The Disappeared is a book about one of the most disturbing and sad elements of life in the closing quarter of the 20th Century. It deals with subversion and manipulation, with de-stabilisation and treachery. But for all that it's a love story, about how love has at least a chance of destroying evil with it's purity and power.
Ultimately The Disappeared is about good triumphing, whatever transpires. These edited pages will show you something of what it's all about, looking as they do from the aspect of a Chilean, his home and family destroyed in the time of the Dictator Pinochet in the cause of well, what?
Disappeared is true, it's about about lost love and found passion, about loneliness and caring and much more. Have a good read. From bookstreet and Olympia.
T H ED I S A P P E A R E D
b o o k s t r e e t
Any persons or situations represented in this book are imaginary, any
reference to persons living or dead is coincidental.
The right of Francisco Réage to be identified as the author of
this work has been asserted in accordance with sections
77 and 78 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988
© bookstreet Publishing MMVI
Santiago, Chile. April
The Whisper of Fear
In places in our world - and in our time - Argentina, Chile, Central America, in Tibet, the Balkans in Kosovo, the simple word 'Disappeared' has taken on a very lonely, secret meaning.
A flavour of bitterness and sadness, because for all the people of these and many other places the word itself encompasses hard reality, a whole continent of personal yet curiously shared fears. Fears which suddenly, one day, one man, Pablo, began quickly and painfully to understand.
The fact was that by inheriting the luxury of survival, quite by chance, this man had become, by default, a privileged witness to a crime perversely committed by those close to him: other Chileans, his countrymen.
Nineteen seventy four, nineteen eighty five. In a while one would have expected that of course by it's dynamic, and by the way that collective memory is massaged by politics, time would change the character of the original crime in some transitory way. Except that Pablo, by this time living in our bright media world a few seconds away, had begun to see this all in a new bright, especially dreadful, and staccato perspective, defined with that fractured sharpness from which almost random, yet definite images spontaneously and unexpectedly spill over into life.
It would never let him alone. How could you expect that? The knowledge that had been impressed upon him as a by-product of the violence of knowing these places, those people: the coldness of television images as he saw these horrors reported, such that he knew the feel, the touch of familiar situations, the passage of some manufactured chaos, trauma. At least, not then. Perhaps he would die with the experience somehow fresh in his mind.
But that was not all: such pain became refined in a particular way, because whilst experiencing the ultimate dread of the existential eye witness - the pain of living a life of relative comfort amidst the distant torment of those he loved - and by being related to these things by reason of his own sadness and loss - it was clear that he had been an unwitting agent of at least some of that evil, whilst ironically becoming a victim himself.
And so Pablo's nameless disease grew, the condition ever more chronic; his fears fired by the fact that from now on this particular life would only ever be one lived at second-hand, fear and loss resident in the back of his mind every single day, making his skin creep, itching, almost physical like a ghost limb, invisible yet wholely existent, a banshee wailing away in the lonely dark, over there. Every long day. Every long moment. Only ever over there.
After all it had been merely by luck, by accident, the vaguest parallel of chance, that he had survived - but only to pay the price by becoming a chronicler of other people's dread, fear, suffering, not actually Disappeared himself but anyway transparent in his own mind, because these experiences would always be at second hand for him, coward as he was, and because he would always thus think of himself as being the proxy of those who had Disappeared into that vacuous tunnel of dark and silence.
Pablo would always be the silent witness, the inchoate survivor. The damned.
"Why?" That recurrent dream.
Why? Because in the fact of Disappearance there is only silence, in every way, that is the condition of it's existence, the fact of non-existence, because to be Disappeared is to have your voice and your face stolen from you while you are still existing, whilst in that time as the silence of unknowing grows ever greater and more impenetrable, another silence, the perverse sad silence of misunderstanding, begins to wax, laying cold as ice in everyone else's mind.
But that is not to forget darkness: the darkness of not knowing, the darkness of forgiveness without knowledge, dark death, dark soil over a blank grave.
Thus it is that the Disappeared become transparent, damned, inhabiting another empty version of some kind of reality, and thus fade from life and from memory like ghosts in the dark.
Imagine that nobody knows you any more, while you are not yet a memory, after all, you never died. Or did you?
When you are Disappeared you loose your voice, you are darkness - have nothing, no rights and no existence - gain only distant memory. You truly have vanished from human experience, existence, from those who one day a long time ago saw you for a moment and then lost you, forgot you.
To Pablo no simple phrase could express his lack of understanding, as it could never mine or yours, no "como se dice" could ever express his horror, his lack of grasp of what could happen through cold steel and pain to others.
This thus led in Pablo to a state of mind which defies description: a bizarre, obsessive lack of understanding had woven itself around him, grown in the intersticing time like an obsession about sight held by a blind man, a sticky spiders web, an opera of conviction, an imagination of what could be, painfully always only possible in theory, forever out of reach.
Which fact, coupled with other fears - more imagined than unknown - fears of losing the grasp of this terrible moment like sliding off a rock and falling, falling: described the state of his life. The thought was all he really possessed now, at a vertiginious moment which was still really in his time, but which would slide through his fingers and vanish without warning as if it had never existed, were he to relax his grip upon it: as if the moment itself might be forever Disappeared.
What we in our worlds see as reality has an extraordinary quality - it does not exist, though at any moment it is palpable, real, hard, solid. Concrete. Reality escapes from your fingers the second you think to retain it. And reality was that for him. Reality was the lost flow of many real days, now gone.
There was a time long ago before he had begun to age, when he would have described himself as comfortable, part of the 'Junkers' the 'Bourgeoisie'. Polyglot, liberal, with the usual weakness of the cultured for those little expected luxuries with which to assuage their forgetfulness; unthinking, except about the successes of his small life.
But then that world up-ended in a dreadful dying moment and such memories of comfort became part of Pablo's fear. Not simply that newly kindled fear of loss: but fear like a hammer in his mind, brutalising him again and again: not rational or logical or about anything except lost things: seeping into his skin like lice. And coupled with that new fear of not being, of being transparent, of perhaps existing but maybe of not.... Of losing more than the everything that he had lost already....
Moments as cold to his heart as these would plague Pablo all his life and he knew that. There could be no comfort now; it seemed that as certain as death was the frailty of such memory: as limited by its time as the cry of a blue bird in an arid desert of Man's making. Would he have to die before someone else could understand how much pain there was in loss? And could that be your pain if he were you?
At first Pablo found solace in sleep, but in the wintry desert of his slumbering mind there were living skeletons aplenty, come to haunt him, sighing in the terrifying cold fogs of the lost dark.
That nightmare come again to plague him, raise his blood, bring tears of hatred and fear into his eyes.
No, not his eyes, her eyes. His dreams visited him spitefully, came again and again against his will: and in them he would see with awful clarity and brightness those eyes which through time he had almost learned to forget: beautiful Pilar's eyes.
In his sleep, again and again, he began to see those now empty eyes repeated - somehow reflected in his, the neon of his imagination and the video of his recollection winking on and on, on and on, to torture him another way. Forever
Forever - dead, glazed in that delicate aspic of inertia that brings death in its wake, forgiveness and fulfilment in one empty lonely colourless second. There is no turning back at such a moment. You lose time, and then it loses you.
Memory winding back like a tape, sticking against the capstan; reminding him mercilessly:
'How the wind whistled as we walked, twining our fingers.'
The Song of the Nightmare.
Winding down mountain roads, back into memory, in-between winds and through rains, raising a plume of dust as they raced across a valley, at some almost forgotten moment they had come across an old adobe shack in a worn, nameless valley.
It was there where he recalled a cantina where Pilar had once befriended the Patron. Sitting out in the sun watching the vaqueros, toying with the dirt, scratching pictures and loving icons of graffiti in the dust with dry twigs. All that manufactured, crazy, languid, pleasant idleness in the eye of the hurricane.
But bright flashes across his eyes brought him back, back to the hard steel of the light, cutting across ravines suddenly, without warning like molten steel. This today, buzzards wheeled overhead in the blinding haze.
History haunted him. That last today... Pilar's skin dry, edged and rhimed with a glaze of salt-sand.
He looked secretly covertly and jealously, yes, sideways, at her eyes. Pablo had seen that rare flaxen hair on her shoulders skip with the force of the whip of the wind. Prizing, coveting, envious.
Then, he knew that such moments were rare. And now he knew, with the sudden solid knell of the tomb, that those moments had escaped. Now, they were lost.
No, to retrace a thought in his mind - wrong syntax, not rare, but prized. And precious enough to be the objects of a sort of fear, like the fear of dying: the obsession of complete loss. Now gone. In the tunnel of the dark.
In the past, echoing slightly, background desire, like distant noise.
They, Pablo and Pilar had developed a resistance to that which was outside.
"I'm dry, really dry"
"Well, we'll stop here", he had said.
They climbed stiffly out of the car and walked across the dust strip that was the road. Pilar sat on the bench by the wall of the cantina while Pablo ordered himself a coffee, a glass of bitter spirit for her.
"Do you have Cynar?"
It seemed absurd, but in those faraway days they had had a lifetime to sit in the shade; luxuriating, speculating, watching, people drifting bye.
In his dream, his nightmare, Pilar leant across to him:
"The thing is.." she said. And then quickly, as if suddenly caught off guard, in a rush for some reason - but drowned by mysterious noise, she stopped, never to complete that moment. So he never heard the mystery of those words. Perhaps they were a song, though the tune never reached him
The image of her mouth froze in his mind. An imprint that would never leave him.
In silence. The Song of the Nightmare. Always in silence.
The fine line of her nose and her lips were furred by the movement of her blonde mane, furred by distance and loss, now the pain of time. That was her signature in his mind, all at once he wanted to kiss her now, but instead he found himself saying:
"As long as we live"
He had held himself back and now found hatefully that it had all run away from him- like blood from a dying man.
The night was split by a shout of laughter.
Now the ghosts were come to haunt him, take him. The nightmare once more upon him:
"Nothing will part us, ever..."
"Don't say that"
"No, I mean, I will wait for you."
"Darling, I know you will- I know you will!"
He had left her by the road in the misting ice, the growing daylight of a new dreadful moment. Had he left her to die, in his cowardice?.
Back to this room, this night.
He spoke again in the darkness:
Nothing moved. Then a voice, no, more a harsh whisper:
"Jaime...Jaime...que haces hombre?"
It could be only one thing. He all at once shook and simultaneously began to pour copiously with sweat, scrabbling around in the sheets for the skittering Beretta; that satire, that whisper again:
A beat, then:
He waited some moments in this dream..... or was it become some sort of waking?, the Beretta smeared, damp in his palm. With twitching fingers he drew the slide back and heard the round click into the breech and the hammer tock.
Now he held the weapon in both hands. Pointed the weapon at blank darkness, the muscles in his back convulsing in fear.
He said in a whisper, the further to find his balance, logic:
"This can't be true...this can't be right!"
And then he opened his eyes.
Nothing had seemed to move, but in the darkness he saw again something that took space and created light, flashed; a flash of something through the slatted blinds.
Outside in the bushes he located a hollow tap. Not an animal or a cat.
The heel of a riding boot alighting on a plank: clack, tock, tock, thump. Very distant, but he heard them, and then saw a flash of sudden green against the dark.
Of course, light. A light, through the transparency of a green leaf, illuminated veins and fibres against the glare of the reflector.
All suddenly, his senses.
Logic, into focus, sharp focus.
He threw off the remaining sheets in one movement as he started across the room.
Stopped, because -
Suddenly, extraordinarily - a pair of legs protruded from the ceiling.
Thus, half way across the room he froze. He stumbled in the glaze of sleep, cannoned against the wardrobe, fumbled with the slippery Beretta, bucking with all his fears.
Again, without thinking, he brought the gun at half-cock straight along the line of his fingers, the slide back as far as it would go, and as he did that the metal caught on his palm, the injector took a nick out of the skin and he winced and (as it missed his thumb) tripped the hammer which at half-cock had his skin by its edge: then the slide slid fully back as his right thumb contacted the safety catch and the collective pain of the two small wounds caused him to loose his grip on the slide.
His right hand convulsed on the butt which bucked again, in fear, and the trigger mechanism released in a continuous movement.
Huge flame leapt from the muzzle of the pistol, seemed to strike across the room with a brazen violence all of its own, a yellow-white inverted heart: and at that instant his mind photographed the strange sight of the sole of a shoe (and the pair of legs protruding from the ceiling) sliding against the far wall as if it had suddenly become a vampire bat. A jagged tear appeared in the door frame and the report flamed back at him, wanged around the room as the metal of the cocking-piece on the Beretta clanged back and the spent shell whirled away tinkling into the darkness.
A shock of silence and then a muttered screech and a yowl from the creature transfixed dangling from the ceiling.
Now he realised that the figure was emerging from a trap set in the ceiling which he had only dimly seen when entering the room earlier. So this was the trap set for a traitor!
And now in all the darkness, naked, he stood there, the figure still trapped by the width of the aperture.
All hell had broken loose outside the hotel.
Steps clacked up the ladders outside and doors and windows seemed to whoosh open and crash down while racing boots clopped along the verandah and tripped along the stairways.
He sat down crazily amid the bedlam and wanted to weep, but death was upon him, there was no weeping now. All was lost.
Screeching like a banshee, but with fear, the Beretta in his cut hand, he grabbed what was left of his belongings, and shrieking through the night wailed through the ragged empty doorway and into the dense darkness of the bushes.
Twenty metres down the gravelled drive he fell into a ditch, covering himself with grime, then clambered through into a dense grove of trees, tore his body on wire, climbed over a low fence and ran across a piece of cactus covered hill.
He ran for fifteen minutes in the dark, cold air against his skin, blundering into he knew not what, clutching whatever remained of his possessions in one hand and his life and death, the Beretta, in the other.
He sat on the top of the hill in the dark, slipped clothes on to cover his scourged body, and let himself weep for a moment.
Where was that address Pilar had given him?
Miraculously the thumbed shard of cartonboard was somehow still in the top pocket of his shirt, now marked with the blood from his bleeding hand.
He had nothing more with him.
Was this all that was left?
Below him he could see the moving embers of cars, men running against lights, disorder. Now a scattered, pointless, volley of shots. Curses, orders being shouted.
A shudder of relief, despair and cold, sickness, nausea.
More shots, running, shouting. Sudden shuddering silence. Then a scuffle, disorder, the outward sign of the inward evil of men, a body impacting the ground, scuffed dust, the form of someone else being dragged by a torn shirt into sudden yellow light as a door opened and then slammed. The sound of someone being beaten, a cry of pain. Silence. More shouting. More silence. The flat blank bang of a shot being fired.
He waited for another twenty minutes to get his breath, take stock and search for those snapshots.
He turned down the hill and broke into a run, took a broken stony track west, turning again by an outcrop of rock and running east, away from the road. After an hour a helicopter with American markings flew by slowly and low, way away to his left, but still he threw himself under a rock.
Now east again, blindly. Blindly until the sun began to rise bleaching his vision, presenting him weeping before the grave of everything that he valued and that he had left behind.
For murder had become law, secrecy become security, lies become truth.
It had become a way of life, a way of feeling, a way of pretending to think and to be.
Pablo turned his face away and towards the broken desert- perhaps Bolivia, who knew where...?.. and ran on and on, forever.
Somewhere far down on the plain Pablo saw that glint of metal once again.
They dismounted from the ponies at a sign from the guide, who slipped a pellet of Kefe into his mouth and offered him one, but Pablo declined, dreading the buzz it might give him at the wrong moment. His guide indicated the ancient Winchester which he took with frozen hands; cocking the lever over and ejecting only air as the shell tripped the neck of the magazine and slid into place.
The guide indicated the magazine cover back into place with a wizened finger and smiled in-between chaws on the Kefe.
Then he pointed with one bent finger.
A trace of dust in the valley, the glint of metal again, perhaps the glint of silver.
the guides wizened face under the old wide black hat, battered and threatened by the wind, frayed and bent, fastened with a cord, flexed, and dark piercing eyes, sought prey on the plain.
"I see him", he said - dropping his arm with finality.
"Where is he"
"I see him, no vaquero - I see him moving, he wears army clothing, he carries a rifle with a telescope.
"Your eyes are better than mine, viego."
The old man smiled in assent.
Pablo had a moment alone looking over the pampas, the wind tugging at his eyes, driving water into their corners, making him blink continuously to clear the sight.
The ponies whinnied from behind the rocks from where they were huddled against the wind.
"I see him turn away"
"And where does he go?"
"I see he is trained- he looks for cover, maybe an arroyo"
They moved once more. Clearly now, the trail they followed would fall in the control of the strangers place of vantage. Well thought out, the stranger was prepared to seek the most effective hiding place.
Then this meant that he, Pablo was being sought, waited for. The thought brought an acid shiver to him. They stopped and began to pick their way amongst huge scattered boulders.
Pablo took the rifle once more as they traversed a broken overhanging pathway which displayed almost a map of the valley below them. Despite the cold wind he was all over sweat. Now he almost tripped and gravel bucked down the hard rock angles overlooking a precipice. His grip on the Winchester tightened. Under his arm, occasionally reminding him of its presence by knocking his side, lay the Beretta. Now it scratched his ribs and tumbled upon itself. He straightened the butt with the back of his hand as, with one motion he pushed the hair from his eyes.
"Old man", he said, puffing with imagined exhaustion, "What is the best thing to do?"
