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Genius Remote

 

 

Genius Remote

by

Miles Rothwell

 

Published by Miles Rothwell at Shakespir

Copyright 2016 Miles Rothwell

 

Cover photo: Japanese Film Poster – Invasion of the Neptune Men (Toei Company 1961)

 

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favourite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

Table of Contents

 

San Diego

Holland Park

Reykjavik

Pattaya

Hanoi

Barcelona

The Cave

 

Other Titles

Connect with Miles

Hillsborough 96 – YNWA

San Diego

The sky was drab and uncomfortable. The wind was unfurling low grey clouds, but at least it had stopped raining. The ‘Old Man’ looked out the window. Miramar seemed an eternity away, like a silent movie. He remembered walking hand in hand with Petra along the Ophir Chasma canyon with her two, wet, insufferable, little dogs yapping at his heels.

Movies dominated the landscape. They were everywhere, hiding behind sofas, ready to pounce on his unsuspecting good nature. They had taken their toll. It now looked like a mistake, an error of judgement, but it was all so long ago. The Old Man could barely remember where it had all come from.

“Sir! It’s Flores.”

The Old Man looked up to see Carl standing with a phone perched perilously on the end of his fingers. He took the phone with less assurance than he might have imagined.

“Flores? Speak to me.” The Old Man remembered James Brown dancing in the church from the Blues Brothers and shifted gear like the old ‘Caddie’, while dredging the shallow recesses of pertitude beckoning to find the will to go on.

Seeing there was no more he could do, Carl left his boss and shut the door behind him. He looked upon the ‘Office’ dwellers with derision and scorn, or was that Fear and Loathing? He couldn’t remember. ‘Shit flows downhill,’ he thought as he walked back to his desk.

Carl had no control as to what was about to happen, so he went back to what he could influence. No matter what, pending the current conversation the Old Man was having with ‘pretty boy’ Flores, there were still lives to organise.

Carl shut the door to his compartment to not only keep the noise out but also to gather himself. The days were merging into one. He couldn’t remember the last time he left for the Office from home, but he wasn’t the only one. Most of his section had bunkered down in the serviced apartments across the street. He now knew the names of his housekeeper, the concierge, and even the guy who refilled the mini-bar.

Carl looked at the files on his desk. They were teetering on mutiny. It was late in the day and he doubted he had the energy to organise them. Would the Old Man let them all go early? What was the problem that had surfaced about an hour ago? It seemed serious enough to get Flores out of bed, for where else would the gigolo be? Carl was, at least, happy. Flores was still on location and not here flouting his good fortune and waxy, sun-tanned frame.

Flores emerged before any of this had been an issue. His speciality was networking, which meant getting the appropriate people in the same room to negotiate deals that kept the juggernaut afloat. Flores’ expertise remained uncapped and was beyond the reach of most mortals. He had a direct line to the ‘big guy’ which kept him aloof from the machinations that drove each movie on.

Flores had survived many ordeals, not least of which was a very public and humiliating sex change. Karen, as she was known then, had worked the Office corridors almost unnoticed until a tumultuous event changed her life forever. Karen was given the task of securing a shopping centre tall enough to be used as a location for Herbie Rides Again. As shooting for the film commenced, Portia asked Karen to escort her to a costume fitting for the cast. When Stefanie Powers arrived dressed in her flight attendant outfit Karen fell hopelessly in love. Years of torment followed as her unrequited love tore the Romance out of her heart forever. As a Last Resort Karen was convinced her only option to woo the former cheerleader was to become male, but it was all to no avail as the young ‘Stef’ had fallen madly in love with Bobby Darin on the set of If A Man Answers, and that, as they say in the classics, was that! Flores, as he was then known, accepted the change and the heartbreak with much aplomb, but it took some time to adjust to being mistaken for Ken Berry.

Flores and Carl had crossed swords before. Each time the shiny one had remained unscathed. The cost of keeping him and his cohorts afloat was at times outrageous, but as he continued to deliver the goods, the end of his tenure became less and less a possibility.

Carl, like so many others, would never forget the conversation that had cemented Flores’ reputation, bordering on immortality. Life of Brian had been a fiasco. Flores had flown in from Tunisia the day after filming had finished. No one knew it then, but it was the last time Flores was ever seen in the Office. They were all sitting in the Schlesinger Suite, when Flores breezed in and, without batting an eyelid, announced,

“It would have been a whole lot easier if you hadn’t killed your son all those years ago!”

The temperature in the room went cold as the atmosphere was sucked out by a collective gasp, leaving a vacuum of infinite possibilities as to where the conversation might go.

Seconds passed as slowly as the Old Man would allow. Everyone waited to see what his reaction would be. Carl remembered not being able to look at anyone. The Old Man’s response was just as unpredictable,

“Well it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Carl didn’t have time to ruminate over past events. He had to be prepared for whatever was going to happen. Questions appeared like cracks of thunder. Would he be sent somewhere? Was any of it his fault? How long would he have to wait?

Carl’s headset rang. He didn’t want to speak to anyone as he looked at the flashing green code on the portable narrow digital display; C15H15N2CON. There were two missed calls below the flashing symbols. Carl knew who it was. Normally he would have rushed to hear her voice, but even the prospect of talking to his living, breathing fantasy was kept at arm’s length by the fear of the unknown which had crept in and sat on the red sofa across from his desk.

Carl knew she would have him on speaker. In his eyes, Portia was perfection, in fact, beyond perfection. She was the only one, to his knowledge, who had been too savvy to succumb to Flores’ blatant posturing.

Portia’s reputation remained intact, as far as Carl was concerned, which enabled her to scale the dizzy heights of his imagination. Portia was a star in ascension to the glory of eternity. Carl finally answered the phone, like Kevin Spacey in L.A. Confidential,

“Hello?”

“Carl, what’s going on? Have you heard anything? I’ve been told to put the shoot on hold.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Why would I be calling you if I was kidding?” Carl couldn’t determine any other reason so he didn’t rush into responding.

“What are you going to do?” Portia’s tone of voice told him there was more to this. Carl’s main task was to hold the Office in check. With the Old Man not divulging anything, and with his dream-girl on tenterhooks, Carl could not see the ocean for the waves.

“I don’t need to remind you how long this has taken to organise.”

“Yep, I mean no.” Carl wondered, ‘how long it had been.’ He looked pensive, unsure of what to say next.

“Portia, I will call you as soon as I know something.”

“You’d better.”

After the call was disconnected, Carl looked for a sign that normality would reveal itself. Everyone in the Office was immersed in their hand-held tablets. There was little conversation, but an avalanche of activity pervaded the serenity. The occasional extemporaneous parlance broke the monotony.

“Have you seen this?”

Carl looked in the direction of Ablus Fortune who held his iLap tablet up to him. A news headline in regard to Smiling Buddha’s new album launch was being interrupted by a series of online updates that streamed down the page. Each update made the screen flicker and freeze. Eventually the article relaxed, allowing both of them to read it.

The talented but highly excitable movie director, Terry Gilliam, was reported missing. His L.A. residence was being searched by the authorities, but they were finding it difficult because of a recent music video shoot conducted on the premises. His girlfriend of two weeks was distraught, and was being counselled by several media outlets on how best to survive the ordeal. Apparently, lots of money for her story had been prescribed.

‘Tezza’ was last seen leaving the Altes Museum in Berlin while researching his latest project, the film adaptation of the novel Gravity’s Rainbow. Abbie Cornish, Nikki Visser, Natalie Portman, Johnny Depp, Richard E. Grant and Mark Rylance were already on their way to Brussels to start filming.

The reclusive but highly sought after director had failed to show up to an actor’s walk through in London. At first it was assumed he was resting up in St Lucia with the screenplay writers Quentin Tarantino and Peter Greenaway, going through last minute script changes.

Although so far denied by executive producers, Harvey Weinstein and David Gilmour, there were reports that production costs had already passed the hundred million dollar mark.

“What do you think?” Ablus asked. Carl looked blank, blanker than the tablet in front of them. Ablus Fortune, or the awakened one, as he was known around the Office, was an Angel of sorts with the freedom to transverse the Office and the world at large. More than an archangel, he was deemed a prophet and a sage long before the Old Man had been forced to enlist the assistance of Angels as messengers.

Carl had to find something to hang onto. Portia wouldn’t wait for too much longer and he hadn’t heard anything from Flores, so Carl decided to take matters into his own hands.

****

 

The Old Man once said, “When in doubt form a committee.” So that’s what Carl did. A meeting was called and Carl worked through the night. As the list for each entourage arrived, the message queues grew bigger and so did the headaches.

Holed up in his apartment, Carl chocked the door open with a folded magazine he had been reading. The lead article described the apparent suicide of his favourite actress Savannah, who had allegedly shot herself in a car somewhere high in the Hollywood hills.

People came and went with such ferocious regularity that Carl didn’t at first hear Portia’s call. It wasn’t until the valet drew his attention to her face on the screen that Carl turned the volume down on the radio, halfway through the song MmmBop.

“Who was that?” Portia asked.

“Mmm, what do you call them? You know, room service.”

“I didn’t realise your staffing budget had been cut as well. Anyway, what do you have for me?”

“Not much I’m afraid. I guess we will have to wait till morning. Have you any idea how the Old Man is going to deal with this?”

“In the normal way; get everybody together, delegate tasks, hand out impossible deadlines, and piss everyone off.”

Carl luxuriated in the sound of her golden tone. He loved the way Portia spoke, diluting everything down to its essence; but as he reminded himself, that’s what Angels did.

“So you’ll be there?”

“Of course.”

They went over the agenda, again and again, double-checking details; all the while, Portia business-like, unflappable, serene and underplayed, while Carl fretted nervously, anxious and soaring in that realm where nothing makes sense as emotions run roughshod throughout the asylum.

After Portia disconnected the video link, Carl looked at his surroundings. The colours were drab; lots of browns, some green, and a bit of glass to break the insinuation of being in someone’s waiting room.

An ironing board was in permanent position in the kitchen and had become a sort of side-table. Carl hated ironing, but when forced to do so, stood at attention to watch the occupants in the neighbouring building.

The serviced apartments were directly opposite a building which had only a narrow gap between. A group of men worked in pods below and across from the level Carl’s apartment was on. They were young, often up as early as he was. They looked stern, almost uncompromising, in the morning, but by lunchtime had softened a bit, showing signs of not working so hard.

To the left, across from his room, was an office which contained a woman who worked late into the night. Carl observed she liked Thai take away, drank lots of Evian water and looked like she owned a Bugatti. The woman often kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet under her legs when reading documents. Once she had seen him, so he had quickly looked down at his ironing in an attempt to appear invisible.

Carl looked into those other worlds with voyeuristic intent. He searched for something more than was apparent. He wanted to be like Portia who perceived what he couldn’t, as Carl was a two dimensional screen; and that realisation pitted him to the core. For the truth was, he could never be like her.

Carl had a lot to do before the meeting so food was not a consideration. Instead he listened to the radio, sent emails, and filed notes about likely consequences to the budget and timeline if shooting on this project didn’t begin soon.

Carl daydreamed about Portia and the many tales that followed her whenever she walked into a room. Portia had been a part of the Office for as long as anyone could remember. She was perhaps a workaholic and had a reputation for being difficult to deal with, but not so with Carl. He, of course, was completely besotted with her physically, so any abrasive qualities were quickly smoothed over in favour of seeing her in the best light possible.

Portia was not tall, but in proportion. She had an almond-shaped face, blonde hair, brown eyes, and a serious but delightful walk. Carl loved the way she walked. Her gait was swift, no nonsense and robust. But what truly took his breath away was that smile. It wasn’t seen a lot, but when it was, it lit up the entire Office.

Carl was driven by external forces and, had an eye for detail and routine. He had noticed on quite a few occasions that Portia embarked upon fitness regimes which entitled her to wear tight-fitting track suit pants and halter neck tops. One day, Carl found her in the lift alone, sweating and breathing hard. After she walked out, the smell that remained sent Carl into rapture; a mixture of perfume, wet grass, and sweat.

Of course these were all minor details, and subject to emotional responses on a hormonal level. Portia could have been the Devil incarnate and Carl wouldn’t have minded, but what couldn’t be denied was her powerful position in the scheme of things.

Portia was, in many ways, the focal point of the Office. The first one the Old Man went to when he required temperate thinking or a scholarly analysis of the precedents that she possessed an encyclopaedic knowledge of.

Portia and Flores had often argued and remonstrated over particular points of view, but Portia was, by nature, circumspect in her guidance. So, more often than not, the Old Man summoned her counsel and then instigated the most appropriate course of action.

One of the most famous examples of Portia’s resilience was in regard to the release of Citizen Kane. The film required an enormous amount of preparation from all those involved and so soon after the invention of movies. Portia had to harness all her resources to stop the Old Man going for broke too soon.

Portia was instrumental in summoning all the Angels at the time to convince the Old Man to allow silent movies to develop and create a following with audiences before embarking on making ‘talkies’.

This annoyed the Old Man no end, as in his words, “They were all so bloody stupid, especially that Chaplin idiot,” whom he despised. And as for Laurel and Hardy, well, as legend would have it, Portia had to physically restrain the Old Man from tearing a cloud apart after he saw their early work. The only one he liked from that era was Buster Keaton, who reminded the Old Man of himself with his dead-pan delivery and remarkable acrobatic skill.

It seemed like an eternity before Portia was allowed to unleash Orson Welles to wield his particular brand of chaos around Hollywood. Of course what made it worse was Flores, who sat on the sidelines egging the Old Man on with unhelpful barbs such as, “Forget 39 Steps just get to ‘Kane’ straight away.”

After the release of Citizen Kane, Orson refused to do anything decent again, even with the promise of riches beyond anyone’s imagination. The Nashua ads were the Old Man’s last attempt at appeasing him, something Portia was less than proud of, especially when no one got the gag about ‘copying’.

Portia however, had ruffled feathers along the way. Singing in the Rain, the Old Man’s favourite film of all time, was supposed to come out a lot sooner, but was beset with problems. Portia worked the Angels ragged to ensure total support for the production, as it was so universally hated in the Office at the time. It wasn’t until she agreed to lobby for the Wizard of Oz that the mood in the Office returned to normal.

****

 

The Old Man often wondered what the deal with homeless people was. What made them so tired? Why did they wear so many hats? Why were they so cold all the time? Why were there so many between Balboa Park and Pacific Beach?

