8. The Gunpowder Plot. Gargantua. A midnight flit.
8. The Gunpowder Plot. Gargantua. A midnight flit.
"Wait here, I have something of a surprise for you."
Kuper, not waiting, marches over to the window and watches Antonio in reflection as he disappears into the kitchen.
“I won't let him go. I simply won't.”
The window fogs with his aspirated breath.
“In even the simplest plan there are many things that can go wrong. Look at the Gunpowder Plot! Or Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. There they only wanted to achieve one end and both ended in crushing humiliation…”
He pushes the palms of his hands into his eye sockets and, quite frantic, a thought comes to him.
Was it all his fault? Might he have managed it differently?
There was one thing he was sure of, human nature was malleable, especially de profundis, for those who were weak.
“Perhaps if I had come to him in the dark, naked and available. As lubed and slippery as a silver glistening ballbearing. There was a time…”
Fourteen years old, Henry Miller’s once-banned and still sensational book, The Tropic of Capricorn, had been something of a bible to him and for half a day he had practised ‘being a slut’, pursing his lips at the boys in the quoits team and walking with a suggestive swagger.
“You little idiot! Antonio would regard you in much the same fashion as those quoits lads did back then!”
For he had been laughed at and held tightly by the shoulders as Gulbis, him again!, doled out a wedgie from behind and told him if he carried on his queer antics they would cover him in fish-oil and toss him far out to sea from the decks of Kapinsky’s fishing trawler. Then, a shiver of hammer-headed sharks would devour him piece by piece.
That tiny pecker of yours would make for a perfect, if not very filling, amuse-bouche.
Kuper’s cheeks flare red at the memory.
But hadn’t he that very same day pledged to be more like Charlie Chaplin, or Godzilla?
Or Captain Ahab, prowling the prow of the Pequod, a single recurring thought in his head.
Moby Dick. Moby Dick. Moby Dick.
It was a prayer, or incantation, to live by.
What do we want?
When do we want it?
He came, all of a sudden, to a momentous decision. It was time to take the seal by its whiskers and yank.
For once and all I will declare myself, put my butt on the line and let Antonio blow smoke into it or not, let him be given the choice, but as his colleague comes back into the room, a quite dramatic and surprising entrance, it is all Kuper can do not to let out a high pitched cry.
“So tell me what you think? Will cut the mustard, bury the hatchet in the cheese?”
Kuper spins around, wanting to confirm the reflection that has just now stupefied him in the window.
Surely it must have been a trick of the glass but, yes…
Antonio might have stepped straight from the freak show that visited the town once a year in the dog days of summer and set up shop in a fancy candy-striped tent on the end of the pier.
Not the bearded lady, the man who turned into a monkey, or even the dog with the head of a bear, but Gargantua, the giant that all the little boys would marvel at and then mimic in the playground on subsequent days, climbing onto the shoulders of another boy and waving their arms in a most frightening manner.
“Come now. No time for pleasantries. Tell me what do you think?”
Not smoke up his ass then, but Antonio’s. His colleague looks as if he has been forcibly inflated through the anus by some demonic machine, literally being twice the width he had been when he left the room just a short while before.
"You are not the only ingenious one."
Antonio taps a finger against the side of his head.
"Do you see? I've stitched two jackets together, two pairs of trousers and two pairs of pants. Then I've stuffed them with the insides of two duvets. Hit me and I wouldn't feel a thing. Go on hit me.”
Antonio bounces from one foot to another and makes exaggerated beckoning gestures.
“Punch me anywhere you want. Go on. Even in the balls if you want. Punch me hard as you can. I’m inviolable.”
Putting his hands up in the pose of surrender, despite its ridiculousness the costume is evidence of a certain seriousness on Antonio’s behalf, Kuper steps back.
“I would rather not. Really. I would rather not.”
There is some delay initially, in the same fashion, Antonio jokes, he has become both quite manic and quite sweaty, beads of salty liquid forming and cascading from his brow, that all those rockets to the moon were delayed in one way or another, the millions watching on TV waiting on tenterhooks for the countdown to begin, just when will the blasted thing take off!?, as the costume, really it is quite cumbersome, becomes jammed in the rather narrow stairwell.
But fate is as fate does and with a twisting to the right, the left arm used as a kind of lever, a final push and a rush, he goes tumbling down the stairs.
