Friday, June 18, 2010

The Inn, 1901

“Hhow do you kill a man?” he asked him in a voice oblivious of all euphemism and euphony.

“What is the first thought that comes to you’ mind as you hear thiz question?” he asked again, taking a generous swig from the wooden jug that hung loosely from between his crooked fingers. His tongue, sodden and bloated, now and then rendered unclear most of the words emerging from his orifice.

“Of ‘when’ or ‘why’ you would do et, I hoold no concern. There are reasons. There will be . .  . . . . because thare always are.”

“You could be avenging the mu’der of a loved one . . . .  or chastizing the betrayal of zumb’dy whom you had learned to trust . . . . . or getting back at zum one who has had his turn at knifing you and not succeeded at et.”

Another swig.

“. . . hell, I can give you a thouzand en one reasons sitting right here.”

“But you zee good Zir, of all the facts pertaining to mu’der, reazens and grounds are the ones that I learnt to disregard . . .  a long time back. A reasoon to kill is, for me, merely an excuse given by thoze ‘ho wish to remain safely veiled under the blanket of civvilized traits and mannerisms . . . . and yet experience the pleasure dat cannibalism gives to de uncivilized. They are jussdificationss . . . . that men provide so as to not be termed by the society as outlaws . . . . . purely . . . . . because those who don’t, arr termed oth’wise.”

He coughed coarsely, making wet streaks of liquor spurt out of his mouth which crept downwards to the bottom of his protruding jowl. Feral locks fell onto his wrinkle-strewn face, the thickness of those tresses abundant enough to cover his eyes and dishevel his vision. Yet without an effort to comb them back, he continued.

“The only facet of mu’der thet has never . . . failed to grasp my curiosity is the answer to the quezzen ‘how’ it would be done.”

“And so I rebeat my orriginal q’uery to you- hhow would you do et?”

“Would you throttle him widh you’ bare hands? Would you choke him until dead? Would you stab es chest u’til all th fury thet you could muster against his deedz was out of yourr head . . . and all thet e could bbleed was out of his heart?”

“Ddell me how ye would do it.” he repeated with shallow authority, unperturbed by the chilling silence that the air between them seemed to be filled with. “Zend ‘im to the gallows would ye be so kind enough to? Orr would you wish to un. .complicate a procedure far too . .  tedious . . .  for your refined self and maybe do et then and thare?”

The man in the hood said nothing. He remained as he had been an hour ago when the man dressed in filthy white, shouldering an auburn satchel, who was now drinking profoundly, had stepped into the gloomy expanse of that dingy tavern and strolled straight towards the seat that he had preoccupied awaiting the news of his achievement; unstirred and unspoken.

“Perhapz”, he continued, having wiped the wetness of his grizzled moustache at the back of his hand, “perhaps you’d think of using a crow-bar . . . . maybe thrash his bones with its unfinished edge . .  u’til the skin on ye palm wer tattered and red . . . .” Rum dipped droplets of spit flew from his mouth again as he spoke in that rudely errant tone of his. They landed everywhere that his fierce visage tuned to eye on, as a result drenching the downy exterior of the barman’s desk that lay in front of him. “. . . . Until you arr zertain enoug tet the life in him has lonng departed . . . and the thing tet ye are sta’ding over es a rotting cadaver . . . . weting te be feasted upon . . by gites and scavengerz hovering above your ‘ead.” his sentence concluded.

The echelon of inebriation which the man had arrived at within the past hour or so, was now coaxing his spine to sway aft and fore, akin to a palm tree being held timidly by its roots and unbeknownst, although it were to him, there wasn’t much time left before it would be uprooted by the mirth-filled liquor that was being consumed by him aplenty.

He paused a little, savoring on the contentment of having almost finished his twelfth jug of the night. For how long he had been drinking out of the glass that he held, he had the slightest of remembrance. But he didn’t mind it either. For he knew well that he had all the time he could ravage tonight, of all nights. This night, he felt, deserved a celebration.

