Slovenes have often asked me whether Niko Nihče of chapters 31-33 is actually Milan Kučan. I have but one photo of each. You be the judge.
This is probably the right time to
I’ve worked on better projects. More accurately, I’ve had better thoughts. Blood! Mother: blood! My mama, too! My mama, too! I used to write in the fetal position. Now I can do so again.
Requisciat in pace.
Scrive in pace.
I always wondered why they don’t bury the dead in the fetal position. Especially the ones who died that way. Maybe in some cultures they do.
More room for the dead.
Especially now that people are getting bigger.
They found a Neanderthal in ice up in Switzerland. He would have been four and a half feet tall. But he was in the fetal position.
Nobody knows what he was doing up there.
He could have been a writer.
He got cold and fell to sleep in the fetal position.
Never woke up.
They say the womb is like an oven.
But he did not wake up.
Fakirs wake up. Then they take another breath and get into the fetal position. When they are uncovered after fifty days they straighten out again, just before the lid opens.
An elderly lady named Špela Horvat was walking past the outdoor tables of a coffee shop across from the Hotel Park in Ljubljana when she had a dizzy spell and fell into the table of a man with a droopy moustache and hostile eyes, spilling hot coffee on his lap. The irritable man reacted spontaneously, shoving the lady to the ground and shouting “Pizda!” (cunt). Some young men, university students, appalled at such treatment of an elderly woman, confronted the man, much swearing ensued, and the largest of the students moved to strike the man, who deftly—especially for a man of his age, roughly fifty—slipped the punch, captured and rapidly broke the arm of the student. The other two students moved in on the aggressive coffee drinker, were thrown off, to the ground, and before the man could kick their ribs, two other men joined the fracas, one of them grabbing the man by the hair, receiving an elbow to the ribs, while the other actually got a punch in that made the moustached man smile before he felled him to unconsciousness with a right cross. By this time the two intact students were up, and joined by two more students who had been inside the coffee shop. Surrounded by four young and fit men, the fifty year old did what anyone capable of doing so in that situation would do: he went berserk—in rapid succession flooring all four of them, one of whom he was kicking in the ribs when the man who had grabbed his hair did so again. Mandrake Pizdamonavić turned around and smiled, surprising the hair grabber, who paused in his assault long enough that Mandrake was able to smash his nose with his upper forehead, leaving himself surrounded again by the same four students he had just floored. He looked at them, shrugged, and floored all four of them again, by which time two police officers had arrived and were each in succession flipped onto tables—wood, splintered—leaving, what?, eight, nine? men writhing on the ground, when a police van pulled up and serious enforcers of law hopped out with clubs, the third of which stunned Mandrake, the fourth of which stopped his individual mayhem, and the fifth of which knocked him unconscious. Oddly, by this time the old woman had disappeared. No one saw her leave. Her testimony that the brawl was initiated by her rough treatment at the hands of Mandrake Pizdamonavić was therefore unavailable, and after a couple of hours at the police station, Pizdamonavić was released without charges. But by that time Todd Fullmer, if there is any connection, had left the Hotel Park and was on his way to meet Niko Nihče.
Of course, being a master stylist I wrote as if in the third person. If anybody noticed I’ll chop my own cock off and stuff it in my mouth.
Green Dragons and Fox Hunts
Listen M_________, before I forget, there’s something I want you to look into regarding the Kennedy assassination. It involves Israel. See, I was waiting for Nihče to arrive at his watering hole, when I struck up a conversation with this professor who seems to have the idea that the Jews run things over there. But he wasn’t a crackpot, per se.
I was gazing forward to my interview with Nihče, thinking what an impossibly quaint, even tidy, little country this is, with this little capitol: it’s famous for its dragons, for the three bridges over the slime green yet unslimy Ljubljanica stream. I know because, for one thing, hanging about a sort of tiny square by a statue of Prešeren their sad national poet, who I have it on good authority was a drunk like every single great Slovene literary man, when I heard an unmistakeably British voice asking, ‘Could you tell me where the three bridges are?’ And without waiting for a response, explained, ‘You see, I’m told there is a sporting shop near there and I must purchase cartridges, for I am off to hunt foxes.’ The dragons are green, as much gargoyle as dragon, and sit about atop the bridge railings like toys. This was all running through my mind, and as much so the fact that the former independence leader of the new nation could be found simply by asking about and learning where he takes his morning coffee, I was thinking all this, sitting before my own cooling coffee, when I realized this man was looking at me.
