Bewildering Stories

Table of Contents
Chapter 24 part 1 appears
in this issue.

Observation One:
Singing of promises ...

by Michael E. Lloyd

Chapter 24: London, England

part 2

Inside the passage, Jeremy was holding off. The smile was once again not achieving its usual result.

‘Who are you, madam? I was expecting to meet a young man. But for some reason I am following you. This is not right. I can tell that you are deceiving me. I have a good nose for these things ...’

‘Do not worry, Jeremy. I am a friend of Estebán. He is not well this morning, and he has asked me to come in his place.’

‘No, I’m not having this. For one thing, it is not what I agreed. But more important, I can see that you are lying. I’m calling the police ... don’t try and move!’

But The Hon. Jeremy Farant could not bring himself to remove the phone from his pocket ...

‘Jeremy, you are clearly a man of immense integrity. I am delighted to have found you ...’

‘Don’t give me all that. Just stay there! If only I could get hold of my phone ...’

‘Jeremy, please look at me properly.’ Carla turned her smile up beyond the normal safe limit for a few seconds; she was sure this would cause no lasting damage.

‘No, I will not!’

Farant continued to stand his ground — which was not surprising, since he was effectively glued to it. But he was not melting at all ...

Toni had heard all this, and recognised there was an obvious impasse. And now his fundamental missioning from Quo took over from his still-fermenting anger and jealousy. So he started thinking again. The very honest Mr Farant obviously had a high level of resistance, and Carla’s smile was presumably just not strong enough to overcome it in that low level of light. So she needed some music ... and he still had the brand-new CD of The Sorcerer in his jacket pocket!

It took him fifteen seconds to unwrap it and swap it into the machine. Moments later, the strains of Ring Forth, Ye Bells filled the downtown air. He waited another twenty seconds, then poked his nose around the corner. Farant was now at the far end of the passage, facing away from him and completely alone, his body language reflecting the deep state of bliss that Toni knew he must now be in.

Any other passers-by who happened to look down the passage might well have imagined, however, that the honourable gentleman was in fact engaged in a far less inspirational activity ...

Good afternoon, Jeremy. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, at last.

‘And you are ...?’

You make call me Quo. It matters little. “A rose by any other name ...”

‘Ah — Romeo and Juliet!’

Indeed. Without the heart attack.

‘I beg your pardon?’

A trifle! Forgive me. Now, honourable Jeremy, we have chosen to unite our minds with yours because we see in you a spirit most akin to ourselves.

‘Speak in plain English, please! This is not a Shakespeare play!’

I am sorry. I have been long abroad. I shall try harder.

Jeremy, I must advise you at once that the young student Estebán does not exist. He was simply a ruse, to allow us to make contact with you. However, the subject which he represented — honesty and integrity in politics — is precisely what we do wish to discuss with you ...

‘Go on ...’

We already have a general understanding, from your French associate, Monsieur Nallier, of the aims of the organisation you call CAMRUTH, the Campaign for Real Truth. But we wish to gain a fuller appreciation of it. Would you care to summarise your motivation for founding it, in your own words?

‘That’s a very easy question! I have been adamant for a long time (almost as long as I have been in politics) that it is intolerable to believe one thing and to say something different. It is as simple as that!

‘But whenever I discussed my convictions with anybody (good people, mind you, well-motivated people ... I am no moral snob), I was almost universally pitied for my innocence and my idealism. And all the obvious arguments against my belief — pragmatism and practicality, getting things done, little white lies, keeping your powder dry, political survival, holding on to your friends, and so on — were then always rolled out, one by one.’

I empathise strongly with you, Jeremy.

‘Thank you, Quo.

‘But I never allowed that polite mockery to wear me down. I always held my ground. Then, a few years ago, I decided I must do something more active  ...

‘And I recalled that, throughout my twenties, the big breweries in the United Kingdom had used the powerful new medium of television advertising to persuade just about every man and boy in Britain that the bland, mass-produced new chilled keg beer they were pouring down their throats in all the modern pubs actually tasted as beer really should ...

‘Of course, the stuff was beer, in a legal definition, and its recipes were not hidden or falsified ... and plenty of people enjoyed it. Again, I am no snob. But the methods by which it was made and kept and served were just completely different from the traditional ways in which cask-conditioned ales had been handled and enjoyed in Britain for centuries past. And the flavour ... well ...

‘Eventually, when I was about thirty, a grass roots organisation grew up, opposing this “untruth”. It pressed, by honest and softly-softly means, for more and more pubs to fight back against the tide of the big breweries, and to support the smaller ones, many of which had been forced out of business. It encouraged pubs to learn once again how to handle and serve great British beers at natural temperatures — beers that did not represent a distortion of truth, aimed at the ill-informed or the gullible.