“Wat would ye do?” the interrogation went on. “Or sso zhould I correct myzelf en ask . . . wat could ye do?”

A moment of silence brought again to an abrupt halt, the meeting that had been for most of its part, a monologue, as the tall built chair supported from beneath by tiny wooden wheels suddenly slid backwards under the wayward heaviness of the creature slumped upon it, clearing way for him to fall face first on to the shoddily mopped floor. 

It was just in time that his intoxicated hand shot out to the front, parting with the jug that it had held till now, leaving it to loll on the dismal surface of the desk and clung onto the counter’s blunted edge instead. With great effort and sweat did he manage to slouch back into the seat; one hand propped up against the desk and the other holding its place against the firmness of the chair.

“Den again . . .” he said without waiting for a reply and as if nothing untoward had ever taken place. “. . . it failz to occur’t me as to wy e mann, wo haaz conscience . . . . orr et leazt wishes es fello socayeti to believe so, would think of creating a poin’less mezz of a job . . . as double-e’ged es dis.”

A violent belch overtook him, sending an insurrectionary shudder that began beneath his neck and went on to un-lid his eyes; as he tried his best to steady himself notwithstanding his willingness to slump then and there into quietude.

“Why, I can’not breng m’zelf to anzwur, would hee aggree to let es palm be zmeared with conspiguous blood . . . . for e task . . . that cou’d be sed and done . . . witth much more uh . . . hhow may I put et . . . . Discrezion . . . Subtlety.”

Having perched back onto the crude carved timber, his hand, as if involuntarily, was weighed down again by the previously abandoned flagon. He slurped on some of the gin, which had hidden itself from him at the bottom of the nearly empty glass, and gulped the contents without letting any of it glide through his throat the way he had until now. Half way through, his neck still gurgling venom and his Adam’s apple manifestly reallocating itself under the acidic deluge, he began speaking.

“Then agen, I dhink I know wat be det thing that would occurr t’ zum-one as . . .  zufisticated . . . eend as gultured as I ‘eve heard af you being, onze you’re done defining te act . . . of slaying a fellow human . .  as zum-dhing inevitable.”

His eyebrows now rolled onto the man that he had been speaking with. A shrewd smirk formed on his lips as he looked through the hair that had fallen over his face, straight into the eyes resting beneath that dark hood. And as if it had been foreseen by him, he found them devoid of emotion. ‘The frostiest of nights in the darkest of deserts’, it struck to him; as he searched for words that could aptly describe the demeanor of that unsettling gaze.

They were the same set of eyes that had greeted him a week ago; eyes that had remained nonchalant as the man owning them had hired him to do the job that he was known to be the best at; eyes that belonged to what he judged to be an exceptionally powerful man.

“Ye’ would shoot him, wouldn’t’ye?” he asked him gently with more than a hint of decisiveness lingering in his voice.

And for the first time was a question of his replied to, in a voice even hoarser than the one he owned. “Maybe . . . Maybe not.”

“Knew det would be ye anzwer!” he exclaimed back in triumph.

The heaviness of the rum lodged inside his stomach and the glassful still making its way there made him slump further into his seat. His spine now rested helplessly on the back of his chair. Only the sturdiest of roots now tethered the palm tree to its base, threatening to give way any second. Yet he drank once more, emptying the jug barring a small portion, after having raised a toast to his little coup d'├ętat of words. 

The noise of leftover alcohol moving sluggishly inside the goblet disrupted the hush as he banged it on the bartender’s counter; an unspoken avowal, summoning the bartender and ordering him to refill it with more of the cheap liquor that was usually served in that hostelry of his.

The barman obliged swiftly and backed away from the scene into the shadow of the lumber room that lay behind his desk as soon as the  pitcher sized mug was filled with what he judged to be enough alcohol to last for another ten minutes; although the odds of him being called back for more after that seemed strong.