The old man considered for some time, sitting cross legged on a rock in the windbreak of a bush where the stranger could not see them.
After a while he rose to his feet.
"This is what we will do.." he said, and led the way along the path.
Below them sat their quarry.
The campsite, for so it was, was contained among rocks and consisted of a ridge tent or awning set against an outcrop at one side and fastened down with the aid of a bush, and a bed roll or sleeping bag. In the centre of the clearing a small fire ebbed beneath a blackened coffee pot. At one side of the clearing, peering down into the valley and the yawning void beneath him, their quarry sat on a rock. His equipment consisted of a high velocity rifle with the long black finger of a wide-bore night sight telescope mounted along the top of the barrel.
By his side lay a powerful pair of naval binoculars and a belt of sharp nickel and bronze cartridges.
It was this belt that must have glinted in the sun, the nickel heads of the cartridges newly broken out of their packages shining like silver stars or sharks teeth, armoured to attack the unwary traveller on the valley path far below. And way below them he had clear view of his main interest, Pablo's shack, nestling on the short hard shoulder of the valley side.
Pablo was not prepared for what would happen next.
Something must have alerted their quarry, for suddenly the man below them spun around and jumped for his rifle. His reflexes were good, for the rifle was cocked, the old round already airborne as it ejected, and the cocking lever clicked back ready for release, as the barrel levelled up to show its dark mouth to Pablo's eyes - but then the old mans Colt burped black powder smoke and the slow flat bang of the report slammed back against the granite walls of the escarpment and bounded into the void of the mountain passes.
The sound was perfectly contoured by the wind as it gusted, and for a moment the stranger looked vaguely surprised. He had stopped in the middle of his action and his tanned face looked up at them as if to bring greetings: and then the rifle, held loosely by the left hand by its stock seemed to part company with its owner.
It fell upon the rock and bounced up. Set midway in the diversion of this bounce, Pablo suddenly realised that the stranger had gone over the rock edge without a sound.
The old man looked back at him and flashed his teeth and his sharp eyes.
There was nothing said.
They dropped into the camp, taking the gun, binoculars and ammunition, but leaving it otherwise as it was, wiping all traces from the dust with a branch of dead leaves.
They never found the body of the man, though they searched for a while, the drop was too great, the distance too deep, the valley too fraught with unseen untold dangers........
Hanneke and Mieke, perhaps as the product of an over liberal set of educations, perhaps as a result of the slipping through the net of subversive teachers at school, or the misfortunes or benefits of a wayward lecturer or two later on, had somehow never felt that the use of force could be used as a justification, per se: (what their Afrikaans background transparently represented as 'Defence of the Vaterland'.) But that was the Raison d'Etre of the whole exercise that they were involved in, and they knew it. Of course, tendencies like these were ' Streng Verbout', in fact downright nihilistic: (and they knew that too, part of the mechanism of survival): perhaps that was why they had always stuck together, complicit, never mentioned a thing.
The mitigating factor however was, that as Government Employees, and for that reason 'Special People', they had lots of licence, leeway. It was desirable to look down upon blacks or coloureds (or anyone else for that matter who might be considered 'suspect') and simply ignore or distrust them. Straightforward really. It was an attitude and a set of factors hard to rid oneself of - and hard to ignore, they being such an integral in the culture as a whole. After all Heeren Volke were special people in Gods eyes - and everyone knew it - or else paid the consequences.
Thus the two of them tended to steer clear of any form of overtly political argument; made easy by the fact that many Afrikaaners would regard them simply as 'Girls' (i.e. brainless), and thus maintained a continuing process, secret between themselves: out of that process came sometime later a decision, more intuited than stated. But that was for the future. Thus neither of them had ever been asked or required to give an opinion about such things in public, or even in private, even if they had been in the ludicrous position of wanting self immolation: it was better to keep quiet and wait for the right moment, whenever that might arrive. Probably never..
Mieke had a name for everything: called it Female Socialisation. Perhaps it was. Hormones.
There had been another first time, and it had started in a worn school room, vacated by the kids for the Christmas Holiday.
That was in Bloemfontein, an age ago.
The group sat at desks rather too small for them; there were six of them sitting there. Their 'Introduction' had been a long process, and now they were there.
She in the last bloom of her teenage. The roses fresh out of her cheeks, fear and desire new in her belly.
Then the man she had learned to first love, then hate, and finally fear; Coetzee, had started his talk:.
"And now, this is something which you have not experienced before."
That was obvious, true, but invisible in such a scholastic setting. This was the world as it really was, all claws and fur.
She was waiting for something. It would come.
Despite the academic title, Doctor Coetzee had a grip on reality that was older, more knowing, as she thought and as she later found out, far more cynical than any mere academic could ever have had had. After that she often wondered just what his doctorate was in. Or did the Broederbond give it him for being a Goude Junge?
There was much to be memorised; and at this stage , much that was disallowed as secret or confidential.
In the perspective of time, things had begun to resolve themselves, became clarified, like the reversed picture of a shattered window forming itself into a perfect pane of glass, like an explosion transcending reality and thus fashioning finished objects from mere shards.
Many of the pre-prepared introductory texts were in the garble of the professional civil-servant; the Office of Security 'Which is responsible for protecting the state' (as they said), had prepared everything in detail, following what was known as the 'C.I.A. Collection' : and now it arrived on their small hot, dry, brown desks, in green folders on light green sheets.
Different colours for different levels of security. Green sheets for security, pink sheets for secret, yellow sheets for top security, red for specially sensitive information, not to be communicated to anyone except the authorised reader of the material, white sheets unclassified (though in practice all this information was effectively secret).
And the first green sheet they saw said this:
'The polygraph consists of three apparatuses which are attached to the body of the person being interrogated, which connect by tubes or cords to the desk ensemble'
["An ensemble" said Mieke, "is three people who play music while you're kissing!"]
......'each apparatus measures physiological changes marked on moving paper by pens. There is a) a blood pressure cuff that can be attached (either to the arm or the leg if need be), b) a corrugated rubber tube that is placed around the chest and fastened in the back; and c) a hand device with electrodes, secured against the palm.
The cuff measures impulse and blood pressure, the chest tube measures changes in breathing and the hand instrument measures changes in perspiration....' at this point the document broke back into its usual embarrassingly dense officialese...
'....the person to be interrogated is hooked into the machine, told to look straight ahead, to be very still, and to answer only yes or no. The interrogator is behind, and faces the back of the head of the interrogatee (Make sure that questions are fired at the back of the interrogatee)...'
So this was how the official sources worked it out! A neatly couched neutral language, to express the flesh and blood of a cold blooded business.
On a red form, later:
....'Clandestine Collection is part of the Security, also known as Clandestine Security, Services....
.....this consists of a headquarters and various field stations in almost all foreign countries......the bulk of the clandestine services are divided into operating divisions and staff organisations. Operating divisions, geographical areas and specialised services. Senior staff co-ordinate and review operational activities within functional categories.'
Clearances: -Senior Level Clearances.-Memorise
1> Ministry of Information from Ministry of Defence
2> Department of Intelligence (Includes Bureau of State Security)
3> Foreign Matters from Ministry of Foreign Affairs
4> Others from Office of Prime Minister
More pages now....
"......... Clandestine services: includes various divisions, International Organisations, supervises state security with labour, youth, student professional and news media throughout the world: funds are related to and given various organisations such as friendly news agencies, business funding and help organisations. Also News Agencies and Business Organisations and certain individuals, such as lobbyists in the Western Hemisphere who have undertaken to work for us for money through a myriad of low-level associations, confederations, clubs, groups and companies..... or been infiltrated by our agents in order to feed positive information about us in and filter negative material out. Naturally this is expensive, but remember that our struggle in this context is largely economic.
Technical Services (Acronym, T Services) provides support, for example listening devices, telephone 'taps', plastered-in microphones and glass mounted microphones as well as skin implanted radio devices which are becoming increasingly common.
Automatic transmission devices using solar cells can be used, as for example the successful operations recently uncovered accidentally in the Paris offices of various foreign newspapers. [See for reference:'Canard Enchåine']
Division F (Acronym, D-F) is the Clandestine Services Unit that supports the State Security in breaking codes: when it is necessary to mount operations against the communications of other countries, division F turns to its sister Intelligence services such as Military (Acronym, D-M), Naval (D-N), Airforce (D-A), all of which have sizeable monitoring operations against various unfriendly countries.'
She suppressed a chuckle. "Unfriendly, that means everyone!"
'Finally, the Records Division (Acronym, Records) is a specialised recording service using complex data tie-ups through computers and outside memory banks for instant retrieval and millions of bytes of information which can be cross-referenced at a moments notice given the proper grade of clearance from a Station Controller.
Records Integration Division (Acronym RID) is a most important part of the State Security Bureau. Though we have had problems here recently in importing computer hardware, we now have several operations going on in other countries run by our agencies and the free movement of hardware has become considerably easier due to the apparent freeing of funds in friendly countries (see index) and the activities of friendly pressure groups in these countries (see appendix).'
Pages from a forgotten diary, Chile
Pablo. Total empty darkness. Unknowing-Ness. Space to remember.
That was the thing, the trick.
His mind wound back, the knife of memory:from time to time his memory would switch back involuntarily, without any hint of his control, the cold blade of fear in his stomach.
It had been late evening when the ADC had come into his room and said:
"Senor, it is time we were leaving". Pablo, not understanding had replied:
"Why? Why is that?"
"It is time...." a hopeless gesture,"The Yanquis", and in the half-light he had seen the barrel of a Colt in the ADC's hand. "Any moment now".
He hustled some things together, a suitcase, the Beretta the ADC had given him, some boxes of ammunition stuffed into the outer pockets of his jacket, a torch and some spare pesos, the photographs of Pilar and the children...leaving the faded pictures of smiling faces and ill-posed bodies in grass fringed fastness, now consigned only to mind.
Night cold. Like autumn coming on.
A few scattered goodbyes, half hidden faces in and out of the tracery of shadows, no time for tears: only dark pomaded hair and the texture of some corner somewhere moving. And again and again anxious, fearful, eyes.
Many movements, blurred motion, coagulating the image of a second.
He hurried through the backstreets of Santiago, feet padding in the dust.
The ADC tracking across a half ruined, dilapidated courtyard. A back way he had not known.
Was he fleeing?
Was flight like this?
The sound of heavy engines in the distance.
The scattered clacks of distant firecrackers, oddly out of keeping with the creeping wintry light. They dodged in and out of a ruined hulk of a house and found themselves in a deserted cobblestones space. Down the long street behind him he could see the Commissariat - still burning in the distance.
Then into the car, one of the few still capable of movement: he had managed to get some fuel from somewhere, he shuddered, even he had been forced on to the black market.
Now they lit out in the middle of the night along strange main roads, the lights flickering out of sequence as their main generators began to fail, as reality flicked on and off like confetti in a dream.
He found himself talking deep in his throat, silent to the air: 'What are my ideals worth?'
Sounds, troops, theirs? His? Whose? They dodged behind a parked bus and a couple of rusty trucks.
Speeding along the cobbles they soon had left the wolves, the mob behind.
Now a few tricky side roads, a stop, muttered goodbyes, bags in the back seat. Now started along an empty carreterria.
Victims and cowards, criminals, yellow, red: with hands limed with yellow gore.
Behind Pablo now, the arc of exploding arcs of flame; tropical dry rainbows of fire in the cold half dark.
Ducking once again down now darkened avenues and through small somehow familiar plazas, past a cinema where he liked to take Pilar when they could get away, sometimes...
Sometimes when Pablo was a child, fearing that his father would leave his room before he had fallen asleep, limbs wreathed in the lead of tiredness, he would open his eyes a slit and querulously enquire;
"Why so early...for so long...?" and his father would smile and kiss his forehead so that finally he would lose all resistance, fall back into the beckoning waves of sleep.
Mornings of enslavement now past, all buried, the people too turned to sand along with the desert of their memories.
All forgetfulness, the blanket of deep sable sand as you sleep without hope of protest, like death, past struggle. Forgotten. Dark night
Ottoshoup Camp, April
Hanneke watched as outside the hut the wind stirred and blew tiny rivulets of sand about.
"What you generally mean by work", said the man with the dead grey face, "is not what we would term relevant work".
The other man stood up, stretched his legs.
"And what we for the purposes of this study term 'relevance', is that work which achieves given tasks, not hopeless pen pushing leading no-where, or for that matter unproductive activity using inadequate resources".
"There are lifetimes spent without achievement in any concrete form"
The two of them looked at each other without noticeable emotion as if checking the pecking order, for there was one, there was always one.
"That work which produces that thing may be only 5% of the time", one of them gestured, as if he were holding a huge balloon, "the other work may be just preparation or wastage because of inefficiency: so remember that the cutting-down of inefficiency can be the saving of 95% of all your work: in other words, you can spend almost all your time doing nothing."
"What I want you to know is that we must work effectively, using resources whatever they are, however extensive, effectively".
War is, after all, quantitative.
"We have it on good authority that to kill a soldier in the second world war needed 240,000 rounds of ammunition or its equivalent weight in explosive: hence the fact that now we use 6.56mm or .22 inch ammunition. This has the effect of multiplying the available ammunition, or reducing the cost base of targeting enormously. Now think a moment: add to this the fact that the care of one injured soldier effectively takes the full time work of two or three people and that the cost of the wounded together with the transport and all services including food and ancillaries can be economically crippling for an economy. That's why, (apart from Kaffirs) we aim to injure or maim, not kill. (There are too many Kaffirs around anyway!)"
The class laughed at an in-joke.
"Thus the basis of all war is economic. Apart from being merely economic, of course: just picture the 2 ounces a .303 round weighs as compared to the half ounce that a 6mm military load weighs, now imagine 500 rounds sixty miles on your back, now add to that the expense of so called Strategic Minerals: copper, bronze, brass, and nickel, as well as the cordite powder and the percussion cap. Then combine the skilled work taken to proof, blend, machine and work heavy breeches and then compare them to the Hechler and Koch 6mm fully automatic here,..." he held up the tiny sub-machine gun in one hand coupled to an obscene silencer, and displayed a 6mm round between two fingers of the other.."... which is all moulded in ABS Plastic the injection-moulded titanium or alloy breech pieces, with minimum machining required, and compare relative cost as well as relative weight, transport costs, storage (rust &c.,) and the sum becomes even clearer...."
Those were the things that underlay this training.
A man in a grey uniform came through the door.
"In order to be a successful insurgent..." he said, and gave a most charming smile.
That you see, was the signature of it all: "In order to be a successful insurgent.."
In order to be anything one had to be aware of its potential as destruction, and this was the philosophical problem contained in such things: one could spend a lifetime discussing the mechanical problems of destruction: one drop of bacteria in a reservoir of clean water could destroy many thousands, and so one insurgent, like a bacteria could spread a hideous wave of destruction like a pebble beginning a distant tidal wave. One insurgent can break the back of an organised structure. The correct insurgent.
She was a perfect insurgent, or at least she would be.
War was become economic. Destroy the 'enemy' by stalling until your strength caught up with your progress, talk until your adversary began to tire of talking: and then when the moment was right, his guard lowered, strike at economy, developments, hospitals, food, agriculture, economic geography, roads, communications. If need be, kill a few civilians and medical workers, teachers, administrators. After all, with fifteen years lead and lag in production, infrastructure is almost impossible to continuously rebuild.
Wars are won by economic success, not by firing guns, that is just the diversion, smokescreen; game.
Ah! Such perfect economy of means.
The Instructor sat back and looked across the room, his eyes piercing the darkness, coming to no-where.
"The destruction must be something that we can re-create"
It takes very little creation to develop destruction .....thank about the armies of the world... do they advertise their existence?
"We have to judge very coolly what is possible to achieve, and what is impossible."
And that was true; a whole technology, a whole separate production based upon destruction: could that be its driving force, its motive, engineering?
Such is the economy of destruction; so much production outpaced by so much destruction, the equation of X multiplied by Y: an economists curve, a dream in time. That effort would become a productive force by the perverse rules of this game.
Just as she would consider her time as being worth so many Rand per unit. she could now think of her 'loss', destruction, as having an unequal economic relevance, value. So much per hour. A rate.
And could this be a truth or just another falsehood? could this be a lie or just another catch? another cul-de-sac of logic, another philosophical paradox? (when she thought about the output of the government in terms of public relations: she realised that something so basically nasty and anti-social, when well presented became mysteriously wholesome.
Strange but deadly with the Broederbond, locked into it; locked over the need, the power, the greed. They must have put a price on her - and what was it?
Hanneke had always thought that the appearance of the entrance to the enormous sprawl of the camp, hidden as it was between containing low hills and dusty rocks, and itself containing a small deep lake and many enclosures, was that of an ordinary little gate house with lightly chipped paint and the worn but neat look of an official enclosure.
Which was what in fact it was.
The little perimeter gate house was manned by an ordinary civilian policeman, who, himself and his comrades, were not allowed anywhere else but at that perimeter.
She often wondered what they must think - if indeed they were capable of reasoned thought.
This enclosure was state secret and the only way here was via your university or training college, where lonely disjointed men with lost eyes would corner you in empty seminar rooms towards the end of your stay, and have a 'talk'.
This critical moment in any undergraduates life would be a good target time because often future female graduates were not yet sure of their ability to do anything but play their appointed social role, expecting that being a hausfrau was the summit of their achievement. After all, education was like finishing school; any good Boer knew that a woman should have the children and mind the kitchen. And what was University but a hyped-up middle class pretension?