‘That organisation was called CAMRA — the Campaign for Real Ale. It changed the face of British pubs once more, over a long period of time. Now, there is fine, well cared-for British beer available everywhere. There is still also the lesser stuff, of course ... but the people know, and rejoice, that they have the real thing available to them once again.

‘And when I remembered all that, Quo, I realised that what had been done for something as mundane as beer could and should be done for something as important as Truth. And there you have it!’

Well, Jeremy, I am seriously surprised. A humble drink is indeed not the “stuff” I would have anticipated as the inspiration for your great dreams! But the success of the CAMRA crusade which you have described is very clear ... and your respectful exploitation of its popular name obviously means you have an ear for a good soundbite yourself!

‘I am no fool, Quo. Honest, yes. Foolish? Never!’

So, Jeremy, let us raise our sights again, from the everyday to the sublime. A man with ideals as high as yours must have formed some fairly strong opinions about his own personality. What, in your view, are your own greatest strengths?

‘Ah, that’s the sort of directness I admire! Well, I think I have a very good feel for when people are, or are not, telling the whole truth. In fact, I think I almost always get it right. And I am proud to say I am outspoken on the subject of honesty in politics.’

A powerful and concise summary. Thank you. And your weaknesses ...?

Touché, Quo ... touché. Well, to be brutally honest, I cannot forget that when I was much younger (before I had ever heard of CAMRA!), I too was guilty of occasional mild dissimulation. This is the Achilles heel that I shall carry with me to my grave. But I have turned this failing into a crusade. I am constantly seeking to discover disciples of our cause who can indisputably claim to be “totally pure”. That group of people can one day supply my natural successor as the figurehead of CAMRUTH.’

Do you have any individuals presently in mind for that honour, Jeremy?

‘Well, there are already several distinguished names on my special list. But most of them hold high office, and would probably not be in a position to accept the role, if invited. But there is one person in that group who probably could take on the challenge ...’

Yes, Jeremy ...?

‘Since the moment I became aware of her, Quo, and particularly since she applied to join our campaign and was naturally subjected to our deep but unannounced scrutiny, I have found nothing to reveal any flaw in the past or present integrity of Ms Hilde van Wostraap, a Dutch Member of the European Parliament. Have you perhaps heard report of her elsewhere?’

We have indeed, Jeremy. We have indeed ... and we intend to meet that fine lady ourselves, very soon. In fact, you will be able to smooth our path a little in this endeavour. We cannot ask you to organise a meeting for us; we do not yet have a firm plan for our own movements, beyond London. But I note that you employ a special campaign password for secure communication among your members ... and I see that it changes each weekend. Perhaps you would like to decide, here and now, on the new password for the coming week ...?

‘Certainly, Quo. Let me see ... ah yes ... may I suggest Silence?’

Thank you, Jeremy. Will you please communicate this by e-mail to all your members, as soon as you return home today?

‘I will.’

Now, would you kindly tell us a little about some of your other illustrious members? In this country, to begin with ...

‘Well, Quo, I am proud to say they include a Senior Bishop of the Church of England, and also a high-ranking Government Minister ...’

How interesting. We shall return to this in a moment.

And others, from abroad? You might perhaps begin with our mutual friend ...

‘Ah, Monsieur Nallier! The film actor turned politician! So well-meaning! So pure in future intent! Jean-Christophe is a fervent believer in political integrity. He has no qualms about “doing deals”, but he always insists they must be totally open to scrutiny. In fact he is convinced that these days he is whiter-than-white — and he probably is! He disagrees absolutely with my position on the European Union and the euro, and he argues vociferously against me, all over Europe. But he never enters into false claims or dirty tricks — and he enthusiastically praises and financially supports our CAMRUTH work in many different ways!’

So he has no flaws ...?

‘Of course he has! He is willing to lie through his teeth and employ absolutely any legitimate device to seduce each and every woman who catches his eye! But he does not consider this to be in any way incompatible with his political ideals ... and he insists he has never encountered any practical conflicts between the two! So he now feels he is totally pure ... “guilt-free”, he calls it ...’

Why do you say “these days” and “now” about him, Jeremy?

‘Well, he has of course conveniently forgotten the many peccadillos of his early years in politics. Whereas, as I said earlier, I am not able to forget mine ...’

That is fascinating, Jeremy. And I see you have some other powerful supporters ...

‘Yes, Quo, our frontiers are steadily expanding. Our membership now includes two other senior European political leaders ... including a head of government.’

I notice you recalling that each of those two well-known politicians is listed in your records under a false name, Jeremy. How do you feel about that?