The Old Man hated the naval station with its most famous resident the USS Ronald Reagan, but what he loved about San Diego was watching the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club play on a Sunday afternoon and listening to the live music concerts on KPBS FM, especially – Dixie Chicks at Red Rocks, Nana Mouskouri sings Puccini, and Denise Marsa Live in Atlantic City.

When in San Diego, the Office hovered above and sometimes, when the transference was poor, inside the Qualcomm building. With the commercial tower’s stupendous views of San Diego harbour, Cowles Mountain could be seen as the Old Point Loma lighthouse beckoned in the distance.

The Wayne Shorter Lyceum had columns of ceiling high windows along the eastern side of the building. The floor was a dense unforgiving poly-fibre carpet tile. The conference table could seat up to fifty but went nowhere near the length of the room, so there was ample space to walk around.

At one end was a modern looking bar made of shiny metal where food and drinks could be served while at the other end, large Chesterfield lounges congregated like haphazard sea lions waiting for the tide to turn. Perspective was often distorted by the abundance of natural light and due to the oddly shaped mullions, which gave the room a Cathedral-like ambience.

“A grand design gone wrong,” was how one influential architectural digest described it soon after it was built. The Old Man never forgave the reviewer and subsequently banned all media.

Carl arrived just before dawn. As usual, he said good morning to Zachary Dupont in the Uwe Tewes Piazza near the entrance to the Qualcomm building. No one knew how long ‘Zachy-boy’ had been there; he was a landmark, a piece of the cultural puzzle. His sleeping bag was always immaculately rolled up. His shopping trolley full of newspapers, all categorised by date. Zachy-boy could tell you the names of all the previous Mayors of San Diego. He was polite and never asked for anything.

When the Police tried to move Zachy-boy to another location, a civil petition was drawn up at the nearby watering hole, the Castille. Over a thousand signatures were obtained to allow him to remain living in the Piazza.

Other homeless men gravitated to the Piazza. With assistance from Carl, a drop-off-point was organised where food and clothes could be donated and delivered from nearby businesses, mostly lawyers and accountants, who had industrial-sized kitchens in their premises. Leftover sandwiches, cartons of milk, tinned fruit, and unwanted clothes were collected and distributed each night to the settlement tucked between the Qualcomm building and the Juan Cabrillo Institute at the rear of the Piazza.

Zachy-boy was famous for unearthing the fact that the Qualcomm building was constructed on the burial ground of the Kumeyaay people. He discovered this on a bitterly cold winter’s night. He was forced to flee his normal cubby hole by the incessant wind and rain, long before any other hobos became aware of his cushy abode. After scrounging around several doorways in the back lanes behind the Piazza, Zachy-boy discovered an old wooden door behind a dumpster. After breaking in, he searched the narrow corridor which had a drain that flowed to an underground stream. Along the side of the stream, in the dank, smelly, lifeless space, were the construction footings of the commercial tower above. Next to one of the concrete monoliths was an empty wooden box. Zachy-boy inspected the box to see if it was dry enough to use as firewood, but as the rotted material crumbled in his hand, a small green object fell to the ground. He picked it up, briefly looked at it in the dark, and then stuck it in his pocket before settling in for the night.

Back above ground, Zachy-boy extracted the object he had found and in the crisp morning sunlight was amazed at the almost jade-like colouring. As he inspected it closely, it was apparent to him that it was almost perfect in shape with two razor sharp edges.

Thinking the object might have some value, Zachy-boy showed it to his friend, Kim Delaney, who worked as a sous-chef at the Castille in preparation for her role in Treme. Kim, as luck would have it, was an archaeological enthusiast with many field trips under her belt. She suggested Zachy-boy take the object to the local museum, as it looked like an archaeological find of some description.

However, due to his appearance and already self-referential low self-esteem, Zachy-boy asked the occasional Normal Heights resident if she would take the object to the museum for him in exchange for a share of any financial gains procured from the mysterious object.

Verbatim, the honest sous-chef in-training, retold the entire story of her friend’s discovery to Thad Zawinul from the local archaeological society. A week or so later, Kim was delighted to inform Zachy-boy that the object was indeed a native Indian artefact, a spearhead in fact, and they wanted to know where he had found the object. After a thorough investigation and subsequent excavation, it was discovered that the Qualcomm building was built on a sacred burial ground.

A plaque was commissioned to explain the significance of the discovery. The plaque had a motto inscribed on it which read ‘Semper Vigilans’. To anyone who passed by, Zachy-boy would explain how it came to be there. And although it made no mention of him, he made sure they realised the importance of its history, displayed directly above his main daytime residence.

Carl opened all the drapes, turned on the air-conditioning and rebooted the audio visual system to ensure no glitches occurred during the anticipated extended Tele-Presence conferences.

Carl relished the silence as he sat at the conference desk. The Office was devoid of spirit and languished in the pre-day activity. It slumbered and rolled with the ease of molten lava. The mood was as dull as ditch water. Melancholia farted into the room.

In the old days there would have been several Angels beaming around, cracking jokes, smiling, and building a camaraderie that intimated things would turn out okay and we’d all get through this. But with most of them long gone, it wasn’t the same. Ablus Fortune was still around, but even he rarely visited anymore. Carl knew Portia missed him. She hadn’t said anything, but he could tell.

Perhaps this was Carl’s opportunity, the place and time for him to shine, for he had qualities that were more than just useful. The Office-hack tag irked Carl for he had seen a lot, survived many incursions, remained loyal, but had enjoyed so little of the spoils.

Carl remembered the good old days fondly and the films that had poured off the production line – Barefoot in the Park, M*A*S*H*, Dog Day Afternoon, 1900, The Last Picture Show, and his favourite, the masterpiece, Catch 22.

How Alan Arkin had made them all laugh. He was a sweet guy, never pretentious and always remembered everyone’s name. Alan always brought flowers for the girls and cigars for the guys. He and Ablus stayed up late one night drinking Martell Cognac and came up with the idea for the Love Bug movies. The number, fifty-three, was Alan’s age at the time, and he named the little v-dub after his favourite accordion player. There were rumours that Alan and Portia had hit it off, but Carl dismissed them as rudimentary and unpleasant.

Other movies, like Prospero’s Books, the Old Man’s most significant disappointment, caused a shift in mood at the Office. This film saw the Old Man delve into the deepest trench of depression anyone had ever seen. Portia had tried to get Orson off the canvas to come to the party, but by then the relationship was too far gone. Gielgud was a willing accomplice and presented the greatest appreciation of the story imaginable, but alas, all to no avail. Portia would never admit it, but she suspected that the Old Man never really fully recovered. Many years later he confided to Portia, “It was all there, but nobody understood it.”

Of course there had been many blunders – The Maltese Falcon, Rope, Paint Your Wagon, Zorba the Greek, Catballou, Sleuth, Giant, Shampoo, Star Wars, Pretty Woman, Gothika and most of Woody’s films. Even Woody’s good ones left a salty taste in the Old Man’s mouth. Stardust Memories came close but faded under its own inconsequentiality.

The Old Man could be depressed for ages when a ‘turkey’ was released. Perhaps he worried too much. Perhaps he should have tried a more direct approach. It became a struggle to send the message of truth without diluting its essence. The Old Man was convinced people had to see and experience truth before they could accept it. Language on its own could only assist but not fully uncover the path to enlightenment.

So What? streamed into the room via the audio visual system. The pre-programmed drapes opened to reveal another morning of activity. What was certain was each day brought its own possibilities. Yesterday was filed away, preserved and undisturbed forever. It mattered less than the future, for the future had promise but not certainty, and the present was fleeting at best.

Jugs of iced water were placed on the bar counter next to muffins, butter, and jam. Urns full of hot tea and coffee stood guard. Carl relished a few stolen moments before the ensemble arrived.

Carl surveyed the cityscape. It was hard for him to feel connected to what he saw; people walking along the promenade with tall buildings in the distance. Carl stopped short of parading any ambivalence towards the dockyards and waterways surrounding the city, as a decisive culture dominated by the divination of rampant greed troubled him more. The shadowed land with its constant unsatisfied desire for reckoning was only slightly camouflaged by its reliance on commercial regard. Carl would never understand the complexity. He wasn’t expected to, that wasn’t his role and he wasn’t wired that way.

Carl’s certainty lay in being present, unguarded, and reliable. He wasn’t required to soar with the Angels, or get his hands dirty with the acolytes. He was rigid, impassive but no less involved. What would Carl have done if allowed? What course of events could he have diverted if let loose? It was too hard to tell as the nature of things, while all-encompassing, were still cyclic and preordained from the original explosion of dust so long ago.

Carl looked at the conference table. Its shifting form was like a flowing river, its shape untouchable, its purpose unknowable. The files he spread out were quietly disseminated and allowed to breathe like fine wine. He watched as glasses and plates were placed next to each setting.

As expected, Portia arrived first. She entered with a semblance of organisation which teetered on the brink. Her hair was tied back, business like, but she wore no make-up with her casual clothes. To Carl she looked perfect, as usual. He ruminated over her being asleep not so long ago, then with her eyes opened stretching those short thick arms. Carl visualised her getting out of bed, showering and eating, perhaps a coffee, and then getting dressed for work. All those little details of her seemed somehow so important. Carl imagined no one being there to say good morning, squeeze a juice and say, “Have a nice day.” Those moments she shared with no one, were lost forever, gone, never to be rekindled, and wasn’t that sad?

“Hi Carl, it looks like you have everything under control.” That Hedy Lamarr smile arrived, but only briefly, then determination returned unflinched, but to Carl with a resolve that only thinly crept over the landscape. He pondered what craggy, molten, or magnetic musings lay under her surface. Was there sweet charity for breakfast or fervent passion?

Carl thought, ‘Oh yes give it to me baby,’ but said instead, “It’s good to get an early start, any news?”

“Nope,” Portia shook her head slowly, too slowly. There should have been more, much more. Carl flittered around the table, keeping an eye on proceedings. The Office came alive with movement and purpose. Portia sat, preparing to advise as information became available.

As Portia examined the table, a flicker on the plasma screen alerted those in the room that someone was dialling in. A series of coded messages scrambled across the screen. Diagonal lines went berserk then disappeared. A burst of light illuminated the screen followed by the image of a large pot overflowing with tropical flowers. A blast of hissing filled the room, followed by the distorted image of Flores. The screen then went blank again. The entire process repeated several times, until Portia went to the cupboard and unpacked a tiny microphone that she clasped to the curve of her blouse, strapping its power pack to her side pocket.

An image of Flores, who seemed to be now permanently online, returned minus any sound. He was only ever seen from the shoulders up, and would take up the entire screen while he shouted, cajoled, and generally disturbed the elements.

“Flores, is that you?” Portia asked. As each second passed expectation climbed the walls. A thunderous sound like aluminium on wet cement erupted around the room. Flores’ face loomed large on the screen. He was seen on a slight angle, as if addressing another congregation as he pulled back to reveal his salmon shirt and white linen pants.

“Can you hear me tree-huggers? Is that you Princess? Come closer so I can see if you’ve gotten any fatter.”

“I have my finger on the end-call button,” Portia warned.

“Don’t you dare, it’s taken me ages to get this thing up and running. The bloody ‘daegos’ here are useless, they can’t speak English and they bloody well can’t cook …”

Portia interrupted, “Where exactly are you?”

“Can’t say, it’s classified Top Secret! Who’s the ‘nong’ with you? Is that you Carl? How’s it hanging buddy? Has he been updated Princess? Clearances here are all over the place, no thanks to the old guy. Is he there? Can’t see anything, reception here is crap. God awful place, you’d love it, full of half-naked savages, ugly as mud, runny-nosed infants begging, drunkards, and pirates everywhere…”

“Pirates? Flores! Where are you?”

“Where the hell do you think I am? On location of course, looking for this clown Gilliam. Christ! You do look fat. Turn round so I can see your…” Portia pressed the mute button.

“Bloody simpleton,” Portia turned to Carl who could offer no explanation. She made a mental note to speak to the Old Man about Flores’ behaviour. Maybe it was time to reel him in, too much time in the field. It was easy to become unhinged, frantic, and unable to settle into the background.

Portia had seen it before with Peter O’Toole on the set of Lawrence of Arabia; sweet guy, dedicated and driven. Smart too, but not in an intellectual way, cunning, with the ability to think on his feet. Peter controlled the Asian crews for years, kept the desperados out of the picture; Crouching Tiger, Flying Daggers, Lust-Caution et al. Good at keeping the Old Man happy, but in the end went loopy, believed in the press and ignored protocol, last sighted somewhere in Sulawesi.

Portia channelled her best Marge Gunderson; put her cop hat on, walked into the snow and looked as authentic as she could, “The Old Man will be here soon. It would be nice to have something for him instead of this idiot rambling on.”

Carl studied the muted image of their number one man. Flores sipped some sort of exotic cocktail. A beautifully dressed woman placed an elegant tray of dark rice moulded into the shape of a cone with side dishes of vegetables, pickles and what looked like bowls of curried meats. In the background dense jungle with cascading palms flowed down a slope which stood over a small, but urgently running creek. Carl placed a set of earphones on and released the sound to his console,

“Carl baby, did you know that today was a vernal equinox? That’s right, the beginning of Spring. Only happens once a year so to celebrate, I have a couple of dates, twins actually. Come here girls,” Flores, in his best Eric Idle voice, called off-screen while he held his hands out. After a moment, two young girls sat on the arms of his chair. Carl could see his hands around their waists.

“Not bad eh buddy? You should ask for a leave of absence, get yourself out here.” Carl looked concerned as the women served the food. Flores opened his arms and unleashed his best Michael Keaton smile.

The meeting room filled up. Files were placed on the table and smart phones turned off. Groups converged around the room, like solar systems with their own internal orbits, while the galaxy was left to run its own affairs.

Without any suggestion the Old Man entered and glided to the head-honcho seat. He barely acknowledged anyone but kept a Gandalf-type gaze on the now motionless figure of Flores on the main screen.

Portia approached and insisted on stopping his progress. She had the animation of concealed information, not privy to everyone else. Whatever she said neither alarmed nor intrigued him. He motioned for all to sit. The screen came alive with the noise of chirping birdlife and the occasional clinking of glasses.

