Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Chapter 4

Apparently, Bo doesn't appreciate me divulging his unearthly provenance. So you will all just have to keep shtum about it, ok? Don't tell anyone else, especially not if they're wearing a black suit and reflective shades, and answer to the name Smith...If you've already been visited by a Smith, it's probably too late, but I guess you won't be reading this. Pity. Ok, here's the next Chapter!

Chapter 4: Sandy moves South

Nevertheless, based on experiences in the Alto, for the next stage of her investigations Sandy had decided to shift into what she called her professional research mode, having identified certain key problems in her current situation.

One, was that she was sending mails without friend Jim ever bothering to reply. She felt as if she were whistling into a vacuum. Not quite true, she admitted. But she could not quite fathom the logic behind their communication. There appeared to be no logical consequence to their interchange.

Furthermore, even if he was not playing games with her, she had the distinct impression of his deliberately avoiding her. She could not be certain whether he was in trouble or not as Koff and Geordie maintained. Good point: she had limited time before these fractious creeps entered the scene and muddied her freedom of movement. But what freedom? Like a stray piece on a chess-board Jim was manipulating her moves, indeed anticipating them. For example just as she has decided to continue her quest in the southern residential part of the city, a mail arrives drawing her attention to the possibility that Joanne could be located there.

“ My Mum’s latched on to a new boyfriend,” it read, “ a rich kid. His name is Alejandro - Ali for short. If you could you please go and check them out, I’d be most grateful.” So gracious that request, how could she possibly refuse? Jim then went on to hint that the not-so-young Ali (a swinging middle-aged kid, no less) was into shady deeds of some description. Having been second-guessed in her plans, Sandy reluctantly called on the address so kindly provided. Why didn’t he go and look for himself? He was truly beginning to fuck her head up.

Sandy traipsed all the way down to the residence in the zona sur (or ‘zona sewer’ as Jim has got to calling it, in reference to the chapter in tha’ book where he described the south zone - ‘where the dregs gather’). Indeed, the main pleasure Sandy derived from the tiresome journey was dipping into Jim’s book once again, which she had taken with her in the hope of identifying a couple of the major characters for future reference.

In the event, she got no joy from the visit. A dusky, insolent servant informed Sandy that “the Master and his Lady were visiting their country farm in the Chapare,” before shutting the door firmly in her face.

After this rebuff she chooses for her next initiative - the American School. The official label of this august educational establishment carries the name of the American Cooperative School. Sandy chuckled as she read the sign outside the gates of the school, and then shrugged her shoulders. Everyone should know that the Yankees don’t cooperate, they compete – that being their style.

She had organized this outing as a diversion purely for her personal pleasure. The school was organizing what they chose to term a ‘Book Fayre’. It was the staff’s opportunity to make a clear-out of excess stock, not just from the classrooms but also from the extensive library shelves. So word had spread among gringos of this a rare chance to plunder a source of books in English .

And here is where Sandy hits pay-dirt. As she’s piling the finds into her backpack, and though lamenting that all the volumes on offer dealt with affairs from the US homelands (what else could be of interest to the Yankee public?), she’s reasonably satisfied to have encountered a volume on landscape management through natural means such as fire control by Californian indigenous tribes – this was interesting – must have slipped by the net. When suddenly...... she notes among the bustle of gringos selecting their bedtime readings, that she has distinguished company of sorts.

Look who she has casually bumped into; for she recognizes the same group of advisors that she’d seen emerging on her first afternoon from the presidential Palace. This time the delegation is casually dressed - no suits, no ties and, moreover, no control over what they were blabbing. They have grown so accustomed to living at a privileged level in a foreign country that they forget at the American school everything they say can be understood and reported

Tuning in to their loose talk, Sandy gathers this bunch of government advisors are indeed celebrating Goni’s recent presidential election victory, no less. Then they turn in ribald tones to the coming demands of the World Bank. “That’ll be some showdown. Let’s see how the great Goni handles that one,” they guffaw. And meanwhile they are addressing the dapper plain clothes security escort who’s carefully shepherding them through the book ravening hordes. And they respectfully refer to him in their atrocious accented Spanish as a certain Captain Ventura. Though the gentleman’s dressed in civilian clothes, the thin moustache, the stiff military bearing – leaves no doubt - has to be him! Nestling tha’ blessed book, Sandy settles on the grassy lawn, where a game of baseball is in progress, turns to the relevant chapter and carefully matches the description to the infamous Waldo Ventura who so hounded Jim.

The unexpected discovery so engrosses Sandy that she fails to notice a rangy individual who has seated himself on the turf next to where she’s rifling through tha’ book - until he startles her by addressing her in a deep mid-Western drawl.

“That looks interesting. Did’ja pick it up at the New Year’s sale?”

Sarah had enough presence of mind not to hand the book over. “It’s about fire control in California,” she blurts out.

“Are you a journalist, ma’am?”

The question was odd, yet something about the man’s relaxed manner (maybe because he was engaged in sketching a butterfly on the bush opposite and not looking directly at her) puts her at ease and leads her to confide in him.

“I’m searching for a friend.”

A bad move she soon realises. Who exactly is this man? But he puts no more posers to poor, confused Sandy. Instead the Yankee Doodler fishes in his jacket for a pen and writes an extension number on his US Embassy calling card…

“My name is Chester. Call me whenever you have problems.” He assumes there will be.

Dammit, Jim. This is getting complicated.

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