And so, he decided, after a moment of vexed rumination, to simply go into the room and kill Mishkov. Then, his heart jumped and he shook his head vigorously as if that very theatrical act would shake him out of his “stink”, as he later described in coarse terms this event. How could he kill someone? Impossible! But, clearly this was much more than a stink. He was under the influence of drugs, incarceration, and a wild experience. He temporarily decided to leave. Yes, leave the house! He didn’t need the drug, and he wasn’t afraid of those people. Yes! It was an epiphany of clarity! He almost laughed, but then he covered up his mouth and motioned the sign with a pointed finger, as if he were telling a child not to invade a cookie jar. He turned around and began to tip-toe towards the opposite end, towards his psychological freedom, if not of a more corporeal variety of release from enslavement. He may not survive, he thought, he may die, he thought, he may be shot with a cold bullet while craving a hit of a strange liquid drug, he thought, but, he would be free of this!
That was enough, he thought, as he tip-toed. Then, the conversation heated up in the room, and it conjured up images of a creeping row. Alexandra raised her voice, then Mishkov tried to calm her down; at least this was how it was perceived by Croke. He stopped in his tracks, and gingerly thought about what he was doing. He couldn’t leave. Something was pulling him back, and he felt guilty for placing blame on something as nebulous as “something”. It was the drug, thought Croke, and for a second, a wave of depression overwhelmed him. Firstly, he was depressed that he could not stand up to the drug, the experience, and his enslavers and simply leave. Secondly, he felt sad for all mankind, because he reckoned that most humans would react in the same way that he did, if they were in his shoes; He philosophized in an instant that untold and uncountable instances had occurred in the history in which humans folded under pressure in the most crucial seconds of decision making. These shear second mattered. They were seconds in which life, death, remembrance, and the proper recording of history were at stake. Croke was proud of his selfless yet secondary observation, but then the lure of the drug, at least from the psychological perspective, brought him back into the fold of the here, now, and self-centered. He said to himself, “phuck it”, and then burst into the room, gun cocked up high and with a maniacal grin!
As Croke gazed into the room with gun cocked high, he was surprised to see a rather tranquil scene, although Alexandra had her top off and Mishkov was in his underwear. They were looking at each other at precisely this moment, which meant that Croke’s fantasy about the knife pressed against his makefshift’s love’s neck was simply wrong. But, indeed, Mishkov quickly cast a taciturn glance at Croke, and, although he spotted the gun, Croke realized that it was clear that Mishkov was not surprised.
What followed was not out of a Hollywood movie, or Romantic novel from the nineteenth century. No long conversations ensued. No slow motion cameras glided across the set of looming suspense. It seemed to Croke to last for nothing more than a fraction of a second, but, unfortunately, Croke would never remember in the future what happened with great precision. In fact, this story is the only historical, as it were, record of what happened. We will describe it here as it happened.
Mishkov, upon seeing the gun, lunged forward towards Croke in an instant. Alexandra looked mildly surprised and let out a slight gasp. She said, “Mama!”. In another flicker of a moment, Mishkov had his left hand around Croke’s neck, with his left hand’s thumb very strategically placed on a certain part of Croke’s throat. As the gun was in Croke’s left hand (Croke being a leftie), Mishkov grabbed Crokes left hand and gun and pointed it into the ceiling, incapacitating Croke’s ability to use it. Alexandra jumped up and sprang forward towards Mishkov, and when Mishkov turned around, she performed a quick move that spoke of years of martial arts training; her right leg exploded forward into Mishkov’s left shin, but, before she could do this, in an instant, devoid of slow motion cameras and other special effects, Mishkov pulled the gun from Croke, pointed it at Alexandra, and fired.
It was not a direct hit. A bullet hit her just above her left eye, and an explosion of blood spurted out in all directions. Then, seeing that she was still alive, he emptied the cartridge on her, as it were. Several bullets embedded into Alexandra’s body, and Croke soon smelled a certain unpleasant burning smell. He was in shock and attempted to scream, but Mishkov still had a strong grip on his neck. After twenty seconds, it was over, and Alexandra lay motionless on the floor, eyes open, and covered in blood the color of burgundy.