“Thank you everyone. Sorry for the interruption, but events have dictated a temporary suspension of normal proceedings. This meeting was called to share information on the whereabouts of one Terence Gilliam. I have been updated by our esteemed Angel.” The Old Man nodded towards the plasma screen which still held the image of Flores captive, before continuing,

“Our director did not show up at base camp. As you are all well aware, filming was scheduled to start in Bruges today. The train for the opening interior scenes with the evacuees had been constructed and the banana palms from Papua New Guinea are on their way from Rotterdam. Due to the unseasonal heat wave in Belgium at the present time, they will be stored in cool rooms at various embassies. You can believe me when I tell you it hasn’t been easy transporting a hundred banana palms through Northern Europe, but thanks to the organisational rank and file we were ready to start.” The Old Man flicked a hand in Flores’ direction.

“Hello everyone, nice to see your smiling faces. The data I have gathered depicts an interesting scenario. Gilliam definitely arrived at Gatwick. His e-ticket was collected and his luggage was checked in. It was confirmed that someone sat in his allocated seat. The flight to Amsterdam landed on time. His luggage was collected but he wasn’t seen leaving Schiphol airport. Now, this is where it gets interesting. I received an unconfirmed report that someone fitting his description arrived at Bangkok airport.”

Portia looked at the Old Man with a mixture of confusion and hurt. This was critical information she had not been privy to and she had no idea why as Flores continued,

“So where to now? The second unit crew has arrived in Bruges, so I suggest we continue as planned. The assistant director is keeping things on the ground humming along. Worst case scenario is we begin shooting and hope he shows up in some ‘girlie’ bar with a ‘lady-boy’…”

“Thank you Flores! That will be all.” The Old Man looked down at the desk. Portia leant forward, but he held up a hand, “I don’t need to tell you how important this film is.” The sound of his voice grew in volume. “It must go ahead. Carry on and remember to file all information into your portals. Portia will keep me informed. See you all at the next location. That is all.”

After the abrupt dismissal, chairs were pushed back and the same solar systems as before began to attract each other, while the Old Man stood up and walked towards the ante-chamber. The air thinned and the edge of the room curved, leaving it somewhat eye-shaped. Even Portia had never experienced this before.

Portia looked concerned. The Old Man seemed frail, and she detected in his voice an uncertainty she had not sensed before. She noticed Flores was still on the screen, smiling.

“Princess! Do you know what love is?” Flores asked.

“I shudder to think,” she answered.

“It’s having someone who makes you ill with desire then finding a way to endure their personality.”

“Oh shut up Flores.” Portia flicked a switch and he was gone. ‘What now?’ she thought to herself.

****

 

Portia waited for the Old Man to enter the ante-chamber as she had many times before. She assembled her notes and waited a respectful amount of time so he could relax before the de-brief.

Portia felt unsettled. Something was different. She sensed a change in mood, an intense relentlessness with this project that she had not encountered before. Decisions were being made outside of her sphere of influence. There were too many elements out of control. Portia felt alone and this was intensified by the Old Man’s apparent unease.

Portia didn’t see him inside the ante-chamber. Unperturbed, she walked to his desk, sat down at a chair, and re-arranged her notes. She went over the conversation with Flores many times. How he frustrated her. Why hadn’t the Old Man mentioned where he was?

Flores was a necessity, she knew that. They were opposites. That was the whole point. He was out in the open, she was behind closed doors. He was the operative, she was the strategist. That was why it worked, but it had never escalated to this amount of frustration. Portia thought that perhaps it was the chaos of the events unfolding around them that was causing the turmoil, or was it just an effect of the natural ebb and flow.

All this went on inside her head without her realising that the Old Man wasn’t there, well not in a visual sense. Her internal dialogue ran out of steam, so after a few moments of nothing to think about, her focus returned to the setting she was in.

The ante-chamber became frosted at the edges, definition became arbitrary. The temperature cooled a little. She knew what had happened, but surely it wasn’t that bad, not yet. Portia admonished herself for being too introspective and not noticing what was happening around her.

“Don’t worry. It’s always the same.” She recognised his voice, but it was different, out of sync and devoid of emotion.

“You know I’ve said to you many times Portia, your greatest strength is your greatest weakness,” his voice trailed off as she thought to herself, ‘I care too much.’

“That’s right, but don’t worry, you have always been there for me.”

“But what’s different now? Why do I feel this way?” Her question was absorbed into the process of transformation.

The Old Man, upon entering the ante-chamber, had left his visual presence at the door. He had not become the room. The room had become part of him. This process was unusual, but not unheard of. In moments of intense deliberation it was sometimes necessary to operate beyond a molecular level.

“We need to be careful, to plot a course around the events conspiring against us, not through them. This is where you need to guide me in regard to Flores. He will assume the shortest point between events. He will pursue the outcome at the expense of the path to reach it.”

“How has it got to this? What is happening?” Portia hung her head in shame. Her questions were born out of frustration. She languished at her indulgence, but she was safe as the Old Man only dealt in compassion and empathy.

“The answers may appear at some point, but there is no guarantee. Now go, time is against us. Follow your instincts, but don’t fall into the trap of over analysing. All will become apparent.”

Portia was alone, but now she felt loneliness settle next to her. The ante-chamber returned to its normal appearance. The edges were sharpened, the colours clearer. As she left the room and closed the door, she felt tight inside at the never-ending inevitability of it all. Just once she would love to stop it all and catch her breath.

Portia worried about the Old Man. She felt the melancholia of his self-imposed edict of not speaking directly to people, which was born out of innocence and respect for free will, but therefore trapped him to search out other ways to get the message of truth across. Portia pleaded her case once but he had simply smiled and gently said,

“How do you expect me to talk to them? How can people not see the message? The Universe is there for all to see. Total experience is so blatantly obvious. If I used language then I would cease to be. Language is a dilution of experience. If I stood on the street proclaiming ‘this and that’ I would be locked away.”

“So don’t speak, just show them who you are!” Portia was exasperated, actually further beyond exasperation. She had reached a point where she needed a Fanta, but held off to keep it as a last resort, as you would with Hotel California.

“My dear child what would I show them? What form would I use? The last time I tried it I scared the shit out of the Apes and look what happened to them.”

“Create another planet so people can see they are not alone?” Portia had suggested in desperation.

“You are forgetting Mars. Anyway, solar systems are really hard to make and take a lot of time to get up and running. Galaxies are very heavy. I didn’t think it through. I thought the ‘Big Bang’ would be easy to detect, but underestimated how big the Universe would become. I used too much fuel at the beginning and, before I realised what had happened, galaxies started to form. Initially I thought one solar system would suffice, because I thought it would look pretty and stand out. After that ice-filled comet hit Earth and created life I did contemplate making mother planets, but entropy took over and chaos reigned. It was all I could do to harness the orbits so at least there would be some sort of cyclic behaviour. I had no idea how long a billion years would take.

Gravity was a godsend, but comets plundered and ricocheted around the place causing so much energy that the orbits went out of whack. Jupiter was supposed to be the crowning glory, with huge multi-layers of life. But before I knew it, life evolved of its own accord, especially on one of the little planets, which started turning blue. Seems so silly now, so obvious, but there you go, nobody’s perfect.”

Portia was left to sort out her own frustration. She knew she must keep it in check, but it was becoming increasingly difficult. Project after project came and went. Movies were originally created to reveal the process of transformation, but small gains along the way were often quickly rubbed out by horrendous steps backwards.

Hudson Hawk was a classic example. Portia had put so much time and energy into it, but the response was beyond belief. The vitriolic reaction took everyone by surprise. Yet The Godfather, which in her eyes was nothing more than a plodding family drama at best, seemed to set the world on fire. It was only supposed to unshackle the patriarchal mode of authority, but became evocative of some nostalgic whim for reverence which she found very puzzling indeed.

****

 

Amber and Larry Potter had not always lived in their Get Shorty SUV at the San Diego Sea World car park. For years they lived in a 1974 Subaru GL hatchback. The upgrade had become possible after Larry found a scratch-me-lucky lottery ticket outside a Fuji camera and photo shop.

The next morning Amber scanned the ticket into their Nashua multi-function device which was hooked up to the car battery. She rearranged the numbering system using a complicated software package Larry had hacked into, and attempted to rewrite the script to change the ticket to a winning one. Due to the cramped space and lack of interior lighting, Amber mistakenly typed in 00000 instead of 11111 at a certain point in the host flow, and instead of winning $1,400,000 they won $14,000. But luckily unaware of the error, Amber was most pleased.

During the day, the Potters spent their time hosting a website for people with missing pets. Larry had stumbled upon the idea while streaming the internet for an obscure Latvian movie, that legend had it, contained footage of Jessica Simpson having sex with an Alien.

Larry took to his work with plenty of vim and gusto. But when the search for the adult movie started causing an undue strain on the Office’s streaming capability, Portia was forced to intervene by asking Gunther the Kinetic or ‘GTK’, as he was known, to authenticate the existence of the porn film. GTK was the Office’s technical guru and this would normally have been a fairly straight forward request, had it not been for GTK’s predilection for erasing adult movies containing sex scenes with Aliens.

One of the Old Man’s first real blunders, way before David Hasselhoff, was to create life on Mars to help break in Angels. He needed a much smaller population with similar attributes, except emotions, as it was hard to perfect human life with both internal dialogue and emotional responses. In the process, he had overloaded the requirement database and out shot a small, gnome-like creature with a worrying fascination for Tori Spelling and an incurable obsession to paint everything. However, he could rewire a Collins Class Nuclear submarine in the blink of an eye; and at one time that skill was in great demand.

GTK posted a blog confirming the existence of the alien sex movie. But, unfortunately, due to strict Latvian piracy controls, the movie never made it beyond Beta video and the last remaining copy had been bought on eBay by Kim Il-Sung.

Larry was now unencumbered to resume his pet-saving activities. That was just as well, as the next message he received, after purchasing the translucent lime green Tarago from Danny DeVito with some of the $14,000, was from Morgan Fairchild. Her Pembroke Corgi went missing soon after her relationship with Bobby ‘Chico’ Martin had abruptly come to an end, after the hapless Morgan had found a Fuji USB stick with photos of Bobby and Cybill Shepherd cavorting naked on the bonnet of the white Dodge Challenger used in Death Proof. It rather annoyed the falsetto Bobby, who was more interested in rubbing his oiled buttocks on the iconic car than having to put up with Cybil’s screeching and babbling. The incident would have remained relatively uncomplicated, if the now grief-stricken Morgan had not mistaken the aforementioned Ms Shepherd for Angie Dickinson, who at the time was dating the obnoxious, but always-on-time George Hamilton. By coincidence, George was in the process of purchasing a Cardigan Corgi online for his friend Lizzie ‘Dizzy’ Taylor, because her buddy ‘Wacko Jacko’ had told her that Morgan, who he had been wooing for some time, had just lost her puppy dog. That was interesting because Wacko Jacko had told Dizzy Lizzie that the dog in question was actually a Shih Tzu, but in her confused state Dizzy Lizzie then told the on-time, but insufferably deaf George Hamilton that it was a Brittany, which he thought was just like a Corgi only smarter. So you can see how easy it is for humans to get things mixed up.

GTK deciphered all the dog data, so Larry could get on with the real task at hand, which was to investigate what information could be found in Terry Gilliam’s house after the cops had completed their search as it was painfully obvious how ineffective that had been.

To escalate proceedings, Portia instructed GTK to send Larry the following message – Famous movie director missing, possibly kidnapped. Reward offered of $100,000 for any information that leads to the apprehension of the perpetrators and, another $100,000 if unlawful activity is determined by a court of law.

“Honey, look at this,” Larry said excitedly from the rear of the Tarago.

“What is it?” Amber asked from the front seat, with more than a hint of annoyance, as she was happily reading a biography of Telly Savalas and was at an enthralling section where the young actor was having trouble reconciling a difficult stage in his career. The television series Kojak had only recently been aired and Telly wasn’t sure how long the series would run for so he was looking at other options. His friend Burt Lancaster recommended he respond to an agent’s ‘calling’ which was looking for young actors to appear in a radical new movie. It was to have a cast of thousands and was causing a great deal of excitement around town. The film was rumoured to be a parody of a political rally set in Nashville. Now Telly, an avid Patsy Cline fan, had recorded a handful of songs himself, so he auditioned for a number of roles. But unfortunately, due to the eventual success of Kojak, he was unable to accept any of them. It was a gut-wrenching decision for the serious young man who opted for the challenges of acting on the grimy streets of South Manhattan and having to put up with driving around in a brown Buick Century.

“The answer to our dreams,” replied Larry. Now this certainly raised an eyebrow and, with the promise of fulfilment, Amber carefully folded the page she was on to form a perfect triangle and placed the book back in the glove box, making sure the road map of Aberdeen didn’t fall out. Larry turned the laptop around so Amber could read the blog. Amber studied it hard. She still had her glasses on which rested slightly crookedly on her nose due to a raised scar on her temple.

Amber had undergone an operation to repair a gunshot wound sustained while hitchhiking along Mulholland Drive. Recovery from the operation had been arduous and painful to endure. Larry had stayed by her side in the hospital for days on end. Amber’s hearing had been affected, but luckily the wound was only a ‘burn’ as the doctor called it.

Amber had seen many cars drive by that day as she stood on the side of the road. To kill time she amused herself by throwing stones at a speed sign. As she was about to hurl a particularly smooth pebble, Amber heard the sound of a car approaching. Before she knew it, a white Corvette being driven by a young blonde woman went past at high speed. The driver of the Corvette had just purchased a gun from a loan shop in West Hollywood, which years later would be used as a film location by a fidgety young man named Quentin.

Amber went back to her rock throwing while she continued to wait for a car to stop. Not long after, a gunshot was heard throughout the canyon below. A bullet that had been fired less than a hundred yards below where Amber was standing ricocheted off a nearby rock, grazing the side of her head.

“That’s sounds pretty easy. He shouldn’t be too hard to find,” Amber said confidently.

“I know,” said Larry as he turned the laptop back around. In no time at all he compiled enough information on his Nashua MFD, in the back of the Tarago, to start the search in earnest.

The Potters soon arrived at a house next to the one used in Lost Highway, but the irony was lost on both of them. Sitting in the Tarago they noticed three black Commer vans parked further along the street.