She dreaded to become 'artistic' in defence of her indolence, ignore what went on around her and be the hausfrau that she would normally be expected to be.....
There was no time. Everyone knew that, time being expensive and your femaleness itself your betrayer: and at such times as these the Officer of the Bureau might just catch you unawares.
"Can you imagine working closely with your government for the good of your Fatherland?", was the first question put to her, naturally in Afrikaans, English speakers being tolerated, but not trusted.
Later, at the grey empty office where Hanneke met her next (nameless) interviewer, she had been connected to a machine and asked many questions.
He gave no sign of interest, only nodded when addressed directly:
"What's your grandmothers rice"
For a mad moment she thought this had something to do with shopping.
"That's a good girl now"
"Any Venereal Disease"
"Who from" after a moment she gave the name. It was a local boy, and she hoped it wouldn't get around the town now; a moment's madness with the local beau in the back-seat of his 'Bakkie'.
She gave the reference.
"Was that all?"
Was that all...!
"Sure.. are you sure?" Maybe they knew more than she did.
"How many?.. we'll check!"
She told him. She had to, her father was sick and her mother needed the money, there seemed to be no choice. If she told a mis-truth, however small, they would get her for it. 'Get you for it Mijn Fijn Dame.
Then she found when opening the mail one morning that she'd got the job.
Her mother had been overjoyed, she'd been surprised.
"Government work is always very secure, dear.. I'm happy for you"
But she felt sick; compromised; somehow violated, that that had been only the first violation.
The casual observer was not to know what lay behind the dense coils of razor wire carefully honed to tear human flesh and sinew, fourty kilometres from Theresienstadt on the Jo'burg road: it was easy for a blonde blue-eyed girl to walk through: she merely showed the card with the red bars and the officer checked it with the infrared reader. She passed through under the guards array. No trouble here; no troublesome pigmentation: even the sexual difference made things simpler.
The camp was so large that many of the trainees that were brought in were not aware of where they were; in fact there were isolated blocks which for one reason or another were off-limits to everyone she knew.
On hot afternoon breaks in the canteen they speculated who and what went on in there,or there, or what that contained.
Then sometimes in this neck of the Freestate, used more to the hum of farm machinery, the unlikely crack of small arms fire and sometimes too the deeper crump of a mortar or a recoil-less rifle.
Occasionally too, in the middle of a quiet night the bush would be lit up by a flare and one would hear a muffled series of explosions, perhaps a distant scream of apparent pain, or a shout.
Perhaps it was a military training ground?
Apart from the daily strictures of physical training, they learned what you would have expected that they would learn: judo, self defence; the amorphous 'Structured Aggressive Technique'[SAT] which meant, said Mieke, one thousand and one ways to kill unpleasantly.
The women were trained somewhat differently from the men, but this did not stop liaisons from developing. That was nature: and also it must be a good method she realised upon reflection, of creating bonding patterns within the Bureau which would ensure tighter security. Also blackmail.
But naturally, blackmail. Their stock-in-trade. Blackmail being a large part of the system.
Apart from the third of her salary paid into her mothers bank account each month she suddenly realized one weekend at home that another factor had entered the equation.
"Hanneke Dear," said her mother unexpectedly one day "Thank you for the other two hundred you sent me last month, they were very useful, very useful indeed".
She said nothing, but covertly checked the record.
An extra two hundred Rand had entered her mothers bank account each month. Now, after a year, it had become indispensable. When she checked the source the trail went dead.
She left it alone: the blackmail was perfect and in place, there was nothing that could stop it now.
They were being trained to be 'Women'.
The thought of this made Mieke titter, but cut short her tittering after a moment.
'We shall train you officers as women should be trained', said the hard-faced grandmother who instructed them.
What that was was not left to the imagination for long. They were programmed to use their bodies and their looks against any enemy of any type. When you considered it, that was canny thinking. An 'Executive' thinking like a man, but with all the potential physical qualities of a good looking woman would be a frightening prospect. And they were all uncommonly attractive. Ah, but they had been chosen for it: hand-picked, had they but suspected it.
One of the security policemen looked at her as she walked through the gate one evening;
"Screw?" he said.
Her interest in dancing was to play a part. She danced each day, and was paid to take lessons each day later when she had finished training. That would make a passable cover should she need one.
But she was still young.
Those hot summer nights, the knowledge of her own sexuality; the need for amusement, flirtation, sometimes mere sex.
Not only was the camp off limits and also remote; but the male company was awful.
One night, after too many whiskies, there was the inevitable dalliance - with a girl. She knew not why: it was part of her nature to express herself to another. But that was in secret, and soon over. Quickly over. Anyway it was Forbudt.
She had no thoughts of blackmail, for that was impossible here, they all had much too much to lose. It was quietly put away and forgotten. The slip of a moment, forgotten like a childhood crime.
"But I do know what you like."
Just a forgotten smile in the dark.
Now there were six of them; five blondes, one brunette; all good, and chosen for it. No discussion.
Immaculate backgrounds, perfect lineages, good degrees (apart from Mieke), rather pedestrian and boring lives. Captive, virgin soldiers.
It was all a joke: especially between her and Mieke.
Mieke was like Hanneke, tall blond and blue eyed; they began to mix less with the others and spend time together. They became firm friends. They never talked about 'The Business', that was excluded from their relationship and had never been part of it.
"Screw?", said Mieke, and laughed.
Through the rising columns of heat that created bizarre mirages of trees and seas and unknown oases way out in the hills, Pablo passed workers pulling grapes from shrivelled vines.
Then the express-train whoop of a 105mm howitzer and the distant crack, the column of dust or debris. Frightening silence. Noise always followed by silence.
The pickers worked on, locked in ageless disregard, or fear.
In these levantine hills they created wines which yielded deep red colours and tastless liqueurs.
Out in these spaces were the places where they taught men how to kill, the rich red-brown dust sown with the blood of generations.
His life had taken on the tenor of a war, with no administration to be done, no logic relevant, nothing but defence possible while he waited for the final attack.
'Situations make men, and men make the stress that pulls a situation together.......we kill in order to survive.....'
Out in the killing ground, on its aged and bloodstained earth, he learned an ancient trade, a skill that his other self would have found inconceivable, inconceivable at least until the day when that letter in a plain brown envelope had arrived from an apparently secure source.
It simply said 'Pilar Vasconsellos Hawkins and children are believed 'Disappeared'... or perhaps together with an unknown number of government linked people they were were shot dead in the central football stadium in Santiago soon after the accession of the junta lead by Generalissimo Pinochet...'
He stifled his reaction, put the copied sheet down and went on as normal. Except that normal now precluded everyday, included murder, murdered, 'Disappeared'. Now.
Unbeknown to him his face had set in a hard grey arc, the eyes lacking their fire, the skin clammy and pallid.
Then it was decided, though by whom he did not know, did indeed not care: that now, for as long as it took, he would learn how to shoot, to send coded groups and use side-band digital transmissions, become proficient with plastique, defuse booby-trap bombs, lay mines and make machines to maim others. He would lose his domesticity and become a savage like those who had destroyed his heart and in order to finally destroy them too...to think of destruction in the most efficient way and in merely quantitative terms. To disappear.
With his native intelligence the grasp of these things was rendered simple; though physical fitness itself was a long time coming.
How to destroy: there was much creative thinking involved in such grave matters; a dichotomy where the destruction itself always took him aback, confused his eyes while he dreamed of his dead children and pictured poor, dead, Pilar...
Perhaps he should think again? But no, it was too late, things were too advanced....and nothing could remedy the wound in his heart that had been Pilar. Nothing.
One should not cry in a desert because you merely loose liquid, which is your life-sustaining goodness. Anyway, possibly for reasons of survival, you simply never think to.
No, there was no crying now, the time for that was past. Now all that was left was the life of his memories, already become terrifyingly mellowed by time,transparent like worn film, unsharp and out of register, unimaginably savaged by recollection and transposition.
How do you explain your loss, your longing, the aloneness of being a traitor, a living symbol of escape? And will they believe you if you do that?
Everything, time, had continued, run on and become too advanced by this process for him to ever turn back; as if one ever could turn the clock back; after all now, people wanted his neck, Gringos and juntas both: and despite his incapacity for murder, murder it was that afflicted him, murderers it was whom he spent his days with, murder it was that he had to learn in order to avoid murder.
At least that was the rationale of it; so he spent his time concentrating, in order to destroy.
Now it was that the days broadened and widened, and as the light intensified and the heat came down like sheets of steel upon the land, they reckoned that he had learned enough.
It was time to leave; a thanksgiving, a 'kyriae' to the Gods of the desert. One warm morning he checked out and saw the leader of his training section drop him a cursory, forgetting nod.
Then he turned on his heel to forget them; he did all but run away from that desert.
They took him to a station, and put him on a train.
On his buff file a heavy hand had stamped the legend: 'Substandard Fighting Skills - Second Class Operative.' And underneath that, in neat marker pen: 'Skilled in the Development of Strategy - use in Command Role where possible'.
The Ace and the Nature
of the Game...........
Six thousand miles away, time moved slowly in the low savannahs. Now they, Hanneke and her friends, were instructed that the bureau used time-worn, proven methods: many of which had been 'borrowed' from the Americans. As Coetzee said:
"The Company, now they have their methods well worked out, and they use them effectively and well."
Coetzee spoke English with an American accent, and his thick arms reminded her of an American sheriff in the movies.
"Heading:" said Coetzee waiting for them to get scribbling: "Cryptonyms and Synonyms used in place of True Names". He cleared his throat.
"The standard ones, (and you have to at first refer with cryptonyms to the cryptonym list which is appended to each pink document that reaches you); which is rather long-winded, but is the best system we have found".
"The Americans for example call the United States Government ODYKE: the Department of State ODICAD, Department of Defense ODEARL."
Coetzee scratched his dry nose and thought a minute.
"We use the same system, but instead of the prefix OD, as in America, we use the letters OS....clear?..." He looked challengingly at the class.
"Enclosed, ladies, you will find a cryptonym list which is very similar to a Company one, but with successive letter changes, the first two letters changed. We use similar letters or sometimes the same letters for the categorisations of organisations and governments, which the Company use..... your field information reports (red, or pink), should contain facts related only to one subject, but the amount of sources you gather them from, or the way that you gather them, are not of concern, though all sources must be as secure as possible".
On those long late December nights, while the temperature refused to fall, they, she and Mieke, spent hours idly chatting about personal things, maybe to relieve the tension and the boredom. Or perhaps it was something else, something more essential - there was an element in her, Hanneke's life, overlooked by the functionaries of the bureau: for she felt in her a kind of youthfulness, a playfulness itself unexpected in an agent under training. She would that it was her other self, her secret self, but in fact it was simply a certain undeveloped creative instinct.
"Don't let them see that, it's precious and.. well nice.. keep it dark!"
Mieke had seen the signature of the bureau, often self-defeating, sometimes self-obscuring. Bureaucracy being hardly in itself a creative force, rather a means to chart available information, dry, a machine without humour.
So she and Mieke spent their evenings sitting on the verandah by one of those leant-to huts made from plastic elements, listening to the wind whistling, watching the stars in the blankly clear sky as they winked their arcs across the veldt, talking in low tones as if they were being listened to, spied-upon.
Just another freak of the imagination created by this lonely place.
The camp made you lonely. Though they spent each day busy with their instructors, they were not encouraged to associate too closely with one another: each unit, however large or small, never communicating with another, never needing or for that matter wanting, to talk to the others.
"There is something covert and unpleasant about the word clandestine".
Groups of coloureds or blacks with mad eyes, wearing forage caps with little circular buttons in their centres set to identify like badges, ran about the camp all day singing simplistic marching songs in Bantu or Xhosa.
The sheer brutality of these proto-police was frightening, the savage violence only just contained by the brutality of their treatment. They carried long riot sticks, and their white masters, distasteful of their inferior charges, djamboks, the further to enforce their station.
Of course they were not supposed to like each other. That was it. But in the naivete of their youthful minds, and in the sheer bureaucracy of the machine, all this had been arranged: nobody had conceived of the fact that the two of them might get together, become firm friends.
"Paid agents", said Coetzee, "are an important part of the intelligence process.... we use a lot of paid agents, pay a lot of people, and its your government, your bureau which pays for what often seems to be very unimportant material .... but such information is never unimportant.... we are operating in an imperfect world, and intelligence services (covert operations) are amoral in basis
A freezing morning, she expected to find frost on the windows like in the Freestate. But no, after all it was only the change, her first overseas posting. She was nervous, thus cold. Her teeth chattered and she rubbed her hands upon her thighs and smiled wanly at Mieke..
The new intelligence captain, almost as new as she was, Van Zyl, gave her an odd look. In his mind he went over the job that he had turned over in the red sheets on his desk to do with that ANC black woman they were having trouble with here. Should he have her ended? He would recommend that the job be done quickly. She was only trouble, anyway.
"How are you?" He thought to extend a hand and then cancelled the motion. He should not be too familiar with the new intake. ".. huh, I see Central are sending them out pretty young, Jah?". Inwardly he hoped she believed him and didn't detect his inexperience. He looked away, out of the window and over the spires and antique roofs of Paris as if he wished to dismiss such an unpalatable thought.
"How long since you were at home?", said Van Zyl, but without turning his head. "How are things there?"
Her eyes snapped into sharp focus all of a sudden; she could see that his skin was that off-white typical of the Burger and the Boer and would brown very readily in the sun. Van Zyl could be mistaken for 'coloured' very easily. Maybe he had requested this posting to duck the flack and have somewhere where he too could live in some kind of peace.
Van Zyl said something more but omitted to turn again. He stood with his hands down at his back, she noticed that he held one thumb in the military fashion, a sort of unofficial way of assuming 'At Ease' while steadying himself. Van Zyl was insecure (basic training).
"Altogether two years", she said.
"You must've pushed a lot of paper"
She felt hot over her breast. The skin seemed to swell. But she must wait for him to act. Then.
He wheeled suddenly and set a cursive eye upon her. In his bleached blue-grey eyes a mirror-like blankness, defensiveness. Hardly the creased eye of an intelligence man.
All of a sudden:
"Well, this one's right up your street, Miss!"
Inside herself she started.
"What's this about a lost agent, Sir?"
"You read your yellow sheets I expect".
"Someone just blown in here, Sir?"
"Yes, that report you saw was about someone useful....just came in from Argentina.... we've been watching him through Mossad."
He pushed a tidy file of pink towards her.
"Read that and tell me your remarks"
"And drop the 'Sir' in any public intercourse, we don't need people to know what our job is"
"And another thing, Miss, an important thing here; remember that these people are useful as contacts, we need contacts, we need friends. Obviously your looks are an advantage when the target or interest is a male. Remember that his enemies are our friends - and that this is a good way to play...."
The Great Game, was what some fool had called it.
She shuffled the paper.
"He studied first in Rome....we sent you first to Rome and you must know it"
A breath of air moved against the file. Her mind strayed.
From here you could see all the way down the soft zig-zag of the 'Grandes Boulevards'; it was just like the Bureau to set itself up in the shabby end of Paris.
A few pigeons fluttered from a roof higher that theirs and settled on the windowsill.
Van Zyl drew a long cigar from a box on the desk and tapped it absent minded-ly on the glass of his watch before clicking open a Zippo lighter.
Van Zyl looked through her and said:
"I see you're good with languages... 'faultless' English, I hear" (they were speaking in Afrikaans)..
"And your German?"
"Not bad Sir"
"Not Bad Sir" Van Zyl paused, thinking....."Obviously talented...Okay, Miss, Leave your signature with my assistant and he'll raise you an AP40 so that you can get in here in future without bother".
At the Bar Lipp
Hanneke and Mieke sat outside Bar Lipp on the Boulevard St. Germain and watched the crowds bustle in the heat.
A man wrestled with the taxi-phone on the pedestrian island outside the boundary of the bar and swore. He left it dangling.
Mieke was bitching today.
"My God, look at that girls arse!"
"My God, Look at the way she's walking"
"My God, look at that man over there!"
'Some of the archetype of the prude in Mieke - some of our ancestral ghosts'. But the conditioning would have that effect, you see, all the programming back home designed to push one into a psychological cul-de-sac, an irresistible juxtaposition of realities demanding their blueprints be followed blindly, mindlessly. Or else nothing would be open to you. Besides which you'd be an outcast.
What do you think of that?...
"I think its a product of perfect conditioning!
Now, with the perspective of place she could see more clearly than she had been able to for these last years; she had made a discovery which concerned her. Something un-formed as yet hovered in her mind. Yes, that was the irresistible conclusion.
Concerning Paris. To these occupants of a parochial and xenophobic culture Paris was wild, formless and shavian; anything seemed to be allowed. Wild things seemed to happen on Apaché dance floors, while prostitutes smiled at you openly in the street as if to invite you to their beds, man or woman; where the sex rush hour was at lunchtime (and very visible), where perversity of body and mind were perfectly accepted, and very often feted too. Where colour, race or position was apparently unimportant, never questioned.
Mieke was bitching again:
She looked across and saw a dark man in the far corner. He limped with his left leg as he straightened up for a moment and sought something in the paper rack; tall, boots, tweed jacket. A very slight stoop.
A mad man with a pet rat was frightening and cajoling loungers and passer's bye on the pavement outside the 'Deux Magots' opposite. A great cheer rose from the crowd. A girl screamed, the mad man put his hand up her skirt. Francs rained into his proffered hat.
