Saturday, 24 May 2008

Id Parade (A,B &E 8)

The suit was exclusively his, since I could never figure why he should alight on me, a married, wrung-out, college-suburban housewife. He took my listlessness for disinclination. And a brow pursed by baffled pensiveness, he misconstrued as derisive nonchalance. Early on, we were having a quiet cream tea at some chintzy French café in London. Just the pair of us, necessitating, as I was later to discover, him somehow giving his entourage and confederate cronies the slip. All of a sudden, the police thunder in and arrest him. He stood up and offered his wrists behind him, all the time unperturbably looking me in the eye, so as to allay my terror and confusion. In a soft voice, he told me to return to my hotel suite, wait for Lawrence and the ‘Brief’ to pick me up in the Merc and go with them. This was all too abbreviated for me. As he was frogmarched toward the exit, he turned his head and said also to ensure there was some champagne on ice. These were the first and only orders Damon ever uttered to me (the death sentence currently conferred notwithstanding, since it was never issued to my face). And even though I hadn’t the foggiest idea what was happening (whatever became of the cream tea bill for example ?), I did exactly as I was enjoined.

Sure enough, I was soon sat in the back seat of a large, sleek Mercedes saloon, gazing out at a wet West London afternoon. Tracing the lines of descent of the speckled raindrops on the outside of my window. Dying stars rather than shooting ones. There was only the rubbery suction of windscreen wipers conducting their Sisyphean labours for company, amidst these two complete strangers in the car. The ‘Brief’, a corpulent man named Burrows, breached the bated solemnity, to inform me that we were making for a ‘line-up’. An identity parade, where Damon would be on show with some other men behind glass, so that some deluded witness could pick him out, as tenuous proof ‘apropos nothing’. ‘Plod’ had been trying to nail Damon for ages apparently. They were always at it, pulling some stunt or other in public. The eyewitness was always the potential achilles heel of any case. It was his own task to douse this suckling pig, so that any prizefighter silk, would be able to render him a sow’s ear. In other words to roast him on a spit. Or her for that matter I thought silently.

I’d got about one word in three of the parlance. I’m sure that wasn’t how the Law Lecturers back home went about their instruction. Yet his phrase ‘on show’ rattled around my abstracted ruminations. Dragging my focus away from the rain pointillism of London scenery, as I tried to bore a hole through Burrows’ briefcase to manifest its contents. I fathomed our presence was required there to be Damon’s what - ? His stalwarts, yes indubitably. His defenders, certainly. His friends at court, is that why I had been brought along, for some upstanding suburban respectability ? His accessories, God Forbid (does he?). My mind was deluged with a volley of notions. ‘On show’ he had said. And ‘Plod’, er The Police, have been after him ‘for ages’. (Rusty) nails and crucifixes. Without question, we were about to enter the amphitheatre, with every local bobby craning for a gander at Public Enemy Number One. Before witness-Caesar upends his thumb and sends him, what to Purgatory ? Now my febrile imagination entertained visions of me being hoisted up and over some burly Constable’s shoulder, as I reach out with my hand to touch the glass behind which Damon stood condemned. I had been summoned, not by Damon, but by the Police. Solely in order for the purpose of consummate humiliation. I was being warned away from associating with such a baleful influence. I too, was indeed to be a witness. To a mirror revealing me a path of such tribulation, from which I must make every effort to abscond. This was a premonition of the police standing up in Church, or at whatever equivalent License application hearing and raising their objections.

My mind was in such tumult, that I did not regard the length of our journey. It was only when I clambered out of the car, barely able to swing my tremulous legs out on to the pavement, that I saw a sign announcing Kilburn Police station. Kill and burn ? “Why are we here ?” I asked Burrows. He adumbrated how there were only four stations in London with the necessary identification suite and Kilburn was the cardinal point for our quarter of London. Lawrence remained in the car, as Burrows sagged down toward his window, squelched pudgy knuckles against the glass and waited what seemed like an eternity for the tinted window to be cracked open an inch. “Don’t forget to get Terry on the blower about the champers !” (Who’s Terry ?) Burrows turned and chivalrously gestured me with his arm, to move off towards the door. I cross-hugged my shoulders, as if I was about to be fitted for a straitjacket. Burrows moved to put a shepherding hand against the small of my back, but caught himself and just kept it hovering in adjacent space. We were met by a WPC, whose features are a total blank to me, since I was transfixed by her legwear, which while not exactly sheer, neither were they as dowdy as I had presumed. That may make me sound somewhat shallow, but it wasn’t exactly as if I’d been devoting hours to anticipate the likely apparel of a policewoman, on the off chance I’d get to meet one in her official capacity. In a maelstrom (male-strom ?), a girl has to reorient herself to terra firma, by whatever means she can.