There were contractors and removalists everywhere, packing away cameras, disconnecting lights, and rolling up cables. Young men, in varying stages of undress, walked down the driveway, while women practically naked stumbled in their bare feet while they held onto their Glomesh bags and stilettos. Larry noticed some had make-up running down their cheeks.

Amber and Larry bunkered down in the Tarago and waited to see what eventuated. When the house was coast guard clear, they quietly slipped out of the Tarago and walked down the side of the house to an area with a swimming pool and a balcony railing which looked out over Laurel Canyon.

The pool was littered with clothes, kitchen appliances, and a large red two-seater sofa. Around them lay what looked like the scattered remains of a party gone nuclear-scale wrong. Furniture you would expect inside the house was outside. The tiled patio had broken glass everywhere and this made the journey to the back door more treacherous than a walk in the Cambodian countryside.

As the Potters walked towards a sliding door, or more accurately where one had been, they saw a snake crawl out and slither away down the slope into the bushes, before morphing into a well-known actor’s agent.

Inside, Champagne bottles were scattered like ten-pins, water pooled on the floor, and fluorescent condoms hung like orienteering markers. Insects crawled through food scraps and garden furniture sat upside down in various configurations. A Batik Godet fluttered above their heads; on it was written, ‘Club Bwana Dik’. All in all it looked like the remnants of the Marquis De Sade’s bachelor party. Amber and Larry looked around suspiciously in search of clues as to the whereabouts of Mr Terence Gilliam.

“Maybe there’s a ransom note?” Amber suggested.

“Well if there is, I don’t fancy our chances of finding it.”

As they looked through the house, it was obvious no one was there. They were just about to give up when they heard a phone ringing. They started looking under piles of clothes, in between plates of dried food, and among empty bottles, but it stopped ringing.

The phone rang again, but this time there was an odd noise accompanying the ringing, almost like a child crying. After more searching, they zeroed in on an upturned cabinet with a motor bike parked against it.

“Is that blood?” Amber asked.

Larry peered over the handle bars and wiped the fuel tank. The stain looked old and flaked off in his hand. The phone started to ring again, so Larry moved the Husqvarna trail bike and opened the cabinet door.

A small and confused looking monkey leapt out of the cabinet onto Amber’s shoulder, before jumping onto an upturned sofa. The demented monkey then flung itself towards a chandelier, screeching and urinating everywhere. Amber’s scream was pitch perfect, almost note for note the same as the melody after the key change in My Woman from Tokyo, which amused Larry no end.

The phone rang again, causing the little creature to go ballistic. Amber watched it skittle across the wet kitchen floor before escaping. Larry laughed at the realisation that the varmint had been trapped in the cabinet with a loud ringing phone for some time.

Larry listened to a man’s voice on the other end of the phone, shouting and jabbering on about being late, demanding to talk to Robbie, and all sorts of gibberish which would have made Evelyn Waugh hiss in delight.

Larry tried to interrupt, but was not granted a chance. The voice demanded to know when the filming was due to end.

Amber grabbed the handset out of Larry’s hand and shouted at the top of her voice, “Shut up you moron!”

Almost at once the voice on the other end softened to a whisper. The man cried and blubbered about being alone and scared in the dark.

Amber slammed the phone down. “We haven’t got time for this.”

Larry reflected on what to do next as he rested on the pinball machine that Jodie Foster was slam-dunked on in The Accused. As he looked around the house, he felt a restless breeze through the open, cracked windows. The world as he knew it had been turned upside down.

Vomit dripped from the ceiling, as Larry wondered if Pamela Anderson was trapped in the freezer. A crooked Farrah Fawcett poster mocked his indecisiveness. Farrah’s smile made him sigh. The Oakland Raiders were a distant memory, as they should be. What a night that was.

Al Pacino looked up from the kitchen table and with a cup of coffee in his hand said, “What the fuck just happened?”

Ablus Fortune, who was monitoring the Potter’s inquisition, detected the inconsistency and rapidly dialled in a goon-squad-relief-pattern and before the hung-over coach said, “Jambalaya” was redirected back to Any Given Sunday.

“There must be a clue here.” Amber would not give up, she was wired to succeed. Larry felt the weight of impossibility, while Amber felt the need to accomplish. She looked under piles of clothing and followed a trail to the upstairs bedrooms.

Draped over the bannister were soggy socks, bras, and underpants. Amber picked up a silk scarf that had belonged to Sheila E, and felt its coarse damp texture. It was a swirling mix of purple, pink, and orange and smelt of Drambuie. Amber thought about discarding the scarf, but at the last moment hung on to it as if all creation depended on it. This was her chance at immortality, at redemption.

For a brief moment, Portia wondered if she had proceeded too quickly. Portia’s speciality had always been her subtly, never pushing her confines too fast. But now the urgency of Amber’s own free will mixed with her guidance, so all Portia could do was hold back and nervously watch on.

“What’s that?” Larry asked, pointing at the scarf.

“Nothing, just something I found.” Amber walked into one bedroom then another. In what looked like the main bedroom, the scene was more orderly, but only just. Clothes were not strewn around as much and the bathroom was still in working order.

Amber stared into the bathroom vanity cabinet mirror. She saw in her reflection that the smoking ember of her passion to live had not been fully extinguished, but the clouds were brewing. Amber opened the vanity door. Bottles, capsules, and grooming niceties stared back blankly; motionless, immobile, and pointless.

As Amber closed the vanity door, Larry’s reflection startled and annoyed her, so she brushed past him. Larry was left to play catch-up, because Portia focused all her energy on Amber and hadn’t the time or patience to walk both of them through this.

Amber spotted a Hasselblad camera and its case on a red chair. The case looked empty, but when she picked it up the corner of a piece of paper emerged from one of the pouches. She twitched and tilted her head like a small bird with her eyes widened.

Larry muttered something in the background. He found a television and watched the Bulls destroy the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Larry was annoyed because he had ten dollars on Boston. He would have been even more annoyed if he knew that a certain Evanus Florentina-DeQuentinville had manipulated Paul Pierce to miss everything in sight.

Amber unfolded the piece of paper as though it contained diamonds. She turned it ninety degrees and read the short sentence that was written on it. She turned the paper over. There was an imprint at the top, a small insignia trademark. The paper was thick and felt expensive. Amber reread the sentence.

“Larry,” Amber spoke quietly at first. He held his head in his hands as Derrick Rose landed another bomb from downtown, in fact so far downtown that he disturbed the shoppers in WalMart.

“Larry!” she repeated, a bit more aggressively.

Eventually he looked up, “What?”

“Look at this. I found something.” Larry moved like his old arthritic namesake ‘Bird’ and crept over, guiding himself with touches of the bed, the chair and the side of a lamp.

Amber held out the piece of paper for Larry to hold, but he didn’t take it. Instead, he also tilted his head on an angle and read aloud the, still, short sentence, “It can be found, but it can’t be sought.”

Amber, quite rightly, folded the paper and slipped it into her Kmart jeans pocket. “Let’s go,” she said, and headed for the door. Larry followed after one more look at the Bulls high-fiving each other.

Back in the Tarago, with Promised You a Miracle on the radio, Larry scanned the paper but he forgot to select double-sided, so only the side of the paper with the writing was sent, while Amber looked pleased with a job well done as they drove away.

Portia sat back exhausted. The Reykjavik skyline was turning over, fast approaching, ready for another night’s sleep and she still needed a scan of the other side of the paper sent to GTK so he could get a read on the insignia.

****

 

Flores walked out of the Pebble Beach Golf Shop. He had just listened to a conversation between Sir Nicholas of Faldo and Phil ‘Lefty’ Mickelson. The reception was fuzzy, but both golfers seemed very excited about a particular number. Flores thought he heard fifty-nine, but didn’t have time to investigate any further as the Old Man beamed in.

“Yes sir!”

“Flores, you need to reach Larry. He has to scan the other side of the piece of paper,” the Old Man said.

Flores paused, then answered, “I thought Portia handled the password,” he hoped his tone was not considered insubordinate.

“She did, it’s complicated. Ablus will be in contact.” The Old Man’s signal faded away.

Flores was annoyed. He and his caddie, Angelo – can’t remember his last name – had planned a couple of days golfing at their favourite course. Flores had secretly made the red-eye trip back on the vapour trail of the Office’s transfer to Reykjavik.

Flores waited for his caddie in the shade near a taxi rank. He watched people with their golf clubs arrive and depart. A white Audi R8 pulled up at the rear of the taxis. The driver let rip with a few blasts of the horn. Flores looked up to see what the commotion was about in time to see Dita Von Teese and Alice Cooper step out of the V10 super-car hand-in-hand.

Flores saw Angelo – can’t remember his last name – collect money from passengers as he assisted them in retrieving their golf clubs from the taxis. After completing his duties, Flores watched his caddie, dressed like Dick Van Dyke on magic mushrooms, walk towards the Clubhouse.

“What are you going as?” Flores laughed.

“What do you mean?” Angelo – can’t remember his last name – looked slightly bewildered. Flores shook his head as he placed an arm around his caddie’s shoulder.

“Listen, we have to postpone our little soiree. They want me to help out with this password shit. That bloody useless bitch couldn’t handle the pressure, so I have to take up the slack.”

“Can’t you do it later? I’ve booked the rooms and everything. Kaley and Liv are on their way.” Angelo looked gutted while Flores looked up the road.

“I wish I could, but this one has all the signs of Goin’ South. I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I’ll get to the bottom of it. Look, you stay here. I should be back in a few days. I’ll keep up the foreign correspondent cloak and dagger stuff. It’s worked so far and we’ve done all right? Haven’t we?”

“I guess so.”

“I’m going to ring Vinnie for reinforcements.”

Angelo watched as his only link to the real world walked away. Being a caddie had delivered a pathway, but it had also reinforced the reality that he was only a bit player, not a central casting regular. Strolling the fairways of Pebble Beach had given him scope to develop, a place to wander, and what a place to do so.

‘Flange’, as Flores had nicknamed him, was gifted one of the most beautiful, rugged and uncompromising landscapes upon which to dwell. On any day, mountainous clouds would rock-on-up across the Pacific painting a Rembrandt-like background.

The sea below churned with monotonous regularity. People in Argyle sweaters and tartan sea-spray pants brought their black Labradors to chase sticks and find washed up Sea Dragons.

Players jostled to play off the first tee, then succumbed to the old dame’s impartiality. By the third or fourth fairway, they were lost in the beauty and the self-disentanglement from the maelstrom. It was an addictive passion and one not easily given up.

Over time, Flange had seen them all come and go; ‘Seve’, the Elk, Freddie Couples, Bill Murray, even Clint and a whole host of chargers hell bent on experiencing the self-less path to Valhalla. But now it was not enough. Flange had found a perturbing disquiet amidst the Nirvanic posturing. Flange had discovered what happened after enlightenment settled and curled up in the corner.

‘What was enough anyway?’ he thought as he shouldered arms and rested his Titleists against the locker door. He looked at his iPhone. So many calls to make to dismantle the circus he had organised with Flores.

The interim solution to contact Vinnie Jones made perfect sense to Flores. The ‘Vin-Meister’ was well on his way to confine status. His daytime gig was a counselling service that assisted retired actors, hit-men, drug dealers and other dead-beats return to normal life.

As he walked past the car park on Del Ciervo Road, Flores ran a scan on Vinnie’s whereabouts. The message was frosty and intermittent. It looked like the Buenos Aires Jockey Club. He dialled the number and waited. A series of dial tones, beeps and what sounded like the beginning of Pink Floyd’s Money deteriorated till a flat line tone ended with a croaky voice.

“What?”

“Vinnie, how’s it going you old mucka?”

“Flores? It’s 4am here.”

“Shit really? Sorry, look something came up. I need some troops to do some donkey work. Is there anyone on the horizon?” Flores heard muffled tones, a woman’s voice, then more muffled tones.

“Ah yeah, that should be fine. Give me an hour or so. We’ve had a big night here. Had to clean up after a frightful mess left by Mickey Rourke and John Daly. I’ll leave a message on the usual Sunset Boulevard billboard. Got to go, Sara is waking and her bloody buddy, Keren, is here as well. The two go everywhere together, you’d think they were bloody separated at birth.”

Satisfied he was going to be looked after Flores smiled and ventured into the sunset. He saluted Vinnie and his new girlfriend who he’d met at a shindig at the ‘Brown Derby’ where Bruce had kept them all in stitches with his impersonation of Rod Stewart, even down to the hot pink Lurex pants and tiger-skin blouse. Classic stuff!

Speaking of which, Flores remembered he had a missed call from ‘Her Majesty’, so in a buoyant mood he called the high maintenance priestess, hoping she was otherwise occupied.

“Where have you been?” Regrettably for Flores, Portia answered too soon.

“You know our relationship is not going to go anywhere if all we talk about is my whereabouts.”

“Listen, you idiot. I’ve had your buddy Bruce on the phone all morning. What happened at the Williams shoot? He rang while the Potters were still there.”

“Really? That’s odd. Umm, I don’t know. It was all going well, Gilliam wasn’t supposed to show up. I thought he was on his way to Belgium.”

“He was there?” Portia was almost in screaming banshee mode.

“Yep, apparently.”

“Did you see him?”

“No. By the time I got there the shoot was in full swing, and well, it kind of got out of hand. You know what these arty types are like and Robbie the dear is such a method actor. He really swung into the whole thing, literally.” Flores ended with a chuckle.

“And where were you when all this was going on?”

“Umm, I’d rather not say.”

“Look you have to keep this idiot under control. He is furious he missed out on being in the video. He threatened to pull out of 12 Monkeys and, what’s worse, made not-so-subtle remarks about making Die Hard XVIII, which has to be avoided at all costs. Have I made myself clear? Do you understand?”

“Yes, yes…” Flores paused, “Is that it?”

The connection went dead.

“That was rude,” Flores muttered, as he turned his attention to returning home.

****

 

Portia rested her head in her hands. The Office was dark. The latest transfer had begun, so all unnecessary resources were put on hold. She reflected that moments like these never used to be this hard, but it wasn’t a mystery as to why. It seemed a long time ago now, but there was a time when a friendly hand would be placed on her shoulder followed by a warm genuine smile. How long had it been? Time went on. Things changed; they always changed.

Portia’s best friend, confidant, and shield against the riff-raff had deserted her post for something better. Had it been achieved? Hard to tell from where Portia sat but appearances could blur reality.

