Kramberger, chapters 15-18

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Chapter Fifteen

Some Really Secret Monkey Business

 

The amazing thing about an assassination like the Kennedy business is that secrets are so hard to keep, yet the conspiracy remains un(entirely)resolved. Nobody really knows for sure, not even Skip, though he thinks he does. The only known instance of monkey assassination, revealed right now for the first time, was actually recorded by Jane Goodall, herself a victim of assassination, by human hand we have no reason to doubt, but suppressed for fairly obvious reasons. The only other human witness was an internee who was beside her when a rival chimp speared the head chimp from a tree, with a spear stolen from a nearby human forest tribe. There was no question it was intentional and planned. Goodall swore the student to silence, and the student kept silent. She had written a few lines summarizing the event before Goodall discussed with her the implications of the assassination becoming public knowledge, but she forgot to destroy the notes. Somehow, someone gained access to the notes, and without bad intentions forgot about it until the moment when she found it irresistible to say, Promise you won’t tell anybody this…And word eventually got around to one of our most reliable sources who broke into the student’s (she was by then a professor at Drake University) house and photographed the notes which were by then under lock and key. Eventually this woman had the determination to burn the notes, but we have seen the photo of the entry and have no reason to suspect its validity, veracity, or the virginity of the note.

Chapter Sixteen

Slovenia’s Got One!

 

Assignment Minsk: journalists dropping like flies, Lukashenko berserk.

Todd Fullmer’s flight landed in Beograd, but before he could see much of the city he was at its oddly decrepit and small train station, waiting for a train to Sarajevo. He had always had a vague desire to see where the archduke got shot, see where Gavrilo Princip was standing when he fired the bullets that provided the excuse for World War Two (not a misprint—for would we have two if not for one? Idea taken from the notes of Todd Fullmer). Not for a minute did Todd Fullmer buy the notion that that assassination was the spark that set off the war. The station at Sarajevo was quite different from that at Beograd, not decrepit so much as abandoned, at the edge of town it seemed, whereas in Beograd it was like a little dirty lot in the center of the city. He stopped for coffee at the one coffee shop that seemed opened, a small shop facing the city itself. The proprietor was an old man who moved slowly and had a gentle ease about him, a desire to talk coupled with an awareness that most people were not the least interested in what he had to say. Todd Fullmer was interested in what everybody had to say so it was without much discomfort that they had begun a conversation. Fullmer was surprised that the man, Samo, assumed he, an American reporter, was not there to see about the famous assassination, rather to take the tour of the remaining evidence of the shelling and sniping of the 90s. Yet Samo didn’t seem appalled at the new phenomenon of war-damage tourism. Todd was, at least initially, but when the conversation turned into a monologue and Samo talked about his personal role in the ‘war’, Todd began to understand. When a nightmare happens during the day you want it to end but you don’t want others to forget you had it. “See up on that hill? The Serbs were shelling from there. Every window in the city was gone. What was it…I think the UN had to buy 5 million windows for us. Snipers were everywhere. If we knew where they were it wouldn’t have been so dangerous. In the best of cases we knew where they were likely to target. That’s why everybody has the image of us crouching at a corner and then running across an open space. But some places we couldn’t run. The place where I had to get water every day three or four people were killed—every day.” He told it all with a sort of resignation. The story had its own pathos; Samo didn’t need to add any. Yet Todd Fullmer was struck at his lack of bitterness. He would have been bitter. Samo was diabetic and had to spend much of the ‘war’ without insulin. He nearly died several times. The war added twenty or thirty years to his appearance. He was in his early fifties but Todd would have believed him if Samo had said he was 83. He had fought, too. Every two weeks he went out to the battlefields or returned to the city to take care of his family. Apparently a lot of people did that. While it’s true that the Muslims press ganged a number of people, they were also quite understanding about family members. When Samo had returned to the ‘front’ once, he had their full trust and was allowed to come and go as he pleased as long as it was in two week intervals. They talked about how the station itself seemed abandoned. Before the war, Samo told him, there were thousands of people there at all times of the day and night. He had run a highly profitable clothing store, selling clothes he bought in regular runs to Italy. “I had to pass through Slovenia. Have you been there? It’s a beautiful place, and I always liked the Slovene people…” At that point Samo began rambling along a confusing story about two young Slovenes who had recently broken his most important beer mugs is a row that had started over their obscene comments about a waitress he had who wore a miniskirt to draw customers. Todd couldn’t tell if this was before, during or after the war, for aspects of the story clearly placed it in all three time frames. The story ended sadly with the Slovenes paying for the glasses in tolars, Slovene money—which means during or after the war—something Samo had never seen and mistakenly valued at quite too high a rate, as he subsequently found out on a trip to Budapest: “Not even enough for a coffee”. “We had so many customers then” (before the war?), “but those two were so arrogant—yet they didn’t know the difference between me and a Serb. Vuk Drašković had been shot in Montenegro (long after the war) and they were telling what barbarians we all were south of the Kolpa. I said you wait—see what happens to your great Kramberger (shot during the war). Of course, Kramberger wasn’t great, but I knew he was in for it. I had met him in Ljubljana on one of my last trips through. He gave me a spin in his Bugatti.” And seeing this obscure reference intrigued his listener, Samo dropped the story of the rowdy Slovenes and the tragedy of the glasses—something which, perhaps combined with the business about all the broken glass in Sarajevo, Todd was haunted by, labeling it in his mind as Samo’s personal Kristallnacht–and went on to report what he knew about the assassination, which had happened soon after he predicted it would.

