fatman Find the clues!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Chance Encounter With Eleanor Rigby

Some kids, regardless of race, intelligence or social status, have an irrational fear of going to sleep at night. They sit up for as long as they can in their beds, wild-eyed with fear, armed with a flashlight and a cricket bat, waiting for some unspeakable horror to emerge from their closets or under their beds once the lights are out and the adults are sleeping soundly. For most, it is a passing phase, brought on by watching horror films the night before where a group of characters are killed in increasingly gruesome ways by serial killers dressed in Santa Costumes/possessed dolls/demons/vampires/men in hockey masks/Vincent Price, etc. For others, the terrors are born from seeing something THEY SHOULD NOT HAVE (i.e. Uncle Rufus parading around the house without wearing any pants and asking the young 'uns if they'd like to "stroke his turkey") and are a lot more corporeal because of this fact.

I guess for me the Monsters Under The Bed are guys in suits who carry silenced firearms in their shoulder holsters. The fear for me is that a) I still don't actually know for sure who I'm working for (CIA? MI-6? NSA[1] ? Yawning Anus?), b) the guy we are supposed to eliminate is apparently a crazed zealot who has killed more people than most tropical cyclones, c) there is no guarantee that even upon the completion of the mission that my life is safe. I may still be found floating down a river with two bullet holes in the back of my head.

Too busy thinking about all these things, I almost barrel straight into a 50-year old lady carrying a tower of suitcases. The lady, following a primal instinct to avoid danger, lunges out of the way as if to avoid a charging buffalo, trips over herself and sends the bags flying over the hotel corridor. 'Sorry ma'am,' I blurt as I regain my composure. I hastily grab some of the bags.
'It's okay deary,' she says wearily, in a tired voice.
'Nonsense. Let me carry theses bags. Some of these are pretty heavy.'
'Thanks dear.'

We introduce ourselves. Penny turns out to be from England who is on the way to the airport as well. She tells me that she is working for a womanising cheapskate who is happy to spend thousands of dollars monthly on tailor-made suits but is reluctant to part with the money required to have a team of hotel staff lug the said suits down 35 flights of stairs. Hence his elderly secretary making the five trips necessary to transport his entire wardrobe downstairs and into taxis.

I take a look at the creaking old woman. It surprises me that a pleasant lady such as Penny should have to work for some asshole. She has a radiant smile-the result of decades of sensible brushing. I'd have imagined that a woman such as her would be making blueberry cakes and comforting grandchildren with runny noses at this stage of her life. 'I never married.' says the spinster.

After a farcical interlude where we try to fit all these suitcases into the elevator we manage to get to the ground floor of the hotel where an army of porters immediately rush towards the lift to extricate the bags. Peregrine Maltravers is sitting impatiently at the lobby, a folded newspaper hiding a gun on his lap. 'Watch out for that bag!' he barks at one of the porters, 'It contains genuine Versaces!'
'Those are your bags Maltravers?' I ask the ghastly secret agent.
'I'm sorry old boy, have we met?'

Penny leans in towards her boss and whispers in his ear.

'Oh sure,' says Maltravers, dim lights lit, 'the short con artist from Australia. I take it you've already met my secretary Miss Pennywise Sterling-Pound. Wise Penny we call her at the office.'
'Peregrine, please don't call me...'
'Hush. Now go see to my luggage. You'll have to hop in the taxi in-' he glances at his Rolex, '-the next four or so minutes if you're to check all my stuff in to the airport on time. I'll be there in an hour....if my blasted limo arrives on time.'

Penny shuffles off to the taxi rank muffling sobs. Peregrine Maltravers winks at me. 'She's quite a sort that one. Used to be quite a tasty tart back in her day I might add. You should see some of the pictures we have of her. Rrrrofff!'

I fight the urge to punch him. This rich, remorseless prick who has absolutely no empathy for anyone or anything. At least when we were kids, cowering under the doona, waiting for creatures that would never come[2], it was because we didn't know much better. But now that we are older we find our monsters are all too real. Not fanged and drooling beast of our imagination, these monsters have human guises like the toff in front of me. And are horrible just the same.

Don't make me send in the flying monkeys!

[1] "Reading your mail and censoring stuff you don't need to know since 1952!"

[2]...um. Except for that one time when the nightmare creatures did come out and killed a lot of kids. Quite a story but I'll leave it for another time.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


While the rest of the agents have decided to spend the last night of being in Beijing by being completely intoxicated, contracting strange sexually transmitted diseases from street walkers or impregnating some of the locals (many half-castes around the world owe their illegitimate existence to spies on shore leave. Oslo Fontia, an absent father? Shudder), I have opted to duck away quietly to my hotel room with a smuggled bottle of vodka (in a kooky, flamingo-shaped bottle) and a large sack of pretzels so I can make heads or tails of the document outlying the mission at hand. In any other circumstance I may have joined the spooks in playing mah-jong in seedy opium dens but there were too many things that were gnawing at me about this operation.