He was a commoner, the barkeeper. He had barely found meaning in the wordage that his ears had grasped while serving the strangers sitting at his desk. But on more than one occasion in his meekly existence had he not been insentient to the verity that the level of acumen which he possessed was never meant to understand many a such thing. He knew for instance, that it wasn’t by choice that he was what he was, standing where he stood at that moment, ignored and hidden, within the silhouette of the storeroom walls of his father’s tavern. It was just another fact for him, that the dolt inside him was to remain there forever, continuing to add to his mockery at the hands of everyone he was known to, and this disheartening hypothesis of his had been testified true every single time he’d made up his mind to escape from this place that was called Dibblers’ Inn, a place where his time had frittered under ceaseless trepidation.

Tonight however, it took not more than a second, to occur to him that he didn’t have to possess any more acumen than what he did, to understand that the two men occupying those seats were, beyond doubt, not the kind of people he’d want to interact with. Their manners were those owned by men unlike those who permitted others to meddle in their conversations and let them get away with eavesdropping without loaded pistols and jagged stilettos being involved.

Left alone to manage the Service duties by his father, he didn’t want another fight to engulf the bar without reason, the way they did more often then not. To his fortune, tonight’s atmosphere was jolly and the little crowd that occupied his tavern seemed a merrier than usual lot. The one thing that he wished now above everything else was for this unruffled milieu to persevere until the remains of the night were devoured by the crack of dawn.

And hence he sat in a silent little corner of that dust-filled room, growing tensed with every passing hour, remembering the lord and praying to him for things to remain normal at least until his guardian had returned from his nocturnal visit to the village brothel.

It was after all New Years Eve. ‘And what man would crave a forlorn beginning to his New Year’, he thought. If truth be told, amidst the glum and grime, what had kept him a tad cheered up that night was his eager wait for the display of fireworks about to take place past midnight at the landlord’s manor that lay a hundred paces apart from the inn. 

It was in commemoration, as the Landlord sporting his renowned walrus moustache had announced a day prior, marking the passage of another successful year, although many would argue later on amongst themselves that the same held good only for himself. With the clock about to pronounce the stroke of midnight, his adolescent heart beat in rhyme with the mounting anticipation of being able to watch a rare spectacle.

And so it had gone on. Each time the man sporting the ashen chemise with bulgy sleeves ordered him to, the bartender had refilled his glass without delay, in spite of being aware that he wouldn’t get paid for it; and then he had returned to his safe abode inside the store hoping against hope that they would leave sooner.

“Now det I’ym done azking you what I indended to . . . end guezzed correctly de answe’ tet I’d get for it ffrom ye . . .” continued the man, in concurrence with his efforts of straightening his back. “Suddenly, I find myzelph in doubt. . . . whether mye quezion te yu was good enough . . . in d phirrzt blace.”

“Ye will hhave do believe me . .  I darezay . .  whhen ye ‘ear me in...phorm ye . .  tet nurturing de aspirations . . .  uf killing anotherr man . . . givez ya too m’ny en opzion t’ chooose frrom dese days.” He signaled towards the rusty doors of the inn with his finger. “It’z e dengurous world . .  out there; dangerous en disguized.”

“That dee men o’ dis world er civilized iz . .  in reality . .  a parr’dox . Wat elze do ye egzepect . . . from’a world whhere e greature . .  es vizious es de hyena . . iz supposed do be laughing?”

“Iye ken azure ye in morre dan one way . . .  thet in thiz werrldd . . . in thes country . .  for det mattter, overfloweng wedh people . . .  zo different from un another . . .  ani-one kan kill ani-one . . . . aand de druth es dat dey do.”

He drank from the freshly topped up glass, finishing his statement with a spoonful of alcohol trickling down on one side of his jaw.
“Sso le’me rephrase my guestion . . . . . Le’me azk ye zum-dhing which I bresume ez wordh your tyme and mye prrice.”

His tongue, serpentine and wet, surfaced out swiftly and went back in as quick as it had lashed out, once the superfluous liquid sticking on the sides of his mouth was wiped clean.

