fatman Find the clues!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Dull, Yet Important, Briefing

(Unnamed School, Beijing, five or six years ago)

Finnegan Roquefort, the head of European Operations for the CIA, begins the proceedings. It's hard to imagine that this walrus masquerading as a human is a spy master but three decades of espionage makes for a pretty impressive CV. He takes a sip of cheap rum that's been dancing around with a few lime wedges from a dirty glass, burps and begins the proceedings. 'Many of you know,' he begins with a gruff voice, an avalanche of cigarette butts, 'of the target here in question. At least by rumours and such. Hell, he's been around the traps since Ah was a pup.' Sip. Burp. 'But Ah likes to make sure we unnerstand the exact nature of this here monster we're about to deal with. So ferget everything you know about him.'
'Way ahead of you,' I mumble, unheard.
'Target is one Leopold Grimshawe, a.k.a. the Alchemist.'
Heads nod around the room. Some faces blanch quite noticeably.
'Exact age is unknown. We have some sources that cite 'im being born in Nottingham in 1942. But there are others that put 'im about five years either side of that.'

My mathematical skills are pretty non-existent but I creak my rusted mental gears into use. 'He's sixty years old?' I hissed at Oslo Fontina, paint chip-munching CIA operative.
'You really haven't heard of him?'
'I'm not CIA you mo-ron!'
'Will you dudes shut the hell up?', pipes up a fresh-faced Agent, 'I'm trying to listen to this shit.'

'...which is pretty unusual considerin' 'is pappy was Lemuel Grimshawe, the industrialist. So, well known, high-profile family with a son they tried to hide. Whatever. By 1950 the family has emigrated to the US. Where Grimshawe pere and wifey number three die in a horrific car crash. Slide!'

A black & white slide projection of a '50s car crash. Police. Journalists. And a haunted-looking boy, dry-eyed, looking on.

'Yadda, yadda, yadda. Inherited a bunch of moolah. Signs 'imself up to Marines in '58- the year of falling Sputniks, Castro v Batista fight in Cuba, Arturo Frondizi is Argentinian prez and Chucky De Gaulle, former tank tactician who gets airports named after 'im, gets yanked back to lead the Frogs. I digress,' Sip. Burp. 'Surprise, surprise Grimshawe has a genius-level IQ. Mensa candidate volunteers to get 'is head blown off with the rest of the commoners even though he's rich enough to buy Utah and parts of Mexico. Commendable. Sharp eyes and good concentration makes 'im an ideal marksman, so it's sniping duties for Leopold Grimshawe.' Roquefort wheezes, pauses for breath. 'You wanna take over for a minute Muffins? My...er...titanium knee is playing up.'

The other man heading this operation takes the podium. Sir Hugo Muffington, MI-6 higher up and a likely candidate to be the next 'C' (head of the British Secret Intelligence Service). Muffington is as tall as Roquefort is large. Ducking slightly so he doesn't scrape his head on the ceiling Sir Hugo keeps the proceedings going with the most monotonous drone I've ever heard.

The words coming out of his mouth are like sand entering my ears. It is congealed goose blood. It is the vocal equivalent of drying paint. Duller even than the dullest Dharma & Greg episode. It is taking every ounce of willpower not to fall asleep. I concentrate on the zit in the back of Agent Tito Pecorino's (the CIA agent sitting directly in front of me) neck in the vague hope that this will anchor me in the waking world. That horrible, pulsating pimple is a beacon of fading hope. I fall...I fall....

This is exactly why I skim through "briefing bits" in novels,

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Late Nights and Morning Plights

One of the most crucial equipments in tradecraft is not, as one might imagine, the hidden microphone or even a Walther PPK, but the humble pair of sunglasses. Not only is it a good device to stop your retinas burning to a crisp should you get close enough unexposed to the Sun but it prevents the outside world from peering into the windows of the soul. So Agents can look grim and menacing while on duty when all they want to do on most days is to keep their bloodshot eyes from revealing too much about last night's activities.