I close the door of my hotel room, lock it and, just for the sheer paranoia of it, rig a shotgun aimed squarely for the door. Odds are that if anyone was to open the door it would be a hotel porter barging in to inform me of a fire downstairs. Unfortunately, he would receive a shotgun blast to his chest for his troubles. I'd not like the death of an innocent weighing on my conscience but there was no way in hell that I was moving that shotgun. Though regrettable, I just don't like being interrupted while reading.

I turn on the tv (a badly dubbed version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in Mandarin. Or Cantonese, I can never really tell), spread myself over the bed and begin to peruse the document for Operation: TAR BABY. The first three pages are on an ominous black paper with red, threatening letters saying "DANGER! AUTHORISED PERSONS ONLY! TOP CLEARANCE A DEFINITE MUST! READ ONLY IF WEARING LEAD GLOVES AND PROTECTIVE GOGGLES!" in several different languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Sioux and braille). Then there is a dedication to someone's wife. Then, quote from a poem by Yeats [1]. Then, the actual outline of the operation.

(Hey! Hang on a minute! Mine has been censored. Obviously they must have thought that some of the details need not concern me and they have thoughtfully removed them from the pages. Bastards!)

Apparently the operation is to take place in some town called Gehenna-on-the-Rhine (never heard of it), near Reichenau, Switzerland [2]. If I recall correctly, there was a famous scriptorium in Reichenau run by Benedictine monks. Kind of makes sense if we're chasing a man who is chasing a lost Library. Leopold Grimshawe, a.k.a. the Alchemist, and an (unknown number of) mercenaries are currently at the town waiting to enter the Black Library. Strange. Why doesn't he just enter the Library now? Why are they waiting around for a week? Surely a band of hardened ex-Espionage agents (lead by a man who can kill people with just about anything) can break a lock for a simple library.

The document neglects to inform why this hasn't yet happened. Or rather, my version of the document has some vital information omitted. It specifically says that I am to carry the trap (TAR BABY) into a drop which will be then picked up by the Alchemist. Chills. Why me specifically? Why not some other stooge? There's more to this mission than meets the eye. I start reading the document from the start again in the feeble hope that I can find any clues that might reveal itself.

(The Internet) is not a truck. It's a series of tubes,

[1]- "Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned." W.B. Yeats. Huh?
[2]- Question right there: Why ship all these agents to China when we're going to Graub√ľnden?

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Plot Thickens, As Does The Soup

The secret agents and I stagger out of the auditorium after a four hour ordeal and head towards the cafeteria of this abandoned Beijing school like zombies in search of brains. Years ago, when this was still a functioning school, there would have been a stampede of school kids rushing towards the very same building with the unbridled energy of the young searching for a sugar hit but we are tired, hungover, older men who just need to get away from being talked at, if only for a while.

My mind is brimming full of data: dates, times, places and code names, and I fear if anyone mentions another "valuable" fact my head will explode, taking anyone within a 3k radius with me. Unfortunately we have all also been given a large stack of papers that is held together by several industrial strength titanium staples, reminiscent of the kind surgeons use during bowel resections in colorectal surgery. The agents and I are supposed to commit these to memory and then destroy the manuscripts. It has also been advised that we scatter the ashes across the globe afterwards.

As I enter the cafeteria I see that some of the agents are already setting fire to their manuscripts. 'Aren't you guys getting ahead of yourselves?' I ask, 'We're only supposed to destroy our homework after we read it.'
'They'll go through the pertinent details right before the op anyway.' mutters Agent Fontina, rubbing sleep from his eyes, 'No one ever reads this shit. Man! What a weird dream. It was so vivid . There was this guy in it with a burned face and a dirty red and green sweater, a battered hat, and a glove with razor-sharp knives....'
'Hello chaps.' pipes a voice from behind.