"I can't imagine that in Durban", said Mieke.
The stranger with the limp called a cab and lurched across the intersecting road. He dived into the door and dropped something metal on the ground. As he leant to retrieve it she saw tanned skin and heard the flat clack! of metal against the step. A chain tinkled against the metal of the door.
"Not my type", said Mieke. "No, not bad though, not bad". She leaned across and said, "Do you have a cigarette?"
Click! A Picture....
"Yes, a cigarette!"
"I'll ask for one then". She leaned across to someone Hanneke had not seen.
After a moment Hanneke half turned to ask a question.
My God! It was him!
"Shush!" Mieke said, "....I'm Victoria....Bonjour.." She smiled.
There was something very strange about a sudden change of name. Still, Mieke was like that.
"I suggest" said Mieke "that we all go shopping"
"I have to introduce Pablo, " said Hanneke.
"Pablo - Mieke"
"And this is my friend.." said Pablo.
"Oh", said Hanneke, half in a daze "Oh, yes of course..."
They rose, Mieke leaving money on the table.
Pablo put his arm rather awkwardly through hers.
"So you know each other"
"Aha!"said Mieke, as if by default imparting the knowledge of something greatly secret..
The friend only laughed.
For a moment time and thought had frozen over; the refrigerator of coincidence had drawn full circle, the moment entirely packaged to repeat its music to her.
She fell a little behind Mieke and Pablo's friend; and the stranger matched her pace.
"You know" she said, " I know somewhere in my bones that this has in some way happened to me before on a street like this , in a town like this...only I don't know how or where"
This stranger, Pablo seemed un-comprehending. She thought to say it louder, but stopped half way.
Now they had stopped in the middle of the pavement.
She looked at his eyes and his crooked face seemed to look at her chest.
They kissed briefly, suddenly, without warning. Like one of those photographs that you see of lovers kissing : 'Lovers Kissing- Odéon 1948', only not yet lovers....their secret...awkward..
"I know what you say" he said, she saw him now, suddenly obscure, vague, mysterious - "..but I can't tell you yet ..some time later perhaps.." She was silent, there had seemed to be nothing to say on such an intensely bright and chromatic a day. The truth was there, a product of something that was happening between them. And there was silence in their glance. It was almost frightening to feel all at once so intense, so frightening that she wanted to run away like a djambok in the bush... electric.
What Pablo had seen was something equally unexpected: the truth was that he had met Pilar in almost the same way fifteen years before, impossibly, deja vu - met her and then loved her; his blond, tall, dead Pilar. How could he say that so logically and coldly?.... dead. He would have to find shapes for his mouth to fit so that he would not cry any more, so that it would not show there or in his eyes.
But for her it soon became a comical moment, a 'Buster Keaton' sort of stunt-moment with two people balancing impossibly, each not knowing the weight of the other.....
they had stopped, unaware that people - just people, were diverting, drifting around them.
"Hey", said Mieke returning to find them. "Come on, you two!"
Now the strange feeling creeping up inside her knees, a memory in time.
The second was past. Someone had once sat in his sitting room and spread his arms wide:
"What is the meaning of life..?."
"So you too can play hookey together..." (Laughter).."..of course!..."
"What are you two doing?" said Mieke
Hanneke made a dismissive all-avoiding gesture and they simply stared at one another's eyes, she and Pablo. Crowds walked bye, perhaps the world, who cared. They in their cocoon. The gesture was made as if she were somehow puffed and tired and unable to walk on, though fresh: she said nothing further, just another blank gesture.
Mieke looked very happy suddenly:
"Oh, Okay...see you later then." She and her escort vanished.
Sitting in the Select bar once again, the light failing, the neons winking on; late tea dancers leaving La Cupole noisily, laughing all the way down the streets. The strains of a tango in the air.
She sitting down like an idiot having just got up a thousand years ago from this stone moment. The whicker creaking.
And this strange stranger looking at her with twinkling eyes, saying a few words, listening and having nothing much important to say; only resting her head against the chair and thinking of more warm nights, more evenings, more neon.
And he in such moments knowing that there was no beginning and no end to this: a long silence, a thousand years, an avenue of mirrors and fire; the death of a star, the beginning of a galaxy. What could he say?
Pablo called on her on the following Tuesday.
"You know...I don't even..."
"Know my name!"
"How did you know?"
"We could meet later tonight"
Communication needed few words.
Silences had all at once the music of conversations: now, having spent a few hours together they were almost incestuous in their closeness, relaxed-ness, awareness.
For some unfelt reason once he saw a great sadness sweep over her eyes: he stood before her:
"How was it that you knew?"
"That you went to the Select?"
"It was an accident-really.." she said, and gave a small smile.
"I don't trust you", he said.
"Why should you?"
".........We found ourselves
sitting opposite a Frenchman,
not quite a Frenchman; I,
Hanneke, thought that he was
rather yellow skinned in this
light, and rather slit eyed
when you looked at him at an
unfavourable sort of angle,
but when he got up he was
about two metres tall, which
seemed to make a difference
for some reason!
Anyway, we sat in silence
for a while, I looking down
at my Grenadine and thinking,
Mieke looking at her cold tea.
The Frenchman was having
a conversation with his friend:
"The thing is.." said
the Frenchman " I don't
believe what you say about
the composition of reality"
"Reality..? ..", said
I noticed his light
green eyes following me,
though he was apparently
Mieke stuck one elbow
into my ribs and giggled
into my ear, shrilly.
(You see he was wearing
dark red boots, on his third
finger a silver ring with a
light tan cornelian mounted
in it. His friend wore a
Cartier watch, both looked
We were sat like that: the
four of us in a sort of three
game all just sitting like
that paralysed in time before
"The thing is..."
The Frenchman's eyes followed
her more avidly than before
(for I noticed).
"The thing is.." repeated
Mieke and again noisily
giggled into my ear.
"The thing is...!."
"That Hanneke is not..."
"That I am not at all involved
in this conversation!"
The Chinaman was
thinking something very distinct
about my chest, which made me a
little tense, naturally. Despite
myself those two buttons on my
chest became rather hard,
"Lets get out of here"
But Mieke was too involved
in the erotic exchange to care,
and pattered on meaninglessly.
Four chessmen, in a game with
only four squares over a table:
we were all fastened in the
concrete of unreality.
He was watching me again,
his eyes darkening, to deepest
I, Hanneke, nudged Mieke
"The thing is Mieke, I've got
to get back!"
Mieke looked at me as if
I were crazy.
(Don't think, just don't think!)
"..get back.." as if I'd
said something quite lunatic,
and then continued; "the fact
is I think I'd like out..."
Mieke hadn't heard a thing.
She never listens to me.
The Chinaman was looking
at me again, my chest had ceased
to tighten. His eyes slowed
right down and took on the
colour of water, reflected
sky: then Mieke said:
"Oh damn it, isn't there
somewhere we can go where
we can talk!"
A yellow sheet: a briefing paper of some description:
"The perfect balance between reality and sanity, and that which is within ourselves, is a dynamic between the knife-edge of perception and the tight-wire of that psychic deceit which we are bound to practice on ourselves for various social reasons.
The constructions that can be placed upon these reasons are many.
Many theorists have evolved complex explanations for our behaviour. McGregor, with his theories X and Y has evolved the negative concept theories of group behaviour.
Herzberg, with his theories of de-motivating factors, posited that people are not so much motivated as de-motivated against stimuli in their environment, thus forcing them not to do things which they essentially wish to do.
Maslow, with his theory of the hierarchy of needs, seems to define motivation as that arising at root from what you might call 'physical' stimuli, and ending in its complex forms, in 'Ego-Drive'.
All these theories come together in various behavioural systems and are clearly demonstrated in the geography of fieldwork experiments, perhaps most definedly in Mayos' 'Hawthorne Studies'.
It is interesting and notable that the subconscious elements of behaviour are the most important ones.
It is these elements which are utilised <in the absence of more easily accessed and positive elements> to create positive situations for our operational use."
(Or you can strip them naked, beat them, internally injure them, ban them, poison them either literally or in spirit, forbid them from associating, lie about them, use your public relations against them, shout louder than them, kill them or run the press and exclude them from your accounts so that they cease to exist.)
Hanneke turned away.
She was shaking all over.
Cold sweat and fear, all at once.
In an unknown situation training is useless. Lack of structure can be terrifying.
"I know what you're like, I know what you're made of"
It was almost like her first induction medical, that specially cold feeling.
For some reason the powers that be had decided that all operatives should undergo a complete physical examination before final induction. There they were lined up, nude, cold against white walls and tiles.
A woman doctor walked down the row and inspected them with her eyes, without a twitch crossing her face.
Then they were photographed, from the left side, right side, back, front. All distinguishing marks noted on a squared chart and given computer references.
They were warned with great gravity not to have anything, anything, changed on their bodies without notification. For final identification, naturally; in time of emergency such identification might be necessary.
She pressed the bell and no sound happened. Silence.
She dropped her purse and leaned to pick it up.
The sound of a cab in the background.
As she straightened up she was suddenly face to face.
"Hullo", said Claudia, slightly abstracted, cool.
All Hanneke's fear vanished.
"Hullo". The other smiled. "I'm just a little shy".
"My sweet one", said Claudia.
The moment the door was closed they were into each others arms, in an embrace so soft, so effortless and yet fierce that she could hardly credit the pure sensuousness of it all: she gasped, simply and mundanely:
"I Missed you.."
Claudia kissed her on her eyes and on her ears.
"I thought of you"
"I think I...."
It was hardly a moment, and she was undressed there in the hall: Claudia kissing her and simply looking at her, maybe touching her, the pure sense of it hardly mattering, the efflorescence of this carrying all else away before it....
She could only sigh in her arms, exult in her mouth, her soft breasts, her warm legs, her long shaped thighs, her blond crewcut secret hair.
Exult in the pure soft mist, the pure lost innocence of the continuing dream of dreams, trauma of amazement, pure sensuous sex of the girl: the name, the scent the slide of body against body, sweat against sweat, skin registering and flexing against hair. The blotted lipstick on her breasts.
They had left their clothes on the stairs and Claudia collected them and touched each one, asking if she were excited about their meeting: complementing her on the quality and choice of her garments.
It was simple then.
Leading her through all the things she had come to desire of her, all the little things that made the puzzle of this experience: Claudia making her suffer with her legs spread wide: Claudia making her cry out from the pure pain of desire, wishing to kill her with the knife of pain that comes from intense hunger and needs its hiatus; Claudia leading her to a new kind of living, the foothills of desire......
Claudia. Seeking: the fight, the sheer heat and the plain soft murder; eyes rimed with spent makeup and love, tatters and fears, laughter, loathing.
Awaking, the bed, soft, warm, firm; wholesome; but not with the fine smell of man, rather the deep full scent of woman, the unexpected shock of incestuous sisterhood.
A complex of feelings so vast and ranged, that it was only possible to sleep further and forget all but the pain of satisfaction.
A cruel happiness amid cool untroubled sleep.
Such moments are rare. Moments by a precipice.
Moments of great danger and lost innocence.
The small square above my head: bright sky.
A million miles from the Namib.
Piazza del Campo di Fiori: the Field of Flowers and death.
Now cobblestones, patterns making a much larger, more muscular whole.
A tattered cafe_ smelling of poverty and age; a segment of an enormous landscape. Like the Namib. Hanneke had seen this before, only much worse, much worse and more brutally maintained.
'Diamond Mining' and the rape of the landscape for $100 a year. Another economy of destruction?
Watching my feet for some un-remembered reason. Being pestered by professional beggars, avoiding eye contact, watching her feet and occasionally looking up; cold, isolated, lonely.
A first time.
Walking. Rome. Late evening.
People laughing in the gathering gloom, the smells of restaurants and distant fires, the vast background of motor noise.
Motor noise. The concrete bunker, computer room beneath the Namib.
Silence, and the slight grey flicker of the screens.
Faces in the scanner.
'No, that one was reported as dead last week'
....the climate of distrust
Back to the Bureau, and the climate of distrust.
Deviant. What really surprises me about my existence in the midst of this group of pathologically suspicious people, is that though my original reflex was to think that I might be detected as in some way deviant, nobody has mentioned or indicated a single thing. And they usually do, un-prompted, that's the flavour of their clan culture. Anyway,not a thing.
Work continued, the sorting of papers, the administration of surveillance. But at that time of year surveillance seemed to tire with the heat of summer; there was no-one who could really concentrate.
And then one of the Embassy Staff wanted to date her; but Hanneke felt nothing, only disinterest.
Negative, nothing Hanneke could offer him realistically.
"I can't give you anything..."
Why should I apologise....feel that I should..?
Secretly and surreptitiously, I began to wear rather plain clothing; to de-market myself, so that nobody would notice. It also posted a psychological change: Mieke sympathised. Nobody else cared or detected. Silence.
It was really quite simple in my mind, the epitome of a perfect persona.
Invisible because totally visible, unavoidable. Too close to avoid, too indistinct to recognize.
Apart from that small discomfort, she found this an unexpectedly pleasant time.
For two or three weeks she and Mieke just watched Television in the evenings. Sometimes in the office she would put her feet up and watch the video-tape RGB monitor with ORTF piped through to it. Nobody saw. Work was boring, the office was stuffy, and then the air conditioning became intermittently ineffective.
It was at this time that Mieke began another of her affairs, this time with a Frenchman.
Actually, he was boring; and Mieke talked about him incessantly, which made things even worse.
Hanneke just watched Television.
All ready for something to happen. She knew it would, sometime. It had to. It was just a question of when.
"Of course", said the clown, "generally people like you girls (he pronounced it 'gels') "yes, girls like you we generally use for... surveillance" (he meant licensed whoredom.) That was my opinion. One has to learn to read between the lines.
Hanneke looked him straight in the face. He continued:
"And we don't like these irregularities to occur..... as one of our activists, you are supposed to be in control of any given situation at any time; and being picked-up by strangers in public places is not the kind of attitude or behaviour that we expect from our Special Executives."
He made his short speech in a sort of forced, half sincere, rather halting manner, as if each word were an ice block in his throat.
'One thing about intelligence controllers is that they are full of shit - or is it simply that they are brain-dead!'
"However" said the other officer darkly, "we know that this is probably just a passing phase: therefore., a couple of weeks break will do you a world of good. Take a holiday somewhere secure."
She deposited her weapon in the armoury and received a chit for it which she gave to the duty officer. She picked up some travellers cheques and her passport from the bursar's office and took a car key from the hook there, and drove..... only a few blocks, close-to the pension. She stopped the engine, heard the sounds of the street screw back at her, wondered what all this was for. She actually felt shaken.
On an impulse she squeezed the seats and checked under them: as if this was a bugged car!
Had her training not predominated, paranoia might have taken her over. Ridiculous to be stood up for some footling breach of the rules.
She inspected herself in the mirror and noted that her eyes were a little moist. But nothing showed. Her lips trembled slightly.
She brushed her hair away from her temples and it made her feel just a little better.
She felt tired, rested against the wheel smoking a Gitanes.
I remembered my mothers face, my fathers sickness, which was the only reason I held this damn job down. Ah! But it was shaking loose now... just a nut here and a bolt there... well, I would see.. perhaps a downgrade at some future moment..who bloody knew..!
She day-dreamed, of her childhood on the Veldt, of her mothers caressing hands now so long ago, lost, and cold too.
A dream now; a dream of simple things, the interstices of a happy moment. The end of her childhood... then a long silence... a memory of the Bureau training compound, the long dry sandy road, the isolation.
Oddly enough, it had been a haven of peace; and that was the irony: that peace could exist in the middle of the preparation for murder simply because the contrasts that make up a climate of violence are missing and everything seems very regular.
She knew that the very subjection of an individual, the training for violence, was perfectly possible within such a regime: a woman would be more courageous if she considered that her actions were ordered, correct, allowed.
She had been programmed to violence in order to seek some useless lost freedom: she had been exercised like an animal, trained like a wrestler, fingered and stared at. Would that make her free?
Driving from Rome to Paris, or perhaps vice-versa, who cared!
"I'm dry, really dry"
"Well, we'll stop here, " Pablo said with that edge of an accent, that at moments when for some reason Hanneke felt touchy, could be so irritating.
They climbed stiffly from the car and walked across the road. They sat outside the café and ordered a créme for him, a pressé for her.
Over the wall beside the cafe she could see a faded awning, and hear the sounds of a pool. The cadence of a scream and then a splash. Water momentarily reaching its apogee in the air. Against the damaged paint work of the wall a mangled sign proclaiming that this was an hotel of sorts. The canvas awning side-slipped on an eddy, lapped spare air, slapped against the wall and dislodged a long flake of paint.
He bought a packet of cigarettes, turned the green pack over in his hands and said
"I like them soft"
"Flavour". She watched his skin flex, his throat draw in slightly and felt overtaken by that indefinable sensation that she now knew that she shared.
They sat in the shade and watched the people drift bye. Girls wearing tiny bikinis. One of them clutching a towel, the trim edge of it wet, losing a few drops of water. They began to sing amongst themselves.
How pleasant it was! the dappled shadows swaying in the shade of the plane trees; nothing much moving on the road. Perhaps the odd Gekko, zig-zagging across soft tar patterns.