‘Mossad’, he said with a trace of wonderment. A light bulb had just flickered enough to subdue the triumph of discovery. He wore an Austrian mustache, not a Hitler, but shaven just too much in from the expanse of the lip as to look absurd and bureaucratic.
He too was in reverie, as it turned out.
‘What? No, I wasn’t speaking to you.’
‘How do you know to speak English to me?’
‘I have no idea.’
‘Well…fine. But what’s this eruption of “Mossad”’
‘Mossad, yes, well you see I was just reading an article in Delo that put it all together. We Slovenes, understand, don’t care all that much for American mysteries, but we are aware of them, and when they bear on world events we perk up our ears. I was just perking up my ears.’
‘Might I be privy?’
‘Funny—might you be privy. I love your language, teach it at university in fact. You go to the privy, to defecate or whatnot—‘
‘Whatnot, for the most part.’
‘Yet so casually ask if you may be privy. But never mind. Yes, you see the fact is that your Kennedy—’
‘Sorry to be a stickler, but I haven’t a Kennedy to my name.’
‘What a language, figures of speech. John F., I mean. On the rare occasion a discussion of American affairs leads to…to…well, such matters as Kennedy’s assassination, I do feel rather the need to respond with an opinion, even if it be rather light of, of aspect, or, or, or—’
‘I do know what you mean. What do you tell them?’
‘I tell them it’s hardly likely that Oswald acted alone, that his Russian connection by itself demands that conspiracy be asserted. But that from the little available evidence from the little reading I have done, most of which assured me that there is little available evidence, I would guess that he was killed by rogue elements within the C.I.A. combined with mobsters and Cuban exiles. But now it appears that the C.I.A. is being more forthright about its assassination programs and so I would amend that to ‘elements within the C.I.A. And that the alternative is quite simple: inasmuch as he invaded Cuba, risked world war over Cuba’s right to behave as Turkey did—and the European media covers a few things you Americans probably never even hear of, but it is beyond question by now that during that famous October crisis, so quaintly put: ‘Missiles of October’. No offense. It is beyond question that we were spared all out nuclear war by sheer luck, for a Russian in a submarine was mistakenly given the order to fire and the attempt failed somehow. And added to that, the numerous attempts to assassinate Castro, and the likelihood of typical C.I.A. economic subversion. Taken together, why couldn’t it simply have been Castro who organized the assassination?’
‘Indeed. Yet we began with Mossad.’
‘Why not Mossad and Castro? You see, Kennedy had it in his power to demand atomic facility inspections in Israel and was going to do it, in fact was hell bent—perhaps that’s not fit here: is one hell bent in protracted diplomatic behaviour? Kennedy, in short—oh, look, here comes Niko Nihče: you know who he is?’
‘In fact, that’s why I’m here, to speak with him about the assassination of Kramberger.’
‘What a bundle of coincidences,’ he remarked and unfolded like an origami stork to a surprising height (probably only 6 2 or 3, but nonetheless surprising in the way big birds always are, and with a terrifying wing span).
‘Yes, but you were saying…’
‘No, that’s about it: Mossad has to factor in. Kennedy was not going to allow them to construct nuclear weapons.’
So, M_______, if you can dig up anything I would appreciate it. It appears I won’t be privy to a good English library in the near future.
Did Kramberger Kramp your Style?
So M_______, Nihče showed up just then, actually took the professor’s seat, and all that was remarkable about the man was that he is even shorter than one is led to believe by the fact that every single description of him refers to his dwarfery. That, and remarkable, brilliant white, tufts of hair muzzling his ears—without affecting his hearing. It was as if he had baby rabbits in there. Otherwise, he had a full head of well groomed white hair on his head and not another hair—oh, of course he did have eyebrows—not a single nose hair and a closely shaven, nearly adolescent face.
‘Dr. Nihče,’ I started right in. ‘I’m Todd Fullmer, American writer. I work assassinations. They tell me you speak excellent English.’
‘That’s very kind of them.’