“How . . do you kill e mann . . . sitting att de zenter of a room . . . .widh sixty eight men a‘round im?” He took his time in finishing. “And I’m nott done yett. Wat ef I were t’ dell ye det dhis mann det iye speak of . . . .  iz no ordinary mann . . . . . and det blace where I wand ye t’ imagine hhim sitting es kno ordinary blace?”

“Wat if iye was to add that dhose zixty eight menn desgribed to yee bye me zo briefly . . .  arr menn ho kno no fear . . . .  menn capable of e might no lezz then dat uf a cold-blooded ar’my . . . .aa grup dat is ready do kill or bee killed . . . beffore letting zum-one hurt’, fu’get mu’der . .  dhis . .  dhis god-man . .  whom dey revere and venerate so much?”

A moment of pause followed.

“T’put et en lez dan a line: howw do ye kill a cougar . . . lying en de deepest corner of its lairrr . . a blace swarmed by t’ breath of itz herd?”

The man looked conclusively into those eyes again, knowing for sure that he would get a reply on this occasion.
“You tell me.” He heard the rasping from under the hood.

“So iye willll . . .  and widh bbleasure.” He retorted without complaint.

Once again, he dumped the grimy carafe onto the bartender’s desk and directed his hand towards the other side of the chair where lay his gingery sack.

But midway through, his hand pulled back abruptly. Something had pricked his instinct. He narrowed his eyes as his quivering face turned stealthily to peer at the tables that occupied the dirt-ridden space around them. He looked, eagle-eyed, at each man.

Most of those sitting around the rusty tables were peasants from nearby farmlands; tired of the dust that settled on their ashen faces as they toiled each day, ploughing and tilling on semi barren soil. They were labourers; poverty stricken, penniless inhabitants who found solace in rum and beer, unable to live under the harsh reality that their families remained unfed each day the rains were delayed. Few of them had their faces hidden in bits of cloth sewn together to form ragged head gears that covered their features in obscurity.

‘They won’t notice.’ He quietened his intuition having spied ubiquitously like a hawk seeking out potential prey. ‘And what is there to fear now even if they do?’

The hooded figure watched on as the man carefully opened up his satchel.

He was amazed by the steadiness with which the man’s hand had plunged into the bag and ventured out, despite his lungs being loaded with as copious an amount of liquor as could be consumed in one sitting by the hardest of drinkers. Not once did he see his wrist shiver or his palm shake as he brought out the object that he seemed to be so eager to show and kept it on the heightened surface of the counter standing in front.

This was, he felt, the sign of a born killer. This was, he knew, the reason why this otherwise worthless man was such an expensive buy.

“What is it?” he asked him devoid of fallacy.

“An endow’ment . .  from mye azoziates.” The man’s eyes twinkled with maddening glee, as they observed the little black tube rolling to and fro along the concrete breadth of the desk, before it came to a halt right in the middle of the flat timber.

“What is it for?”

“T’ eaze de pain of watching zum’one ssuffer.”

They stared at it together; both agent and principle, one man hypnotized by the unyielding power that he knew it had vested upon him earlier that evening and the other by sheer curio. It was as if some force, indiscernible and undetected, emanating from that miniscule piece of metal had clasped their vision and rendered them incapable of being withdrawn as seconds passed by without movement.

“Maxim Silencer.” The hooded figure turned to look at the man as he spoke again, finally breaking its spell.

“That ez de name et zhall garry . . . when et arrivess at’he marke’t negxt year.”

A whole minute passed this time before the voice from beneath the hood enquired with noticeable restiveness, “Should I assume, then, that your job is done?”

“Zhould you?” repeated the drunken man.

Can he? rose a mental inquisition inside him and as if in reply, a flash of reminiscence lit before his eyes blurring his vision and bringing back to him the scenes that he had been part of earlier that day.