We were ushered into the darkened suite, (politely or offhandedly, again I cannot recall) and stood in the gloom facing a large window that gave way on to nothing. An empty, bare white room, barring the measuring stripes across the far wall, spaced at one inch intervals. For some perverse reason, the notion of it being a piece of modern art insinuated its way into my head. I snorted it back out again, which made both Burrows, and the lone duty officer glance at me. I affected fanning the air at my breast and looked back through the glass. Even a cocksure estate agent would be hard pressed to talk this one up. A room without a view. Unless you were on the outside, looking in. Like prying neighbours, twitching their nets. Like us, stood here. Vacant with possession.

Reflective privacy guaranteed for those this side of the glass. Just the three of us to date. Apparently there was to be no teeming congregation in attendance. So how notorious could Damon have been ? Some of my apprehension exhaled itself like a bled radiator. “I’m not supposed to be in here am I ?” I whispered to Burrows. “True, it is contrary to the normal rules” he snickered back at me. The glass was suddenly displaced and filled with bustle, as nine figures filed in like a ragged floor show taking their under-rehearsed stations. Among the flux, I couldn’t spot Damon, I, his would-be intimate. That was a good portent wasn’t it ? Ah, there he was, stood stock still, the only one of them not fidgeting and preening in the mirror. He was holding a card bearing the number ‘5’. I didn’t know if that was his lucky number or not. Our suit hadn’t yet attained such a level of petty disclosure. I knew it wasn’t mine though. The torsion of his carriage seemed evident beneath the fabric of his suit, though the aspect of his face was set firm. The thick line at 5’ 6” scorched right through his skull and passed out the other side. His head clamped like the jaws of an animal before the vivisectionist’s probe. Others pates either towered or crested the line, their crowns beaded by the narrower plaits of interceding markings. Hey, that’s not fair ! They’ve done that deliberately. It’s like they’ve put an arrow over (or through) him, to point him out. They’ve underlined and overscored him. Now I found myself rooting for him, despite my car-borne misgivings.

And then it began. The witness shuffles his way in on our side of the glass, eyes cast down the whole time at the floor. Damon canted his head, tracking for something. Burrows softly cleared his throat as the poor sap passed in front of us. The escorting plain clothes policeman shot him a glower. Burrows didn’t blink. Corpulent, but not gelatinous. Despite outward appearances, hewn from the same stuff as Damon. Naturally he would be. I returned my attention to Damon, to discover his gaze had locked on to me ! Couldn’t be, it had to be a coincidence. Instinctively I groped behind me, for the feel of the incongruous looking plastic bucket chair (on remand from somebody’s patio ?). I dipped down into it, anything to escape the purview of Damon’s infelicitous line of sight. This time none of our company were distracted by my rupture. I chanced peering up, to descry an almost imperceptible tilting downward of Damon’s irises in their sockets. What the hell was he playing at ? And then it hit me. What a charge ! And all the while they were attempting to press charges against him ?

Assembled, nay on show here, was a beauty pageant. All tenors, hues and heights were represented. In fact, we pretty much had the entire male gene pool clustered within these specimens. And there was Damon, outstanding among all this rank parade of manhood. Observe how he shone like a cynosure alongside these others. While they all blithely beam, safe in the knowledge they couldn’t get picked out, yet still they are unable to quell their edginess. Mark number three there, perspiring like a sow. Since, line any man with his back to this and his mind can’t help but fall prey to working overtime. His lack of conviction, so that anything, anything at all in his whole life, that makes him feel ashamed, out it comes and is displayed here. Guilty by dint of being hard up against this tidemark. First formed and then reinforced, by row upon row of unwashed, sweaty necks. A plimsoll line beneath which they all sink into the mire. But not Damon, head held unabashedly high and proud. His whole body tensed with rippling self-assurance. Now I gleaned why the 5 &1/2 foot stripe, uniquely defined his stature. Human in scale, but his power could barely be contained.

It was incumbent upon me, as witness, as adjudicator, to take a long lingering look. After all, he’d sought and located me behind this dividing wall of invisibility. Made it two-way again. Somehow he’d distilled my superannuated pheromones of desire and condensed them against the glass, so that he could pinpoint me exactly. It was as if we were both putting on a private peep-show for one another. The other punters just didn’t register. Our own exclusive id parade. Teasing one another inscrutably. Playing footsie without flexing a muscle. Come in number 5, your time is up. He could say it with flowers, or how much more exciting to say it with handcuffs. In the guise of Cupid, the Police gave him a pull, in order for him to pull me.