Truth be told, there isn’t a lot interesting about a street or a street corner where an archduke was shot 80 or 90 years earlier. The event simply doesn’t resonate. Todd wandered into Baščarčija and became a war tourist, marveling at how the copper smiths turned shells into objects of ambivalent beauty, pounding intricate, classical designs onto these weapons that were trying to destroy them not so long before. He didn’t buy one, though. He was just killing time before the train back to Beograd, in a state of insuppressible excitement over the prospect of investigating this obscure Slovene assassination of a self-made millionaire—something with dialysis machines in Austria or Germany, Samo wasn’t sure—who drove about in a Bugatti he had put together himself, selling his own books, speaking with a monkey on his shoulder, head of the Homeland Peasant Party, which had received a significant—20%?, 30%–of the vote, and been killed by a ‘drunken hunter’, before Slovenia’s first elections as a free nation.

As soon as he returned to Beograd he wrote his editor, admitting where he was, and exclaimed, Slovenia’s got one!

Meanwhile, we should point out, guess who was sitting at the coffee shop at the train station in Sarajevo listening in on the conversation Todd Fullmer was having with Samo?

Did you guess Mandrake Pizdamonavić? Wrong. Just some shambling shell-shocked shoe shiner with out any shoes to shine. Mandrake Pizdamonavić was at that very minute stirring an espresso diligently at the Hotel Balkan in Beograd, sitting by himself, minding his own business (let that phraseology carry the weight you choose.)

 

 

Chapter Seventeen

The Consequences of Passing up Minsk

 

Transcript of the exchange between Todd Fullmer and his editor:

Slovenia’s got one!

So?

So?

So I’m paying for a story about dead journalists in Minsk. What’s the matter, are you afraid you’ll become one of them?

Don’t insult me—besides, that’s not such a bad motive for avoiding Minsk, not that there aren’t plenty of others. No, listen M_______, this Slovene thing is perfect for us. Nobody knows about it, the victim was a colorful guy—he went around with a monkey on his shoulder, for christs’ sake—the story, I mean the cover up, is obviously bogus…the whole thing—it’s virgin territory.

Virginity isn’t news. Whores are news. Lukashenko’s a whore, so forget this Slovak thing and get up there now.

Slovene, not Slovak.

Fast, slow, Czech, Moldovan, I don’t give a shit. You’re not yet bigger than this magazine and while I’m still editor you will go where I send you.

I’m not saying I won’t go. I’m saying I’ll stop in Slovenia for a while on the way.

No, you’ll stop in Slovojvodina after you’ve reported from Minsk.

Look, M_________, Lukashenko will be killing journalists for the next ten years. What’s the hurry? Arguably, the longer I wait, the more there will be to report.

I’m not going to argue anymore. Get your ass to Minsk or you’ll find yourself working at the New York Times!

Don’t get nasty with me. How many times have you followed my hunches and it turned out I got a scoop. Like with Yushchenko.

You call that a scoop?

Given that the story was unscoopable, I call it a fucking miracle that sold magazines.

We sold more magazines when you wrote about why you weren’t writing about Lady Die.

That was because of the ingenuity of your typesetter or whatever they’re called these days.

Still, it was brilliant and it sold magazines. Yushchenko didn’t sell magazines, not like we expect your articles to.

