The Llakor Project - Year Two Chapter Four: Is This One of Those Stories Where the Bar Man Gets Kilt?
It’s four in the morning, but Charlie has a bar convinced to open for us. I am having my first real pint of Guiness in ten years and its a lovely, lovely pint. Nought like a Belfast pint, but all other things being equal, a perfectly fine substitute. And after ten years of Montreal, sitting with a pint of Guiness warming up in front of a fire, waiting for a bowl of pea soup, sitting with a Charlie who is grinning so hard that it seems like his head will explode with joy... it is all almost a bit too much happiness to take somehow.
Still, better than the alternative.
“What are we going to need?” says Charlie
“Another pint for sure. And there was some mention of soup?” I offer, stalling a little.
“I meant for the job,” replies Charlie, pressing the issue.
I drain the Guiness so that I can think. Charlie has been frozen out of the loop of the Provos since I died. I was his contact. Charlie’s whole value to us came from the fact that no one did suspect, no one could suspect that Charlie was a Provo. Charlie was basically invisible to the British. They could never consider him to be a member of the IRA because he was Protestant and because he was Black. He could get into places and do things that no normal Provo could ever do. But to keep him secret, we had to insulate him from the rank and file.
“We need a driver,” I finally say. You always need a driver.
“I have someone for that,” says Charlie. “Good fellow, can drive anything on air or water.”
“What about cars?” I ask.
“Our George does those too,” Charlie reassures me. “Cars, Trucks, Tractors whatever.”
“Tractors?” I ask, stalling.
“You never know. I had a bank job recently which was built around a tractor.” Charlie replies and he’s practically begging me to ask.
Charlie’s little plans have always had their weird Byzantine flourishes. In a way it was always his signature. I have always tried to discourage them. Better to be vanilla. Better still to be plain. I don’t want to be noticed. I don’t want to stand out. I am not sure why Charlie does. Maybe it’s a reaction to being invisible. “What the hell? Please to be explaining. No wait, never mind, I don’t want to know.”
“Suit yourself,” says Charlie, sulking just a little.
“OK,” I say. “We need an explosives expert.”
“An old friend of yours is itching to get back in the game,” says Charlie grinning.
Charlie’s cover story is that he’s supposed to be a fixer. He puts together jobs, gives people plans for how to break in, take down, steal away. He charges to introduce the wrong people to the wrong people. He charges them again for the plans, and supplies that they need to get things done. And then he takes a percentage off the top. He also arranges for legal representation if things should go wrong.
?They call him Mr. Clean because he’s always around dirt but nothing ever sticks to him. Charlie considers that a great professional compliment.
The cover story for his cover story is that Charlie charges companies to verify their security by breaking into them either physically or by computer. Gives Charlie a reason to hangout with the low life criminals like me. And to own certain equipment that would otherwise be very suspicious.
“We will probably need a safe cracker,” I say. “Someone who can tickle them old school.”
“I know just the fellow,” says Charlie grinning. “You’ll have to see him work.”
“This isn’t like one of those blind dates where you tell me that she’s got a great personality is it?” I say, worried that Charlie seems to get happier and happier as the conversation goes on.
The bar man is deliberately ignoring us. I am sure that he thinks that we are up to no good. That’s fine. That too is part of the cover. A Irish scoundrel and a Black Scot meeting in Cornwall are obviously up to something. But whatever it is, it will probably be bad for the English and your Cornishman will approve of that happening in principle. The one thing that he won’t assume is that we are meeting to plan some Provo caper. And in this case, he would be right. The Provos are supposed to have packed away the armalites, rolled over and started playing dead.
Even if the bar man informs on us, so what? The wrong police will be informed. While the civil police waits for a bank heist or summat, we will have done what we need to know and the political and military police - by the time they are told what they need to know, it will be too late for what I have planned.
The bar man brings over another pint. And my pea soup. It is thick enough that the wooden soup is standing straight up. A good sign.
“How’s the story going then?” he asks.
Charlie told him that I am an American Irish writer and that Charlie is my editor. I am rich and eccentric which is why I am landing on his dock at four in the morning soaking wet from the sea. He know its bull shit, but he is being polite enough to pretend to believe it. I appreciate this.
“We are making progress,” says Charlie keeping to the script.
“This wouldn’t be one of those stories where the bar man gets shot would it? I hate those,” says the bar man.
“You mean like in the Robert Rodriguez movie?” I ask, somewhat missing the point.
“Sin City?” asks Charlie.
“Once Upon a Time in Mexico.” says the bar man, “No, wait, Desperado. ‘The bartender gets it worse than anyone.’ I just want you to know that these kinds of stories, the ones where the bartender gets killed. I do not approve of these stories at all.”
Getting it now, I reassure him, “Me too. The ability to draw a proper pint of Guiness is a rare and under appreciated talent. And getting harder to find all the time.”
“Not so rare as all that, but thank you,” says the bar man and he heads back to his bar to polish his glasses and to not listen to us as hard as he possibly can.
To get it over with, I decide to shoot for the moon, “We need a strong man and an acrobat.”
“You want someone who is an acrobatic strong man? Or do you want two people, one an acrobat and one a strong man?” asks Charlie and I think that I have finally stumped the cocky bastard.
“Two people,” I say pushing my advantage.
“Is there anyone else?” asks Charlie stalling.
“Nope, that should do it. If you can find the acrobat and the strong man,” I say, twisting the knife.