By now, the witness himself had heaved to in front of our number 5. He looked long, but not hard in the field of Damon, (who was staring unseeing at him, but straight at me). It was not so much an examination, more a pause. A rest stop. A caesura. Thinking back on it, I don’t think the poor wretch was weighing up his options, neither any scruple. I think he just felt defeated and was wondering how sufficiently to collect himself, in order to pull off feigning passable diligence toward the last four. He shambled on, acceding me an untrammelled line of vision once again. Damon, all of a piece. Not like viewing in an art gallery, where you gained perspective from afar, but move in closer and you could see all the brushstrokes, or the grain of the worked stone.

Any distinguishing marks that lay beneath the province of clothing, go unnoticed at these surveys. Yet, in my mind, I intuitively roll up Damon’s sleeve, to caress the tiny, undeclared scar on his elbow, from when, I discern, he took a tumble off a childhood bike. A childhood I am aware, standing there behind the screen, I know nothing of in reality. Mentally, I’m now licking the slight pigmentation at the back of his leg, currently enclosed in trousers and pressed against the wall of splinters. There I imbibe a sliver of his toddler-training, trying to impress his mother by demonstrating that he could make her a tea. Dribbling a constant trickle of boiling water down bare flesh exposed by treacherous dungarees, as he drags the hefty kettle over to her. She, wholly unaware of the mishap, since even then, he staunchly refused to cry out with pain.

Now the twinkle in his eyes addresses me directly once again. He is indicating the tram lines behind him. Drawing down my eyeline with that of his own, he is projecting on to my retinas the image of him squatting down lower against the wall. I follow faithfully, but cannot infer his intent. He repeats the process, his eyes shouting voicelessly. Wildly gesticulating without motion. Ah, now I get it, he is supplicating me. For all the power, his power, is now condensed my side of the glass. Crouched at four foot tall now. ‘How low do I want him to go ?’ Why, on one knee of course. ‘Here I am, right off the scale now !’ My obeisant pheromones, reconfigure into the phosphorescent imprint of a kiss on his side of the glass. I frame him in my mind’s eye and start calibrating as to where my head will nuzzle in his throat hair (the at-a glance wall chart does have some application after all). Is he right or left handed ? I hadn’t even noticed up to now. If he leaned his head down against the back of mine, I’ll be able to feel his breath in hot little pants on my neck. Heh. Heh. Heh. My Ex-propriated liked to do that too. Made all the fine hairs of sensation there stand up diatropically. Exposing the nerve endings, which eventually he severed with his sequiturs of disdain. Making me a dead zone. An arid wasteland, where nothing stirred. Until now. Damon, what say we make the desert bloom again ?

Needless to say Damon got off that evening. Like every evening. Damon always got off. On life itself. Discharged from custody, he scooped me up into an enormous bear hug and swung me round. Then he sparred at doing the same with Burrows, whose mutton chops arched with a ‘I’m late for dinner just for that ?’ smirk. We sauntered to the car. The tinted front passenger window buzzed smoothly down, from which emerged a champagne flute held with fingertips barely brushing its stem. “Cheers Tel !” enunciated Damon to anyone in earshot, which seemed to be about half the night shift arriving for duty. An insouciant arm cupped in an expensive silk sleeve, lodged on the vacated passenger window frame and dispensed a regal wave. The car interior was so dark, I couldn’t see anything beyond that. “Yeah, bottoms up Damon !” burred a softly sibilant, lisping voice from within. A leering Damon opened a rear door for me and took my glass. I was about to tunnel in, when (Terry’s ?) barely audible words seared my body, as I realised indeed I would be deporting my upthrusted posterior through such a manoeuvre, presenting red knicks like an oestrus monkey (the female greeting of choice out here in tourist Greece). Act like a lady I steeled myself and demurely curtsied down into the upholstery and slicked along its length. Terry gave me a tight little nod, before beaming at Damon as he barrelled in after me, reacquainting me with my flute. Once we were all ensconced inside, Lawrence started the engine, but he merely let it purr contentedly. Just so the Cops could see that crime did indeed pay. All was right with the world again, including my newfound congruence in it.

On the journey back, I was a bit inebriated what with the unaccustomed sparkling wine and repeatedly turned to whisper-shout in his ear, like an overexcited schoolgirl meeting one of her pop idols. He didn’t flinch. I suggested we might hold our wedding (!) in that selfsame viewing suite. Where I should join him on his side of the reflective glass, staring into the endless mirrors within each other’s eyes. Just the two of us there alone. All the guests would behind the viewing window, acting as the witnesses. The priest could intone his stuff over the intercom and when it came to the moment when anyone can challenge the validity of the marriage - well, let them just try and reveal themselves ! Damon cough-laughed into his bubbly and nearly choked. I had joined the game. Signed on for the ride. Of a lifetime, and for one. I had ineffably cast my lot, Damon having unobtrusively picked the lock of my psyche and sorted out my sortilege. So much for my premonition on the journey down. I was to smash that scolding mirror, but you know what, any bad luck only kicked in after seven blistering years. The Met wrote back a pro faced letter, saying that as they had never applied for a license for their venue to conduct weddings, regretfully they would have to decline my petition. Despite not being a member, Damon then wrote to the Grand Masonic Lodge Temple Guild HQ or whatever it was, with the same request. But he never even obtained the curt-easy of a reply.