Portia knew at the time that the transition was going to be hard, and that it would be rigorously scrutinised before the Old Man agreed to relent; for it would be no normal release. Others had gone or simply run out of energy. Portia wondered if her time would also come and feared the consequences.

What had made it so hard was the closeness they had developed. They were combatants, soul-soldiers, mercenaries fighting battles together, shoulder to shoulder, but that was the past. It was gone.

What made the situation worse were the gains Flores had made. Sure she still had Ablus, but he was aloof, almost a step above, on another level, and the Old Man worshipped him.

What Portia missed the most were the conversations, those intimate moments in the ante-chamber; discussing projects, actors, themes and relishing the delight of getting it right – there was nothing better. And when they didn’t, laughing at the turkeys that bombed.

“Gigli wasn’t as bad as Mommie Dearest, but it was definitely worse than Catwoman,” she had said.

“What was he thinking with Batman & Robin? Surely one was enough.”

“I know, and what was the deal with Alicia Silverstone.”

“Ablus told me it was supposed to be Cate Blanchett.”

“Well that would have made more sense.”

Then they would hug and sip mint juleps, the Office variety, and pick at their respective pink mohair jumpers, curled up on the Chesterfields in their skin-tight, black tights and gold slippers.

Portia held back a single tear as the image of Ann-Margret Olsson played back. The longest serving Angel ever to remote out of the Office before her time was up. For years Portia blamed herself for not doing more to stop her from going, but after Carnal Knowledge and Tommy had secured her immortality the water continued to flow under the bridge and into the sea. Her love for Elvis made it clear she had to go. It broke the Old Man’s heart.

The Old Man, in quite a desperate and almost embarrassing plea, cleared the decks for Grumpy Old Men, but it was too late. On Any Given Sunday was almost her path back. Al loved her and thought she stole the show. The two of them sat on the sidelines in stitches of laughter watching Cameron Diaz trying to say, “Beer?”

Earlier on, the Old Man had shown up as Ted Mack for a while to see how she was going and literally guided Chet Atkins onto the scene with her first album. Lost Love was still the Old Man’s favourite song. It was nice of her to dedicate the album God is Love to the Old Man as a thank you. He never forgot that.

Her love for Elvis made it untenable to remain in the Office. The Old Man turned a blind eye to her wild ways, her independent spirit, and her love of Triumph motor bikes. What became obvious in the end was her ability to do just about anything, which made everyone realise she couldn’t be retained. She could sing, dance and act with the best of them, and was impossibly beautiful.

Portia’s favourite Ann-Margret moment was the musical with Bobby Darin. It was almost too perfect to be true. Portia wondered why more people didn’t cotton on to what was going on. Perfection like that surely indicated a higher being at play pulling the strings. ‘How puzzling?’ she thought.

Ablus almost wrecked it with Full Metal Jacket. Her sequence entertaining the troops in Vietnam was too close to the bone. Ablus had to intervene by inventing the whole ‘Hanoi Jane’ fiasco as a diversion, which almost undid Fonda’s passage from Klute to China Syndrome.

Apparently Ho Chi Minh was minutes away from commissioning a statue of her outside the old American Embassy, which would have made shocking footage as the tank crashed through the gates. Another close call.

Holland Park

Evanus Florentina-DeQuentinville arrived on the landscape with a bang. The moniker Flores was inspired by a comment Noel Coward had made to the Old Man regarding the effeminate good looks and overt mannerisms of Peter O’Toole. Noel thought Flores bore an uncanny resemblance to the legendary actor. Noel had also suggested to Portia that the Metropole Hotel be used as a site for the Office, and it was rumoured that the song Mad Dogs and Englishmen was first performed there.

Flores’ ingenuity was legendary. His methods were unorthodox, but his success rate exemplary. He was the go-to-man, Mr Fix-it. His background was murky and classified. His relationship with the Old Man was shaky at best, and it was agreed by mutual consent that his activities were to be assigned, guided and administered online. His predisposition for creating havoc gave rise to an unprecedented decision to keep his appearances in the Office to a minimum.

His tenuous relationship with Portia was also a good reason to have him operate predominantly out in the field. The Old Man had, at one point, been forced to decide who he would rather have at close quarters. In the end it was an easy choice to make.

Flores kept a residence, but was rarely home. He had taken possession of a landmark building in Holland Park. The Tower, as it was known, had caught his eye when searching on Google maps for a golf course he could take Bing Crosby to when the crooner was in town.

Flores had no inkling as to why he was so drawn to the four-storey Georgian mansion with its dark corridors, secret passages and distinctive tower. The building was majestic and radiated a certain presence that enticed all who fell under the spell of its brooding ambience.

“You need to know something about your house, Flores.” The Old Man’s voice startled him. He wasn’t used to receiving direct calls, especially out in the open without prior notice.

“Sure, go ahead,” answered a still shocked Flores.

“It’s not a house.”

“Pardon?”

“I mean, it’s not just a house. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about it for a while,” said the Old Man. Flores could barely contain a quizzical kind of Don Adams look, but with more serenity.

The Old Man continued, “Listen, movies allow people to let go for a couple of hours. The images in films are there for them to relax, unwind and let the enormity of it all settle around them.”

Flores was none the wiser, and the Old Man knew this, that was the way he was wired. So with a gentle sigh of resignation he went on.

“To have life as we know it, the design had to be big. To create life, with all the myriad possibilities, took enormous energy. As events unfolded, it became more and more apparent that a Universe, or energy to be more accurate, needed Space to move in and as a consequence, Time was created as a result of that energy. Anyway, what I’m getting at is the real nature of Time has escaped most people. I thought people would look up at the night sky, for it’s at night when you really see the Universe and can marvel at its magnificence. The enormity of energy is best seen at night. When we are assigned a Big Bang we aren’t privy to the lessons of the previous Universe. We know they exist, but each Universe is unique. So this current one is my responsibility and I won’t have any influence over the next one. The energy that comprised this Universe is just a microcosm of the others, which can go on forever. The problems I had were enormous; the instability of molecules, gases determining the structure of planets, and gravity holding atmospheres in place. The whole recipe could have easily gone astray. Ultimately I failed, because infinity became a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Flores waited respectfully for the old guy to finish. He wasn’t wired for this kind of detail and his attention span was on the wane.

“In a nutshell, singularities create a hole about fifty-three acres wide. I mean they have to start somewhere and leave some sort of trace. I’m surprised it hadn’t been located before, and believe me, it wasn’t you who I thought would detect it. But there you go, another example of entropy winning out on the day. Look, just enjoy it and remember to go easy there. One of the residual scars of a singularity is the preserved air. It takes a while to get used to, but this Universe had to start somewhere.”

The Old Man disconnected, leaving Flores alone on the front bench seat of his Daimler. Looking down Ledbury Road, he noticed a man with short cropped blonde hair sitting in a black Commer van. The surrounding woodlands created a solace from the emerging disdain of central London. The giant chess set, the cricket pitch and Japanese garden with its abundance of squirrels and peacocks lent an authentic sense of antiquity that was usually lost on the constrained Flores.

As he walked into the Tower past the Freudian painters GTK had saddled him with, Flores looked up at the high ceiling. The Dorchester felt more like home but that was irrelevant now. Flores unknown to himself, walked in a fastidious manner, his movements in sync with the ruminated atmosphere. Contractors worked around him, ignorant of the bliss he was submerged in.

Flores was heir apparent to a wondrous state of exaltation, but with the territory goes an infantile unawareness to boot. As he skulked around the crystallised burnt radiation of the origin of energy, Flores embraced nothingness and his normal routine was solidified beyond recognition.

Time and Space fused to enhance the cusp of reality which fortunately exhumed past indiscretions. This manifested itself in a poster next to a bookcase full of Aleister Crowley artefacts. The poster was weather-beaten, scratches of paint and charcoal framed its longevity. It showed a distant ruin of a man hell bent on perfection, leaning over a wooden bench, with a naked woman unsheathed from a velveteen robe which hung, mid-air, as it waited for contact with the dusty floor. Printed on the velveteen robe’s tail, in gold script MT bold, was, La Belle Noiseuse.

The Tower had been neglected for a number of years after the suspicious death of its former owner, the Marquis de Patrea – a comical cad of a human being who spent his vast inheritance cavorting with unsavoury characters in London’s East End and was well-known for his support of the Establishment Club and Private Eye magazine.

It would have been an interesting misadventure if Flores and the Marquis had ever met as they shared so many flawed personality characteristics, not the least of which were a taste for fine wine, grotesque food and malevolent female company.

On his first visit to the Tower, Flores had haggled with the asking price by initiating a protracted arrangement of progress payments garnered by a series of outlandish and multitudinous bets with Ladbrokes.

The bets had one peculiar redeeming feature; they were not constrained by any standard chronology, so the individual components of the sequence of bets could occur at any time and in any order.

The bets in question, as announced by the exultant and risible Lord Fry on an episode of QI, were as follows:

Margaret Thatcher to attain orgasm as part of a multiple bet with Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus to kiss each other while wearing the lipstick used in Anatomy of Hell, Axl Rose to complete Chinese Democracy (odds doubled if anyone bought it), Wimbledon F.C. to win 1988 FA Cup Final (Vinnie gave Flores the tip), Jennifer Lopez offered a movie contract (unbelievable odds), Prince to name a song Cream (It was only a matter of time), Kylie Minogue offered a recording contract (astronomical odds), Hijackers to fly a Boeing 767, through the most guarded air-space on the planet without any air-force planes being mobilised, at 450mph directly into WTC with the wing tips inside the edge of the building after learning in a Cessna only weeks before (odds doubled if the hijackers could do it twice on the same morning – odds tripled if anyone believed it happened that way), Beefy and Chappelli share a beer (highest odds ever by Ladbrokes), Led Zep’s Live Aid performance not released but Madonna’s retained (Madge cleaned up on that one), Anna-Nicole Smith completes grammatically correct sentence (proof was difficult to obtain), Keith Richards to outlive George Harrison (unfortunate for everyone), the C.I.A. demolishes WTC in broad daylight (even George W. couldn’t believe it) and the piece de` resistance, Oprah Winfrey becomes the font of all wisdom (who’d have thought?).

The whole process took an eternity requiring much wining and dining of the Ladbrokes’ Board at elBulli, especially when certain correspondence indicated an amount of money was transferred to Wimbledon Football Club’s Canary Islands bank account.

Fortunately, there was no admissible evidence of any impropriety so it was thrown out of the ‘Old Bailey’ by a judge who was arrested at the Tiananmen Square massacre, but not how anyone would have expected.

On holiday with his family, he was so startled by the sound of a nearby gunshot that he lost control of the car he was driving and collided with a Hungarian wine consultant from Vienna who was on his way to Li Peng’s house to deliver a case of Imperial Tokaji.

Luckily Ladbrokes paid out before Flores could add one more bet, which would have taken his earnings into the stratosphere; the band A Flock of Seagulls being referenced in a Tarantino film.

After purchasing the iconic landmark, Flores relocated his possessions from various locations around the world, a logistical challenge of gargantuan proportions. They included a pearl inlay grand piano from Paul McCartney’s Mustique villa, a tiger rug from Melody Patterson’s Arizona ranch, and three ducks on a wall from Michael Ansara’s Orlando ‘Condo.’

The hardest items to retrieve were mementos given, in the act of passion, to various girlfriends notched up over the years. Some items were ceremoniously handed back, some with less intent and others were gathered up under the cloak of darkness and subterfuge.

The most valuable items were his collection of antique guns at Catherine Deneuve’s Chateau. After their romantic fling, Flores had left five civil war pistols and four muskets in her cellar. The antiques were attached to the mouldy brick walls which had been built in the reign of Louis XIV to torture enemies of the empire.

Catherine, a renowned collector but abstemious teetotaller, never saw them as she never made the trip down the fourteen wet sloppy steps and her never-ending, revolving door procession of staff always assumed they were part of the interior fittings. Catherine was away at Cannes deliberating over the merits of Life is Beautiful, which the Old Man had delivered in a sea of depression after losing Ann-Margret.

Flores had a bugger of a time convincing Graham Chapman, who at the time was in a dynamic but unsavoury bizarre love triangle with two Congolese pool boys named Lucia and Benoit from the Hotel De-Martre Plessus, to lend a hand. Vinnie had given Flores ‘Gra-Gra’s’ contact details after the embarrassment of Yellow Beard. Gra-Gra needed time-out so Vinnie recommended him for a confine position with Flores. So, with the ex-Python driving a rented Citroen van, they set off along the road Grace Kelly had driven off in a Rover some years before.

Now all would have gone smoothly if Lucia and Benoit, who had never seen anything so beautiful as the Deneuve residence, hadn’t helped themselves to more than was required, which meant they spent far too long in the cellar, making four trips from the van back to the Chateau, eventually waking the housekeeper. Having been forced to flee from the Chateau, Flores and Gra-Gra climbed into the back of the van to secure and hold onto the booty that the boys had absconded with. As they drove away down the narrow road, the electrics in the van failed, leaving the two black-skinned youths in complete darkness. To add to the lack of palette, the van being of the blackest colour became an unstoppable force of pure blackness. The rogue black force plunged through the countryside, which unsettled a herd of grazing cattle and by witness of the Doppler Effect first hand, never fully recovered.

Local resident, Jean Reno, making his way home along the same country lane after many glasses of wine at the local watering hole, was also amazed at the sound and feel of the van’s inertia slicing through the night air. By morning all was forgotten. For when he awoke, only a fleeting image of a headless black horse running through a field remained in his memory.

Apart from a few anxious moments as the black hole of a car went through some country intersections and over a train line, the van and its occupants arrived back at the Carlton Hotel with various clocks, cutlery, some fake jewellery, but only eight guns.

This would not have been a major issue apart from the hideous, never-to-be-realised fact that a certificate of title to a Castle, situated high above the vineyards of Ernie Loosen on the banks of the Moselle River, hadn’t remained hidden in the barrel of the thirteenth century musket left on the cellar wall.

Over the ensuing years, Flores had spent a fortune renovating the Tower. Whole rooms were gutted, the roof replaced, and light fittings installed, which required the entire electrical system to be rewired. Of course there was no plumbing as such and walls which were paper thin had to be re-sheeted with whatever building folk do to ensure safe abodes.

