Authors: Glen Duncan
And now Clarence.
. Fuck are you lookin at, Wogger? (He ain't no wop an he ain't no niggerâ¦) Weeks of writhing
virtue had made Augustus a neighborhood figure of fun. Secretly he believed he'd amassed an enormous amount of Jesus-like behavior and was close to being granted his desire. Therefore, molten but resolute, he offered Clarence the other cheek. The half-dozen kids went quiet.
shamed. It made him furious. Laughing, he belted Augustus again, harder. The other kids fell about. Augustus turned and walked away, eyes hot crescents. Fuckin
, Clarence called after him. Fuckin momma's boy
128th Street smelled of stale pee and baking asphalt but grief made it a soft dream. The brownstones loomed over him like consoling uncles.
Love your enemy
. His enemy was Clarence, but
was the kisses his mother gave him and his arms around her, which thought provoked an unsettling vision of kissing Clarence that made his scalp shrink and his private parts tighten. That couldn't be it. Jesus couldn't mean
Disobeying orders he traipsed back to the apartment and tried the door. It wasn't locked. There was the living room, but with a tension in its contained sunlight that made him not call out. Instead, in slow motion, he went on sneakered tiptoes with a feeling of swollenness and gathering recognition (hadn't he dreamed this?) to the bedroom he shared with her.
This door was already wide open. There was the bed and on it was a colored man, naked, with his muscled back to Augustus. He seemed enormous. The sight of his bare butt with the bedclothes pulled down around it hurt Augustus in his heart. He stood very still, the blood in his cheeks singing of Clarence's two whacks and the warm feeling of kissing love when he wrapped his legs around
Juliet and the man's bottom with its awful dark crack which he'd wipe after he went to the bathroom and the tiny yellow flowers of his mother's sheets right there.
All he could see of Juliet was her arm draped over the man, her long fingernails doodling on the bare back. What do you want, mister? she'd say, whenever Augustus flopped down on his belly across her lap to invite this. Oh no, I've got better things to do thank you very much. But she always did it. Two minutes, you hear? I'm timing. Not a second more. You're like one of those Roman emperors, do you know that?
When the man rolled onto his back Juliet came with him, smilingâthen saw Augustus. “Oh, no. Baby? Are you all right? What are you
She was naked too, shoved herself off the man's body and with compressed violence got into her dressing gown. “
Caro mio, stai bene
Augustus felt space filling up around him with a soft invisible force, in spite of which he also felt two hot tears leave his eyes. Ducking Juliet's outstretched arms he darted with raised fists toward the man on the bed, who had a slender long-eyelashed face and prominent cheekbones, fingernails of pearly whiteness, and who caught Augustus's wrists with infuriating giant ease and said, “Whoa, little brother, easy now,
“Sweetheart come here, let me talk to youâlet him go, Leonard.”
That stung additionally, “him,” a terrible precise degradation. When the man released his wrists Augustus flung himself past his mother and ran as fast as he could from the apartment.
here's a big obstacle for you,” Harper says. He takes a last drag on the Winston, drops the butt, concentrates on crushing it with the toe of his shoe. “Which isâ¦”; he looks up, meets Augustus's eye with the calm friendly alertness, “that we know you have the information we want. Probably all of it.”
The eye contact tells Augustus Harper's not afraid of his prisoner's humanity, or is merely curious about it, hasn't yet stopped being pleasantly confounded by not feeling what he's supposed to feel. The guards already have the air of giddy self-distraction and Augustus knows how it'll be with them: They'll require jokes, infantile euphemism. Let's give him the helicopter! Buckle up now. They'll laugh when they gouge his eye out and leave it hanging on its nerve (he feels the sudden hot bloom of urine in his lap) because if they don't laugh how can they have done such a thing? Appeals to their humanity will move them to greater excesses because in here it's their humanity they're afraid of.
Harper's different. “We're often dealing with people who may or may not know what we think they know. Naturally that leaves open the possibility of them convincing us that they actually don't know.”