Mishkov then turned around to Croke, threw the gun down with his right hand on the floor, then smiled glibly at Croke and raised his finger to his lips in a clichéd fashion to indicate that silence was demanded. He then pulled Croke with his left arm, turned him around, and pushed him down on the couch, but while he did this, he never took away his right hand from his lips, as if he were worried that Croke would yelp out a cry.
He slowly removed his hand from his lips when he could see that Croke was too shocked and fearful to do anything, and he then said, “Croke, my droog, just sit there.”
He turned around and took a few steps towards a desk, opened a drawer, and grabbed a syringe filled with seemingly bubbly liquid. He stepped back to Croke, and said, “Croke, you are my friend, don’t worry, this is all like….a dream….” And with that, as Croke gazed down at the lifeless body of a woman he thought he had come to understand, in a vague sense at least, Mishkov held Croke down like a piece of captured prey and injected the fluid into him. Before the fluid had its effect on our hero, he had a wafting, lilting thought about Alexandra; She seemed so innocent now, because of her lifelessness. He looked at her, mused about her connections with nefarious characters involved in engaging in some nebulous battle with some other bad people (including Mishkov), and now, she was nothing but a hunk of warm flesh that would soon decay into mass of homogeneous matter comprising the upper crust of the Earth. He then passed out.
Precisely three hours and fourteen minutes before Croke was injected with an unknown sedative by Mishkov, Croke’s wife Tanya was huddled over a dead body formerly possessed by the spirit of Andy, the ex-unhappy swap trader. Andy’s facial color was bluish. His lips were blue too. His eyes were open and staring at the flickering stars, which were hidden but still visible beyond a low envelopment of foggy clouds of a nightmarishly reddish color. His dead countenance, rigid and lacking in any sign of life, did evoke the expression of a once living being who was seeking for an answer. The question whose answer his listless corpse seemed to seek was simply, “why?” That was the way it seemed to Tanya. Tanya wondered why one wouldn’t ask, in a word, “how?”, or “who?”, or, even, “when?” She chuckled at the thought of pondering “when?” as a perfectly appropriate question to ask in the context of one’s demise, and yet, she rationalized that “when?” made perfect sense. When did the tides of the universe turn against this poor creature? When did humans decide to mount an offensive on some other humans in order to achieve some purpose? The answer to “when” seemed to answer the questions of why and by who? When was now, for sure, thought Tanya, but she then thought why not ten years ago, or ten years after. She was not a fatalist, and in fact, she had been raised in an environment that embraced science as the ultimate medium for understanding the world. This man was at the wrong place at the wrong time, but, if he had any clue about the situation at hand, the temporal and fleeting epoch in which he was immersed, then, perhaps he would not have been in the wrong place. He would have understood that to be in Soho that evening eating a Thai meal ordered from menu devised by a scrappy Mongolian.
As she thought this, an overwhelming feeling of remorse overcame her. She felt guilty, although the guilt was muddled in a vague, intangible sense of responsibility. What she was precisely responsible for, she did not know. She looked at Andy’s face, and cried softly for him. She didn’t even know how he died precisely, even though a team of medical specialists were tending to his corpse. Predictably, they were not performing tasks at a precipitous rate required for life threatening situations. Rather, they were going about the business of methodically and slowly checking a few lingering features of Andy, placing him into fold-out medical cot, and strapping him in. Within minutes, Andy was completely covered in a bright yellow satin cloth that reflected the light of a burning fire about two hundred yards away. The paramedics lifted him up efficiently, and strutted effortlessly towards an ambulance that was no longer casting out a pulsing light. They moved towards their vehicle perplexingly easily, as if the weightiest component of Andy’s body had left him. And that was it. Andy was gone forever, and soon, perhaps too soon, Tanya would completely forget him. But for now, she was saddled with despair, anxiety, reflection, and bewilderment. But, it was a quiet moment for her, and she didn’t perceive the chatter of the drones of bystanders around her, and she barely took notice that mayhem was unfolding on this block in Mayfair. A fire was burning just down the road, sirens were screeching and emanating from every direction, and police, paramedics, and firemen were scrambling like nervous and disoriented ants to and fro. She had an internal chaos to sort out, to contemplate, to self-explain, and her internal chaotic system of thoughts and feelings, sensitive to all initial and intermediate conditions, were so overbearing that she completely erased her perception of the event unfolding before her eyes. Then, she connected the thoughts of despair, anxiety, and so forth, with ponderings about her family. Where was Croke? How was her baby boy? She let out a scream at the self-enquiry, and was henceforth comforted by a young man, ostensibly by her estimates of Indian or Pakistani origin, and she set aside for a moment all of her prejudices about those “chorni ludsi” from that part of the world. She thought for a second, that maybe they were not all that bad, despite thirty years of implicit indoctrination in the Soviet Union. She looked up at the young dark man, and smiled for a second, then she looked at the orange, black sky and broke into tears again.