Hanneke leant across to Pablo, who lay with his arms awry, eyes now closed as if in sleep:
"The thing is", she said,"... the thing is, I'm worried, I should go back - I can't leave my work - they'll smell a rat!" Blue smoke curled up from the decaying butt of the Boyard.
"One thing you never told me about was your job"
"The Trade Delegation", she said glibly (because she'd practised it so many times in the mirror), "....a kind of administrative job". Then she remembered Coetzee: 'Make it seem as if you're doing a job as boring as possible...say you're a paper pusher in some ministry or something..make it seem as if you're just a cog in some machine.' Must be OK, then. Allay suspicion, spread the focus of any potential aggressor too wide, confuse them. A professional job, well done.
She had begun to lose focus on herself, whom she was. After all, now she was a professional and that meant that she would have to learn how to... she lost the thread for a moment.. become.. less obvious, yes, as Coetzee had said one hot afternoon.."..you'll have to learn how to disappear into a crowd" That was it, another meaning of the word, be transparent, not evident, not present, not there. Disappeared. Jah. How to Disappear was the thing. And she was a professional. Paid to be it. Where had she heard that before? But to lose focus on oneself - that was the illness leading to disease. She knew that much, if something less than all.
A classmate in mathematics, Ulla, when they were at a University do, words much loosened by alcohol,once said:
' 'You know, beneath my skirt I have a watch that tells me I'm a woman and that one day I shall be less than that......is that awful?' At the time Hanneke felt distanced, slightly set on edge. What was that? Unjust suspicion crept into her mind.
Now, much later, Hanneke understood that what Ulla meant was that the time was so rare and precious that she must use it, must make for her self a small mark in time. That was the urgent, painful signature of womanhood.
Paris, August 21st
Early on on the Wednesday the Intelligence Officer (Operations) came into their office from the Section F Entrance.
Hanneke had her feet up (as usual) listening to the radio.
He looked around, and his upper lip twitched.
But she had already given him the once-over and was sure that he was younger then her; probably a subaltern too; though wearing civvies.
"Lieutenant," he said, and his unshaven jaw twitched with scarcely hidden arrogance: (he had that 'Herrenmench' look about him as if the Aryan underneath the slick exterior were about to break his bonds and to bawl an order if he, oh, if only he could!) : pretentious, pale-eyed as an albino.
They nodded affirmation.
"Arianne", Mieke said:
"Call me Vicki"
Blank. They looked at each other.
"Ahh. I've found you now!"
His eyes flickered momentarily at her crotch.
Seeing this, Mieke laughed, which dented whatever confidence he had: he backed out of the room. They both laughed.
Hanneke said to Mieke:
"How much money that he's a natural blond?!"
"Underneath those trousers - bet you its black!"
They both laughed.
An hour later he returned, with a sheaf of green in his hand. He said:
"Read. There's something on"
The papers, interspersed with pink reference sheets, gave a picture of the political situation in Uruguay.
"What the hell are these to do with us?"
Then: an unchangeable scent, clear as hard light in a mirror at night. White Africa.
Zimbabwean tobacco, South African aftershaves.
Her mind tinkled with unpleasant anticipation as if she had suddenly turned a corner, taken a very fast flight and was turning the corner of her road, walking in the drive of her parents house during a dinner party or a bridge evening. Her hackles unaccountably rose.
Through the glass doors now, by the side of the bar, the barman eyeing her with a quizzical expression. talking to her with that Natal drawl.
"How are you?" said the barman.
"Come and sit here, miss!"
She sat down and smiled at the barman, not at the stranger.
"What would you like?", said the barman.
"Gin sling" she said
"How are you?", said the stranger. She didn't reply.
"That's a new one!", said the barman with a certain brightness.
She talked-on to the barman; he knew the country east of the Cape and he immediately recognised her for what he called 'one of the locals'.
Hanneke sat there for some time had another gin. Nothing happened.
She ate a sandwich and had a coffee, and then, increasingly warm and comfortable, began to listen to the conversation around her.
Talk of Africa, often drunken: full of that machismo from home, that false sense of plastic masculinity that she disliked so much.
"How about making that two gins?" came a voice.
She automatically turned away, and then the voice said:
"You've been waiting for me, haven't you!"
Who the hell are you?", rather perturbed by the arrogant stranger-until he showed her the red-barred card.
The Colonels friend.
"I'm a friend of a friend of yours" softly, showing perfect small teeth.
Then he said:
"We have to maintain our cover, so lets just talk."
He questioned her rather disjointedly, politely, about France, the South, about Paris, about the Desert; she told him about how sympathetic she was about no-mans land, and he replied that most of the people were 'Guerrs'
"Oh, I'm waiting for a friend", he said, "Shall we eat something?"
Hanneke agreed, naturally.
They went to a Restaurant called 'The Stable', quite close by. Sat at a long table, and he ordered a large meal; she, just the usual salad. A lager.
He talked on about his friends, and she became aware that all his friends were male (he never mentioned a woman).
"Could he be a queer?", she muttered to herself, "is he.." she reached around for the word, "gay". He returned from somewhere and sat looking at her, smiling. She thought herself naive to not be able to detect this more quickly. All the textbook nonsense, the 'clinical' green papers, had fallen somewhere into the back of her mind like a forgotten file stuck down the back of a cabinet: she asked him a few guarded questions and it soon became obvious what he was about.
He beamed at her as his friend arrived, introduced her. His friend was a very good looking young man (she thought scornfully, with an edge of malice and a metallic twang of jealousy), whose name was Roy.
Said her contact:
"Now, don't you play around with my friend, that's all!" in the friendliest sort of way.
Then the three of them went to the club that he had mentioned ('discovered', he said.) 'I met Roy there!'
Hanneke sat at the table, interested but listless in this new world, while he and Roy danced. Disappeared.
She'd had quite a few more drinks.
Suddenly she was sitting by another girl. Or was the other girl sitting beside her?
The other girl had begun to talk to her and she hadn't realised a thing: it had all been happening between gin-slings. The other girl was called Claudia.
She really felt that she should talk about Pablo, for some reason that the gin had dictated; but Claudia yattered on, appraising her with those bright questing eyes.
Lost in her thoughts, and feeling isolated, she had to join in.
Claudia was feeling merry, and said:
"Why don't we get up and dance?"
Hanneke didn't think anything of it.
They danced for a while, and Claudia was being warm and very affectionate to her, and she didn't take in a thing, thinking all the while of Pablo, thinking all the time of his eyes and his hair and the way that he dressed in the morning when she watched him secretly, with one eye open. The small secret scars on his back, the way that he climbed into his jeans, the way he fastened his shirt and did-up his fly, and the way he put his shoes on and he looked in a swimsuit on the beach, and how it was with him on her and one inch away from her, inside her (all at once). For a moment she shut her eyes to dim the pain.
Claudia was saying something into her ear, one of Claudia's arms around her waist, the other somewhere around her front. All at once everything was becoming disjointed, floating.
Now they sat down, and she had another gin-sling, and there was her contact (what was his name?) sitting there laughing, his hand inside his boyfriends shirt, an intimate caress.
And now her friend Claudia saying things she couldn't understand, using a sort of slang. Everybody quite drunk now, she thought, suspended between worlds, each world unstable, each world friendly, the whole world warm with no cold winds, no unhappiness, just a very great rising warmth within her.
A deep longing for Pablo; to touch his body, to run her hands over his chest; to see the small scars on his back, coming from she knew not where .
There was no time. Everyone knew that, time being expensive and your femaleness itself your betrayer: and at such times as these the Officer of the Bureau might just catch you unawares.
"Can you imagine working closely with your government for the good of your Fatherland?", was the first question put to her, naturally in Afrikaans, English speakers being tolerated, but not trusted.
Later, at the grey empty office where Hanneke met her next (nameless) grey interviewer, she had been connected to a machine and asked many questions.
He gave no sign of interest, only nodded when addressed directly:
"What's your grandmothers race"
"That's a good girl now"
"Any Venereal Disease"
"She gave the name"
She told him. She had to, her father was sick and her mother needed the money, there seemed to be no choice. If she told a mis-truth, however small, they would get her for it. Get you for it Mijn lady. Anyway, it seemed the right thing to do.
Then, surprised, she found when opening the mail one morning that she'd got the job.
Her mother had been overjoyed.
"Government work is always very secure, dear.. I'm happy for you"
But she felt sick; compromised; somehow violated. She knew with dread that that had been only the first violation.
The casual observer was not to know what lay behind the tight dense coils of razor wire carefully honed to tear human flesh and sinew, fourty kilometres from Theresienstadt on the Jo'burg road: it was easy for a blonde blue-eyed girl to walk through: she merely showed the card with the red bars and the officer checked it with the infrared reader. She passed through under the guards array. No trouble here; no troublesome pigmentation: even the sexual difference made things simpler.
The camp was so large that many of the trainees that were brought in were not even aware of their situation; in fact there were isolated blocks which for one reason or another were off-limits to everyone she knew.
On hot afternoon breaks in the canteen they speculated who and what went on in there,or there, or what they contained.
Then sometimes in this desert one could hear the crack of small arms fire and sometimes too the deeper crump of a mortar or a recoil-less rifle.
Occasionally too, in the middle of a quiet night the veldt would be lit up by a flare and one would hear a muffled series of explosions, perhaps a distant scream of apparent pain, or a shout.
Perhaps it was a military training ground?
However, apart from the daily strictures of physical training, they learned what you would have expected that they would learn: judo, self defence; the amorphous 'Structured Aggressive Technique' (which meant, said Mieke, one thousand and one ways to kill unpleasantly).
The girls were trained somewhat differently from the men, but this did not stop liaisons from developing. That was nature: and also it must be a good method she realised upon reflection, of creating bonding patterns within the Bureau which would ensure tighter security. Also blackmail.
But naturally, subversion. Their stock-in-trade.
Blackmail being a large part of the system.
Apart from the third of her salary paid into her mother's bank account she suddenly realized one weekend at home that another sum had entered the equation.
"Hanneke Dear," said her mother unexpectedly one day "Thank you for the other two hundred you sent me last month, they were very useful, very useful indeed". She said nothing, but covertly checked the record.
An extra two hundred Rand had entered her mothers bank account each month. Now, after a year, it had become indispensable. When she checked the source the trail went dead.
She left it alone: the blackmail was perfect and in place, there was nothing that could stop it now.
Cold wind eddied like unquiet water around the concrete piazzas. The 11.35 from Caracas via Madrid, came in twenty minutes late. 'Not bad for seven thousand miles!'
She, Hanneke, had been dispatched with Jonny, to wait for their 'Targets'. They'd loitered around the bar for at least an hour before Jonny saw the group clearing Customs, and turning, gave her the cursive nod, cursing under his breath about British bureaucracy and the stupidity of Customs.
As arranged, they were to trail the group at a distance, invisibly. After a few minutes milling around in the lounge, their 'targets' were hailed by a man, previously unknown to her, in blue jeans and a white shirt. As she might expect of travellers from a tropical place, characteristically, all their 'targets' wore obscuring sunglasses, and moved together, protectively. Judging by the way they addressed each other there was a certain formality there, friends, but formal friends. To Jonny's consternation, and much to the discomfiture of the Bureau, twitching around them like invisible sheepdogs, they then spent the next hour talking and drinking.
In this hour one of the cars stolen by the bureau and left outside collected a parking ticket, and was taken away to be abandoned in the car pound.
For her it was strangely like watching an opera of some sort on a distant proscenium. Much gesticulation, but precious little characterization, nobody to identify or remark on.
She, Hanneke, and Jonny maintained a safe distance. It was their task, according to the briefing officer, to get the 'material' (whatever that was): they must bear no risk of identification.
At length Jonny gestured her to follow him and they left by a distant door, entered car park 1A, slid into the BMW, and exited onto the bridleway only a gaggle of cars behind their Target.
"Perfect". Jonny squeezed her knee and smoothed the back of his hand along her thigh.
The Target moved slowly, meandering from edge to edge of the traffic lane. She could see arms and hands raised in gestures of exchange.
Jonny tucked the BMW behind a truck on the blind-side as the unsuspecting convoy approached the Chiswick intersection.
They turned slightly into Chiswick Way, and took the side route into Hammersmith. Haphazard - or careful?
The elderly car in front of them creaked up an incline and stalled slightly.
"We shouldn't do other firms' dirty work", was all that Jonny said. She realized that they had been silent for some time now. He brought the microphone to his lips: speaking agitatedly to the others.
"Radio Silence!", someone snapped over the air, and Jonny lowered the mike back to the level of the seat where it could remain invisible seat.
"Fuck, Fuck all you 'gurrs!" It was the first time she'd heard that expression in this country, and it was all out of place.
The radio crackled:
"For Christ's sake Chris get ahead of the Fuckers!"
One of their group swung past the Target and levelled ahead in the centre lane of the road.
Jonny cursed and swung the car around petulantly.
The queue of traffic had become suddenly convoluted and the target car became jammed between two high sided vans. In the resulting melee it slipped behind them, and Hanneke saw a sudden blur of tanned skin and dark hair, conversations and laughter, as they slid past, two crowded lanes away.
"Where are the lazy bastards, man?" Jonny had broken his silence to continue his curses.
He swung the BMW left and took the slip road, re-entering the highway some way along. Now Jonny breathed more evenly. The radio clicked on once again.
For some reason which she couldn't rationalize, she was suddenly sweating, her stomach all screwed up. There was a sharp, insistent, pain in her side.
Jonny dropped a hand onto her knee and gave it an exploratory tweak:
"After this we can go away for a dirty weekend together, just you and me"
For a moment she expected that unguided hand to slide into her crotch, but then, mercifully, he removed it to change gear.
Now their target was approaching the Shepherds Bush Roundabout, queuing round the straggling green: then the Westway, finally speeding towards Baker Street
"What the Fuck are the buggers doing, man?", said Jonny, as if their targets lack of participation in his plan was spoiling the whole game.
Her feet were cold, she had no feeling between her legs where he stroked her. Obscene.
Now they trailed them in the coagulating stream down past Baker Street, Tussauds, where identity was a mysterious passport to the future. Great stone and concrete buildings. Past the entrances to the Regents Park. Now down towards the Tottenham Court - Hampstead Road intersection. Slowly. Slower yet. She had that tremulous bizarre, haunted feeling again, and suddenly had to struggle for breath. Fate was catching-up on her. She had cold feet.
The Euston Tower cast it's shadow and the roadway dipped into the underpass. There was a fifty-fifty chance of the target splitting onto the road at ground level. That was what the duty officer had briefed her about.
She was sweating all over, her clothes sticking to her, her breasts hard and clammy, numb.
Her frozen toes joined in lack of feeling with whatever else she hadn't noticed until that awful moment and she became paralysed: all kinds of random nightmares assailed her: it was the task she was assigned to, the nightmare.
When summarising at the briefing the colonel had said: 'You're trained for this, and there's no killing, just remember your orders and do what you've been told to'.
She closed her eyes; and for a second in the darkness could see Claudia's face, Pablo's hands. For a mad moment, out of sequence she could see the metallic elegance of a scythe, perhaps a wing in the long arc and action of turning, and then the setting sun as it came up under or over it: in the underpass or over a hill....
And then she saw Jonny holding the gun: he said:
"Put the silencer on, will you", and automatically she took the long black pipe and matched the lock so that it clicked home in one, just as she had been trained to.
'A straight threaded or locked
silencer is essential for the
efficient operation of any
armament in any stressed
She thought to say: 'Remember, no Killing!' (after all it seemed more logical, or humane or reasonable or...) but she knew Jonny would do whatever he intended to do with or without her. And he would make her suffer later, he would abuse her if she gave trouble.
She handed the Colt back, having automatically checked that the ammunition was all correct (hand made soft nosed, using sub-sonic Nobel propellant). It was the normal solution where one shot would have to do. Speed was of the essence in such a tricky operation.
(And what was she doing, accepting the switch to murder?) What was she thinking?
"No Killing - remember?"
She dropped a round into the foot well and scrabbled around after it, banging her head in the attempt.
In an aeon of pain Hanneke had stopped sweating altogether. Suddenly her skin was like silk, her heart and body hard and icy cold, deliberate. From knees to breasts she was suddenly totally awake.
Her hands were completely relaxed, straight and calm; an artist's hands ready to paint the Mona Lisa, chisel marble, finish a Renaissance landscape.
For a moment she rested her hands on her knees, and hoped that she was dead. She was about to become complicit in murder, she knew it.
All this in a moment.
In the next second Jonny accelerated. The car ducked into the underpass at speed. Jonny cussed as the wheels of the lead car, now ahead of them skidded and left the traction of the road, now sideways, belching black Tarmac fibrils and smoke as the target car walloped into it.
"Coachwork'll never be the same!" Jonny had hardly time to finish as the traffic mysteriously cleared, and the road was empty behind them for a moment in the passenger mirror.
A wham!. A shower of glass impacting, turned to gravel on the roadway: the sound of a paper bag bursting, a carton collapsing, a tin can being flattened by a steel-shod heel. A simple clanging sound, the snapping of a piece of wood.
As simple as that. Apart from the screeching of tyres and dislocated wheels.
They'd stopped, she had to move. There was a buzzing in her throat. There were people all over the road. A road marked by something burning.
Vehicles with their doors flapping open like the rubbery, sexless, thighs of a whore. Men unaccountably swearing, orgasms of the wind down the dark underpass as pieces of overhead lamp parted company and fell into the road. Darkness had descended into the lost place.