Outside a full moon hangs in the sky. Distantly dogs bark, the beasts moved away now from the narrow Edwardian streets that border the foreshore.
A success story, Kuper muses, and yet another reason for Antonio to stay! There is hope, things are becoming organised.
In the last week or so the cockle-pickers, induced by the promise of food from The Post-Wall Organisation and Victualling Committee, set up by the former union men from the O____ canning factory, in its prime producing one point two million cans of fresh fish each year, have been clearing rubbish between three and four pm each day.
It was all in the newsletter pushed through the letterbox of the shop the morning before last.
The collected bags were being stored, before a more permanent solution could be found, inside Warehouse G at the port, the building having long been disused, except by out-of-town gangsters to bring their booty, the town of O____ being seen by the rest of the county as a place where anything goes.
And this is the new kind of society we can form behind The Wall, the newsletter went on, a simpler one, where we distance ourselves from the all-devouring cannibalistic terrors of an advanced capitalist society.
“I shall call you Sancho Panza,” says Antonio. “Sturdy assistant to my Don Quixote. Where I go, you will follow. Now, you keep a look out. If you see anything suspicious, hoot like an owl three times."
The sweat pouring down Antonio’s forehand has formed a damp necklace on the jacket he is wearing. The short journey they have undertaken, so far!, clearly has been an effort for him and as he pauses at the top of the alleyway which disgorges onto O____’s seafront, he blows hard, his hands resting on his bloated knees.
“On my plan I have termed this section ‘No Man’s Land’. Don’t you see? For the first time we will be exposed.”
With the hook of a finger he indicates in the distance The Wall, the top of it just visible, flashlights rotating, dancing cones of brightness.
“I am not sure how far those lookouts standing up there can see. Who knows that the devils aren’t equipped with night vision binoculars and other nefarious pieces of advanced technology?”
Across the wide road which runs all along the front, and which, previously, in high season at least, was always to be found jam-packed with belching automobiles, kids whining relentlessly in the back, mum in the front trying to keep a lid on it as dad is on the point of losing his rag, I’m fucking looking for a fucking spot to fucking park, aren’t I?, is the closed up front of the library boat, sinister and almost piratical in the shadows.
"If I make it over, follow me. But keep those eyes of yours peeled. I’ve heard rumours of night patrols. People being taken from the streets, imprisoned in some dastardly building and experiments being carried out them. Apparently a cure for that bum disease that so afflicts the upper-classes of C____ is being frantically looked for in the fundamentals of our innocent citizenry. And that is just the bottom end of it!”
This is all nonsense, thinks Kuper. Then, I have never heard Antonio gas on so much. It comes to him. He is nervous! And what I know of nervous people is that they fail. Antonio is not going anywhere!
“Now you stay here! I am off. Watch my back and if you see anything, remember, hoot like an owl.”
Ignoring this explicit order, and Kuper is not even sure he could hoot like an owl, he was never in the Boys Brigade where he is sure such things were taught, he waits only a fraction of a moment before setting off after Antonio, across the road, past the quiet hulk of the library ship, and up to the metal chain-link perimeter fence of Medieval World of Adventures.
“Watch my arse,” hisses Antonio, making no comment on Kuper’s flagrant ignoring of his instructions, hoot like an owl!, as he pulls from the inside the leg of his trousers a pair of yellow long-handled bolt croppers. These he applies with some gusto to the chain links of fence, once again taking up the ditty that Kuper has first heard from the kitchen, “I’ll be coming round the mountain when I come. Coming round the mountain. Coming round…”
With some dread Kuper watches the hole begin to form, the long handles of the cutters opening and closing and his heart sinks.
Nervous or not Antonio really does have a plan. First the costume and now these cutters secreted down his pants and he is overcome with a palsy, his arms and legs shaking quite uncontrollably.
“What do you think?”
Setting down his tool for a moment and wiping his brow with the sleeve of his jacket Antonio stands back and fixes an admiring gaze upon the fence.
Where there had once been a straight secure surface, perfect in its perfectness, there is now a rather large person-sized hole.
Stooping to retrieve the cutters and with a furtive look to the rear Antonio slips through, pausing only momentarily on the other side to check that his little shadow is close behind. Then he sets off at a trot into the darkness of the park, calling out in a whisper.
“This way. Keep up. And watch out for any of patrols from the other side. It wouldn’t do to get caught now, would it?”