The interior designer Abbaz Lolo, who Linda Fiorentino had recommended, was paid €145,000 for alabaster cornices, wrought iron gates, and all sorts of paraphernalia, and the bills kept coming.

Flores tried to live in the house, but felt disturbed by the constant never-ending construction and renovation. To Flores it seemed as though the contents of the house disappeared as soon as they arrived. As he watched another Gothic revivalist fireplace being transported by the incendiary, Olmo Dalco & Company, he fled to the squeaky haven of work. Flores was seldom at his home, but was kept informed of the renovation developments by an unreliable flow of information that emanated from the Office.

So, now as he sat in the Indus restaurant with internet data, Google maps and a whole flurry of icy emails at his fingertips, he resumed the search for some vagabond iconoclastic film director who he neither liked nor respected.

Flores regarded Gilliam as a waste of time and space with his entire film repertoire needless and indulgent however, the Old Man loved him and had handpicked the director for this stupendous event, surely the hardest book ever to bring to the silver screen.

Why the Old Man chose Gravity’s Rainbow was still a mystery to Flores. Not since A Hard Day’s Night could Flores remember such a grandiose waste of resources.

There were many things Flores would never understand, so under a cloud of derision and suspicion he collected his Apple Mac, took another sip of his mint julep, patted his moustache with a golden napkin and made his way to the counter to pay.

Standing outside the restaurant, he looked up and down the busy street. People in taxis zoomed by, kids walked hand-in-hand, giggled and hugged each other. Flores walked down the road towards the markets. A massive canopy of bamboo had flung itself over a rickety fence and dragged along the path, leaving a tube-like wave of greenery to walk through.

Standing under the canopy was an old street hawker selling small wooden boxes. Something in the man’s toothless smile made Flores stop. He held out a box to Flores, which at first looked like just another tacky souvenir designed to make tourists feel connected to the authenticity of village life. But as Flores held the box, something magical occurred. Maybe it was the intricate carvings, the flawless joinery, or its surprisingly dense mass, but Flores felt a beguiling calm settle over him.

“How much?” Flores asked.

The man laughed and said, “Twenty dollar.”

Flores looked at the man knowing it was too much, but handed over the money anyway. Flores watched the street hawker smile, shrug his shoulders, and walk away towards victories unknown but Flores didn’t hear what he muttered under his breath, “Sometimes a disturbance is a good thing.”

Reykjavik

Bethan Veroas opened Club Navanax with the distinct intention of responding to the late night piano-dwellers who were sick of Bjork and beer. Bars located on Laugavegur became pastiches of their own swiftness. Alcohol was generally too expensive and only for the graduated and the demented. People strayed out of the Borgartun in search of fun and respite from the cold. Café owners became complacent and stopped trying to create an atmosphere where people felt welcomed and special. Patrons had to finish their dinners while over worked and under paid staff begrudgingly removed tables and chairs so restaurants could be transformed into nightclubs.

Bethan settled in the Icelandic capital after many years of working for a Copenhagen taxi company. After an unsavoury incident with a local girl made good and an exhausted Australian rock star, he had lost everything in a torrential lawsuit that threatened to destroy late night drinking for everyone in the Danish capital.

“Ahh, it’s good to be back in Reykjavik, the coprophagia capital of the world. You know Princess, more pornography is consumed here per capita than anywhere else in the world.”

“Only you would know that Flores!”

“You have to learn to relax Princess, chill out.”

Flores lit a Gitanes and waited for some sort of reaction. The frustration in Portia had been building for some time. She never liked the San Diego to Reykjavik transference. As far as she was concerned, it was the worst one. It wasn’t just the change in the weather or the people, it was the mood. Whereas San Diego was bright, cheerful, even playful, the Icelandic capital was sombre, brooding, and far from stable. Truth be known, Portia missed her apartment in the El Cortez and walking along the beach. San Diego represented stability and surety, a vastly depleted energy source.

“So what’s the update?” she asked, trying to sound business-like.

“Well there is a lead, but you ain’t going to like it. He’s been spotted GETTING OFF a bus…”

Portia flinched at the sudden rise in volume then let the silence build a raft between them. Flores flickered for a moment then hurtled back into view with a monumental rise in volume,

“…IN JOMTIEN. He was seen WALKING WITH A MAN.” Portia adjusted the volume.

“Where is Jomtien?” Portia spoke into the microphone as if addressing the UN, but harbouring no prolonged animosity to the Sudanese.

“It’s a cute little squashy village outside ‘Sin City’. It’s seriously beautiful, you’d love it. There’s a Buddha statue that overlooks the ocean, very cosmic, it’s only…”

“Flores?”

“Yes sweetie.”

“Where is it?”

“Where’s what?”

Portia took a deep breath and exhaled as she spoke, “Where exactly are you?”

“I told you, Jomtien.”

“And where would that be?”

“Overlooking the ocean…” Flores’ voice trailed off as he started laughing. Portia looked serious and was in no mood for his unique brand of humour. Sensing he might be stretching the boundaries a little, Flores resumed with,

“I’m holed up in a resort on the coast, south of Bangkok. I received a call from Flange. One of his ‘operatives’ thought they saw him going into the Igloo bar.”

Portia typed as fast as she could, which had at least been made easier since the transmission’s volume had settled down. She even blanked out the sight of the snow as it thrust against the window, while people walked at a slant through the blizzard that conspired against her.

Snow was everywhere, it consumed all available space. Its friendly fire crept up on people. It looked so peaceful and meditative as it fell, however it soon covered everything and then looked up and smiled like a warm overfed cat as if to say, “Look at me. Aren’t I clever? Now you can’t do anything.”

As Portia typed, Flores became edgy. He’d been sitting for over an hour. The reception was lousy and the Pattaya Beer Garden was not officially open. The cleaners had let him in after he had waved a wad of 1000 baht notes around.

The night before he’d been playing pool with an assortment of fellow refugees and winning handsomely until that swine Flange had shown up with his new girlie-boy. It had completely ruined Flores’ concentration, to such an extent that he’d been forced to switch drinks.

Actually Flores knew it wasn’t Flange’s fault. He’d been heading down the dark alley of regret for a while. Waiting was never his strong suit. After the report had come in he was anxious to get a head start, so had arranged to meet his confine at a place where they blended in.

“By operative you mean…?” Portia inquired.

“Always with the details,” he answered.

Flores helped himself to another Sangha beer, placed his sunglasses on and looked out over the ocean. He sat in the sun on a wooden bench with his arm draped over the side of the railing. If Flores had looked up he would have seen a plane just to the left of a massive cloud headed for the sun. Instead he was drawn back to his nemesis and the incessant drudgery of details being extracted out of every situation.

“By operative I mean one of the many dedicated, talented and young assistants dedicated to the proliferation of social services to the world weary who still Shine a Light for ideals.”

Portia typed, prostitute, then said, “Uh-huh continue.”

“Well, let me see, after we watched the fight, we compared co-ordinates and decided the best course of action was to lay low and regroup in the morning, and here we are. So far Flange hasn’t showed up, but he won’t be long.”

Flores had anointed Angelo – can’t remember his last name – with the moniker Flange for what he saw as obvious reasons. Flores first crossed paths with Flange just as the finishing touches to Sideways were being put together. Flores had fallen madly – no insanely – in love with Virginia Madsen, well who wouldn’t, which had almost derailed the project. The situation had become so out of control that the Old Man was forced to intervene, something not seen since 2001, A Space Odyssey after Kubrick painfully refused to drop the whole monolith idea. It took years to realign, as it had originally been decided to let John Paul Jones use it first for the cover of Presence, but that was another story.

“Alright, if that’s it, I’m signing off.”

Portia waited but Flores just turned away and looked out over the ocean. At the conclusion of her update, Portia noted that Flores had almost revealed himself to external forces which could compromise the search for Gilliam. She added a formal request to remove him immediately from the project.

Flores was used to being reprimanded. The previous one had seen him banished from the Office. Subsequently he skulked back to his bunker, which at that point actually was a bunker, a sand trap to be precise, on the seventh hole at Pebble Beach. At the time there were no other Angels on that side of the Pacific, so he looked around, breathed in the cool misty air and set about the recruitment of a ‘confine’.

A confine was an actual person who after being infiltrated by an Angel could then be used for operational tasks to get movies made. Depending on the individual Angel’s capacity, no more than three confines was ever recommended to be kept operational at any one time. Portia could, if required, operate up to four or five, whereas Flores struggled to handle any more than two.

The main problem with confines was they had to be infiltrated and coerced gently to be able to carry out their duties, as it all had to be done under their own free will. If a confine was asked to do too much too soon, or suspected something, it could have dire consequences as they would often start to entertain delusions of grandeur out of all proportion to their talent, a `la Richard Gere, Rihanna and Cher.

Flores didn’t have to wait in isolation for long as he licked his wounds from his expulsion from the Office. One day he noticed a beautiful woman as she walked along the main road of Carmel. Flores admired her stunning beauty and wanted her image for a future fantasy that involved warm mango juice when some idiot in a light blue safari suit walked round the corner with a Srixon golf bag. The clown side-swiped the woman and pinned her up against a Bank of America ATM. Flores rushed across the street and was both shocked and delighted to see that the woman was Téa Leoni. The idiot with the golf bag was so unaffected and morose that when Téa yelled at him, he barely nodded and then went on his way. Flores thought this behaviour peculiar so after his efforts to influence the delectable Téa failed, proceeded to apply his intention on the hapless caddie, and as they say, the rest was history.

****

 

Over the next hour Portia instructed GTK to monitor Flores’ behaviour and then report back to the Office, causing the geek no end of stress as the link for the current Office holding pattern was being overtly disturbed by the drain on resources required for the search for Gilliam.

For years the Old Man desired the Office to be permanently set up in the Japanese capital, but because of the amount of atmospheric interference the link to Tokyo would often deflect to Seoul. Too often when the connection was secured, at a restaurant in the Ginza district owned by the Old Man’s close buddy Jiro, it would without warning suddenly transform into the Myeong-dong Lotte food hall.

As a consequence of the cyclic nature of the Universe and the inherent rubber-band effect of energy, the Office was flung to temporary locations before another link to Tokyo could be attempted. This process resulted in the Office being entrenched in an endless orbit between San Diego, Reykjavik and Tokyo. GTK was adamant this explained why Flange’s surname remained lost. He feared it had become a casualty of an unreliable transmission and for reasons unknown, not even he could retrieve it.

Eventually Flores received the green light from the Office to proceed with Flange, so while Bongo the mediocre was dispensed with and reverted back to his normal Billy Ray Cyrus persona, Flores was able to regroup after the Sideways project to begin work on Beyond the Lighted Stage.

Flores shut the portal and looked around. It was hot and he wasn’t sure how long he could wait or even if Flange would show up, so he decided he would head back to the Coffee Club in Mike’s Shopping Mall to recharge his surge protectors. As he walked he intercepted a call from Flange who was outside the Igloo bar.

‘Nong, they won’t be open for hours,’ thought Flores.

With Serpico-laced intent, Portia stood up from her bar stool and slipped on a small pool of Finlandia spilt by a man, who after seeing her fall reached out to assist. Portia regained her composure in the dim light and thanked the man. As Portia looked into his eyes, she thought she saw a reflection of Gene Kelly, and in that moment was transported back to a time when life seemed happy and on track.

Portia remembered the Old Man completely enraptured with Singing in the Rain. He was drunk on ‘cloud-juice’, a very scarce but potent drink. Portia heard him yell, “I’ve done it. I’ve finally done it, now they will see.” Portia watched the Old Man skip around the Office, his cape billowed behind him like a parachute as he played Dean Friedman songs on his pan flute.

Such happy times, but they seemed such a long time ago. In the pool of vodka on the floor she saw Tjornin, as salmon edged their way closer to the shore. As Portia looked into the glacial blue water, she drifted from one essence of futility to another, locked in her own prison of servitude, for she was hemmed in by the memory of the Old Man as he danced, happy and full of vigour. How she wished for those days to return, to replace the endless bureaucracy of the dream of fulfilment.

The man, who looked exactly like an actor, politely tipped his hat.

“Steady as she goes,” he said.

“Sorry, I slipped.”

“So I noticed. Lucky you were wearing underwear.”

Portia blushed as Bethan walked from behind the bar to see what had happened. Darkness pervaded, not as a sly underhand romantic notion, but as a pure highlight for the Club’s main attraction.

Bethan’s pride and joy, the thing he had shovelled every conceivable currency into, was not just an upmarket drinking hole, but a shrine, a place of worship. From the moment you walked in, everywhere you looked; along the corridor with its dark, red velvet curtains to the pre-dinner bar and into the main seating area, where bands played as part of the Airwaves Music Festival, posters of Morgan Fairchild were placed at every single vantage point.

Bethan had developed a pathological obsession with the pristinely beautiful actress after he raided his father’s wine cellar one afternoon when he should have been at school. Halfway through the second bottle of McClenny’s Hock he turned on the television in the sitting room and was instantly hypnotised by the porcelain features of the young actress in Search for Tomorrow.

Bethan took years to compile his collection of posters, photographs and memorabilia of the iconic beauty. The most expensive one was from Blondes vs. Brunettes. His favourite was a signed, original, framed poster of her playing Jenna Wade in Dallas, but the rarest was a mint-perfect series of her from Paper Dolls.

Portia looked at her watch. Ablus was late again. Instead of being in the moment, she continued to fidget and concentrate on the negatives. Portia felt she should know the man in front of her.

“You must allow me to buy you a drink.”

“No thanks, I think I still have one here.”

“Oh, I’m almost certain of it.”

Bethan switched on the cabaret lights which made the Club look like an emporium with a need for Valium. Bright lights manifested on a sheer glass wall which towered over their heads. Mood music slunk back undercover along the carpet, which swirled and gyrated to the beat of The Darkness as they played Shirley Bassey covers.

Men danced, but only just, on the arms of feathered and bedecked glamorous women who had no need for a Russian husband. They were doing this on their own. Portia sensed déjà vu from Eyes Wide Shut. She had seen this before. She turned with expectation as if to see the good doctor being fondled by the two models with the overdosed girl still alive. The man she couldn’t remember the name of, looked as certain as a sun flare, and cautioned her not to dance so quickly.

