Kramberger with Monkey, Chaper Nineteen: Birdy Num Num

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Chapter Nineteen

Birdy Num Num


“Birdy num num.”

“Birdy num num.”

Despite the fact that they had met more than a dozen times, source Z insisted on Beograd rules, as he called it, which meant if it was safe to talk they began with the above exchange. Todd Fullmer never knew when it wasn’t safe.

They met in the coffee shop of the Hotel Balkan, heedless of the proximity—next table, window chair, stirring coffee, maybe the same one as last time herein—of a mustached man with what some might call a stony gaze, a man known as, you got it, Mandrake Pizdamonavić.

Z was a cherub. A full grown man, perhaps, but nonetheless a cherub, gray curly hair, but the gray curly hair of a cherub. He had little fleshy lips and gave off the air of one insatiably attracted to sweets, and for whom the entire world was coated in sugar. He was also an electronic genius and refused to speak with Todd Fullmer before displaying his latest toy or invention.

“See here,” he said, setting a 60s era Ford Sedan the size of a match box on the table.

“Watch,” he said. Fullmer didn’t see any movement on the part of Z, yet the car rolled up to him, turned around and opened its trunk.

“Okay, lean forward and whisper into the boot.”

Todd leaned forward, and whispered toward the toy car, “Ivan Kramberger.”

Immediately, the trunk slammed—relatively—shut, and the car dashed across the table to Z, again without any discernable movements made by Z. When the car reached the end of the table it stopped, the hood flipped open, and it said “Ivan Kramberger”, barely louder than Todd Fullmer had.

Z leaned down and the car turned around and showed its open trunk while shutting its hood.

“What about him?” Z whispered.

The car whizzed over to Todd Fullmer.

“Anything,” Todd said to the trunk after it burped up Z’s question.

Back at station Z, the car opened its hood, repeated “Anything,” and turned around, closing its hood and opening its trunk.

“I don’t know much, but I’m glad that’s your question because I hadn’t heard of any assassinations in these parts and your contact made me a little suspicious. I even thought it might not be you…”

Todd noticed a man at the table behind theirs, a mustached man with a stony gaze, craning as if to try to hear what Z was telling the car.

“…Anyway, Kramberger was killed because he was too popular for someone who had just returned to the country and was saying a bunch of sensible things, all of them honest, even the hare-brained ones. You see, Kučan and company over-estimated their roles as heroes of the Slovene freedom movement and underestimate their reek of Beograd to the Slovene people. Kramberger either figured this out or knew it intuitively. He got around 20% of the vote representing the Homeland Peasant Party, a brilliant name, both humble and subtly reminiscent of the Home Guard, so it appealed to both reactionaries and little folk…and maybe to the reds who didn’t really mind a free Slovenia but didn’t want it to be reactionary. But back to that percentage, the thing is that the 20% could easily have grown. Kramberger had all the makings of a populist, a demagogue, or both. I believe the Kučani got the idea, or the information, that the number was climbing and climbing fast. So they hired a patsy who was paid to take the rap and a professional marksman to gun him down. Who actually hired him? Someone of Kučani interests, which covers a wide range that includes Kučan and his ilk, the business interests that exploited the new market as rapidly as possible, even the Germans, even a mafia. Who actually did it? Could have been anyone, anyone who could shoot a rifle. Other than that I couldn’t say. Look outside, look at that guy, look at the guy at the table behind me—could have been anybody.”

The car stalled on the way over to Todd, and whether or not this is related, it is related here—Z blinked his right eye rapidly about ten times and the car resumed its tete a tete, releasing Z’s speech to Todd, turning, receiving Todd’s “Thanks,” and returning to the garage—Z’s pocket.

“Por nada, hombre,” Z said rising. “Have a very nice stay in Beograd.”

As they parted, Todd Fullmer detected no communication of any kind between source Z and anyone else inside or outside the Hotel Balkan, not even anyone at a nearby table, not even anyone at the very next table. In fact, Fullmer and source Z did not actually separate until they were outside and they turned their separate ways, Fullmer toward Kalemegdan and source Z toward Nova Beograd.

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