CIA agent Oslo Fontina and I sit in the back seat of our taxi looking grim and menacing. We are gridlocked, have been for about half an hour now, just another metal morsel among many in the digestional tract that leads to the stomach of Beijing. Fontina, slack-jawed assassin, informed me through my hangover blur that we would be meeting the rest of the Virginia Fratboys and the lads from MI-6 in a lecture hall nearby. I sip a soft drink made from celery extracts and inject caffeine directly into my eyeball. 'Sure,' I croak, 'but I think we're running a bit behind schedule.'
'Don't worry dude. They'll all be late and wasted.'

We finally arrive at the destination- an abandoned school- an hour and a half late. Fontina decides that this would be the perfect time to haggle over the price of the trip. Normally this might be a fun thing to do if you're a poor file clerk touring around China on an extremely limited budget but when you're on the Company payroll this is just pathetic. 'Just pay the guy or slit his throat!' I yell, 'We're late enough as is.' Oslo grudgingly complies, handing a wad of notes to the irate cabbie.

Seems Fontina was right. Even though we're reasonably late everyone else seems to be just getting here about now. The Agents file into the auditorium hiding their quiet desperation behind their sunglasses. As I stagger in to the room full of moaning men with alcohol-related brain rot I can't help but imagine I've wandered into a Ray-Ban commercial or a parallel universe where the Blind Boys of Alabama are predominantly white. We all take a seat.

I quickly scan the room. Most of them seem to be Company men (high-fiving each other and muttering things like 'Man, I got wasted last night.') but there are a handful of chaps from the Six. A few scattered individuals, sitting away from the main groups, act slightly different. Could they be from another Agency?

'Yo Oslo, Who are those guys?'
'Who knows? NSA maybe.'
'There's another Agency working on this thing? That's insane. How are we supposed to contain things? Is that where the Man with the Perfect Hair is from? Is he one of the Fort Meade Boys?'

Before Fontina had a chance to reply two men enter the front of the room. These guys must be the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of the operation. One of them grabs the microphone. 'Alright ladies,' he growls, 'let's get down to business.'

Former Champion in the world of Competitive Eating,

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Virginia Fratboys

Spying has never really been my thing. If your job actually entailed helicopter chases across the Swiss Alps, fighting cool villains who had metal fangs/bowler hats lined with razor disks in the rim/golden weaponry, blowing things up and sleeping with countless European women who may or may not be trying to kill you then sign me up. The reality is more Le Carrean I fear. The drudgery of listening to wiretaps, hours of paperwork and having to jab the occasional person with a ricin-tipped umbrella doesn't seem like a life I want to lead. And yet there are those who live for this lifestyle.

'Dude, I so think that chick is checking me out.' This Shakespearean monologue courtesy of Oslo Fontina, CIA wet arts operative and my current guide in the city of Beijing. I'd been met by Fontina at the airport two hours ago and so far the topics have ranged from: hookers, beer, bucket bongs, football scores and the stupidity of rickshaw drivers, but only because our taxi nearly ran into one. Hard to believe that this cement head has a law degree. 'Oh man, I think she might be a dude. Do you think she's a dude? Man she looks hot for a dude though.'

Two Hours Earlier...

(Beijing Airport)
'Please, please, please do not leave me with this halfwit.'
'Oslo will be quite the perfect guide for your stay here in Beijing.'
'Look...mysterious guy... I just don't have a good history with the goons from the CIA,' I whine.
'I know you've had your share of run-ins with the Virginia Farmboys...'
'The Virginia Fratboys more like.'
'...but the Vegas Incident was a long time ago.' continues the Man with the Perfect Hair, unfazed 'Plus you'll be on the same side this time.'
'Admittedly that was THE funniest assassination attempt I've ever been a part of but I really can't stand these guys.'
'You'll be fine.'
'Hey dudes!' interrupts Fontina from afar. We turn to look at the brain dead CIA operative. 'Doesn't that airport tower look kind of like a dong? Seriously. It's shaped like a donkey's penis I friggin' swear!'
I turn back slowly to the Man with the Perfect Hair. 'I hate them all.'

Back to the Present...