She choked and somehow that cleared her head. In her mind the smell of this place like stale urine contrasted black and white. For some reason she recalled the smell of those cigarettes she had smoked in the Select Bar in Montparnasse.
Like the light grey smoke wafting across an empty courtyard, an empty white stone room, the scent of Boyards momentarily filled her nostrils, her mouth.
But now the roadway was full of swearing, cursing, murderous bodies and broken shards of rubber.
The door of their target was burst open, there were men on the road, one of the covered in red paint - no, it was... blood 'Oh, Jesus Christ - How?'
The front of their target was somehow suddenly smashed and battered beyond repair, the lead car skewed, leaning it's bulk, ridiculously propped upon an open door, the engine apparently burning as the air filled with a mixture of steam and black odourless smoke.
Shreds of broken tyre were strewn for a hundred metres up the slanted carriageway, one of them burning: it's traces blurred into the road like some crazy work of contemporary sculpture. The nose of another car was buried in the concrete of the underpass.
Jonny yelled something indistinct.
"Get the buggers out of here!"
To no avail, the wholesale panic of death having set in, the men seemed set to scream as they rushed around everywhere, brandishing weapons.
Jonny shouted at her:
"For Christ's sake get the data", his voice almost lost in the din.
Now she noticed that some of the guerilla's had been 'dressed up', she hadn't realised that they'd leave their old clothes lying on the ground. What did that mean for God's sake? Blood was pounding, hot and cold in her temples.
Someone was running up the long clear slope away from the mess here, meandering, no, zig-zagging.
There was a long grey wig on the ground, and a hat, wax fruit, cut out of sequence, crumpled all over the Tarmac and now mixed with drops of darkly glistering bright blood.
In the opposite lane cars had slowed almost to a halt. One of the drivers levelled a camera and a Bureau man she recognized gestured him on officiously, as if it had been simply all some terrible accident. Cool thinking.
Her mind clicked back on suddenly.
Jonny was screaming at her:
"Get that fuckin' data!" He was gesturing towards the wrecked car.
She suddenly cleared consciousness, like a swimmer whose head breaks the water after a long deep, embracing dive. She shook her head to free the fragments of memory, dived for the car, where one of the men was unconscious, covered in sticky red, another man at the front running away spattered with blood having leapt out, running for his life, the driver unconscious, slumped against the wheel.
"No Killing" the Colonel had said, but he had known.
Suddenly she was icy calm.... masterful, she snapped into Spanish:
"Hijo, dar me Los..." Then faltered, grabbing at the words, forgetting unaccountably what she should say, forgetting everything, her mind going blank, panicking, breaking out in suddenly red-hot sweat; feeling sexual for some reason: switching into English, in slow motion:
"...the computer disks.. give me.." she stared at the man confronting her. And he stared, but askew, his face covered in blood from a gash running from above his eyebrow. Out of context, some detail.. was it his shirt? which tore at her memory... suddenly reminded her of something, what was that? registering in her mind as if critical in some way, as if something from inherited memory told her that this was a huge moment..
For, it was impossible.
It was Pablo who stared back at her, no, perhaps only Pablo's face, drawn, in shock, pale, staring at her wildly, unbelieving. No! It couldn't be Pablo! How?
Uncannily she could see the scene with terrifying clarity: was it a painting, some sort of hyper-realist painting? The colours so cool and restrained.
She focused again, now blurring and rapidly discolouring the image, and saw that her hand reached out and shook him as violently as she could, but to save his life, make sure he was still alive, perhaps more importantly in the memory of their dreadful closeness, with him between her legs and... now to make sure he was still alive. Stop framed, it came back at her, piece by piece. Maybe she could save his life, make sure he truly loved her, find what was left of herself.
But her hands had contracted some deadly virus, some fast developing ague, and she shook as if frozen, trembling terribly all over, hot and cold in her crotch and knotted in her belly.
Now with a shock she realized that she was sticky, covered all over with blood, as well, her shirt soaked in it like a sponge, red, in blood. In blood, pumping from somewhere, welling all over her.
The man in the front seat was dying, spraying fine grey tissue over the back seat, and then traversing forward, the neat hole in the windscreen and the exit hole in the back of his head. Another wound had pierced the mans heart and blood was pumping all over her chest.
"No shooting, or killing!"
With a rising moment of revulsion she wanted to tear off these clothes and shout:
"No, I don't want this thing, I don't want to die, not kill not..."
But it was too late to turn back now, to late to think, too late to react; altogether too late.
The man was dead.
She had been shouting at a dead man.
Jonny had screamed something at her in the seconds before she began to hear, scrabbled in the back of the car, saw a leather attaché case, ripped it open. Disks in their cases.
"My God! That's them!" Jonny shouted.
She looked around.
Now everything disintegrated: turned back into dust, in a few seconds in that dirty grey underpass underneath all the distortion and foulness of a city, beneath the vicissitudes of a powerful, crazy, race, the disgust of one social system for another, she had come face to face with something unrealized, not imagined, unknowable.
Blind, mad images ran through her mind.
She was naked, save for her hands. Anyone who moved could see her awareness and her arousedness because of the meaning of what she had done...
Jonny was shrieking amid the background pandemonium, car horns, metal screeching and the flat sound of thumps and blows: both comical and much more perhaps horrific:
"Let me get a bead on him"
She swivelled round and found Jonny pointing the Colt at her, the silencer's black thick muzzle wavering between her eyes.
Her eyes filled with water, or liquid, though not exactly regret. Now she began to want to weep, her hands streaked with blood and the gore of the dead man.
"Can't you see that I..."
Jonny was pointing the Colt crookedly and saying:
"For Christ's sake duck!"
She saw the blue smoke start from the barrel, but, utterly paralysed, could not move.
The heavy muzzle disappeared and a heavy round whanged away from the concrete behind her.
In the distance a banshee began to wail.
A man in the opposite carriageway leaned out of his car and shouted something at them:
"What the hell are you doing there!"
Jonny looked at her, his eyes wide with amazement or anger.
She was turned to lead, myopic and afraid.
"I said move your fuckin' arse,you whore!"
Frozen, Jonny with arms theatrically evil and outstretched.
A moment passed, a moment so long that she could hear her belly heave.
The muzzle bounced and she heard the flat blam of the air compress before any smoke escaped the silencer barrel.
The bullet! With this bizarre augmentation in her mind she saw the shadow of the bullet as the baffles in the silencer slowed it's muzzle velocity to four hundred feet a second, and made as if to duck-
'The parameters of the velocity
of a medium calibre handgun
cartridge are such that the
slight distortion involved
between muzzle and target over
a relatively short distance
can vary by up to ten percent;
due to the tumbling effect;
having traversed the baffles of
a powerful heavy duty silencer
the trajectory of a bullet can
be distorted by, for example,
a strong gust of wind.'
It was as if the God's had initiated the moment, for with the banshee's wail almost upon them it had begun to rain and the shot flickered in the air in it's chosen window or tunnel of air, passed through her hair, bounced off the side of her skull and destroyed itself against the concrete baffles of the tunnel wall, showering the roadway with suddenly bright little shavings of otherwise grey lead whilst incidentally missing it's target.
And as she fell back into darkness she felt herself whisper something almost secret, precious:
"But not you, not you".
The banshee wail was close, and there was the sound of screeching and the racket of distorted metal tearing it's way along the gash of concrete up the tunnel towards Euston.
Now she felt only darkness, blindness and cold.
..The scope of convention..
Hanneke woke to a blindingly white room.
For a few moments she considered that she might be dead or perhaps in her wildest imaginings, gone to heaven.
No this was a hospital, the smell of medicaments and their cleanness invaded her nostrils.
She made as if to look round, and the pain in her head rose to a blinding intensity, she could see nothing in her eyeline, only white, and the edge of an empty curtain rail.
Now she pushed herself upright despite the pain, and mysteriously it lessened. A white chest and a matching television set. Switches beside her in the wall, apparently for radio, a window with a bunch of withered flowers in a discoloured vase; a blind with something cheerful on it. In one corner of the room was a small closet, probably for her things.
She had a huge blank in her memory. She lay there in limbo and dissembled with herself, waiting for something to happen.
She lay there in bliss for a few hours; a breathing space, moments crystal as drops of pure water.
Now she woke fully, and prepared herself for whatever would inevitably happen.
When and what it was was completely unexpected.
In walked the Colonel, wearing civilian clothes.
She almost did not recognise him. He looked around covering his suspicion, while the nurse or whoever left the room, and then began:
"Hullo, Miss Brown", as if he were some prospective employer. Maybe he was.
He cleared his throat, gave her one hard look and sat down beside her awkwardly, clutching something in a bag, which he made as if to proffer.
He was not displeased, he distributed the flowers onto a large vase, and thumbed out the battered fruit with a cuffed hand.
"You almost did well!". He looked at her as if inspecting the information received. "We almost lost you ! , so I thought I'd better bring you these and make you feel part of the team again." He choose his words well.
She sighed and attempted to smile, but something blocked her. Her head felt as heavy as lead on the pillow.
The Colonel continued:
"You were lucky- they thought that you were an unwitting tourist or something.... anyway the embassy rubbed-out the trace... it so happens that the car you were apparently driving was an Avis, hired of course".
That had not occurred to her; the plan enveloped everything that could be foreseen.
Hanneke managed to smile.
"And" continued the Colonel," they believed every word of their own story!".
The colonel gave a short laugh, only it was not at all a funny laugh. Just as his gifts were not gifts.
"Anyway", said the Colonel fixing her with those unspeakably cool and cruel eyes: "You're clear as day, as clean as a virgin!"
"But tell me what happened", said Hanneke.
"It was very simple", said the Colonel: "You got hit by the bullet that Jonny Van Cuylenberg fired, the idiot. Nobody important got hurt, and all of our people got away... The target driver was shot but we've made it look like a high-security robbery, and the targets can't develop a high profile, so they're going along with it.."
"I lost all count"
"Not surprising on a first mission...", said the Colonel "..... mistakes do happen, especially at that speed: the whole thing took thirty-two seconds, seven more than we calculated: we had it recorded by a friend of ours from the top of Euston Tower: but we avoided any sort of tail. That was very good!"
"Oh" said Hanneke, more tired and pained than anything else. "What shall I do now....?"
"Nothing... I'll see to it that you'll get twenty-eight days leave on full pay, and a couple of weeks sick leave too: take a holiday, go away; use your plastic money on the Bureau accounts, but keep a low profile. Okay? Oh, we got the disks, thanks to you, so who gives a ...... damn"
But what was not evident on the skin outside was that something had happened to Hanneke during that operation, something that had deeply changed her.
In the apex of the eye of that hurricane, the centre of all violence in the seconds after that murder, after a face was covered in blood, the hearts blood of the wrong man: she'd seen the right man, that Pablo or his doppelganger, whoever that might have been. He was the man she loved, needed to love, who belonged inside her.
Despite everything Hanneke had read and heard beforehand, England had never struck her as a particularly green country: much rather the rolling green of Kenya, the rich red soil of Zaire. Now they were green, really so.
She left the flat at dawn, slipping through the door like the spy she should be, and walking across the sodden piece of brown tangle called a lawn before gaining the road.
Hanneke caught a taxi: there were no buses yet, and the sky looked like rain. She changed taxis at Piccadilly and, following old habits, directed the driver on a tour of the West End.
The fact was that she was supposed to hasten to Headquarters, but that she had other thoughts in her mind. Was it that old habits died hard?
She stopped the cab at an open Avis office and hired a car, to clear her head.
That would shake any tail she had grown.
She drove around, and the city was beginning to wake: drove through deserted streets and along the edges of deserted parks and onto motorways.
There was no green on a morning like this: despite everything she had espied only a couple of hundred metres of green, apart, that was, from the verdant channels of the parks.
"England is grey and concrete and strip-planned, criss-crossed by self-interest, greed and the vanity of possessions, now split so much that she is worn and cluttered and arranged in rows of barracks and slums: gentile now, but for tomorrow, deteriorating, decaying."
Then she was on the M4, a concrete canopy of joins and shutters; a corridor of jostling speeding vehicles; the scarred concrete and detritus of a busy cluttered autoroute. Not unlike CEDEX.
Signs coming up for the airport. She found herself driving beside tall hotels, being impelled towards Heathrow.
Regretting at this late moment that she should ever leave.
At the lights she found herself checking which passports she had with her. It was impulse, a combination of reason, lust, longing and fear, tinged with regret.
Why? Because maybe it was the last chance to do something positive, the last chance to make something of something there was too little of in her life. And the watch in her hips.....ticking. The centre of her life was there.
She turned over in her mind all the things she had learned: surely this couldn't be the end of it all....
She hunched herself against the dash with regret and then locked the door, took her valise and walked towards the ramp to the terminal.
The imaging cameras mounted at the mouth of the tunnel routinely took note of her face as they would of many other faces that day, and the information was passed to the central computer.
The stairs clattered like the closing cell doors in a gaol block; it seemed that doors were clanging shut behind her and her life was being cut away from her, as if she were leaving everything that had been so painstakingly created and discovered in a moment, to be forever abandoned and finally forgotten.
Left behind. that was the accumulative word inside her, the expression which had haunted her in recent time.
She had left her life behind through all these changes.
And all these false promises, these half meant, half spoken, so easily forgotten promises...
She was jolted out of her stupor by the voice of the announcer, crossed to the desk, fumbled in her bag and found the diplomatic pass card: signed an open tab.
All in the same broken stupor, trance, dream, she traversed the concourse, penetrated customs, found herself in the passenger lounge...
There was no way now that she could turn round, look out of the window, change her mind, crawl back into bed with her lost lover...
At the edges of her eyes tears seemed to glisten for a moment and then she blinked them away.
At that moment a woman brushed in front of her walking rather rapidly, her face very red, her mouth pursed, her eyes streaming. Silent. One hand seeking in her bag for she knew not what: and then the woman turned a corner and disappeared.
It was as if she had seen a dream about herself; expressing what she wished but dared not express; going she knew not where for reasons which were unknown.
Could life be so desperate?
The plaster on her head throbbed, and she had to ease the sharpness of it, sit down for a moment.
But then a great deep sadness shook her, and she ran to the toilets where, alone in front of the mirror she cried aloud at herself. A woman looked at her and said:
"Can I help you?", cradling her in her arm, protecting:
"Thank you very much, but no"
She washed her face in cold water, washed away the smear and re-made her composure with the brush and the powder-puff.
Now she turned to face what the day would bring.
She fumbled in her bag for a cigarette and realised.... she fumbled in her pockets and found her Agency I.D.
She had seen it happening, but had been only half aware through her tears.
She rushed out into the restaurant area, the duty free shop, but the woman had vanished.
Of course. Too late, you fool.
What an obvious trick!
Her pocket or her bag had been picked. Someone had wanted her wallet, her agenda, and now they had it.
Her first reflex was to scream blue murder, rush to the control desk, tell them about the wallet, stop the thief.
The first flush of violation, of theft was past: now she realized that what they were after could have hardly been money. Her money was intact in her pocket, and her cards were in her bag: no, what they were after were her papers. And papers of that sort do not exist.
There was nothing she could tell the police about, nothing that she could permit them to ask her.
It was either a total accident: or worse: someone knew who she was -a background reality which made the shock worse: cold sweat on her brow.
She felt the muscles of her face tighten, tightened every muscle, closed every pore, stomach tightened.
There was fear there as well as violation, rape.
She sat still for a moment, in shock.
This could be the breaking of her cover... they would return her or bust her every which way... the end of her career.. and there was no leaving the Bureau, that's what everyone told you: 'When you sign those papers you sign your goddam soul away, let me tell you, your arse belongs to Mr Botha and the brothers, let me tell you Miss!'
Trying not to be paranoid, she moved as quickly as she could to the nearest 'phone booth, dialled the 24 hour open number and gave the password: the connexion clicked.
"Yes!". The Colonel was half asleep on the line.
"My Papers were stolen"
"Get on with it, girl.."
She reported what had happened to him, in detail, re-fabricating the fact that it had been stolen but relocating it to a discotheque: that made it clean.
"You stupid cow!", said the voice "What were you doing carrying the wallet with you there". She made plausible noises.
"You'll hear from internal security about this!"
Being unaware of yourself is a major crimes of the security business.
The Colonel rapped out:
"Shit! - then; get back to Central, get back and make sure your flat is clean, and don't contact us until we contact you... understand?"
He slammed the phone down. Hanneke looked mutely, stupidly, at the receiver. Silence on the line.
Now she was alone.
Blind mans buff...
Hanneke stepped down from the metro at Vaugirard and the train left with a glutinous whistle of wind and a swoosh of rubber-shod wheels
She mounted the winding stairs, wearily, past the itinerant lottery ticket sellers and the blind maimed war veterans and traversed her way past the papeterie, the tabac and the boulangerie stopping to buy a baguette, and then some wine and cheese, beginning the short walk to the right towards Place Genéral Béurét, without a seconds thought.
She faltered a moment, with a sudden impulse in the back of her mind, and nervously re-crossed the road, walking suddenly in the general direction of Avenue Maine. She passed a small garden where children played on swings, and as a precaution leaned on the railings as if she were tired. Checking.
There was nobody watching her, the landscape of faces had not changed.
The badly-timed shopping began to weigh heavy in her hand. She pushed the cheese further into her bag and broke the loaf in two, thrusting that also into the bag, then gripped the wine bottle firmly once more by its neck.