Much to Portia’s relief, the mystery man who was in pursuit of her physical acquiescence was momentarily distracted by the arrival of a waitress who possessed a remarkable likeness to Kelly Preston, but on closer inspection turned out to be Ragnhildur Jonsdottir. Somewhat in a trance, he glided across the floor towards the waitress, as he followed his heartbeat with the promise of a golden miracle.

Portia could hear Flores as he whined about having to travel in all sorts of uncomfortable modes of transport. It looked like Gilliam was on the move. Thailand could be just a stopover, a distraction, or maybe he was just lost. Flores had the mindset of him headed further east, perhaps China.

Portia ignored his pleas as she had too much work to concentrate on. There was a shift. GTK had reported a breakthrough in the link to Tokyo which hopefully would curtail half the Office being sent to Seoul while the Old Man remained in Tokyo.

The cycles seemed to appear faster and faster for Portia. She wondered if it was just her or whether they were, in actual fact faster. The cycles also seemed to be shorter as well, their arrival too soon for her to lock in everyone and resurrect it all before the next rotation. Portia had suggested the Office explore another site, but until GTK repaired the Tokyo-Seoul dilemma, the Old Man wouldn’t consider it.

The man Portia failed to recognise disappeared. The faint aroma of Tabasco sauce – the green one – lingered just as Never Never Never floated out of the Bose speakers.

Ablus Fortune burst through the front door of the Club with a hysterical Salma Hayek in his arms. Portia braced herself as he rushed across the dance floor while the mono-browed actress screamed in her native tongue. Ablus pushed open the door to the unisex bathroom. Portia knew what this meant but couldn’t bear to look inside the bathroom.

Before long, as she expected, a solid block of wood was hurled out of the bathroom door and slid across the dance floor. Portia was relieved to know Salma would be okay now. She would wake up on the set of Desperado none the wiser, but a report would be filed and questions would be asked.

Ablus Fortune walked out of the bathroom. He wiped himself dry with a handtowel. Portia whimpered as she could hardly resist a man in uniform. He looked so splendid in his Flashman gear. Ablus nodded at the waitress and before Portia could help herself, she and Ablus sat in one of the booths just as Kim Novak in Picnic appeared on the plasma screen above them.

“Sorry about the Gregorian entrance, but she just popped out of a bus shelter down the road,” Ablus said without any further concern for the Mexican actress.

“Probably because there are no trains here,” Portia said dismissively.

“That’s right, same as Hanoi,” Ablus said casually.

“Hanoi?”

“Yep, haven’t you heard? Gilliam was spotted at Noi Bai airport,” Ablus spoke while he looked at Bethan and pointed at Portia’s empty martini glass. “Another for ‘Little Miss’ and I’ll have a Bacardi and Coke,” Ablus ordered.

Portia found it difficult to concentrate with the most gorgeous man since Paul Newman in such close proximity as he pieced together the threads of Gilliam’s road trip through South-East Asia.

“So let me get this straight. He went AWOL in Berlin, dismissed London, bypassed Amsterdam, ignored Belgium, surfaced in Thailand and arrived in Vietnam.” Portia was in total disarray. Her eyes were shut as she looked down at the runway superimposed on the table cloth. Travolta took off in his A380 Airbus and waved from the cockpit in his Qantas cap.

“What is he running from?” Portia’s exasperation would have endeared her if it had been directed at someone. Ablus Fortune looked around for his drink, and nonchalantly remarked, “Unless he isn’t.”

Portia took a moment to digest what he’d said as she wiped her forehead. Her brow was tight which skewed her eyes and made her look like a young Tallulah Bankhead.

“What do you mean?” Portia pressed for an explanation.

Their drinks arrived with little fanfare unlike Vincent and Mia’s Vanilla Coke and five dollar milkshake. In fact Ablus took his straw out exactly the same way as Vincent did as if to highlight the potential of the remainder of the night.

“Think about it. The Old Man has been on my case,” Ablus looked directly into her eyes.

“What are you talking about? He spoke to you? When? About what?”

“Well I’m trying to tell you. He spoke to me before the meeting.”

“Before the meeting?”

“That’s what I said.”

There was a scene in Belly of an Architect where Brian Dennehy stood next to a marble column. It was a timeless shot of nervous conviction that Portia loved, but she didn’t love The Darkness’ version of Goldfinger.

The atmosphere in Reykjavik since Frances had never been the same but it was getting maudlin now. There was too much information for Portia to digest in her current state. She hated relying on Jessica Lange so much, but she was just so damned good. The Old Man had bypassed her and had spoken to Ablus Fortune without her involvement. It was highly irregular and potentially dangerous to have two Angels on separate trajectories.

“After he spoke to me, I had to laugh, as it was so obvious. I guess that’s why he’s in charge, a bit like Marsellus. I always loved that band-aid on the neck shot, one of his best.”

“What’s so obvious?” Portia remained none the wiser.

“Well, maybe Gilliam isn’t running away, perhaps he’s going somewhere.”

The simplicity of it ran Portia over. Time was a precious commodity. She had a decision to make; stay in this shit hole of a bar with the prospect of waking up next to Mr Saturday Night in the penthouse suite of the Ordstaltbelt Hotel, or hit the airwaves and try to crack a composite of Gilliam’s possible voyage through Indo-China.

“Do you want to get out of here?” Ablus asked, as if he’d found the secret documents from Inglorious Bastards. Ablus Fortune was accustomed to women who fawned over him, but an Angel supreme was rare, so his well-bred and cultured stance took over.

“I can’t think in here, the music is crap and all those bloody photos of that woman,” Ablus laughed, as he removed his hand from around his glass and beckoned for the bill.

“It’s okay, they’re on me,” Portia offered like Ellen Barkin in Sea of Love. Portia and Ablus left together and made their way outside. The air temperature was ridiculous. As sleet seized control, the weather removed any romantic considerations of a ferry ride to Corsica.

“Are you hungry?”

“A little,” Portia squirmed inside her velvet reindeer coat.

Ablus grabbed her arm and took strides away from the footpath. Undercover of the Night, but still afraid of the cold, Portia leant into him so he took her weight as a good Samaritan should.

Not far away they stopped outside the Baejarins Beztu Pyslur. Other nocturnal souls gathered to sample the finest hot dogs outside of Maxwell Street, with sweet roasted potatoes and fiery kyochon sauce.

They huddled together and watched two Korean women toss and turn little balls of fried carbohydrate and drench short buns with steaming hot logs of sausage and burnt fried onions.

“Mustard with that,” Ablus made questions sound like statements, which amused her. Standing under the canvas sheet that only just kept the weather at bay, they gorged their mouths and wiped each other’s lips of sauce and fried onion.

Ablus Fortune knew the outcome of the night before Portia did. He was privy to the personality dichotomy that made her life as an Angel so bitter-sweet; her Achilles heel. That she cared too much was a great strength, but it was also her greatest weakness. This had not been widely known until the Old Man posted it on his blog.

Portia dreamed of being human but it took great energy to maintain the vigil of not being one. In San Diego she flourished in her Angel role, but in her not-so-favourite cityscape of Reykjavik or ‘Smoky Cove’ as she referred to it, she struggled to maintain the intensity. Only the surrounding countryside offered any respite.

Ablus figured time had run out as she looked so tired from the charade. The Korean women were about to fade and even the taste of kyochon sauce had evaporated from his mouth.

“Quick, we can just make it.” Ablus started to run and, as her arm was in his pocket, Portia had to run as well.

“Where are we going?” Portia asked like Jen Connolly as she walked into the stag party in Requiem for a Dream.

“You’ll see.” Ablus didn’t know if he could tell her upfront. He hoped she would guess and he also hoped the third apple martini hadn’t blunted her Sigourney Weaver-in-her-underwear base instinct for danger.

One of the good things about Reykjavik was that everything was relatively close, unlike Tokyo where everything was a twenty-block cab ride away. The geothermally-heated beach arrived pretty much just after her hot dog had disappeared into her stomach.

Portia stood at the entrance. She looked up and down the short spray of recently unearthed sand and tried not to imagine how cold the water was likely to be. Portia emolliated in the surroundings.

“Come on, before you go belly up.” Ablus was off into the dark. His feet squeaked on the sand and were followed by short splashes in the water that gave an indication as to his whereabouts. As he stepped into the water his foot grazed a smooth pebble. Ablus looked down and thought, ‘i hope i don’t do that when i die.’

The decking, where ice creams were sold, towels swapped and deck chairs stacked during the day, was empty. Déjà vu attacked her again like Christmas dinner leftovers. The moon shone on them like the ocean scene from Sex and Lucia, but she knew it wasn’t Ablus’ birthday. That was only a few months ago. She had bought him Kansas City, well a scaled model, after the Old Man had told her Ablus loved Charlie Parker. She’d had it enclosed in one of those snow dome souvenirs. Then it hit her, like a singularity in a bon-bon. As she walked towards the water, naked, but to the outside world still clothed, he saw that she knew.

“When or why? I don’t know which to ask?”

Ablus held her like a baby polar bear and said, “It’s not important.”

“Have we failed?”

“I don’t know, but perhaps he just thought you and Flores needed reinforcements. To be honest, I can’t explain why the disappearance of Gilliam is so important. He’s had failures before.”

Portia was more worried about losing another Angel than what would become of her and Ablus in their proposed human incarnation. She knew as soon as she was swept back into the Office she would forget, although to forget was not the right description, as you can’t forget something that wasn’t real.

“GTK has complained about Synchronicity again. I have to go,” Portia laughed, “I mean we have to go.” Ablus nodded reluctantly. The moment he’d dreaded had arrived.

****

 

Portia loved Faxafloi Bay. The coast line was A Love Supreme. She loved the constant flotsam and jetsam of peninsulas, coves and straits and the nearby hills of Oskjuhlio and Skolavorouholt that looked over the Ellioaa River. The stillness of Ellioavogur Bay brought her back to her core. Portia loved the view from Orfirisey, as she looked out at the hidden suburbs interrupted by stark, frozen, rocky outcrops. The constant desolation of the Ellioaa valley was in stark contrast to the jerky presumptuousness of the Office. Empty space was a premium. It was her escape, an escape she couldn’t at times fathom, but she held on to it like there was no tomorrow, which of course there wasn’t.

Geir Hallgrimsson knew nothing of Portia’s plight. He was focused on a meeting he was the Chairman of with the Directors of Icelandair, HB Grandi, Advania and ATVR. Geir overcame many logistical problems to arrange the meeting as few of the Directors scarcely believed in his proposal to utilise volcanic geothermal energy to heat residential satellites and businesses.

Geir made his fortune from the manufacture of ceramic engine components for SAAB’s fighter plane division. He came to Portia’s attention after infamously buying ‘The Sagas’ and the construction of the largest swimming pool complex in Reykjavik, which he enclosed with a glass dome made of solar panels.

Portia relaxed at the water’s edge. She had picked her spot carefully. There was nothing from the Office to occupy her mind. The Old Man was secluded in preparation for the transmission to Tokyo – hopefully not Seoul. Portia sat on a rock, her bare feet rested on small pebbles awash with the cold spray of sea water. The sun made her squint, yet she was happy to sit and absorb the warmth reflected off the white cliffs and the natural sparkle of the placid ocean.

Portia looked across the ocean with the pursuit of happiness firmly entrenched in her make up. There wasn’t a moment when she wasn’t completely in focus. As she brooded, a small dot on the horizon slowly emerged out of the distance.

The wooden-hulled yacht headed for the promise of tomorrow, but hadn’t yet escaped the inevitability of the present. Portia was not held responsible for the change in course, but nevertheless silence held her captive and anything that kept that at bay was unwelcome. Geir was at the helm for as long as he could. The shore was coming aboard sooner than he would have liked. His vision for the future was clouded by the myopic foresight that surrounded his colleagues and threatened his plans.

Portia knew she needed financial clout to fund the rest of the escapade and Ablus Fortune needed a leg up to get out of the bind he was in, so Portia’s dilemma was to work out how the two men could cross paths.

Geir fed his clients lobster and Krug. Consensus was reached without any intrusion or expletives. As they sailed up the river towards fortunes unknown, Geir took the mantle and it shone like a star-spangled banner.

“What are the options for sharing the capital outlay?” asked Tries Fendikson. As CEO of ABBA, the largest fish processing plant in Sweden, he was exposed to the greatest risk due to the dangerous levels of heavy metal in the waterways. Over the past few years production had slowly diminished, and Geir had already bankrolled Tries many times to keep him afloat.

“We will all take a hit initially, but in the long term the savings will outweigh the risk. The Government will match everything we put in. The tax benefits will kick in next year and then we can reinvest.”

Portia saw the yacht slowly come to rest at the dock just as the giant pink snail in Doctor Dolittle had done all those years ago. The crew were indistinguishable from the scenery. The yacht was tied to the dock and the Directors were reintroduced to their push-me-pull-you ‘Boxsters’ as Geir sat back, satisfied that the future was settled.

Ablus waited till the crew had left before he dispatched Lily to knock on the cabin door. Geir opened the door in a pair of white shorts and a pair of grey boaters.

“Yes, can I help you?” he asked.

“Hello, my name is Lily Dalbray.” Geir looked at the stunning brunette before he scanned the dock.

“Hello Lily, my name is Geir,” he answered as suavely as he could.

“Yes I know. May I come in?” she asked, batting her eyelids.

“Most certainly, may I offer you a drink?”

“Yes please. A Grey Goose and Noily Pratt Martini with two olives and just a smidge of lemon peel.” As Geir summoned the ingredients for Lily’s drink, she explained her presence,

“I have a business proposition for you.”

“Well, you have my attention. I’m always up for something new.”

“You may have heard of Findhorn, a community in Scotland that explored alternative methods of co-habitation where people could be themselves and get back in touch with nature.” Lily waited for a response.

“I have heard of it, although never been myself. I’ve always been a bit of an alternative man, swimming naked in the fjords and enjoying the fresh mountain air.” Lily rejected the smug implication and dived straight in.

“We would like to set up a similar community in Iceland, but we need money to fund an expedition to find a suitable location. We have one in particular in mind. Have you heard of the Bree Daniels meteor?”

Geir handed her the drink with a blank look. This was most certainly not what Geir had expected.

Portia and Ann-Margret were instrumental in the creation of the magical playground of Findhorn. Angels needed a place to rest and even though they couldn’t participate directly, they could experience pleasure vicariously through the naked wanderers. The Angels wanted people to experience pleasure, or the promise of pleasure. Angels could not understand why people were not happy. Ablus once tried to explain that it was because they knew they were going to die. Portia asked the Old Man if he could alleviate this problem.