Charlie looks pained, “That makes seven.”
“If it can’t be done with seven, it can’t be done at all,” I say.
“Who is Toshiro Mifune?” asks Charlie out of the blue.
“Don’t you mean who is Horst Buchholz?” I reply, playing along.
Charlie grimaces, “Oh please. You know that he was the weak link of that film. And I can’t believe that you are going with the Magnificent Seven over the Seven Samurai.”
This is an old argument. We could have it in our sleep. Charlie is using it to try and figure a way out of the corner that I have put him in, but I can’t help myself. “I am not saying that Shi-chi-NIN no samurai isn’t the better film... it is. But Magnificent Seven has its virtues. It is shorter and leaner, more economical, and it has one of if not the very best cast of all time. Plus that score.”
“Oooh. Way to drop the Japanese title for the Seven Samurai. It would be more impressive if you got it right. It’s Shi-CHI-nin no samurai,” Charlie says draining his pint of McEwans’s and calling for another. “In any case, I don’t know how you could argue in favour of any cast that substitutes Horst Buchholz for Toshiro Mifune.”
“Someone had to play the unknown. The whole point of that character is that he has more in common with the unknown villagers than with the known gun fighters.” I reply.
“Right, hire a German to play a Mexican peasant. That makes a lot of sense.” says Charlie counting coup.
I wince, Charlie has me there and I know it, “Look, Sturges was in a trap there. No one is ever going to be as good as Mifune. Better to underplay that role and take some of the pressure off. Cast some kid who doesn’t know what he is being asked to do.”
“I still say that they should have hired Anthony Quinn for the part,” Charlie grumbles.
“Wasn’t he in Paris?” I ask.
“What, they didn’t have airplanes in 1960?” Charlie shoots back.
“Whatever,” I say waving off Anthony Quinn. “Look, Yul Brunner, Steve Mother-Fucking McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Christ! Charles Bonson, James Coburn, Eli Wallach as the bad guy eating up the scenery to contrast with the good guys sardonic cool.”
“Sardonic Cool? I notice that you are not mentioning Brad Dexter, the other weak link in that cast,” and all of a sudden Charlie is grinning like a black Chesire Cat, which I take it to mean that he is now unstumped about finding a strong man and an acrobat. “So which of us is Yul Brunner and which is Steve McQueen?”
“You’re Brunner. I’m McQueen.” I answer. If I can’t stump the cocky bastard, I can at least out cool him.
“What? How come you get to be Steve McQueen?” Charlie asks knowing that this one argument that he is probably going to lose.
“One, I’m cooler than you,” I begin.
“Wait a minute...” says Charlie before I cut him off.
“Two, I’m not shaving my fucking head. And you already have.” I continue.
“All right point, but this is not about physical appearance. If we were going by that you would be Charles Bronson,” says Charlie getting his own back a little bit.
“Three, if either of us is going to turn into a killer robot and start killing everyone, it’s going to be you - Mister some of my best friends are computers,” I volley back.
“OK. That was a low blow. And West World is a great film,” Charlie says, back on his heels.
“Fourth and last, for the operation, it would be better if the team thought that you were the leader and that I was just another hired gun,” I say, finishing Charlie off.
Operations trumps everything else and Charlie knows it. “Crap. Brunner it is. I guess I will have to stock up on black leather.” Charlie turns serious, “So, what is the deal?”
I can’t resist. “We deal in lead, my friend.”
Charlie winces. He can’t believe that he just fed me that straight line. “That’s not what I meant and you know it. I meant - what’s the plan? What’s the mission?”
“The usual. A whole lots of people gots to die,” and the bar man is really working hard at ignoring us now. Like I care. He probably thinks that we are planning a bank heist or something.
“CRAP. You’re just making this shit up as you go along aren’t you?” says Charlie suddenly angry.
As usual, I’m taking Charlie out of his comfort zone and he never likes that. It is good for him though, “I keep telling you that this thing of ours is like Jazz. You need to be ready to improvise.”
“There is nothing wrong with Bach. You know where every note goes and it all fits together with mathematical precision,” Charlie growls.
I had forgotten that Charlie has had ten years to get set in his ways. “It will be just like old times Charlie. I will take care of strategy and you make the tactical plans.”
“And when exactly will I know our targets so that I can make the tactical plans? Or are you going to tell me in a van, ten minutes from the target like the bad old days.” asks Charlie.
I can tell that I am digging up some painful memories for Charlie. What I consider excitement, Charlie has always considered to be heartburn. “I think I can give you a little more notice this time out. We don’t need to run down and fuck one cow. We can walk down and fuck them all.”
“Oh so now you’re Steve McQueen and Robert Duvall?” grumbles Charlie.
“There is nothing wrong with being Sean Penn.” I tease.
“Remind me to stop and buy some Maalox.” says Charlie pained.
“So the strong man and the acrobat, can you do them?” I ask and I sort of can guess that Charlie is about to get his own back here, after I thought that I had him cornered.
Charlie grins triumphant, “That is not an easy request.”
Having no real choice, I set him up for the punch line. I know that there is a punch line coming, I just don’t know what. “Does that mean that you can’t get them?”
“Of course not,” Charlie replies acting insulted. “It’s just...”
I love Tom Robbins, but he keeps writing the same damn book (and yes, I keep buying it). The second-person narrative of Half Asleep was an interesting distraction, but I know more than a few people who ended up resenting it more than anything.