I mentioned in the last post my double, the quite important assassin. I had not thought about him for some months and that night I did so. I was lying awake in our room in Rob’s farmhouse in Portugal. It was still very hot, but the windows could not be opened for fear of mosquitoes and I found it hard to settle. Next to me the better half was re-living in REM sleep an altercation that she had had with a traffic warden in which the latter had come off second best.
I mused that mosquito is the Portuguese for mosque, or possibly the other way round: that mosque is the Portuguese for mosquito. That was the association with my double: a mosque, in its English meaning, being the scene of one of his most audacious coups.
You might have thought that Bi and Large would have been a more congenial theme for a nocturnal musing, but I hadn’t actually seen them; they were described to me by Rob and the better half, who may have made the whole smutty story up just to get me to the beach.
In about 1960, when the Neapolitan ruffian, no doubt a very junior operative in a large operation, probably indeed little more than a bambino with skinny wrists, originally removed my passport from my father’s Daimler there would have been no occasion for me and my double ever to come across each other. We would have come and gone about our respective businesses and across our borders and no one would have noticed that our passports were, apart from our photographs, identical. Furthermore, as he was to tell me, he used my identity only on important occasions, when acting actually en assassin, keeping five or six Italian passports and other pieces of documentation asserting his citizenship of various other European nations, for more everyday use.
Computers changed all that, of course. During the Nineties I started experiencing delays at passport control while the official checked pieces of paper. Then one day some ten years ago I was summoned into the Little Room.
The Little Room! Fortunately this was not the first time I had been there and I had some idea what to expect. A year or so earlier the better half and I were asked into the Little Room at JFK. Three uniformed Puerto Ricans fingered the triggers on their Lee Enfields (or whatever is the American equivalent) while a young man browbeat the better half and demanded to know her ‘feelings for these United States’.
She said that her feelings were extremely positive and eventually they let us go, though only after she had been required to spit on a photo of Mr Putin which they kept for that purpose and on which the perpetual president’s unwholesome features had inevitably become tarnished by repeated gobbing – and possibly worse. I could see that they were about to require me to do likewise on a representation of Her Majesty, but I fixed them with a look and they backed off.
As we left, the three Puerto Ricans took out their frustrations on some rats which were disporting themselves in the corner of the Little Room, killing five and winging three more.
Anyway, on the second occasion I was by myself, I did not have the better half to protect and it was not at JFK but somewhere half-way civilised: Port-au-Prince, if memory serves.
Fortunately or otherwise, Caribbean French is not one of the dialects in which I am more than adequately versed. No doubt much went over my head. Certain words, assassin, meutre and famille, kept recurring. Specific questions as to my whereabouts on particular dates were fired at me, and with my computerised diary I could give them comprehensive answers. I could see that something bothered them. They kept staring at a photograph and shaking their heads. I could see it on the desk, upside down. Suffice to say that it was not of a pale Englishman.
At last they let me go. Out of pure spite they made me spend the rest of the night in their gaol. The heat and the stench were appalling, but, to be fair, some of the airport hotels around JFK are not of the sort to which one would willingly return.
I resolved to find this man who had caused me all this trouble and – who knew? – could cause me so much more.
From the far reaches of the house came sounds of plumbing’s being exercised. Since Joca has no opposable thumb it must, I reasoned, be Rob having a pee and flushing. I settled into my pillows ready for a treat.
Rob’s house has no mains supply and no well; the water is provided by a Mr Franklin, who has a truck with a tank on the back. Mr Franklin is Portuguese but his name presumably reflects an Anglo-Saxon entanglement at some point in his family’s past, just as men who live in Norfolk are often called Mr Rape or Mr Pillage or some other surname indicating Viking origins.
The water poured into the system from Mr Franklin’s tank en route for Rob’s cistern en suite. A series of rhythmical lurches marked the entry of the water, its being detained by minor airlocks and its overcoming them. Then a series of bass notes sounded, like the opening moves of a cathedral organist embarking on a toccata and fugue. I strained for the last, a very low B Flat which I knew from experience to expect. It was almost too low and too grand to be actually heard: only felt. Finally there was a series of glissandi, caused presumably by the action of air on the pipes as they filled up with water and emptied again. These were of an unearthly beauty, at once sensual and as formal as Bach.
Occasionally during the daytime the loveliness of the sounds would tempt me to flush the lavatory twice, but if I put my hand out to do so I would as often as not feel Joca’s minatory nip at my ankles: Mr Franklin’s water was not a luxury.
Settled as I now was in my bed I felt no such temptation. I was perfectly happy. Bi and Large and my assassin, my double both deserved further consideration, but that could wait until the morning. Finally, I slept.