Eight beers in and I can still hear Fontina talking non-stop and braying at his own witticism-I use that term very, very loosely- while he ogles women who are in the hotel bar. It's a wonder that the States have any kind of secrecy when all their agents are loud-mouthed yahoos but that's real life for you. 'Yup,' he belches, 'This shore is the life.'
'What exactly do you do for the Company Fontina?' I ask my cud-chewing companion.
He picks at a piece of duck meat jutting out of his teeth. 'Political assassinations mainly. We got to make sure our guys are running the countries we want to, the way we want to.'
'So you go around the globe rigging elections, bribing the proles with sacks of wheat and sugar.'
'Hell yeah! It don't matter to the Dee Dee Oh [1] if it's a tribe that uses punji sticks to catch wild boars or you're an industrial nation. We put the right guys in the right places.'
'And if the other candidate should happen to enter office despite the threats, bribes, kidnapping, etc. you kill them.'
'Damn straight. And then we plonk in some other shmo in his place. The Company can place anyone in charge of anything man,' he waves his beefy arms wildly, 'and I mean ANYONE. I can place a sack of returned mail in charge if I want to man. Would you like that? Would you like to see me make a sack of mail the president of Borneo? Cos I can do it if you want man[2].'
'...er...no thanks,' I reply, nonplussed.

Mad, bad and dangerous to know,

[1] The Deputy Director for Operations, or DD/O. The Head of the CIA (Directorate of Operations). Prior to March 1973 the Company was known as Directorate of Plans. This has absolutely no relevance to the story whatsoever.

[2] The awesome powers of the American espionage agencies notwithstanding, this may be beyond the powers of even the CIA. Could they have a bag brimming with envelopes, ranging from the 'You May Already Be A Millionare!' letters to 'Watchtower' magazines, elected as a president? Possibly. If the Mexican elections are any indication of how politics works (voodoo, dancing old geezers, bribe-a-ramama) then you'd think that an inanimate object could one day take office. However, there is no President of Borneo - it is an island divided between two countries - Malaysia and Indonesia - and one Principality. Malaysia has Sarawak and Sabah, Indonesia has Kalimantan, and then the principality. Take that Oslo Fontina!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Uneasy Alliance

I'm in a wooden crate labelled 'Ace Tomato Company' in the cargo hold of a plane heading to China. With me is the Man with the Perfect Hair- who still hasn't told me what his name is-looking extremely relaxed. Right now he's inspecting his fingernails for any traces of dirt.
'As long as we're going to be stuck in this wooden crate for some time along with the chicken and livestock do you mind telling me what the hell is going on?'
'Most of the information you require is classified.'
'Well, what isn't classified? Who am I going to be working for? CIA? MI6?'
'It's a joint operation? You serious? I thought you guys shared the occasional bit of information and that was about it.'
' There's been a few joint operations that have been quite successful. Overthrowing Mohammed Mossadeq, Patrice Lumumba, etc.'
'When was that? The 50's? 60's?'
'Admittedly there are a few operations that I'm not at liberty to mention. Official Secrets Act and all that. And your average CIA operative thinks that the SIS is filled with communist homosexuals and your average SIS man thinks that the CIA give away state secrets for blowjobs from Malaysian hookers. So apart from the odd bit of distrust, repressed hatred, mild xenophobia and the belief that one agency is far superior than the other, everything is peachy.'

The plane shudders a little from the turbulence and banks a little to the left. A cow moos, defecates.

I keep thinking that the two agencies are like an old married couple who can't stand each other but come from an era where divorce is not a viable option. So they bicker a lot, hide things from each other and have built a strong resistance to arsenic just in case things get ugly.

The result of a wasted life,

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Man with the Perfect Hair

This was about five or six years ago.

I was languishing by the pool at a dodgy, four-star hotel up in the Philippines, a lousy pina colada in hand, when I was approached by the Man with the Perfect Hair. It had been an uneventful couple of days until earlier that afternoon when one of the greeting card salesmen who had been staying at the hotel for the Convention had been repetitively stung by a box jellyfish, or something like it, whilst swimming. The concierge of the hotel, ever the entrepreneur, had decided that betting on whether the hapless victim of the jellyfish attack would survive or not would prove to be a light bit of morbid entertainment for the hotel guests and a fair bit of money had exchanged hands. Since I was up here avoiding persecution for a credit card scam back in Melbourne anyway, I had a bit of money to play around with and had placed a small fortune on the salesman's eventual demise.