Nor, for all the time we spent together was I able to discern any blemishes on his skin. Indeed, I was never able to match s single one of my fanciful speculations on his upbringing, with any tendered episodes. Simply as none were ever forthcoming. Save for that night’s journey back in the car, when he chose to confide, no issue, just a single bulletin from his childhood. That which denoted his inception into the life of crime, (“cards on the table time” as he put it). That which simultaneously battened down all further inspection into his past life. Sealing his childhood in an unmarked tomb, which I was never able to disinter. Securing his parthogenesis. The man which directly issued whole from inside the boy, like the flowing sculpture from the gelid marble. He remarked that he had been overcome with an urge to swap around the nine numbers and take different ones from those the police had determined. For, being lined up against the wall, had bumped him back to his schooldays. Outside the headmaster’s study. “Why were you outside the headmaster’s study ? What had naughty little boy Damon done ?” I interrogated him scabrously. “I’ll get to that. All in good time” he purred easily. He conjoined our flutes with a chiming resonance, that seemed to ignite all the air around us into an oscillation mirroring the sparkling bubbles.

His French class had been assigned a new female teacher. She sat them in alphabetical order, so as to help hasten her recall of their names. Inevitably, boys being boys, when the first opportunity was forthcoming, they all swapped places. Handing back homework according to the name on the cover, yet no book gets back to its rightful owner and each member of the class seems to be demonstrating an alarmingly erratic level of performance from week to week. She’s looking at one kid straight in his face, expecting him to put his hand out to take the book, when some other voice pipes out from behind her and makes her jump out of her skin. (I don’t know why, put it down to the alcohol, but I wasn’t sharing much female solidarity with this benighted teacher). And so it evolved.

One day soon, she appears in class with a riding crop. Proclaiming she knew how to use it and wouldn’t be averse either, demonstrating with a fricative airborne flourish. In response, four boys, Damon pointedly not being one of them, then exhibit commendable alacrity to get to the next day’s lesson early, where they implement covering the floor entirely with centrefolds culled from top shelf magazines. Wall to wall, airbrushed flesh carpeting it was. Damon reported that he was just stupefied as to where they so readily came by such a welter of material. The schoolmistress marches in and realises straight away, but plumps for a strategy of ignoring it. Only, in the course of trying to conduct a normal lesson, she can’t help walking on them wherever she moves. And then it begins. The four likely lads are all knocking things to the floor. ‘Miss, Miss, I think I dropped me rubber’. And ‘Please Miss, can you get my twelve inches up for me ?’ They collapse to the floor hooting and proceed to roll around over the pictures. And she’s in tears, still gripping her crop. “Because they knew see. Knew she was holding it the wrong way up, by the thong, after she’d swore she knew how to use it”. They saw her off alright. Had a nervous breakdown and wheeled away out of teaching. Even I cavilled at this point, but Damon just shrugged. “She weren’t hot like you Babe. Normally a foreign language teacher, you’d expect ...”

Other than as an interested spectator, he’d had no involvement, nor had he precipitated any of the anarchy. He just got swept up in the dragnet. Waiting with the four perpetrators to see the headmaster. Last in line. Though Damon actually was innocent, by the time the Head came to him, he had wearied of the cull and perhaps wanted to show magnanimity (or weakness in Damon’s eyes). Damon was the only one that day of the five, (his lucky number after all ?), not expelled. “Not me Headmaster. I want nothing to do with that bunch of nut jobs ... Too far I agree ... Must have discipline, yes Sir. Maintain authority, couldn’t agree more ... ... No Sir, I have no idea what fate befell all the, er corrupting and depraved material ...” Other than it went on to form the seed merchandise of Damon’s incipient business empire (hallmarked with authentic stiletto heel imprint). Trading in people’s rapacious needs. Damon knows what folk want. Ravenous people. And he certainly grasps one end of a scourge from the other. See, Damon was not only alive to people’s appetites, but he apperceived the sensibilities they coated them in. And me ? I believe my blunted appetites, to have always been thus. Just now I can’t even affect to drape them up in anything resembling judgement.

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