Tanya was approached by a few men dressed in black jeans, tee-shirts, and yellow satin vests. There were four of them and they all were of roughly the same medium height, weight, and demeanor. One of them said, “Here is a bag, breath into it.” She looked at them with a flicker of suspicion, gazed at the low clouds again, and in the midst of the anarchy, she took the bag and sucked and exhaled several times into the bag. The air was stale, humid, and definitely not refreshing. She wondered why this process helped alleviate any particular physical ailment, but, nevertheless, she did as she was told. Then, a few seconds later, she passed out.
When she regained consciousness, she was in a mini-van with the four men racing through a labyrinth of sinewy, colorful roads in Central London. She didn’t know London very well, but, from the never-ending expanse of bright signs with Chinese letters, she figured she was in Soho. The driver sped through the maze of old winding streets with a certain confidence that one would think was only reserved for cops and ambulances. He jutted past red lights, cornered nimbly around right-angled intersections at a high speed, and, he even almost sideswiped a police car. These men must be officials, yes, members of some authority of the government, thought Tanya.
The men were quiet during the entire journey, and Tanya was still in the state of shock. Thus, nothing seemed particularly alarming or odd to her; she simply assumed that she was being escorted to a safe place, possibly a hospital, for immediate care
But soon, the driver navigated through several blocks that staged a world of chaos. There were fires, police, and general mayhem playing out in front of her eyes. The windows of the van were like high resolution TV monitors that were broadcasting a mélange of scenes of people scrambling for cover in the midst of numerous dangerous situations. A woman was clinging onto a child she ran up to the van and asked for assistance while a fire blazed behind her. The driver ignored the woman. On the left side of the van, just seconds away from the woman, police were trying to control a crowd. Not long after that, a ragtag gang of teenagers were howling at all that they saw. But, Tanya only heard vague pulsing afterthoughts of sounds from the inhospitable exterior while seated in the rear left hand side of the van. The van’s interior was like a cocoon that was safe and quiet, save for a radio that was tuned into a station playing an eerie, underground dance track. The men who ostensibly served as her escorts (for, what else could they be?) stared blankly ahead as if everything outside were insignificant, as if they were beyond all of the dangers of the physical and social world. She was impressed with their nonchalant attitude, and some of this perceived attitude rubbed off on her for a minute or two, before she panicked. The driver seemed to sense her growing anxiety, and, at least in her perception, he sped up and even ran a few red lights in the process. Minutes went by, but they passed at a slow pace.
A minute expanded into an hour, and then further, during which time Tanya reviewed her life. It flashed before her, but the revelation of her existence did not aid her anxiety, nor did it actually reveal anything that she did not know, or had not known at some point in her life. But, the revelation, the quick and dirty review of every couple of years since birth, did, finally, out of sheer focused concentration, help sooth her nerves. She calmed down. By this time, the van veered onto a cobble stoned Mews and stopped at a non-descript house. She had not even time to understand that she was not being brought to a hospital and that these men perhaps did not have her well-being in mind. The men dashed out of the van in unison, scurried over to her side, and led her out of the car and into the rather ordinary Mews house that was covered with chipped, white, weathered paint. They opened the door of the house valiantly for her, and waited for her. She stepped in front of them, and brushed her hair back as if being prepared to enter a chic club. Silly, she thought. She climbed steep stairs with the men following close behind, onward and upward towards a vague luminescence in a small room above. When she took her last step at the top, she briefly saw the image of a large man who looked like a bear from a wild, uninhabitable forest hovering over her dear and beloved husband- Croke.