'Mind if I join you?' asked the Man with the Perfect Hair. I grunted noncommittally. I had assumed that the greeting card salesman would croak before five but it seemed that his body was a lot more resilient to the nematocyst toxins than I had hoped. 'That's the danger of swimming in a body of water infested with poisonous Cubozoa,' he continued.
'Let's hope he pulls through,' I lied as I glanced angrily at my Tag Heuer replica.
'What do you think it was?'
'What do I think what was?' I ask irritably.
'The thing that stung the man. A hydrozoan perhaps? A Physalia physalis?'
'A Portuguese Man o'war? Perhaps. Let's hope it's not a Carukia barnesi. What's the mortality rate of Irukandji syndrome? Like, two? You get a mild headache, stomach pains and throw up a bit. If that's the case he'll be back swimming by Tuesday.'
'Would that make it a Black Tuesday for you?'

I stare at him. Could he be referring to October 29, 1929- five days after Stock Market Crash in the States that began the Great Depression? Or maybe he's got some knowledge of Bahamian history and is referring to Pindling's actions on April 15, 1965. Maybe it's just an offhand remark made by an idiot tourist. But somehow I know he's talking about my father.

'Who are you?'

To this question he just sat there and smiled smugly. I immediately wanted to hit him in the back of the head with a fire extinguisher but I couldn't risk it. I hadn't seen Dad in a while but I knew then and there that he had been captured.

'He's quite safe. For now. To tell you the truth Bloated Panther (I assume that this was spyspeak for my Dad) had eluded capture for quite some time. But he started to get sloppy with his aliases. Started to use joke names.'
'Harry Balzac (Hairy Ball Sack)?'
'That's the one.'
'Quite. But lucky for you he's not our target. Frankly our department do not care about short con operators who habitually beat up Amish people. We are after someone bigger. And you will help us get him.'

Just then one of the porters of the hotel came out to the pool. 'It looks like the dumb foreigner is going to make it,' he informed a bunch of us gravely in Tagalog, 'Now how am I supposed to afford college for my youngest?'
I turn to face the Man with the Perfect Hair. 'Looks like my meal ticket is gone. When do you want me to start?'
'Tomorrow will do,' he says as he gets up to leave, 'No sense in wasting the rest of the day. Be at the airport at 4am. I'll fill you in then.'

Nachoholic Anonymous,

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

More On The Morons

The new 50's era "Monster Movie" template for Fat Ramblings has generated a fair amount of responses from my friends, most of them along the lines of: "It's really hard to read the writing because of the black background." and "Who the f-ck are those people running around in the picture?". When I first pitched the idea to Darren I just said I wanted a motley crew of people running for their lives from LEVIATHAN. About ten minutes later I came back with a list of characters I specifically wanted (a safari guy, a sinister secret agent-type, Gandhi, etc.) and left it at that for a while but I've since come up with a bit of a back story for each character. And here it is:

(In the Background, destroying things)

JC 271-LEVIATHAN: A cursed creature, LEVIATHAN is the result of a dark experiment that involved cross-splicing mutating sea creature genes with the (alleged) DNA of Jesus Christ himself. His mind is now filled with eternal rage at humans and he will stop at nothing until the world is rid of them. The clumsy scientists that created him are blaming the interns for the whole mess.

(Foreground. From left to right)

Mary-Anne Lubbick: Poor Mary-Anne. Having moved out of the country to avoid a lifetime of milking cows, Mary-Anne came into the city to get a job in journalism. But money has been a bit tight recently and since none of the newspapers have called her back she got herself a secretarial job at the Klaatu Corporation a fortnight ago. Cue: Gigantic monster! As terrifying as the situation is, this just might be the thing she needs to kick start her career in the papers.

"Bob": Usually at this time of the year "Bob" resides in Dobbstown but he just happened to be passing by when chaos struck. While the rest of the city is crazed with fear "Bob" still retains a smile on his face, possibly amused by the ridiculousness of the whole situation.

Secret Agent Guy: (name withheld) has been to (classified) City to have a secret meeting with some subliminal advertising executives to help launch a new brand of cola. But just ten minutes before the meeting was about to commence he was informed that there will be a cancellation due to a whoppingly big sea creature devouring most of the downtown area. The secret agent makes another phone call and says the words, "Cuidado: Piso Mojado," before hanging up.