It is a man wearing a Saville Row three piece, possibly a Gieves & Hawkes cut, who has uttered these words. He sips at a Belvedere martini and continues amiably. 'A smashing bit of briefing eh wot?'
'Yeah, a real roller coaster ride of emotions.' I reply.
'Well said. If it wasn't for the sarcasm-drenched tone.' he offers a manicured hand, 'Peregrine Maltravers of the Six.'
'The name's Heazlewood. Civilian. The imbecile next to me is Agent Oslo Fontina. CIA.'
' 'Sup?' says Fontina.
'Glad to make your acquaintance gentlemen,' purrs Maltravers, 'Any thoughts on the operation at hand?'
'I haven't really had a chance to go through the document properly,' I reply, 'but that Grimshawe seems to be like one hardcore mo-fo.'
'Indeed. It'll make for good bedtime reading at any rate. I mean- how does one catch the Alchemist? The man is an absolute legend. This is a man who has been garroting politicians with dental floss since most of us were still glints in the milkman's eyes.' Peregrine Maltravers says, voice suffused with awe.
'I hear he goes feral every once in a while,' adds Fontina, joining in on what was fast becoming a camp fire tale of the Espionage Boogeyman ,' It's true man. The Alchemist goes out and lives in the jungle and shit. Strangling cheetahs and eating monkey testicles.'

Lunch eventually gets served. The agents dig in after a brief food fight but I haven't got much of an appetite. Partly because of the notion that we have to take on this Alchemist guy who is, by all accounts, Death incarnate. And partly because of Fontina's remark about monkey testicles keeps bobbing to the surface every time I go to eat some soup. But there is the part of my brain, some part that resides somewhere between the sum knowledge I have about pirates and the part that contains accumulated Yiddish swear words, that is telling me that something is not quite right with this operation. Why have three different agencies on this thing?

'Mrrffrgghh?' he replies, mouth full of Fried Kwai Teow.
'Who's that guy over there. The one stuffling bread rolls into his jacket pocket when he thinks no one is looking.'
'That's some dude from Yawning Anus I think. Don't know much about them. Creepy fellas.'
'I've only heard bits and pieces about them as well. Some ex-Project MKULTRA guys joined them in the mid-70s and they spend time experimenting with brain-altering parasitic worms, drugging water supplies and using psychotronic broadcasts. It's all rumours so far but it's still unsettling. That makes four agencies so far. Four agencies trying to capture the Alchemist. Doesn't that seem weird to you?'
'Relax man,' says Agent Fontina, 'you think too much.'

C is for Conspiracy,

Friday, July 07, 2006


I snap awake suddenly. The lecture hall is filled with sleeping bodies snoring away merrily. I pop a Benzedrine tablet and raise a wary hand. 'Yes?' asks a startled Hugo Muffington showing a hideous smile- crooked, discoloured teeth, receding gums.
'Was something just said?' I blurt out, still groggy from sleep.
'Poisoned Apple? Is that what you're Mmm-mmm asking about?'
'Yeah. I guess. I think I read about it somewhere...'
'Nonsense.' replies Muffington dismissively, 'It's not something civilians would generally read about. If, indeed, you do read at all.'
'I...read.' I reply, huffily.
'Look, son,' begins Finnegan Roquefort, bloated whale carcass and head of CIA operations, Europe, 'What my esteemed colleague is trying to say is; "Not Fucking Likely". May I?' he gestures towards the podium. Sir Muffington nods and takes a step backwards with his stilt-like legs.
'Thanks Muffins. Alls that's being said, son, is that Poisoned Apple is a fictitious secret society as far as we can tell. Ah have enough trouble dealing with wackos who talk about the Templars, Bavarian Illuminati, Elders of Zion, the Priori de Sion, Discordians, sinister phone companies, etcetera, etcetera that Ah don't want to have to deal with another group of losers who are out to rule the world or gain immortality or whatever. Why do they bother claiming that they are pulling the strings? We are the ones riding black helicopters. That's it. Period. Nobody else but us chickens.' He sips rum. Burps.

'Where were we? Right, Poisoned Apple. So, Leopold Grimshawe, a.k.a. the Alchemist, gets mighty interested in this fictitious-' he locks eyes with me,'-secret society that's supposedly been around since the 1600's. Due to him sniffing copious amounts of glue. Due to dormant crazy genes. Whatever. He gets interested enough that he starts recruiting from both agencies unbeknownst to us at this stage. Smart guys too. By '75 he's constantly going back and forth between the two agencies-simply unheard of usually- but since it's the Alchemist we're talking 'bout he gets complete carte blanche more or less. In '81 he writes papers, shoots it to the cigar-chompin' higher ups who give him the okay to go ahead with a project called FIFTH HORSEMAN. Now I, to this very day, do not have the authorisation to know what this super duper project is about. Folks talk about it in hushed tones like it's supposed to be the end of all our troubles- as if there is such a goddamn thing.' Sip. Burp.