It felt like only minutes had passed by since the time of that fateful evening when he had walked, unnoticed into that bedecked vestibule thronged by public, located at the heart of the metropolis situated eight miles south of the village. The miniature arena that it was, the place was filled by hordes of men, young and old, their numbers far greater than what he had imagined it would be while sketching out his plans. Making way through the endless rows of analogous chairs occupied by followers and supporters, and dodging the elevated clearing at one end where three women dressed in traditional attire were entertaining the crowd, he had moved ahead taking every measure of concealed caution. 

He clearly remembered how he had spotted the settee placed on the heightened space right at the centre of the hall, where sat his quarry, oblivious of the arrangements that had been made for him by his huntsman. He could still recollect vividly, the concluding steps that had brought him up to his prey, as the last of the people waiting on the dais to receive his blessings were kissing him on his cheeks with gratitude. He had considered himself lucky, for as he had reached down smiling to hug the man sitting comfortably on the settee, no one was there behind him to make out his true intent. “Forgive me” that was what he had muttered into the man’s un-expecting ear. Even before the victim’s eyelids had blinked and his mouth issued its final groan, the three bullets that he had pumped from his silenced gun were lodged safely inside his chest and the pores that they made, duly covered by a crimson red scarf; a present from the killer himself.

He had made sure that those lifeless eyes remained open and the body continued to sit upright, for a time no less than what he needed to get away. And that was the last of what he had seen of it; not a glimpse more. He remembered turning around and walking away as slowly as he had while entering, etching a different path of retreat through the mob of brawny men who sat in those chairs so as not to be seen twice by any one person. Only upon reaching the entrance did he turn once and look back, to be reassured that his crime had gone unseen, as all the eyes in that hall now gawked together in one single direction, preying hungrily on the slenderness of the women who were dancing to impish music and shedding the silk and trinkets underneath which lay their voluptuous contour.

“Sshould you?” he repeated again what the hood had asked him, with confidence anew and then answered to it, “Byy all meanz.”

The sound of hollow metal from the village bell-tower began echoing their ears as the first of the twelve chimes left to midnight was struck, noticeably with singular fervor.

The second one followed within a brief gap and men from the nearby tables stood up, most of them sloshed and a handful to some extent abstemious, preparing to leave the Inn and perhaps head towards home.

“He was a noble man.” Said the hood ignoring the gonging clatter. “Only one of his kind”.

The man coughed again with vehemence spilling alcohol from his glass onto the mildly damp surface of the desk. His appointer watched him in silence, aware that it wouldn’t be long now before unconsciousness overtook this intoxicated freelance. Nevertheless he continued-
“I approve that his doings were truly exceptional . . . . and inimitable.”

The fourth chime was struck.

“He was a man whose ideals and vision were unique . . . . unique enough to inflict panic among those competing with him in business”

“. . .  . . .And therein lies the dilemma. I must confess I have never liked panic.” His hood fluttered as his speech turned from stone-like serene to placidly animate.

The sixth chime. .

“Zo that’s yoour excuseee . . . . buuuuusssineeess . . .” the man uttered albeit indiscernibly as his swollen tongue proved incapable of finding space to move inside his mouth.

“Let’s just say, monopoly is good. . . . but only for the one who is at the top” replied the hood. “And when you acknowledge this truth, it becomes difficult to remain content with anything less than a first spot.”

The ninth chime. . .

“Yet I tell you, I’ll pray that they build a memorial in his name . . . . . because on a personal note I may never argue that he didn’t deserve one” he croaked with a blandness that could only suit a voice expressing something completely obvious.

Tenth . . .

A bout of psychotic cackling emitted from the killer as he, with his head now almost touching the wood of the desk, bared his tinged teeth and looked at the hood with the look of fervent support.

The twelfth chime had been struck. And no sooner had the last of its echoing resonances quietened back to normalcy, a blaze of whitish-yellow suddenly entered the Inn from the gaps on the aged doorway and every little windowpane that faced southwest. It lit the room with a brilliant hue, like the coruscation that befalls a land, the sky above which carries the grey of nature’s malevolence.

The sound of chemical bursting heavily above followed the light.