Then she strolled further down Vaugirard, broadening as it went. Now in the direction of Avenue Foch, toying with the idea of perhaps catching a taxi to Bar Lipp, maybe The Select.... some sequence in her mind handed down by her secret, recent, history. Could she call such recent history old times?.
The need for caution broke again into her well drilled thoughts; the routine of course. First she entered the battered papeterie 'La Mensuelle' and browsed among the shelves. No change in the background of people, faces. She sought an exit. There it was. Through the vacant back door and into a narrow alley, peeling walls, weeping stones, scraping the shoulders of her coat. Now, along a long battered side street, across an unexpected crossroad. Suddenly, through the eye of the needle - back like a lost soul to Place Genéral Béurét. Clear now. Her pace slackened as she sought the doorway, unexpectedly shiny, respectable, in a way unlikely for Bohemian Paris, as she came abreast of the courtyard opening. She ducked through the arch of the conciergerie checking so that she was unseen, hearing the afternoon news on the television, and then quickly, fluidly up the stairs. Her training told her that she should be thorough, should have checked yet again if somebody had been following her, but by now her rationale was that they would know where she was going if they were that determined anyway, it would be too late to change, and she would have to get there before the change happening in her, a more urgent painful change happened. Like a pupa becoming a moth, she had to break out of the old skin before becoming new, however painful that might be. Which was the risk, a risk that must be taken.
Up the stairs to the second floor, quiet, set back, slightly mysterious. For a moment she checked herself, feeling the anxiety rise like an unpleasant spurt of impatient foam outside the bright red of new paint, high gloss and rich yellow metal to save a shabby facade; pushed the door open, stepped into the damp interior, smelled the musk of stale bedding, saw the tousled sheets and the fastened windows, the curtains awry, the hi-fi disarranged, and speaker cables snaking to lost ragged ends.
Her eye detected the fact that the apartment had been disarranged, even amid it's customary disarray,touched by some strange hand: it was impossible to say how; the drawers in the cabinet a little too straight in the general disarray perhaps, as if quickly matched by the back of a hand brushed against them as they had been carefully realigned.
She opened the bottom drawer and pushed her hand inside and around the back. Something knocked against her knuckles, and when she pulled it out she discovered with a frisson of lost shock that she had expected some kind of awful booby-trap; then with growing humour that it was her forgotten tube of contraceptive cream.
On impulse she flung the windows wide, opened the curtains, turned the hi-fi on, re-invigorated herself. The coca-cola of disco music.
She cleaned the bed and found the stored linen, changed the sheets, brushed underneath the furniture, and using the sheets as dusters, cleaned-off everything she could.
After a while, content that now everything was clean and reasonably tidy, she sat down to relax a moment: then she noticed a scrap of paper, or at any rate a white edge of something, that intruded into the room at an angle from under the door. At first she thought that it must be a previously unnoticed piece of rubbish, then realised that it must have stuck under the lip of the carpet while being slipped under the door at some recent time.
She picked it up, folding and creasing it with the back of her palm to check if anything were inside (automatically) then turning it over. Looking through it against the light, oh so strong and clean and clear, she saw her name.
She did not recognise the writing.
Perhaps it was a note from Mieke....or the concierge? (How?)
She turned the letter over in her hands, automatically again double checking for thickness, density, weight; seeing if it bent this way or that.
Then with a certain anxiety and dread she took a knife from the kitchen drawer, slit the envelope open, and slipped the sheets out: with a sudden thrill of dread, of time combination and place that was utterly wrong, she saw that it was from Pablo. And that it was for her. How weird, had he expected her?
Impossible as it may seem to
you, and if it was
I'm sorry to say this: but it
seemed to me that the last
time I saw you you were
in a place that
I did not dream of at a time
that I could not imagine in a
situation more incredible than
I could have ever conceived.
It was like as if a grain of
sand had detached itself from
a planet in a Solar System
somewhere outside ours: (you
know that there are many Solar
Systems, ours probably one of
the smallest ones, one of
thousands). Now, this grain of
sand had flown through space,
being polarised by that planet
and this gravitation, this
of speed had fallen, not finally
onto a planet millions of miles
from itself but back beside the
grain of sand and on the beach
from where it had started.
It was thus that when I saw a
face (I dream it was not yours)
in a situation that I dare not
mention now, that I knew
some crazy circle of fate had
sewn us together, some continuum
of existence and some endless
cycle of the regeneration of
reality had brought us back to
where we might never have
What a nightmare!
Had I ever known
that such a situation might
me, in all my confusion and
my desire, I would have stayed
away,travelled to some far
so that I could begin to forget
you had ever known me and that
I had ever touched you. And my
arrogance now, to write you a
note which both finds love and
intense hatred in it for your
Or your ghost, who I have seen
try to kill me, yes kill me:
you must know: it was as if....
.....we had been together,
perhaps in two places at the
same moment, but in different
times, so that when we
touched, and when we met, our
touching and our meeting crossed
....and suddenly my fingers were
clammy with the feeling that
they were touching somebody no
... and all this mystery, this
continuity which is too great
for me to understand or to
At this point he had scribbled something she could not read. Then:
.....all the continuity that I
had known in me, in you, all the
experiences that I have had and
that I have not explained to
you, or not had the time, not
the desire (apart from my desire
for you) to express ....all too
terrible to burden your mind:
these things together compelled
me to believe despite myself,
that I must be lying or seeing
things or living in a hidden
dream behind some sort of
coincidental curtain of time.
You know, as I know, that
sometimes we know things have
happened to us before;
we have experienced things more
deeply, more intensely before:
and this makes us very aware and
very open,full of humility about
things and people, situations,
life, coincidences and our
selves. Most of all about the
things we desire.......
But the main requisite and
purpose of being alive is the
fact that you are actually
You see, I have all kinds of
thoughts about you, all kinds
of confusion and fears: worries,
transcriptions of my doubt,
translations of my fear of you
and of losing you, my life and
your life and my desire....and
you. Maybe I shall call you
again or maybe I shall never see
you again. You know I cannot
tell you where I am.
That is all, I must go far away.
No! She put the letter down in shock, empty, shocked, isolated, sad and as if she were an animal in a cage, for all to see. Now they would rape her with their eyes, throw her aside. She was like the whores she so dreaded in the Bureau. That mental note that they, she and Mieke, had always discussed was now almost true.
Her secrets were those inside her head. Her face and her body were common property; public property; the very deception, duality, of what she did made her a public whore.
She knelt on the carpet, cradling her head between her hands, wanting to retch, but finding only sobs deep in her throat, a block rising in her throat like fire, gas; preventing her breathing. Her sobbing was dry, there were no tears-she felt all dry, used up, spent, on the edge of destruction, fell awkwardly on to the edge of the bed and closed her eyes, waking later on the floor swathed in the swaddling of the sheets.
Then, needing the cocoon of his arms so desperately, she stripped, washed, crawled back into bed, and simply fell into a deep clouded dreamless, mysterious and forgetful sleep.
A confusion of cranes..
The next she knew of it, and that was how she felt about it, was that everything went pale, ever so pale, and then all motion, stopped.
She had heard a joke once, about a Coat of Arms being a Blizzard upon a field of snowdrifts: and now her dream was rather comic and serious at the same time. All clouded in white, the dream of an arctic place, a frozen suspension .
Above her the dome of the sky. Crowded with structures: cranes. What?
The inverse of the shape of an egg, the inside of the shell seen against the bright light of an uncounted, super-pale sky, the light piercing and flooding and soft, seen through the soft haze filters of a Panavision; the lack of sharpness, haze, like a lens out of thread.
One thing unlikely about this dream was that the dome had a height, a real height: quite unlike the sky which one feels towers, maybe, forever. This dome had a finite height, always canted in its hollow negative, indistinct and yet there, just out of fingers reach.
Had she a ladder long enough, in her dream she believed that she could have reached that dome, that effervescent brightness, that cool gentle wind.
After the wind there was little sound from its passage , just a sighing, just the movement of a curtain against the brightness: and she remembered that curtain, actually a blind.... now she was with him in the south, and the other blind the same colour, underneath the blind, skin and hair and a perfume, the scent of Claudia.
Claudia knew what a whore she was.... did he care?
Yes. She remembered him, the side of him, his shape stretched gently sleeping, the very softest sigh, the subtlest moan..... and the very slightest hint of breathing against the light at dawn.
Not against dawn light, but in the deeper colours of the afternoon; Claudia in that pale, pale shift she wore;in her memory it was something against all her nature; she could remember a fragment which came up like some sort of sensuous song:
Passer, deliciae meae puellae,
quicum ludere, quem in sinu
cui primum digitum dare
et acris solet incitare morsus,
cum desiderio meo nitenti
carum nescio quid lubet iocari,
et solaciolum sui doloris,
credo, ut tum grauis acquiescat
tecum ludere sicut ipsa possem
et tristis animi leuare
tam gratum east mihi quam ferunt
pernici aureolum fuisse malum,
quod zonam soluit diu ligatam.
White clouds, and now white water, the rhythm of the water pounding, and flow like a long drawn agony, wafting music, a sharp and yet subtle anguish.
Great white waves rolling in. No sound.
A simple song on the breeze amid the shifting of the sea; the sea fog and the low whistling of the wind, something only remembered:
For you will miss me
every lonely night
when no-one comes
to take you in his arms
no-one to love, no-one
whose lips you'll bite
no-one to kiss, no-one
to taste your charms...
A rising musical note on the wind amid the beating of the waves and the soughing of the wind in imagined freezing clouds. Under the dome of the merciless white sky the wind moving easily against the flex of the waves.
Lying here on a bleached white beach feeling the grain of the sand turning this way and that, the blinding sensation as she turned face out and then dark she touched the sand and turned against its bias.
It welled up from a deep recess somewhere, a secret explaining itself, the indomitable reality; everything will clear.
Now, amid the turmoil and tangle of the pulsing elements as the wind whooshed and the waves paced themselves on the sand, drawing themselves onto the shingle and making minute patterns: now, pretty wavelets danced at her feet.....
Then at this moment she felt the warm sun, pale in its intensity, the enlivening and invigorating ecstacy of brightness creep out over her and the brilliance of its rays venturing through her eyelids and beginning to.....
In her dream despite the bias of the sand against her skin, invading such lines as where the clothes hugged tight against the fibre of her shape, despite the irritation of those granules was a shadow, enormous, long, looming up above her and the white smooth sand, as if drowning her in the pure grey grain of light despite the flooding clarity of that eggshell sky.
And with the winds soughing and whistling, and the cross currents whipping along the tops of the sea; taking spume from the tops like feathers: quite suddenly she awoke.
With the sudden shock of first waking Hanneke knew that something was wrong.
It might have been a sound out of sequence, a change in the burgeoning light, or the sudden pressure of a hand: perhaps the change in temperature as two bodies failed to contact.
There was somebody there.
She awoke rimed in sweat from this strange reverie. Now the past was her cocoon.
She rolled out of the bed as softly and quickly as she could and lay on the floor, hoping that she had not been detected; tried to lose herself under the bed: cursing that she had left the chrome AK automatic behind in her desk at the agency, felt, rather than heard, something moving: a very soft sound, a withdrawn breath or a sigh. That was all.
She got up on hands and knees and snaked around the shape of the bed in the semi-darkness cast by the dense inner curtains against the daylight.
The room was marked with the tiger-stripes of this time of the morning: great jagged yellow strands sneaked across the furniture of the cluttered room breaking up outlines: long shadows were formed in almost every shape and crevice. To her newly awoken eyes blurred still and irritatingly out of focus, it meant absolutely nothing, the geometry only being incomplete.
She moved across the floor on all fours, hot with urgent fear.
As she reached the level of a chest of drawers she saw a sudden flash of something move, with the edge of her vision; reached a hand, felt for the geometric of steel. It was a cooking knife that lay there, forgotten. She thanked God, somebody.
She took the knife in her left hand, placing her right hand on her breast and finding her chest heaving: she pressed until her arm hurt as if to still her heart. She slowed her breathing.
The knife in her left hand: the terror of its final use; seared by the blood on her hands, heart-blood.
Silence for a long time. A sequence of moments, nothing here that she could see. On her hair, on her skin; invading her body, clotting her hair. What? only the insane fear that a dying mans blood could invade her.
She half rose, and crouched, slid between the wardrobe and the door into the tiny kitchen.
The exaggerated feeling that this was all some surreal comedy: the need to explode into laughter.
Now, from the kitchen into the shower.
Quixotically, she turned into the shower in just the way she was taught not to do, and then, finding nobody there sat on the bidet, panting; still scared.
She sat there for full minutes while her fear subsided and the pounding in her body died down.
Crashing pain suddenly from her forgotten, bandaged head, like a sharp knife. She felt her head split by the pain. Using a finger she investigated, finding that now a trickle of sticky goo was on her face from the wound, still squitting colourless liquid.
And then she rose, and with a foolhardiness that was unlikely in her, she walked directly into the room.
There was nothing in the flat; the room was deserted. She was mad, it was all her stupid paranoia.
The curtains moved back and forth with some little lost wind.
She lay on the bed and put the brown and silver steel of the knife on the pillow by her face, cold steel against the softness of skin and clean cotton. Death and life, night and day.
Tears came to her eyes and rolled down her face into the sheets.
She began to lose consciousness again, drift back into a dream, and as she did- the reflections of her dream still bright in the minds eye, and the tracks of the brine still bright on her face, something clicked in the kitchen.
But her spirit had ebbed. First, she was asleep. Then suddenly, violently, awake.
She found herself cocooned. This time, wrapped in the cocoon of the sheets, her arms pinned to her sides; only her legs free, and suddenly totally powerless, trapped by a weight so massive that it squeezed the living breath right out of her.
She turned her head, not yet screaming, still in the trance of a dream as the gun hit her across the nose, splitting the skin.
Then she gave a sort of screech before her mouth was covered by the enclosure of a hand. Her mind picked up details despite the pain; the distance of sleep had shrunk her: the Beretta, edged with rust and grime, was now pointed crookedly at her eye.
She fell back in mute drowning submission against the bed knowing that she was about to die, arched as if in orgasm, trying to scream but choking: because her throat was dried up with the sudden peak of pain - and no sound would come.
Nothing at all, just the sound of the wind in that lost cupola whistling across an expanse so wide that both arms could not encompass it in a dream, whistling so fast that the imagination could not catch its rhythm or its reach.
And in the middle of her yawn of anger, her eyes zoomed into focus and there, across her, pressing the gun into her chin as if to blow her mouth off, to maim her and make her a frightening thing - was that the impossible him; that impossible being. Him. Pablo.
She wanted to say 'Welcome to my arms, my Dear Lover...', but she knew that she was dying, there was no time, sand through her fingers, uncomfortable on her skin. Pain.
Pablo, with his dear eyes rimed with red, his cheeks streaked with either exhaustion or fear or simply weeping: all these things; Pablo, impossible, looking drawn, tired and anguished like a deer that had run too far.
There was blood in her mouth, blood in her eyes. Trapped as she was she could feel the gash over her nose opening and smearing her with her own gore: a smear of blood was running onto the sheets: her lips were swollen and felt battered and cut.
Pablo, with a fixed, unworldly stare drawing back on the slide so that it squeaked against its retaining spring, at her jaw, his hands shaking almost uncontrollably with fear or anguish or pain ... which was the more fearsome.
Now her eyes were wide open with disbelief, knowing that this was the moment that she had always secretly dreaded, the moment of public intimacy before death: he would draw back the slide, the shell would feed through and the nickel head feel its way into the chamber past the rugged carbon elbows leaving only a sliver of silver in its passing: dreading the ugliness of her broken face.
She could only whimper.
She meant to say 'Not you to kill me, no, not you who found me' but only a deep, stifled groan broke past her lips.
Suddenly in magic, Pablo took the tension from the slide, gave her her life back: released it with that sear of metal against metal, as she saw his face ease, heard the slide click, the restraining spring again screeching as the dread came that the hammer on that querulous weapon would somehow accidentally trip and fall.
She stared at his mouth, and then at his eyes, finally at the silvery dark muzzle of the Beretta. Out of the corner of her vision she saw her bag thrown against the wall, the contents spilled onto the floor. An irrelevant detail.
All this in an eternity, or a moment. The Beretta had reared its muzzle away from her face.
Suddenly her voice had returned with a rush:
"Oh My God!". She made as if to shriek, but the voice itself was broken. Like a tiny girls, a comically small falsetto. Blood stained the pillow. Her blood. There was an absurd long sigh, a sort of gulp of air, a crazy hour of moments.
They looked at each other, she through this veil of blood and the itching pain of her face; he in surprise, uncertainty and shock.
The silence was long and strained, each trying to find some sequence of purpose in all this; his hand upon the gun showed the knuckles pale and tensed as the tension on them flexed, relaxed, returned, and then subsided.
Would this be her death? Would this be her last moment - swathed in this all enveloping shroud, imprisoned and sacrificed for the bureau? Were these her last suffering days, would Pablo destroy her, blow her brain into grey specks against the wall, vaporise her spirit for a last moment....destroy her?
Then Pablo looked at her again and saw that her face was swathed down one side, bandaged under the hair, where the skin had been shaved for access to the wound.
Now his fingers checked and relaxed on the trigger, convulsing; the slide protested as he released it for the hundredth time.
Finally he clicked the catch, threw the gun away from him, said:
"I hate those things..." Gesturing in explanation.