The interrogator's eyes flick down, register that Augustus has wet himself, flick back. Augustus imagines Harper thinking if he shits himself we'll hose him because it'll stink and I don't need that.
“Obviously in your case we know you know.”
From which it follows that there's room for resistance but not dissemblance. Either way he'll end up dead. His skin feels the logic of this in a million pinpricks but there's a spark of eupho
ria at the certainty of deathâgone in an instant because it's not death he's afraid of.
“Let's establish the knowns to save time,” Harper says. He selects one of two manila folders from the table. “We know there's an international organization that operates under at least a dozen names, Sentinel, Rogue, The Watch, POFV, RJO, Outcast, etc. You'd think we're far enough into self-consciousness to stop naming secret organizations so humorlessly. The po-facedness is one of the things that depresses me about this set-up. They should've called it The Nippy Nubbles, something like that. Think of the intel briefings, everyone trying to keep a straight face. Anyway we know it targets individuals deemed criminal by internal consensus. Vigilante democracy, I love this. We know it has members of the administration on its hit list as well as Third World tyrants and Russian slavers. Good bad guys as well as bad bad guys. We also know that you, a Sentinel operative recruited by Elise Merkete, have, as Yousef Saleem, spent two years forming an attachment to a terrorist cell in Spain. I love this too: because you want the guys behind the Barcelona department store bomb in '02. This is not John Walker Lindh. This is the vendetta script. We like this. This is personal. We see this. Who'd you lose in the explosion?”
Augustus hadn't had much hope they wanted the faux convert. Now he knows they don't. Now he knows the information they want is the information he doesn't want to give them. “Does it matter?” he says.
“No. Just curious. A Loved One, we can assume. Maybe we'll come back to it later.”
Augustus's scalp tingles. He hadn't realized he wasn't fully alert. This is what happens: You forget where you are. Despite ev
erything you forget where you are then without warning remember. There are those times driving a car when without realizing your mind's been elsewhere you suddenly come to and wonder how long you've been gone and whether if someone had stepped into the road you'd have hit them.
“Six months ago,” Harper says, “we foiled an assassination attempt on the president but the Sentinel operative was killed. That is, we're pretty sure it was Sentinel. Either way Washington's had enough watch-and-wait. A Mugabe that's one thing. The commander in chief? No. Obviously I see where you're coming from. But what I see's irrelevant.”
Augustus thinks of his half-dozen fake passports and driver's licenses. You send backups wherever you're going. That's fine until you're smuggled from the country you're picked up in. His genuine passport's with Darlene in New York. The Carl Garvey he flew in on is in a safe house in Rabat. The Yousef Saleem was in the Barcelona apartment but they'll have cleared that. Elise has the Lewis Carlson in Paris.
“I'm not going to insult your intelligence,” Harper says. “I'll ask you questions and you'll have the opportunity to answer.”
They both know there's no need to expand. Instead Harper gets to his feet and puts his hands in his pockets. The movement again releases the scent of clean cotton. Augustus thinks: Jakartan workers at the Gap factory get a dollar a dayâthen almost laughs at the smallness of this injustice among the horrors he has to choose from. The thought takes him away for a moment, sends him lightly flying over the headquarters of the World Bank, then a green sunlit river, a forest, the roofs of East Harlemâbut most vividly to the hotel room in Barcelona four years ago, Selina
saying, Are we really to be given this, now, after all these years? They'd lain for what seemed like days (but was in fact less than forty-eight hours) in the giant bed with a feeling of truancy from the city's bright afternoon. A maid had knocked and Selina had called out: “
Por favor vuelve mÃ¡s tarde
,” Please come back later, and it was only in the foreign language he heard her voice thirty-two years older. You love someone then lose them. Decades pass. You have other lovers, other versions of love. Then one day you're at a kiosk buying cigarettes and a voice beside you says: Oh my God. And you admit in that instant that this is what you've been waiting for all along. The lost thing found.
