Post 61 – Smiley robber boys by the Potomac in Washington – chapter excerpt from WEIMAR VIBES

Chapter 27

            Outside the White House, there are children with miniature American flags. They’re being marshalled together by a strict, no nonsense teacher. She’s got horn-rimmed spectacles and her grey hair is tied up in a tight bun.

            ‘Come on now, you all,’ she commands. ‘I want you standing in line, waving, when the President comes out onto the lawn with the Chinese Premier. It’s an historical occasion.’

            I’m walking towards the Potomac River when I call Levinia. We agree to meet by the Washington Monument. The sun’s out and I’m feeling good when I notice the veterans. Some are in wheelchairs, and they’re trying to sell souvenirs to embarrassed tourists.

            ‘You want to buy a painting, bud?’ one of them asks, holding up a postcard-sized impression of the Grand Canyon.

            It’s nicely done, and I’m hooked. ‘How much?’

            ‘Whatever you like … you decide,’ the veteran says.

            I’ve got tens and twenties in my wallet, so I give him a couple of each.

            ‘You’re English – right?’

            Not quite … right now, I’m like an honorary adopted citizen.

            ‘Hey – but you got problems over there,’ the vet says and I agree. I suddenly feel I’m very fortunate. Well – I’ve got all of my limbs, and I’m on the point of giving the Iraqi war vet the rest of my money when Levinia pulls up in a battered Buick.

            ‘You really are a soft touch,’ she says when I show her my $60 oil daub. ‘And I’m in trouble.’

            ‘Why?’

            ‘Because I got my timings wrong on your meeting with the President. Bill McKay from the Home Office wanted you to bring something up. I only spoke with him after you had gone into the White house … and now I’m being blamed for a missed opportunity. ‘

            ‘Ah – ‘

            ‘Fucking politicians! They’re all useless wankers!

            She’s furious, but I don’t expect this sort of language. I see Levinia as a cool toff and I have to wait until she’s calmed down before I get the story. We’re apparently in serious financial difficulties back in the UK. The Government urgently needs an IMF bail-out loan, and McKay thought I might be able to get some US support. I would of course have been delighted to bring it up with the President. It’s too late now though. Levinia’s going on about how hopeless it all is at present across the pond. I’m admiring her knees when several gym-toned black youngsters appear.

            ‘Hi guys … you look like you’re lost,’ one of them says with a big grin.

            It’s the sort of thing you might read about in The Post or any of the other lurid tabloids I’ve worked on. Three big black boys, solicitous for our well being. Would they settle for whatever we had in our wallets, along with our watches, Levinia’s necklace and maybe the cheap Camden Passage ring I’ve got on my little finger?

            My controller freezes for a moment. The grinning black spokesboy relaxes. It’s a mistake, because she’s slamming the car door hard into his knees. One of his pals grabs a windscreen wiper on the Buick. He’s clinging on, so Levinia accelerates to dislodge him.

            ‘I think we’ll keep this to ourselves,’ she says. Two of the black youths are screaming obscenities, while the third clutches at his fractured kneecaps. ‘And now we’re going to party.’

            I’m gearing up for paunchy Congressmen and cosmetically altered women. But we’re approaching the more bohemian part of Georgetown and Levinia’s singing an operatic aria. She’s become unnervingly energised by our altercation with the Washington bad boys.

            ‘It may not be quite your thing,’ she says teasingly when we stop outside an up-market residence. ‘But if you don’t get lucky, I might cook you a meal later.’

            I’m slavering at the thought of Levinia with an apron around her svelte hips. For now though, we’re guests of a British publisher. He’s made a lot of money from tawdry mass market magazine titles, and there are a few familiar faces when we enter the mini mansion.

            ‘Yerra, Jezus, Flynn … I thought I’d find some cunt like youse here!’ a drink-addled Irish poet calls out.

            Levinia disappears in disgust. She doesn’t approve of drunks, especially Irish ones. This guy seems to be vaguely aware of what’s happening back across the pond. The remnants of a once great empire are now collapsing in England he claims with pleasure. Others want to come in and add their views.

            ‘We started out all right after the last war,’ a pornographic video maker suggests. ‘There were plenty of houses in a land fit for heroes. Harold Macmillan was right when he said we’d never had it so good … what’s happening now though … why has it all gone pear-shaped?’

            ‘I think we went overboard with a lot of liberal tosh,’ the editor of a UK broadsheet says. ‘We’d have been better off kicking ass and coming down hard on the low-lifes … I’m thinking about the birch here and three strikes and you’re out on the Isle of Wight for the rest of your life …we certainly need to bring back the death penalty.’

            They’re a mixed bunch, and there’s a lot of polite English understatement. But as the drink flows, politically correct inhibitions fade away.

            ‘Hitler would have been all right if he hadn’t gone AWOL on the Jews,’ a magazine columnist announces baldly. ‘And I’m in favour of rapists and child molesters having their balls lopped off …but what are we to do with Oscar Kerner and the Nationalists in Britain?’

            ‘I’d say they’re on a roll for the election – whenever it’s held,’ a scarred smackhead declares, ‘an you can see why.’

            ‘That’s all very well, darling, if you like chaps dressed up with uniforms and marching to Souza bands,’ a celebrity commentator chips in. ‘But what do you do if they actually come to power … because, frankly, I think we’d all be candidates for the gas chambers!’

            I’m thinking with increasing enthusiasm about Levinia’s offer of a meal. I need some decent conversation, but a vaguely familiar woman is approaching. She’s a punkette Newcastle novelist called Tracey, and it’s not looking good.

            ‘You’re a fuckin’ Nazi!’ she yells.

            ‘I beg your pardon – ‘

            ‘You ‘eard, you fuckin’ arsehole … an’ I bet your dick’s not up to much either!’