“If nobody died then the planet would be overcrowded. I even created reincarnation for those who really couldn’t handle the idea of dying.”

Portia wanted to test the theory so she and Ann-Margret looked around for a suitable location but their efforts were hampered by the religious crowd as they were so serious and set in their ways. In the end the two glamorous Angels set up Findhorn for those with the desire to live the Pagan dream, and as a bonus for themselves ordered the construction of the Log Cabin for the Angels.

Lily continued, “Have you heard of John Kerry, the famous meteorite hunter?” Geir shook his head in silence. He wasn’t aware of GTK’s correspondence chess buddy who once fought off a polar bear while he searched for the world’s biggest meteorite, which he was allowed to name.

“It’s believed the Bederaux glacier was created by a meteorite thousands of years ago. It’s one of the last remaining meteorite legends not yet confirmed. John Kerry has agreed to head a party to search for the remnants. There is a brief window of time when enough ice has thawed to allow passage for a large, well-equipped boat to sail in close to the glacier.”

Geir leant back in his King Otto recliner. He considered the request longer than he needed to. He had fallen inextricably in love with this perfect creature. There was something of a young Liz Taylor in her, except the eyes were autumn brown not summer violet. Geir thought Lily refined, almost transcendental. He desired to bask in her radiance for as long as he could so embarked on a voyage of pointless questions designed to delay her departure.

“This meteorite, what’s so special about it?” Geir asked.

Lily had been well briefed. “Legend suggests it contained remarkable properties, for soon after it landed the ice froze over which retained many supernatural elements that the local people believed enriched life, prolonged sexual performance and facilitated an awareness of cosmological greatness. It’s believed it resided at the bottom of a glacier, which left the soil rich and the very atmosphere itself alive with positivity.”

“And you want to live there?”

“Yes.”

Geir looked Lily up and down. He noticed she had that wonderful rich Scandinavian skin that turned liquid caramel in the sun. He wondered how much of her was tanned.

Lily convinced Geir to charter his boat to look for the perfectly-shaped meteorite crater. She reinforced the point that the publicity would draw attention to Geir’s so far untapped philanthropic qualities. Contact details were exchanged and meetings were scheduled to organise the logistics, just as Portia had planned.

Then days before the expedition was to commence, Lily casually mentioned her ‘bogus’ planned trip to Vietnam. When Geir found out about the search for Gilliam, he demanded to be a part of it, as the Adventures of Baron Von Munchhausen was his favourite film.

With all the contact with her ‘Ladyship’, Ablus had still not divulged the secret he carried with him. He was on the way out. His apprenticeship had taken a distinct turn towards the miraculous.

Ablus Fortune had paved his way purely on his stable temperament and solid work ethic. There was no distance between himself and ‘Goldilocks’, but she was still too intense, still wrapped up in how it should be. He had demonstrated on many occasions the discretion to sometimes hold back, to know when to let go, and when to intervene.

With Flores still on standby, and by no means any certainty to continue, arrangements would need to be made, as the current winds of change still floated around the jet streams.

Pattaya

“Any news?” The Old Man didn’t waste any time.

“I’m on my way to the bus station now. It appears he made his way north. It looks like he’s been there for some time. He was careful, covered his tracks, and kept a low profile. One thing I was going to ask you, do you think he is dangerous? Should he be approached?” Flores asked.

“Hard to say. If in doubt hold back, and let’s see where he ends up.”

“Is Portia there?”

“No, why?”

“No reason.”

“Just stay focused on the task at hand, Flores.” The look in the Old Man’s eyes left Flores in no doubt how serious the situation was. Flores wondered exactly what the task in hand would entail as he signed off. He was stuck in the middle of Sodom and Gomorrah with no reference point and no clear idea of where this was headed.

‘I don’t know why he doesn’t just get another director, he’s done it before. Why waste any more time on this clown?’ Flores sensed the Old Man had lost control. His normal rationale was to attack and capture. He wasn’t wired for surveillance and subterfuge. He had his confine on the case, but one of the drawbacks about being an Angel out in the field was being limited to how he could operate. The portals were fuzzy at the best of times and varied in strength from where he could exert the right amount of influence. Flores resented ‘Her Majesty’ who continued to operate in the Office while he floated around the frequency streams while being patched in and out of reception.

It was time to check in with Flange, with whom he vaunted so that the Old Man was happy with their work. Flores couldn’t believe ‘Her Ladyship’ hadn’t been more supportive, so he decided to take on more responsibility to make himself appear indispensable.

Flange had been charged to organise a night out for the boys at various ‘flesh-pots’ including the Flight Centre bar, where young girls paraded up and down a runway in their skimpy hostess uniforms before a communal shower on the main stage. Flange was reminded to take it easy as they didn’t want the Old Man to hear about anymore exploits such as the Igloo bar, where they drank with a couple of local girls before a busload of Russian ice hockey players entered wanting to know, “Vwat es diss eglue?”

So as to not appear disagreeable, Flange and Flores showed the ‘boys’ the front bar which was an actual cool room attached to the main part of the bar where the temperature was maintained at a balmy minus ten degrees. Inside the Igloo bar, girls served shots of flavoured vodka, dressed in fur coats and Nanook boots. While the two ‘F’s’ watched the ‘Ruskie’ clowns rug up in jackets supplied by the staff, they did the opposite and stripped down to their underpants and sat at the bar where they downed shot after shot, while the Ruskies were berated for their ‘pussy-ass’ softness.

Initially, the Ruskies weathered being heckled in the best possible way, but when it went on and on, the mood turned sour and they took umbrage at the unprovoked scathing attacks. The goalkeeper hoisted Flange in the air and babbled in some thick, Georgian, phlegmy huskiness, and had to be restrained by his buddies. Eventually, the Ruskies decided to continue their surfeit pursuits elsewhere. So in a sad withdrawal, they disrobed and became The Departed, leaving the girls annoyed as they watched their tips disappear into the ‘Walking Street’ night air.

The desperados met at the Igloo bar. Zak Smyth arrived first. Zak was an unusual creature, not yet a confine, but well on the way. Zak smuggled gold for a Russian consortium that bought old derelict buildings and abandoned lots of land. Local laws dictated only Thai natives could own land, so young willing participants were extracted from their night jobs in the many bars along Walking Street to act as wives for the Russian Oligarchy. Some of the girls who worked in the real estate offices, which were just fronts for the Oligarchs, still wore sunglasses due to their conditioned aversion to sunlight.

Along First Street, running parallel to the beach road in Jomtien, were Russian real estate offices all staffed by ex-night stalkers who prepared dossiers, filed falsified rent receipts and attended to their make-up. Zak developed an integral push-bike delivery system along the beach road to transfer money and the rent receipts. His master stroke was the purchase of a gold emporium where foreign cash was deposited then laundered in the form of gold going out the front door.

Ever since he landed in Jomtien, Zak had been an invaluable aid to Bethan, who was a bit dusty after he’d endured the all-night flight from Reykjavik, but to ease into the new surrounds soon became entangled with a cherry-picked-vixen named Sky, who had him up most nights doing the ‘venus-butterfly-fandango’ which was a lot harder to perform than it sounded.

They were soon met by Ablus Fortune and Geir Hallgrimsson who’d had a perfect start to the day. Carl, who’d been fully briefed by Portia only an hour before, was the last to arrive.

Portia was distraught. The confines and their respective teams on the ground were way behind schedule. They needed to be mobilised as a matter of urgency, but she had received an unusual directive from GTK to now not travel by air from Bangkok. With Gilliam already in Vietnam, they should have been much closer but now had to manage somehow via road.

What added to her frustration was yet another poor transference attempt from Reykjavik to Tokyo. The latest transmission was far from completely successful. Portia was stranded in some KFC style restaurant in Seoul while the rest of the Office hovered around Jiro’s sushi bar under the Ginza Plaza train station. This made communication with Ablus extremely difficult.

Carl was all action, “I’ve created a project plan.”

“We need a truck!” Zak asserted.

“A truck? Why?” retorted Bethan.

“I thought we could catch public transport. The buses here are really good,” Geir offered.

Now that they were so close to their real agenda, Carl was anxious to move on, but Zak and Geir were still way behind.

“I think the Irish breakfast sounds good,” Geir said as he licked his lips.

“Oh? Does it have sausages?” asked Zak.

Bethan looked at the overhead television. Real Madrid had just equalised and the match looked destined for extra time, much to the sublime relief of Martin Tyler.

“Guys, guys, I thought we were here to get this thing going?” Carl’s desperate plea would have endeared him to Portia had she not had her own issues, not least of which was an attempt to persuade the lovely and poised Korean housemaid to come back and clean her pod in the Ibis Hotel in downtown Myeong-dong.

With the conversation back on track, Carl said, “Public transport is too risky, and it takes the element of surprise out of our control. We need to have flexibility.”

“That’s why we need a truck?” whispered Geir, ever-so-quietly.

“I know,” said Zak, ever-so-politely.

A waitress arrived and over several minutes each order was spoken, written down, and repeated with echo. This drove Carl nuts, as not only had he eaten but was already in rescue mode. As the others waited for their food, he wondered if he had the internal fortitude to lead this merry-band-apart.

With drinks sorted and food on the way, the composite lurched back into view. All eyes were on Carl who responded to the call of the wild with the sacrosanct assistance of his firmly-clutched project plan.

“How soon can you get a truck?” Carl asked Zak.

“The Ruskies have so many vehicles, they won’t even miss it. They park them at the back of the Michael Jordan arena. Tomorrow morning shouldn’t be a problem. What would you like? FT350? Caddie Escapade? I know, how about a Hummer Zeda? It’s huge, seats about ten.” Zak’s eyes lit up as he pictured himself barrelling along the six lane super-alfresco highway that sling-shotted around Southern Thailand.

“Sounds perfect,” Carl offered his stamp of approval. Carl ensured their tasks and roles were made clear. Geir was the lone financier, so a certain amount of compromise was endured so that he was given a good seat and would have plenty of time to explore the transcendental delights of the girls at the Flight Centre.

Bethan was the logistics man, the hunter and collector of supplies for the journey. Bethan was a card-carrying member of the Southampton Lycanthropy Society, which amongst other things funded and supported the database that logged go-go dancers and other ‘entertainment’ professionals that expectant young travellers could add to wish lists for comparison. Zak had developed into the transport admiral, and Ablus Fortune provided the link between Geir and Carl. Portia had briefed Carl up to a certain point, whereas Ablus had the inside running with constant updates via a direct line from the Old Man inside the ante-chamber.

“All right, let’s meet at the Big Buddha car park at 6am,” announced Ablus, who immediately headed back to the See Me Hotel where he was ambushed by Portia who was under attack from the Old Man to placate his concerns over the time it was taking to track down the illusive director. Portia had just come out of a meeting with the Old Man so was still in stealth mode.

“Have you made contact with the others?” Portia asked.

“Yes, I’ve just come from them. We’re all meeting in the morning. Zak is organising transport, so we should be well and truly on the road by this time tomorrow,” Ablus tried to sound as upbeat as possible.

“The Old Man is asking for daily reports. Something about this isn’t quite right.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, he’s normally pretty serious, you know, pedantic. But there’s a certain tone of anxiety now, an atmosphere of urgency I’ve not encountered before. This has the whole Office turned upside down.”

Ablus heard a strange sound. He checked his room but couldn’t ascertain its source. He looked at the television screen more closely. Ablus couldn’t distinguish where Portia was even as he squinted at the screen. She looked like she was in a lift.

“Where are you?” Ablus squinted harder.

“I don’t know. It keeps changing. I tried calling GTK but he’s off the grid. They really will have to do something about the Tokyo-Seoul shift. Did I tell you the other day I was heading for Jiro’s restaurant but ended up in a Kyochon takeaway chicken shop? Mind you, I love their Red Hot Combo.”

“Have you been able to intercept anything from the Old Man as to why he is so obsessed with this film?”

“NO I HAVEN’T…” Portia’s voice suddenly rose in volume, a sure sign the transfer was being interfered with.

“Have you tried reading the book?”

***

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Genius Remote

What does God, the Devil, Angels, Movies, U2, and Jiro Ono all have in common? Genius Remote explains all. From Holland Park to the jungles of Vietnam and many stops in-between - it's all here. Genius Remote is a surreal comedy involving the Old Man upstairs who has been making movies with the help of Angels to promote the message of Enlightenment. Some movies have been successes others dismal failures. Heaven, known as the Office circulates between different locations around the world where it conducts the business of making movies. The Office has to avoid staying in one place for too long as Technology issues create disturbances in the transference to each location. The cycle of the Old Man is coming to an end and the Devil - played by Zachy Dupont is about to take over. In one last effort to get the message of Enlightenment to the world, the Old Man decides to adapt the complex novel - Gravity's Rainbow to film with Terry Gilliam as the Director but Terry goes missing just before shooting is to commence. What follows is a roller coaster ride to find the missing Director before Zachy Dupont takes over the world. Along the way movie stars, musicians and B-Grade TV actors pop-up in a variety of un-expected cameos. Every character in their own way struggles with their role in the scheme of things. The Angels have to search for the missing Director, with the help of Confines who are hand-picked by Angels to facilitate the machinations of making movies. Behind-the-scenes in the Office a love story develops between two Angels while the Old Man needs to decide who to replace when the Angels leave the Office. Zachary Dupont is plotting to derail the whole project of adapting Gravity's Rainbow to film by enlisting the band U2 to sabotage the search. A chase through South-East Asia ensues to see who can get to the Director first. The search for Terry Gilliam is symbolic of the West's fascination with exotic landscapes and culture coupled with the colonisation and attempted destruction of South-East Asia. The climax of the story is set in a cave where Terry Gilliam stumbles across an unexploded bomb from the Vietnam war. He has been led here through his search for absolution. He contemplates his own life in the silence of the jungle. There are many references to movies both past and present and lots of twists and turns in the plot. There are lots of gags about famous actors, musicians and the whole celebrity status merry-go-round. The style is surrealistic with many liberties taken in regard to plot, timelines, and geography.

  • ISBN: 9781370809660
  • Author: Miles Rothwell
  • Published: 2016-08-10 07:20:11
  • Words: 47245
Genius Remote Genius Remote