When he comes back everything's acquired a new throb, as if the room's asking him, incredulously: Don't you
it? He realizes that as lately as five seconds ago part of him was still thinking of somehow getting himself out of here. You don't believe in the soul until you feel it straining to escape the body. Of the philosophical crowd at Harry's only ex-Catholic Selina skulkingly admitted to Dualism. All those hours of relished argument, cigarettes, booze, reefers,
interminably on the jukebox. Into this life we're born, into this world we're thrown. Existential bombast, but true. He remembers the moment he knew she wanted him, was going to have him. With a touch of erotic shame he grasped that the white slave mistress germ was in there for both of them but since they owned up to it in all but words it didn't matter. In his heart he knew she wouldn't have done it if he'd been pure black and this excited him, pulled for the first time on his European blood, said it could be of use. How do you describe yourself, Afro-Italian? I don't describe myself. I just show up. She'd said: Don't pretend you're not working it, those green eyes. Nothing radiates like a
guy's happiness with his physical self. It's okay, don't sweat it. Half the girls at Harry's go weak at the knees when you come in. She had a way of flattering him that maintained her wryly above him. It was one of her personae, the girl of jaded omniscience, a line of self-satire. Like most beautiful brainy women she felt compelled to mock the ludicrousness of her advantage. He was so crazy about her he didn't know where to start. It took effort to be cool. She was used to guys seeing her as an unearned gift. He was determined to receive her as an entitlement. But after they went to bed together strategy, for either of them, went out the window.
Harper leafs through the sheets in one of the manila folders. Augustus looks at the two guards. They're smoking and chuckling over a deck of porn playing cards. According to an article he read somewhere young men in the west have stopped ejaculating inside their women, feel unfulfilled if they don't direct their semen onto the face or breasts. The Devil may not exist but if he did this would be the sort of triumphal curlicue he'd go in for, a cheeky twist in the struggle to invert life.
Get laid before the job
, Augustus had been advised in Barcelona.
When your finger's on the trigger you don't want to be distracted by thoughts of what you might have done one last time
. So he'd made the appointment with “InÃ©s”âand been delivered into the irony of reawoken tenderness. They'd had sex missionary style and been brought into awkward intimacy when their eyes met. He had no illusions she got any pleasure out of the act but there had been moments when they'd been revealed to each other as people. What had he seen in her? A tension that was her controlling her fear lest he do violence to her. Beyond that sadness for the younger self she'd betrayed. Beyond that the faintest trace of species benevolence, a concession that connection
with each other, however blighted or fleeting, is all we have. He'd left her apartment building knowing his focus had sufferedâand within twenty paces found himself smoothly abducted by Harper's people. It occurs to him that she, InÃ©s, was the last representative from the world he'll never see again.
“Let's start with the Barcelona cell,” Harper says. “I'll give you the profiles, you tell me everything you know about them.”
“Willingly,” Augustus says.
“This is the easy part. I need everything you've got on these guys.”
Of the twelve names and faces in Harper's folder Augustus knows eight and can provide details of four planned actions in the next six to twelve months. Meeting places, codes, fronts, dummy operations. It had taken two years to get in, almost two years' study before that, the claustrophobia of ostensible conversion. The Koran's lulling music of tautology, then the obsessed bleating of Qutb and Maududi. You don't fake conversion. You sign part of yourself over to it and hope it can be reclaimed. You acquire another optional reality. By the time of his arrest he was three days away from taking out Husain, Masood, Ali and Fawaz, the four behind the Barcelona department store bomb. He's twice been involved in actions himselfâabortive since he tipped off the authorities through Elise. This was the tightrope he walked every minute of every day. Elise had said: They're going to kill you. They're going to find out and they're going to kill you. But they hadn't. Three more days and it would've all been over. Then what? Elise had asked. Then nothing. The word “nothing” had emptied him, for maybe the first time showed him there really was nothing beyond killing them. His imagination stopped as if at the edge of
a flat earth. There was a life on autopilot in New York: his four restaurants, his proxy, Darlene; an apartment on the Upper East Side, a house in Vermont; people he'd abandoned; a way of life; a world. Elise had said, gently: I don't think you'll be able to go back. You have the disgust now. I had the disgust before, he told her. It's just I was too lazy to do anything with it.