‘Ah, Quo, there is the pragmatism argument, in full relief. I do not conceal my own support for CAMRUTH. But I cannot insist on public exposure for those who do not wish it ...’

Do you detect any inconsistency of principles here, Jeremy?

‘I do indeed, Quo — but not in my personal position. Any campaign benefits from powerful backing and a softly-softly approach, particularly in its early days. You need a sprat to catch a mackerel ...’

Let us return to your British associates, Jeremy.

You are going to conduct a little experiment for us. It is a further test of a main hypothesis of our mission: that there are, as a general rule, significant differences between what people really feel or believe, and what they actually say. This is fascinating to us because, on our own world, such differences no longer exist. Everything an individual feels or believes is patent to all around ... unhideable, undisguiseable, and undeniable.

‘That is extremely interesting, Quo. But how can I help you with this ...?’

Simply, Jeremy, by establishing the whole truth. You are convinced of the integrity of your two most senior British members of CAMRUTH. You have a thorough understanding of their stated beliefs on many important aspects of modern life in your country. With a little help from ourselves — in fact, using a special little smile, which you have now been taught — you will be able to enquire within the minds of your associates, on any subjects you choose, and at last judge for yourself the purity of their truths.

‘I am not convinced of the morality of such an undertaking, Quo. But I cannot deny that I am fascinated by the opportunities it affords ...’

Excellent, Jeremy. So be it. You will conduct your research over the next forty-eight hours (I appreciate it is a weekend, and you may require a little time to make personal appointments with the bishop and the cabinet minister), and you will report back to the lady with the pink carnation, at Eros, on Monday at noon.

* * *

Toni had quickly become bored with watching Farant talking to himself at the end of the passage. So after a while he had turned the CD player’s volume down to a tolerable level (he reckoned that Gilbert and Sullivan must have done their job by now), and had simply sat down on the pavement, with his back to the wall of the office block, and immersed himself in a musical genre which until then had been completely unfamiliar to him.

But he hit the “Stop” button as soon as he heard the MP’s footsteps. As Farant emerged and marched off down Haymarket on the lookout for a taxi, Toni scrambled to his feet, consulted his watch, and then peeped back down the passage. Carla was nowhere to be seen. So with plenty of time to spare before his one o’clock appointment, he sauntered back up towards Eros and took up a fine position from which to watch the girls go by.

Carla arrived on the hour precisely. She had been very grateful for the rescue mission which, unprompted, Toni had conducted so effectively, and she was now feeling suitably contrite. But she wasn’t going to show it too soon. And although she and Quo were being forced once again to acknowledge Toni’s true value to their operation, they had decided not to reinstate him just yet.

But she did proffer a brief ‘Thank you, Toni,’ and she did not argue with his suggestion that he needed some lunch. They walked off together down Coventry Street, and as they approached Leicester Square they found a café that had dared to take advantage of the mild spring weather and had placed a few weedy-looking tables and chairs on the pavement outside.

As he got stuck into a rather unappetising steak sandwich and a surprisingly good glass of real draught beer, Toni mentioned the rock concert he had seen advertised in Hyde Park.

‘You know, Carla, I’d love to go to that, tomorrow afternoon, if I’m still not really needed. Will you be busy? Would you like to come too?’

Toni’s fast-improving attitude, and this very personal invitation, prompted from Carla a surprisingly rapid response.

‘Yes, Toni — I think I would!’

‘Great! Now — what about this afternoon?’

‘No plans! What do you suggest?’

‘Well ... I’ve been to England, of course, twice before, but I’ve never had time to travel outside London. Seeing the publicity for the rock concert made me think of Woodstock — that was the most famous rock festival ever, in America, in the sixties — and then that made me think of the village named Woodstock here in England, which is where Winston Churchill was born  ... at Blenheim Palace. It’s in a beautiful area called the Cotswolds — and Stratford-upon-Avon and Oxford aren’t far away. The weather’s still good. We could hire a car and spend the whole afternoon out there ...’

‘Now you’ve got it all worked out, Toni! It sounds perfect. Except ... do you have a driving licence in the name of Rafael ...?’

‘No, I don’t. But I can’t drive anyway! No, I meant we could use a private car tour service. I’ve got unlimited funds, so I’m sure we could organise one very quickly ... everybody has their price!’

‘Two lovely invitations in the space of one minute, Toni! You really are spoiling me. Let’s do it ...’

Toni was inspired. He and his money worked hard for half an hour on the challenge he had set himself, and just before two o’clock a powerful car with a very nice driver picked them up on the corner of Regent Street and Piccadilly and cruised away to the west ...

To be continued ...

Copyright © 2003 by Michael E. Lloyd
Lyrics credits and copyrights

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