            I’m edging away, trying to give the impression I’ve never seen this person before in my life. I’m her target though. There’s froth oozing from her furiously twitching mouth.

            ‘You need a good kickin!’ she screams.

            ‘Excuse me – ‘

            ‘Fuck you – cunt … you’re late!’

            Her eyes are bulging and the wine’s leaving her glass. There’s good quality Sauvignon all over our host’s carpet and Levinia’s intervened. She’s knocked the punkette novelist’s ankles together and she’s steering me towards the front door.

            ‘Are you accident prone or just jinxed?’ she wants to know when we get to the street. ‘First there’s the McCutcheon woman assaulting you in a Greek lavatory. Now this crazed creature … what is it, Rudi, that has you bringing out the angry beast in us girls?’

            I’m trying to breath in deeply to four and out on eight. I think it’s working, but I don’t have any answers for my controller. I’ll have to check with McVeigh. My feeling though is that I’m not particularly unpleasant or disagreeable. I just seem to keep drifting inexorably into lethal target zones for crazy people.

            ‘I’m sorry about that,’ I say weakly while Levinia shakes her head.

            We’re driving into a tree-lined cul-de-sac when she suddenly smiles.

            ‘I’m just camping here,’ she explains pulling up outside a modest, rather ordinary house. ‘It’s rented by one of our Embassy staff, who is presently on leave.’

            Inside, the living room is strewn with newspapers and computer printouts. ‘It’s a mess,’ she says apologetically, ‘and I’m not really into cooking. Would you like spaghetti?’

             ‘Yes – but not with prawns, please. I’m allergic to fish.’

            I’m thinking of Tracey, the punkette novelist who attacked me. I’ve never experienced such furious vitriol. It’s worrying. I couldn’t cope with a repeat assault.

            ‘Would you open these,’ Levinia asks.

            There’s a can of Bolognese sauce and a bottle of Californian red. I’m trying to insert the bottle opener into the can when she takes my arm.

            ‘Sit!’ she commands, pointing to a sofa. She then joins me with the wine.

            ‘You’re not really with us today, are you?’ she asks.

            ‘No –’

           I’m falling off Beachy Head or the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. Our knees are touching on the sofa. At any other time, I’d be trembling with anticipation, but my libido’s asleep.

            ‘Cheers,’ she says, raising her glass.

            I swallow half the wine. I’m vaguely aware of her fingers on my thigh muscle.

            ‘You know we’re fucked, Rudi.’

            ‘Sorry – ‘

            What is she on about?

            ‘You saw those people earlier. Our English expats,’ she says with a dismissive flick through her flawless hair. ‘And it’s not just that ridiculous Tracey creature. We’ve all been affected. We’ve descended into decadence and despair. I believe that as a society in the UK, we’re finished. Our only hope is to be re-born and start again with new leadership.

            I’m thinking Mormons maybe, or Jehovah Witnesses. She’s been got at; no question. It could be mind-altering drugs slipped into her elevenses by dubious political moles posing as colleagues. Anything’s possible, and it’s dispiriting. Could a little romance turn her around? I put my hand on the one that’s on my leg. I’ll try an emotionally stimulating dialogue. It get’s me a smile, but Levinia’s on her own track. She’s describing a world where transvestites sing in sleazy clubs and bars. Adults are almost beyond redemption while our youths are corrupted by cynical degenerates. Sodom and Gomorrah is the watchword and we’re all going south.

            ‘Come on,’ I say recklessly. ‘We may have slipped a bit, but there’s got to be a way forward.’

            ‘Oh there is … and I think your friend Oscar Kerner is taking us there.’

            This is worrying. Kerner’s not my friend any more, and Levinia works for Her Majesty’s Department of Defence Intelligence. Unless I’ve misinterpreted what she’s saying, we could be looking at treason and complicity charges from the Crown Prosecution Service.

            ‘I think it’s probably best if I ignore that,’ I say primly.

I don’t want to even fleetingly think that my Controller could be batting for the other side. She’s having a laugh by being outrageous. It makes people sit up and take notice. Only she’s moved in closer. Her toned thigh is nestling up against mine and her eyes are coming on to me.

          ‘Are you shocked by my frankness?’ she asks playfully.

          I most certainly am. It’s disgraceful, but I’m also taking in the fullness of her lips.

          ‘I feel such views are inconsistent with your job,’ I tell her. A pompous observation might do the trick.

          ‘So you think I should resign?’

          ‘If you’re supporting Kerner, yes – I do.’

         She refills our glasses. Her fingers then run through my hair to the back of my neck.

         ‘I think you’re a prig,’ she says cuttingly. ‘You may also be a coward.’

         ‘Why?’

         ‘Because in your heart you know our political system is in terminal decline. We’re fucked, Rudi. Not just in the UK, but throughout Europe. Everyone acknowledges it. Democracy isn’t working; it’s a sham. We have too much unemployment and too many immigrants. People are angry. They want their countries back … the Nationalists know this. That’s why they’ll win.’

         ‘I think you’re exaggerating,’ I splutter when her fingers stop tickling the back of my neck and move inside the buttons of my shirt.

        ‘You said so yourself,’ she insists. In The Post … it’s time for a change … remember?

        ‘Yes – but …’

        ‘So the Nationalists are offering a way forward.’  There’s mischief in her eyes and her left breast is brushing up against my ribs. ‘You’re au fait with the Greeks … you’ve had a basic education, yes?

       ‘Of course – ‘

      ‘Well … all Kerner’s saying is that Aristotle’s got a terminal illness. He’s collapsing. Democracy, as we know it, is dead. It will soon be forgotten … while Plato, after a long sleep, is finally waking up and getting out of bed again.’

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