Chef Pasquale: A notable alumni from the Parisian Cordon Bleu school, Chef Pasquale has expanded his culinary arts (not to mention his enormous gut) by travelling across the globe and learning various dishes from Japan, Thailand, Peru, Germany and New York. However, three cookbooks and a cooking show later, he still can't seem to beat his chief rival, Cornwall Mackintosh, in the soup category at the Annual Lobster Cook-Off they hold every year in his home town. This year he plans to include a "special ingredient" in his Lobster Bisque....but getting this could prove to be at a deadly cost.

Col. Carlton F. Winterblood (Retired): A flatulent ex-army Colonel who has nothing but time on his hands after his retirement three year ago. Ever the expert marksman, he has been hunting all kinds of Big Game in Darkest Africa (including the extremely rare Albino Lion) and is now looking for a new challenge. He is also extremely allergic to carrot-flavoured cookies.

Veronika Fetale: a one-eyed seductress and a saucy minx to boot, Veronika has a nasty habit of playing men against each other for kicks. She also has a shaved pussy.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948): Noted Indian pacifist, vegetarian and Hindu. What Gandhi is doing in this city several years after his death is baffling authorities. And what is this non-violent protester doing with a case full of C2 explosives and a Panzerfaust (German anti-tank weapon)?

ZLK-33: The latest invention from deranged inventor Dr Zachary Ka-Boom. Programmed to feel fear, ZLK-33 is currently trying not to be destroyed by a gigantic Christ-based monstrosity.

Raymond Corpse: It seems that the horrible black ichor that oozes out of LEVIATHAN's tentacles has certain regenerative qualities. Which is a bit of a bonus for amateur golf enthusiast Raymond who died during the monster's attack. Unfortunately he will have to roam the planet as a rotting, undead creature.

Gillie: Life's been pretty boring at the Black Lagoon lately so Gillie decided to trek into big city to make some friends and maybe meet some ladies. What he didn't count on was his ill-tempered cousin (of sorts) was doing a bit of creative demolishing.

Monkeys, an Infinite amount of: I asked Darren if it was possible to have an infinite amount of monkeys with typewriters in the picture. He said that the whole template would be covered with monkeys and I wouldn't be able to see anything except monkeys. I said, Fine, make it three or four then.

All Guts, No Glory,

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Not Every Problem Can Be Solved With A Hand Grenade

When I first signed on to be the office bitch I'd assumed that I'd be doing the banal rituals that people in their Orwellian, 9-to-5 purgatories do every day. I'm not averse to a lifestyle where you shuffle paperwork all day long, fantasise about work colleagues and the only way to break the monotony is by hiding other peoples' staplers and drinking photocopier ink on dares. But I was not expecting the sheer number of debt collectors who'd call the bar on a daily basis.

Back when debt collectors were chasing me I'd got into the habit of answering the phone under various aliases and spouting the same stock standard nonsense that most people do anyway (e.g. 'Ringo's Crematorium, Ringo speaking. You kill 'em, we grill 'em.' or 'This is Sydney terminal you are cleared to land.') Which would confuse them (the debt collectors) long enough that you can hang up on them and they'd leave you alone for another fortnight. But this was just one group of debt collectors. Multiply that a few dozen times and you get the idea of what I'm facing every frickin' day.

Phone calls from suppliers, various street publications (like 'xxxx' magazine), garbage collectors, some guy who worked on the website of the bar, xxxx (who it turns out we haven't paid since '02) are now part of my life. The most common type of call I have to field is the one that pertains to a bounced cheque. These folks are fairly easy to placate. All I have to do is promise these dudes that there's another cheque on the way (which hopefully won't bounce) and this calms most of the callers. But some of these boys want to play hardball. These are the suppliers who are (understandably) irate by the lack of money in their hands. They have gone beyond the usual threats of sending in thugs with cricket bats and have instead started to send us severed ears of children in the mail. 'Who's do you think this is?' I ask "Bernie" as I remove the ear from the blood-splattered envelope.
'Just put it aside with the rest of the mail.'

Perhaps we'll need it later as forensic evidence when the police are eventually called in. And if not, it may make a lovely necklace.

Oh the Humanity!