Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Degrees of Separation (2006)

This is another Borges-influenced story, very brief and another attempt at writing a tale in which the geometric shape of the plot absolutely determines the content. The shape is a loop but more than that, for the dimensions of the loop are reduced to zero through a series of consequences that contract the whole as they increase in number. As I have said many times before, I am an avid devotee of paradoxes. It appeared in my collection Bone Idle in the Charnel House, published by Hippocampus Press.

When the cigarette and glass of whisky were finished, all that was left was the knife. Clute turned it slowly in his hands as he sat in front of the mirror. Then he studied his reflection carefully. The face of a man planning revenge stared back at him. It was no different from the other faces he pulled on any random day.
He wanted to kill Bradman because of what Bradman had done. But to use this knife against that vague and terrible enemy would not be easy. Bradman was difficult to reach, living in a mansion protected by a high wall, guarded by huge dogs. Clute read the newspapers. Bradman had even posted armed guards on his grounds.
If Clute made a direct attempt on the life of Bradman he certainly would fail. He had no accomplices, no influence, no money or power. His vengeance would amount to nothing tangible. He had to seek some lateral method of scoring a strike against his adversary. Bradman’s family were no less secure than he. What next?
There was Frost, Bradman’s closest friend since childhood. Unlike Bradman, Frost travelled without bodyguards and lived in a house with a low wall and only one dog. But Frost was popular and rarely seen alone. How might Clute get close enough for the plunge? Again he probably would fail, his blade remaining thirsty.
Frost often went to the theatre to watch Cosimo perform. Cosimo was an accomplished singer and actor who was intimate with Frost but hardly aware of the existence of the less cultured Bradman. Ending the life of Cosimo would cause a deep wound in Frost, and if Frost was hurt, Bradman would also feel a measure of pain.
This was the answer! Clute reached for the newspaper on an adjacent table and flicked the pages until he found an advertisement for Cosimo’s latest play. The show began at nine the same evening. If Clute turned up early, he might be able to slip backstage and murderously encounter the actor in his own dressing room.
No, it was unlikely he would get past the doormen. They would grow suspicious and perform a search on him. The knife would be uncovered and the police summoned. Then opportunity for revenge against Bradman would become even less likely. Better to forget Cosimo. Clute remembered that Cosimo was connected to Kingsley.
Clute had read about it in the papers. The two men frequently went to restaurants together. In fact Kingsley taught Cosimo everything there was to know about fine wine and good food. All Clute had to do was book a table in the same place as Kingsley at the same time. Halfway through the meal, the deed could be done.
But what if Clute failed to kill Kingsley outright? Stabbing is not always effective. In a public place such as a restaurant, his time would be limited. If Kingsley recovered from his injuries, Cosimo would not be racked by grief, and so Frost could not be damaged in any way, and thus Bradman would not suffer at all.
Running the fleshy part of his thumb gently along the serrated edge of the blade and smiling slightly, Clute silently listed the restaurants frequented by Kingsley in order of excellence. The best was run by a man called Whitlam. A hole cut in Whitlam’s chest would be no less a hole in Kingsley’s life, an irreparable hole.
Yes, he would seek out Whitlam, perhaps in one of his kitchens, or better still during one of his frequent trips to the market to buy fresh produce. The glint of steel among the vegetables, the crash of trays of fish preserved in ice, and the chain reaction of vengeance would be set in motion, all the way to Bradman.
The problem with tackling Whitlam was that the man was an expert in the use of blades and always wore a knife or cleaver at his belt, even when shopping in public. Whitlam surely knew how to defend himself and strike back. Clute would be the one left dying among the tomatoes, his life blood a sauce on the cobbles.
Whitlam had once taught cooking at the local college. He had taught Malevich for a year and even announced Malevich as his star pupil. After Malevich abandoned the culinary arts and went into finance, Whitlam did not fail to keep in touch with his protege. Malevich was perfect for any sudden death, slow moving, trusting.
The big advantage of killing Malevich was that Clute knew him very well. In fact they were close friends. It would be simplicity itself to invite him back to this room on some pretext and then commit an act of righteous violence on the fat dupe. Clute nodded once. He picked up the telephone and dialled his number.
Malevich agreed to come within the hour. Clute simply told him that something important needed to transpire between them. He mentioned few details, only that it had something to do with Bradman, a person almost unknown to Malevich. Clute chuckled. He imagined the expressions on the sequence of faces, the transmitted pain.
Shortly before Malevich arrived, Clute suddenly remembered that new neighbours had moved into the apartment directly below him. They were a bothersome couple, extremely sensitive to the slightest noise. Malevich was a bear of a man. He would knock loudly on Clute’s door, roar out his greeting, stamp across the floorboards.
Long before Clute could force his knife into Malevich’s heart, the neighbours would be hurrying up the stairs to complain. There simply was too little time for the operation to be performed efficiently. Scowling, Clute abandoned his plan. His need for revenge must remain unsatisfied. Bradman had escaped without a scratch!
Or had he? Clute pursed his lips. Malevich had a friend that Clute could certainly assault. This friend would not even struggle or make an appreciable vocal fuss. He was the perfect victim! Bradman might shelter behind walls, dogs and bodyguards but here was a chink in his armour, a chink that soon would spurt crimson juice.
Clute almost felt pity for the poor defenceless Bradman as he moved quietly across his room to unlatch the door. Now Malevich would not have to knock before confronting the balancing scene of carnage. Returning to his chair and the wise mirror, Clute raised the knife and savagely drew it across his own unforgiven throat.

No comments:

Post a Comment