You ever eat a goldfish?

What?

What about a fresh eyeball? They say Ante Pavelić popped them like olives.

What are you getting at?

Don’t demean my work. No way, no fucking way you would have touched that face.

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Chapter Eighteen

Yushchenko’s Face

 

Ukraine is one of those restless countries that moves around now and then, hides, moves again, emerges fresh and strong, kills some enemies within, some without, moves around a little more, hides again, emerges fresh and strong and chaotic, kills mostly within but occasionally by rocket without. For some, such a country is a refreshing change. Aren’t you little bored with, say, the borders of the United States? How long has it been since they changed? On the other hand, for the people in a city like, say, L’viv, change can be disorienting. One day it’s Lvov and it’s Polish, next day it’s got an apostrophe and it’s Ukrainian. Even central Ukraine can be fickle. One day it’s a breadbasket, next day a slaughterhouse; or a famine riddled grim place where no one vacations—all that bread and people dying of hunger…it can be very confusing. Then there’s the rain: one day water, next day acid (as they say). One day an historic city of the Pripet Marshes is bustling, next day a ghost town. And of course there are the people. Every country is heterogeneous by nature piled upon nature. So Ukraine had all these Jews and now where are they? In Pinsk, you say? Maybe, but they lost Pinsk to Belarus, which had to have Minsk, and if you’ve got Minsk and a loose Pinsk, the logic of politicals and rhymes says you needs to combines. You may not believe it but there are people on this Earth who are missing their Pinsk.

O sad Ukraine

O sad Ukraine

You lost so much and what did you gain?

And what didn’t you lose? Moskva, Moscow, Muskovy. The smarmy grappler Putin. Putting his nose in where he just can’t get that it doesn’t belong. Can’t he tell a Lukashenko from a Yushchenko? Not at first, but then western media broadcast Yukashchenko’s handsome grass roots face all over the tubes all over the world and next thing you know Ukraine has a fifty fifty itch for ‘freedom’. Stop laughing. Death threats delivered against Yushchenko, Yushchenko meets secret agents, ‘ex’-KGB, has a bowl of soup and his dioxin level multiplies by thousands. What is dioxin? Ask some Vietnamese peasants. The point is, Yushchenko developed a mysterious illness that should have killed him (What the fuck do we have to do, for Val’s sake!). The problem for Todd Fullmer was that the media was crawling all over the Yushchenko story like maggots in a rotting gut before the poisoning. So when he got poisoned, there was no original angle, no uncovered angle, no scoop, for Todd Fullmer and PS. Doctors in Vienna said we don’t know what’s wrong, but there’s hardly an organ in his body that isn’t deformed, swollen, and crawling with something not maggots. Reporters were on the thing day and night for months. Yushchenko put on a brave face, but it was a mask, a distortion of his own face, mislabeled pocked by a baffled press. Pitted, some said. As if burned, said others. It had turned gray, sometimes shading to Pripet green, boils gaping with enlarged pores. It looked like Chernobyl. It looked like the kind of thing that you expect will rub off on you if you touch it.

If you touch it…if you touch it…If you touch it! That’s the scoop. Todd Fullmer would be the only reporter to actually touch it.

As things turned out, Todd had no problem at all. Yushchenko advertised his grotesque face, he wanted all Ukrainians to know what the old guard had done and would continue to do—my face is Ukraine, he said—if he weren’t elected. Ukraine needed new blood, no matter the dioxin level. Nervously, Todd Fullmer visited Kiev. Nervous because it’s hard to believe how close the capitol is to Chernobyl (I’d have let Belarus have Chernobyl and moved the capitol to the Crimea, Todd wrote). He got an appointment with Yushchenko, brought along a photographer, told Yushchenko straight out he just wanted to touch his face, Yushchenko thought it was a good idea, Todd reached, pulled his arm back, gathered courage, reached again and…Yuk! It wasn’t one of those things that looks like it will rub off on you if you touch it—it did rub off. Slime. If you’ve ever picked up a Mediterranean snail, the kind with beautiful racing stripes on it, which you can only see when it’s crossing the street looking for its shell, dropped it off on the other side of the street only to find out that fifty percent of the snails body weight is slime on your hand that does not wash off—it has to be scrubbed and scraped and washed over and over again for at least an hour—well, that was what it was like touching Yushchenko’s face, except the slime had that same ashen color…

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