A bulimic girl, a faint perfume of vomit trailing her, taking a moment of orbital pause before following her back inside, placed a coffee with milk before him.
‘Voda,’ he reminder her, and in seconds she had returned with a glass of water.
‘Can I ask you some questions? I know it’s not generally polite to go about an interview this way, but I didn’t mean to sandbag you, it’s just that I was told you were easy to find, an accessible man, open to conversation.’
‘Quite right. Formalities be damned. Sandbag. Means ambush, right? Bushwhack, drygulch. I watch a lot of American westerns. Best films in the world. My favorite is Ben Johnson. Especially as Bob Emery.’
‘I’ll talk to any man who knows his westerns.’
‘I’m afraid the topic is unpleasant.’
‘Assassination is unpleasant. If you’re talking to me, you must be interested in Kramberger. Or his monkey.’
‘Good bet. Nihče does all the fighting for liberty, Kramberger returns a rich man with a chip on one shoulder and a monkey on the other, becomes a friend of the common man, picks up 20 percent of the vote. Maybe Nihče won’t survive politically to enjoy his own accomplishments. And there’s the cover story: drunken hunter. Even I don’t buy that, not for a second. The problem is, Todd if I may call you Todd, that I have absolutely no idea who had him killed, or why. If you intend to look, to keep looking, look to the right. It was the right he was sucking votes from.’
‘That’s all very persuasive, Dr.—‘
‘Niko. I’m just an old fart at a coffee shop…’
‘I do intend to pursue it, I always pursue until I am satisfied.’
‘It’s all for nothing, Will. It’s all for nothing.’
‘But it’s not all for nothing. In this case, it’s for money for me, and to be quite frank, to keep me in this country long enough that my editor decides I need not go to Minsk, a place that, again, frankly, scares the shit out of me.’
‘Dead journalists. Are those assassinations?’
‘Of course they are. Why? You have any of those?’
‘Probably, but none that I know of. This has rapidly become a very cynical country. Not much is expected of our journalists.’
‘What if one was able to prove a connection between you and the assassination of Kramberger?’
‘But he couldn’t. I think I have explained why. I gave my word.’
‘That one’s particularly easy—on of my favorites: The Wild Bunch.’
‘Yep. You’re a real straight shooter, son. But so am I. You can dig all you want. If you find something I may or may not be interested—it may or may not matter to me. And besides, chances are, the main perpetrators are dead. The noonday train will bring Frank Miller. If I’m a man I must be brave…’
‘Now there’s something to tell the folks back home. The father of Slovene independence is making fun of me.’
‘Not really. I’m just having a little fun. The retired life does agree with me, but I do admit sometimes missing the gravity of events.’
‘Like on Brijuni?’
‘That’s not a western.’
‘No but it could have been, could have been one of the best.’
‘So you were saying about Brijuni: I hit the target.’
‘You mean, of course that I cut a deal with those two swine.’
‘Yes. You had to know Tuđman and Milošević were going to go all out for Bosnia. The deal was Slovenia kicks off the gala brawl, the price is the Yugo army let’s you go.’
‘After a phony war.’
‘Of course, that’s exactly what happened.’
M, can you believe it. I looked at him at least a minute. He blinked, but only once or twice. No guile visible in the least.
‘You’re not making fun of me are you?’
‘But this is huge—why admit it to me?’
‘Because it’s obvious. If you walk out of a hotel room with a smile on your face and your wife sees you and checks to see who is still in the room and she’s smiling to, and naked on the bed…Well, you get the point, I suppose.’
‘I’m not writing about it, if that’s what you think. I’m not going to be thrown off the scent of the only political assassination in the history of Slovenia just for yet another goddamn Balkan wars story.’
‘The only political assassination in the history of Slovenia? Good god, son, have you done no research?’
I admitted that I had not, the whole business being new to me and all.
‘Go west, young man! Perhaps rather more south: about nine miles from Postojna, above. It’s called Predjamska grad, and there in 1484 you had the most spectacular assassination in our history, one of the finest assassinations in the history of the world.’
‘Tell me about it.’
‘I just did.’
He hadn’t touched his coffee. Now he did. People around here often do it that way. A long slurp and they’re off.
He didn’t even say goodbye. I wanted to call out, But stranger, I didn’t git yer name.