“May hiz soull rezt . . .  in pe . . . . .” even before the statement was complete, the thickset drunkard holding the rum-glass had crashed onto the bartender’s counter just as a second round of dazzling firework and the sound of its explosions filled the room.

His jug, which had been clasped by his fingers till that moment, fell down from between their loosening grip and landed on one of the front wheels of the chair, then stiffly rebounding to the floor beside it.

“Yes. May his soul rest in peace”, the hood rasped with more than little of the murderous glee which he could no longer hide having seen the only person who knew him in that place pass out into unconsciousness and being aware that no one else there would discern it.

The task was done. His rival was dead. The hardest part of the journey towards his attainment of a glory that had evaded him for ten long years had finally been concluded. His heart leaped with a pleasure that he had thought he would never be able to feel; a merriment akin to what a voyager would experience having ventured to the farthest of lands amongst other in his league.

Of course there was one more job left for him to do. He would now have to convince his associates of his being involved in no part of this occurrence. But that was, he knew, a mere formality for his connections and assets. He knew how corrupt the officials handling the case would be and how readily they would wipe away any and every stain that threatened to mar his reputation as an outright gentleman. But all that was what would happen eventually. The future did not scare him or make him tense. For now all he wished was to live with what had already been done.

‘This New Year’s shall always remain special’, he remarked taking in the aroma of his victory over his oldest adversary. ‘I shall remember this night forever’, he thought.

“And you”, he turned to his left and eyed the figure bent over the counter, mouth gaped open, spit dribbling from it without any restraint. “Your remuneration”. Taking out a heavy pouch from within his robes, he placed it gently on the empty space of the desk that lay between the man’s head and the metal tube that he had seen for the first time minutes ago.

“You have done well.” He addressed to his unconscious accomplice and then turned back to look in front.

His mind was calm. The tide had passed and the sea was all his to conquer.
 
“He has done well”, he repeated under the exhilaration of his accomplishment and the prospective status that he’d enjoy commencing a few days from now. Nothing could stop him now from getting what he wanted.

“Only one problem”, whispered a voice gently into his ear. A chill ran down his spine as he felt the sudden jab of a hollow tube at the back of his neck and sensed its reverberation against his skin as he felt it click at the same time the man holding it spoke again in silent intimidation, “The man he killed... was a decoy.”

                                                    *     *     *

As the clock had struck the twelfth chime, a feeling of relief washed away the bartender’s apprehensions. He got up from his stool and ventured out of his hiding, longing to enjoy the fancy lighting and the fireworks outside. Only few people were left in his father’s pub. The chances of there being any new trouble now seemed minimal to him.

As he reached his desk, he found himself face to face with another stranger, sitting between the two men that had been previously seated there, both of whom were now resting their heads on the desk, their hands spread forward.

The man looked at him, his face serene, his forehead emanating solace and amity. He had been toying with two small tubes kept on the desk besides a brownish pouch, all of which he had not seen earlier.

“Those things . . .”, the bartender asked him, mustering the courage to speak with an unknown person, pointing at the metal tubes rolling merrily on the desk. “What are they?”

“Oh these? . . . Gifts from a close friend.” Answered the man with honest openness as the sound of crackers and rockets being burst in the nearby mansion continued to he heard.

“What are they for?”, asked the bartender again having judged that this visitor was unlike the other two.

“To ease the pain of watching someone suffer.”, he replied and got up from the seat that he had pulled into the gap between the two other chairs near the bartenders desk.

“Keep them.” He said to the young barman, who was looking at the weighty pouch kept besides the silencers. “ . . . .enjoy your New Year.”

The stranger turned around un-ruffling his robe and rubbing off the few droplets of blood that had squirted from the two neck’s that he had ruptured and fallen onto the front of his mucky attire. He walked leisurely until he reached the door . . . . . and without even a rearward glance, he pushed open the doors and strolled out of Dibblers’ Inn, neither its bartender nor its visitors aware of the quietus that he had sent the perpetrators into.