'Grimshawe starts an intensive search across the globe for a particular liberry...'
'Where they keep books dunderhead! A Lah-berry! Supposed to have books (or scrolls Ah guess) that were apparently soggy from when Atlantis sunk, books saved from Nazis literature bonfires, papers smuggled from the Vatican, etcetera. Looks all over the globe, in every country, down crumbling alleyways and in places unmarked in maps. Zip. Meanwhile the Agency ain't getting much results from their former Em Vee Pee. Where's FIFTH HORSEMAN? they keep askin' him. Constantly knocking on his door. Grimshawe loses his temper one day and rips one of the bosses' arms off. He calmly packs his things and then leaves to parts unknown.' Sip. Burp.

'He pops up briefly from time to time. In Prague. In Hanoi, In Marrakech, In Melbourne. Never for long. No discernible pattern. Still lookin' for his stupid Liberry presumably. Along the way he kills a couple of dozen of our guys as well as SIS folks. Just 'cos he don't like being looked at. But as of 15:00 hours last Wednesday we have gathered his location. And we will set a trap for 'im. Yes indeedy.'

Raised in Captivity,



All around me, a darkness engulfs me. As black as squid ink. Cavernous. Dark.


I must be dreaming.

Where was I before? What caused me to nod off?

Ah, yes.

The briefing.

One by one the espionage agents fall asleep in the auditorium. Sir Hugo Muffington continues the briefing, oblivious. 'Grimshawe excels as a marksman and makes a name for himself for his accuracy (i.e. being able to hit a playing card from around 2000 meters), extreme patience (being able to sit through whole Italian operas without yawning) and his ability to blend into his surroundings (like the geekly Wally from the 'Where's Wally?' books). A CIA recruiting officer thinks that young Grimshawe would make an ideal candidate for the Company and has him shipped for spy training after much haggling with Grimshawe's CO. This would be around,' he glances at the notes on hand, '....'63.'

I can almost hear what's happening in the waking world but it is still too distant to discern. It's like listening to a tape recording of an instruction in a foreign language with the volume turned right down. There's potentially some very important pieces of information that I'm missing out on. Must....wake....up....

' Although Grimshawe would never be known in the public eye, never become a Carlos Hathcock II, his legend in the world of espionage was about to grow incredibly. Mmmm-mmm. Like most snipers Grimshawe tends to avoid open areas, always thinking about where the enemy may be. Which is just perfect for a life in tradecraft. It turns out he has an almost natural gift for killing things as was tragically discovered by his late Unarmed Combat Instructor.'

I'd had a certain expertise in dream control. A deranged teacher from my school days had tried sleep experiments on some of us kids and he forced us to undergo many a nightmare. The Little Oneironauts, they used to call us. The trick was to take control of the sleeping state.

Sir Hugo Muffington takes a sip of water. There is audible snoring in the lecture hall now. 'Ahem. By 1968 Grimshawe is an instructor in torture techniques which, incidentally, is how he got the code name "Alchemist". Mmm-mmm. Because he could extract gold from lead you see? Showing young recruits the gentlemanly art of how to extract information from the enemy by simply removing a few fingernails and attaching electrodes to genitalia may have bored Grimshawe after a while since most people broke down and confessed sins or told secrets after a few minutes of being in the same room as him. They couldn't stand looking into his eyes you see. Like staring into the Abyss, they used to stay. Grey and empty. Hard. Like a Siberian prison camp crammed with condemned writers. Like a merciless older cousin that smashes your presents on Christmas Day and sets fire to cats. Reptilian, even, this look of his.'

Even as I gather my thoughts a restaurant builds itself around me. Poifect. Tables spring into existence, carpets rolled, candles bloom already lit. Diners melt into view to the sound of clinking glasses and dropped cutlery. It's like they have always been there. Amusing to note that my Calm Place is a venue that serves food. Now all I have to do is find an exit.

'It is in July of '73 that he gets shipped into our midst, the SIS, to teach some of our chaps a thing or two about interrogation in a friendly spy exchange we used to have. And it is also the time he was introduced to a....a....a.... another kind of society...'

I am sitting down at a table in this restaurant. Waiting for my meal to arrive. I notice after a while (who can tell how long it actually is in dream-time) that none of the other diners are talking. Couples, friends, families all making the motions of talking but no sound escaping from their mouths. It's like a feast for mimes. Or like being in a restaurant in Italo Calvino's 'Castle of Crossed Destinies'.

Just then a waiter approaches me. He is a rabbit in a little waistcoat. Cute and fuzzy. Bleagh. He places a single apple onto the table. Rippling underneath the surface of the flesh of the apple seems to be a worm, no, thousands of worms writhing inside, trying to get out. The apple, pulsating from the crawling within, resembles a human heart, rotten to the core. 'What the Hell is this?' I ask the rabbit waiter, 'I didn't order this!'
'It's a poisoned apple,' replies the bunny with a malevolent grin.

'...called Poisoned Apple.'

Do not feed after midnight,