“Thanks, Damian. By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask: where did our two broadcasts take you, what did you see when you watched them?”
He stiffens, looking grim. “I didn’t see the second one, but your first broadcast dug something up that it should have left buried. It’s now running loose in me and hiding in the shadows. A thing I never knew I had. A shriek—that’s all I’ll call it. You don’t wanna know more.”
We lapse into quiet … and I see you as a boy, Damian West, when the sad pirate captain in your head said you’d sail via white sandy bays past frog-croaking jungles, through lagoons and straits and over seas whose green glassy surfaces shivered with the wriggle of gigantic squids and worms miles below. But even as a boy you could glimpse, within the captain’s vision of your ship’s jaunty launch, the spectre of the ghost-ship it would later become: torn shreds of sail hung on pale shrunken mast-wood, where cormorants perched and shat; the rasp of vultures scratched across the plastic glaze of sky, while an oil-slicked sea licked dully at the ship’s hull; and strands of blackened flesh upon your own skull and bones.
My tune-in is interrupted by a savage barking from the side alley. Damian takes a quick step across to the window and peers through the lowered blind towards the street, his hand near his jacket pocket, then returns to his tea. “Passer-by,” he mutters darkly.
He rolls an expertly thin cigarette from a packet of tobacco. I raise my mug to him and he returns the gesture. “I used to have porch-geese,” he reminisces.
He says nothing.
“Are they what I think they are?” I persist.
He glances around the room, as if scanning it for hidden microphones. “Depends what you’re thinking.”
“Well … geese that live on the porch, I suppose?”
He nods grimly, sipping his tea. “You’ve nailed it,” he says, then clamps his mouth shut tight again.
“Huh!” I say.
There’s a silence.
“Well, that must have been nice,” I venture. “Did you all like one another?”
“They were guard geese!” he barks, as if offended.
Smoke from his roll-up rises through the bars of light let in by the horizontal slats of the window blind, which stripe his face too, like sideways prison bars.
“Have you ever seen a dachshund high on mushrooms?” he asks.
“No, I can’t say I have.” I should prefer to be asking “Is Lucan planning to hurt Shigem before Shigem leaves town tomorrow evening?” but I can’t mention that he’s leaving, just in case Damian and Lucan don’t in fact know this. Nor can I even ask just “Is Lucan planning to hurt Shigem?” because I can’t run the tiniest risk of putting ideas into Lucan’s head.
Before I can hit upon an acceptable re-phrasing of the question or an effective substitute question, however, Damian takes me in a different direction altogether. “Never let your enemies escape,” he urges me. “And yet, be patient too, because if you sit beside the river long enough, you’ll see the body of every one of your enemies floating by, dead.” He gives a mirthless cackle, then resumes, starting quietly but building in intensity: “I’ve seen it all, Jaymi: a madman in a dismal land, standing in a brown field, watching two bums who were trapped on a small shitty island in a river where they maimed each other using rocks and sticks in sunlight for hours, till they both died screeching—pointless, witless, hopeless pain. Larvae so bloodless and hideous, feeding off the napalmed bodies, out in Vietnam; and under the shed that I shared with the bodies was a baggy red light-bulb, squeezable and lit, with a fumble of wires, and I knew it was a bomb. So I ran, and heard it blow up close behind me with a burst of green smoke. Then the sun shone down pale green, through a green sky; dogs barked, birds screeched and body parts rained down. The sirens started wailing and the dogs wailed back at them, in time with the wailing of the newly mutilated—a sour flame of pain in a garden of evil. I saw that I was wounded. I started blacking out, then, and sombre pictures flashed in me: the son of the hounds of the sea, the hundred-foot snakefish, and swordfish jumping up conveyor belts. And torture, forever, all around the world, in chambers: the slash of steel, the burn of fire, the slice and stab of bone-twisting pain are all gashed into flesh at dawn as lightning shrieks, and nothing we can ever do to stop it.”
“And how warming it is,” I say, “to know that all that pain will last just as long as people last.”
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