He looked at her with a yawning question in his mind: he said;
How...? Just how..?" Making a useless and lost sinking of his head and his shoulders.
He gesticulated again, the gesture devoid of logic or power or sense, useless, his face now pale like a banshee. And she in her shroud of blood and white could only lie there .
It had been days and the plaster across her nose gave her a slightly comic appearance, she hated to look silly when she was with him. The air was dry, and hot, Very hot. Pablo looked at her, a snapshot in a second of memory: she saw his outline against the light, against the blue dawn, a small bead of something like sweat or dew on his nose; and then he said:
"Do you know that I love you?..... probably more than anyone.. alive.. you know, the Japanese say..'what is this thing between us.. thin as summer clothing..'"
A long moment while a lost sweet breeze passed between their skins.
'There's something about a mature love, quite unlike young love which is all-consuming and leaves nothing in its wake: mature love is for what someone is, not what they can give you.... you love someone for much more important reasons'.
"Oh yes, Darling!"
The wind ruffled the curtains which strayed, gossamer strands across the line of the light. it was once grey, and then blue, and now full of yellow.
She looked at him with a kind of surprise, turned to face him, and in her minds eye, in-between the dawn light and the dew on the skin of his nose she suddenly saw the cadavers in the mortuary at the Bureau: a memory flipped back at her, uncontrollable, though she resisted it with all her strength.
Hanneke suddenly saw him, cold, just a cadaver, with a tab fastened to his toe like a tagged heifer, in the huge filing cabinet in the heat of Capetown Summer air. Or on a metalled slab, the channels cut away to void body fluids.
Metal or marble against skin.
Whatever, it spelt death to her.
The texture of drained blood in the water against the antiseptic marble, ceramic: dead cold skin cleaned of its stains in life against the mortal hardness of stone.
She blinked her eyes in sudden bright pain. A cold wind sprung up in the room. Whistled around, waking small whirlpools of invisible air which disturbed the detritus in the corners against the stone. Between them after all the warmth of the night, crept a coldness. Silence.
There, lying. Just simply breathing each the others breath, nose to nose: stomach to thigh, they were both...
Once, in the desert, she had asked an old woman shrivelled by the desert sun:
"What is happiness?", and the old one had replied:
"Happiness is something between birth and death".
Of course it must be. What more could she say or expect.
There were a thousand years in those eyes.
Black, jet centres which were like twin dark mirrors, filters of reality. A thousand years of blindness and the search inside, much wiser than she, or the technology she brought. And far more wise.
"Don't talk to that Kaffir, here, eat your sandwiches"
She closed her eyes softly, as if a more violent action would disturb the air.
She could see the sky in those eyes; those darks mirroring the drifting white clouds, the lofting blue spaces. A whole world in those eyes.
There was another silence which Pablo broke:
"Shall we eat dinner..?"
A gaiety existed danced between them, and when they walked together, he holding her little finger, she imagining what it must be to walk behind him, to touch him. Already drunk with the wine of their closeness.
Arm in arm across sunlit roads, across parks and light spaces. touching the nape of his neck voyeuristically, he touching the curve of her shoulder: watching other men's eyes as they saw her.
Long moments. and warm winds. Warm winds for a thousand years with the memory of a moment unspoken and almost unfelt: a moment a thousand years old. The interval between the pairing of a beast, and death. The memory of a history yet to take place.
Yes, now he had begun to forget his secret. He would never mention it again, and she would understand that, as if he suddenly had seen the importance of the moment vanish into the distance of time.
She thought: 'A lifetime is only a moment of chemistry in space'
"Something about me that you don't know."
"A man with a dark past"
"You like it, I know, because I know what you're like"
They walked by a shore she barely recognized. This place was quite isolated, neither spoke; only the trees which see everything but do not mention it, and which moved slightly.
The Sea came up on the beach in slow motion, stop motion, barely seeming to move, like the trees.
A truck travelled past along the dunes, the driver trailing one hand in the warm air: the radio streaming behind him, loud flags, 'Songs of The Auvergne'.
Pablo: with the direct indifference that always fascinated her:
"I'll wait until you tell me to stop waiting: until there isn't any point"
Then he looked at Hanneke and squeezed her finger.
Now other people filtered past them. Idle laughter in the evening light, bottle glass clinking in the distance.
Waves lapped more clearly on the shore.
Two small boats clunked together as the tide receded.
"There isn't any point!". She said it as if they should both stop waiting...
And under the trees she pulled Pablo in against an old stone wall: felt the bare skin of her back against the torn weathered surface, the fine stuff of the dress catching against the claws of the masonry.
Very quickly and suddenly, in the shape of the wall he pushed up her skirt and they began to make love: she said:
"For Gods sake,..... not here!" neither resisting nor stopping his hands.
Rough brown weather-wrinkled skin against gentle fabric.
She wanted that deepest caress, there was nothing which should stop him; that was the logic of the thing.
"No,... quietly then..!" To be wanted by him was the thing, and now that was all.
A quiet reverie; beyond the sea wall among the gathered stooping grove of trees stunted by the summer fury and the heat, on the bed of pine needles, centuries thick. She remembered the pines in Finland (for what seemed no reason) the padding of horses feet, the stooping down of the riders. The groan of joy.
Perhaps death would visit here in this moment of shade, here in such private ecstacy.
They were alone, nobody was there, no moving shadows or light eyes.
They lay on the needles, rolled in the leaves. He looked across at her, as she watched him; the light, the negative of the morning, heavy with reds and oranges.
"There is something that everyone is a fool about... did you know that?"
"Did you ever stop to think that this world would be cleaner without our presence, that things would be better?"
"No, it would be useless, some things are unchanging, unchangeable."
Long distance lines often hum, and click, especially with extreme heat.
Outside in the haze the dust wafted in the passing airstream, the heat shimmered against the colourless walls.
The beaten stone of the road lay in an endless strip faded out of all recognition by the sun into an invisible vista of distance.
They had travelled in a confusing medley of ways, South, then East, then South again. At least now they were reasonably confident of their security; for here were no set boundaries or territories.
From where their room was set one could see perhaps forty miles in a straight line, to where the mountains changed their colours from grass greens to deep purples and blues, and the haze in the air seemed to clear, crookedly bringing the hills into a false perspective so that they seemed to be nearer than the end of a suburban road.
It was across such mountains that Pablo had trudged, remember that, for all mountains have the same signatures; the colours of distance and the dizzy vistas having a common parentage, the colours only changing in detail and then at their own bidding - the climate the same - and as they looked out on orchards and orange groves with men in flat hats walking bent under the enormous weight of the sun and the wicker containers upon their backs, hobbling or striding, but always in slow-motion , wallowing in their own shadows along parched paths; he could feel that whisper of his home. No, not his home. Not now. But maybe this was the same wind that had visited him those aeons ago, come to visit him again? Why not?
The sheer age of this country was its colossal mystery. With distant spires, hillside temples and palaces, spaces dwarfed by distance, rich catalogues of alcohols, marvellous fruits, the country seemed to settle lower under the burden of the sun, become more unknowable.
Far below his eye level in the valley deep, between the thighs of the verdant orchards, the dusty track wound away around outcrop and furrow, into the far recesses of woodland and the tanglewood.
It was in such a situation, such a climate both mental and physical of coolness, that Pablo had escaped from himself and his friends, and then death.
That was for the first time.
Now barren orchards stretched away to the left, having enticed the horizon, seeming to have cut it down to them so that they could meet in the near distance.
Far away to the right, visible only from a height, the sea glittered - darkest blue under its burden of ultra violet sky and burning sun.
There, locked in the distance and always beyond the purchase of mere hands, they would disport themselves and she would turn against him, seeing the sand ripple under the displacement of her shape as she slipped in the sand, rivulets cascading against her, the sun casting deep shadows in the shapes of their bodies.
Much time had passed between them and the ignominy of other identities. It interested the camera of the eye to record that having assumed another's name, their eyes, their eyes, their build, their weight, one suddenly became light, incredibly light and full of air like a balloon.
How incredibly light!
The two of them, then.
Lying on a forgotten beach now, browning like toast in the luxuriance of forgetting: at least together in their thoughts, actions and fears.
Their secret must live between them; one scribble, one word, the hint of a digression that they had assumed what they had assumed, would be enough to crack the delicate shell, destroy them.
So long days in the sun had welded them together. More friends than lovers; more lovers than strangers.
Waiting like for Godot, sitting up on this haunted spur and waiting for the sun to rise and set ; waiting for the presence of two bodies finally together in one place; the very essence of a new world.
Sometimes at dawn Hanneke would be awoken by the bell of a man on a donkey, clattering along the cobblestones of the side way muttering 'Burro, Burro'. The tinkling of the bell and the clanking of his canisters bringing faces to windows (she thought). He would pass at four twenty each morning, proceeding timelessly and mysteriously down the middle of the street, glancing neither to left or right. A man with skin like parchment, clothes as old as imaginable and of antique cut and style; and an aged dust-skimmed donkey.
He would vanish and the sounds of morning would change: and as she watched, standing naked on the blank side of the balcony, resting her elbows against the parapet and leaning over the yawning gap between the crest of what was once a hill, and the street as it climbed to her left, Hanneke would see the women of the town emerge holding containers (incongruous in their modernity, some plastic and gaily coloured), to collect fresh bubbling milk, steaming faintly in fresh air. Then return and disappear.
She had never watched past this point, for her body would begin to absorb the dew-cool: she would begin to grow cold and withdraw back to his bed.
His bed. Merely a phrase. Their bed because of Pablo, thus, his bed.
He would often sleep like the dead, as if he were not there, disappeared; with his right arm thrown back across his face as if he had fallen mysteriously slain beside her.
Yes, Hanneke could watch him lie breathing, turned towards and edged in azure, by the rising heat of the day.
Then sometimes she would see Pablo more clearly; her eyes now in sharp focus with the awareness of the passing time, passing time and gathering dawn.
These pictures, these snapshots of the mind, perhaps elucidated or prompted by her training, would never be left behind her.
One thing she had learned to love about this unlikely unlovely man was with his brown, slightly wrinkled skin; thus it was in his sleep Hanneke would see him as a landscape of sorts, falling with some unknown rhythm of the earth.
Valleys through which streams flowed, into which rivers emptied.
She would think of the hair on his face as being a forest, and the slightly moving humid fall of skin below it as being the great bare side of a mountain verdant with the fruit of early saplings, rising.
She found herself playing poetry with him as he lay near death: in this attitude of age and exhaustion, somehow very old and very tired and yet with a secret wellspring of youth all his own with her, thus theirs.
Often she would, with a sort of keening love and excitement simply wish to lie beside him, breathing his breath so that she might sap the oxygen from his mouth as he coughed, or turned, or just breathed a little faster.
And sometimes she would rest her ear on his chest, just touching and so as not to wake him; listening to his heart skeetering his precious life away.
Then at other times she would squat by the head of the bed, her skin bitten by the cool air, feeling animal now, touching herself in secret and watching him move, all his body and that between his legs for a moment in time and in space under her majesty.
Such moments were rare.
With burgeoning day, sometimes he woke early, and finding him beginning to move, she would pretend to be asleep and then she would reach down and make him aroused.
And then wish him to use her.
There was that fleeting excitement, urgency of time passing, moments in loss.
Being cold and warm in her flesh and needing his warmth to invade her, make her fully alive once more.
..the pulse of neon...
Things can be ridiculously simple: now he explained that the people that he was with had traced her all along, picked her up at the hospital, followed her (for all she knew followed the lot of them: she didn't ask). There was no explaining; he seemed to know more about the situation than she. And the shooting, his escape, her injury?
They hardly discussed it except for her to try to apologise; Hanneke knew that they would have to face this. But not now, later, after endless summers had drained them.
There was no movement from the Bureau in the next days. No word. She thanked them for their oversight.
Instead, the two of them spent their time together, like runaway children; lay in bed, the Beretta on the side table, loaded.
When she asked Pablo what he did, what he was, compared notes, explained what she had seen in those coloured paper folios, he shook his head and said:
"That's the point...I suppose that I was an innocent... once ... quite innocent....." his words faltered, he looked down, eyes filled with sadness, and behind the sadness a spark. His hands gripped the sheets as he lay beside her and the muscles in the tops of his arms bulged and flexed as if some unbearable strain were being placed upon them. He said:
"You must understand". The same sort of sadness had welled up in her heart. For she knew that this catalogue of change had been just a detail in a string of coincidences that seemed to turn time back upon itself, and that they were only details in this detail: it was as if the very fragmentation of time in its most crystalline form had wished to correct its own erasures; as if time, cognisant of its mistakes, wished to blot them out. They were in a continuum which spun on until they were right for its purposes: and then it would stop, cease spinning, flatten out.
And the two of them now locked in time, fearful of what time might bring, and full of fear for the history of their time, were thus left in a vacuum, a space inside that circle of spiral time.
With the curse of the limited knowledge of her stage three training, her first reflex was to aim for sure survival. The first reflex after clearing the security would be to melt away, somewhere far away from here, where they would be unidentifiable: but there was no-where far enough for the tendrils of the bureau not to reach them: what then for an alternative?
Practicalities: either her woman's mind or his analysis.
They discussed it between them, turning it around and around. America was out, the Bureau would find him through the Company there. South America? that was a problem, his face was known there (he mentioned this with a barely suppressed shudder).
North Africa: a possibility, but the chance of aggression against her. Europe now gave a chance. Italy, perhaps Jugoslavia. They must move....but how...where..?..
The first thing to take stock.
The second to make secure.
Little risk from listless customs men on dusty border roads. She turned her head as tears filled her eyes. Her mouth was sore and her nose was throbbing.
"Let me go, I'm hurt enough already...I couldn't know...I couldn't let that happen and make me into just another beast"
The plaster under the bandage was livid and visible, the long shaven area where the bullet had chipped her head seemed plain to see. Again she looked at him and hoped like a coward that he would see that she had saved him, been his shield. He began to speak and then stuttered to a sliding halt. He bowed his head and seemed incapable of moving. He had moved to one side of the bed, catatonic.
And all at once very sensible, she rose from the cocoon, and naked, made something for him to eat, to share, to placate him with thanksgiving.
...moments of loss..
Moments so fragile as to be too easily lost.
Sand slipping through her fingers; that watch ticking as their hearts beat life away and wasted and spent; all used, all beyond sweet recall; the semblance of a smile now lost in the dark.
If Hanneke had awoken early, and warm for sex: she would find if she persisted with her secret play that then his cock would become quickly erect: she would ease her fingers upon it and admire her expertise; pressing the tiny arteries to bring it fully ready.
To save her the detail of a time that she knew was so short.
Then she would hold it tight by the root, moistening her lips with spittle from her mouth: and holding it still tight (as he then usually turned on his back in a long reflex of sleep), then she would quickly, needfully, mount him like a horse, slipping eager hands under him to arch his arse a little, and climbing on to that by now wonderfully compelling and exciting saddle.
Then by some miracle not always easily achieved, she would endeavour to slide the length of him, now rapidly erect and beginning to build towards hiatus into the very depth of her belly: the sinuous song of it always making her cry out a little song of disjointed joy and victory; all in that small moment as it pierced her other mouth, began to voyage into her soul's soul.
Quickly then she would take command of her option like a rider who rode the saddle and not her mount, demented in a quiet mood, the pure delight of the heat and resin between her thighs, the occasional whiff of sex itself, sometimes that age-long whisper inside her belly that would often rip the very first growl, cry, delight, from her mouth.
Then the cry would dry, like the sense, that independent brain in her lips and her sphincters flexing its strength, and she would reel into the rise of another long hum of panic as she broke for that final, last refuge of ground, air, rain , water, wind.
The physical bonding, the feel of him between her legs was the drug.
Hanneke swore that now and forever she would die for want of that, perish to be destroyed by lost desire.
It was the final long sweep of a dream of desire, the motion of the sinuous power of a maverick wave inside; the richness of the jewels in Araby; and all inside her. The normal.
Then she would lean back in all her pain, and feeling the deeps inside her beckoning, run her fingers tips along the flat line of belly and with a shudder find the first full bulge of her crown, locate her touch.
That was the full magic of it
The endless transport of being no longer empty in any way, being fully animal and woman. Full.
So the grip of sinew would sound the sweet music in her throat again, make her gasp, then with so much music she was deafened by the conception of it, amazed by the full tone and sharpness of it: dazed by its fullness and luminescent fruitfulness.
Feeling suddenly after an unconscious moment, the beauty inside her, she would crane her head to watch that so marvellous action as the energy began to build up between and inside her now sated mouth; ready, pouting and full.
And finally she would bring him to juddering stop. That warm spray blotting out all thought and feeling: the watch inside her hips stopping for a long, long moment. Thought and doubt now obsolescent as fear and feeling vanished and she gripped him hard and high in a fleeting second; like a bruise of pleasure as no other, fragrant and hot and gone before thought about, forever regretted.
Then after all her labours she would fight to maintain that essential part of him, seeping out, leaking and running from her and her fragrant mouth: never owned or controlled or refined past what was itself the essence of all this fear and fight and sweat, gasp, challenge, for the very air over her head: and as she lay between her now depth-less unfathomable knees, finally rested on the sheet, she could clearly see the sky watching them, hear people outside above and around; the challenge of life and the endless horizon, the great liberation.
Yet now there was no time remaining, for they too would soon also be amongst the Disappeared.
©Francisco Réage MMVI
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