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THE COUNTESS OF MONTE CRISTO

by

HP Tinker



55.
W eeping on the castle stairs, head in hands, hunched double beneath the Count's favourite portrait of you, an abstract in the style of Max Ernst.

54.
Slightly irked because the potential long term relationship between you and the Count has not materialised in the way you imagined it might. He is nowhere to be seen now. He has dissipated. Vanished into vapid thin air. He has left no farewell note or forwarding address.

53.
The castle feeling a lonelier place without him.

52.
Sleeping pills wearing off in the bathroom. Moments after your latest suicide bid, your third, has failed. What are you doing wrong? you wonder Should you slice your wrists lengthways next time? Or from top to bottom? Or diagonally, perhaps? You don't know the answer. You content yourself by studying your magnificent physique in a full-length mirror. Your image rebounds back from the mirror: beauty personified, golden skin, breasts like balloons.

The entire bathroom is spread out behind you like an unknown future career in telesales.

51.
The Count's expensive briefcase. The tan leather briefcase is expensive and contains most of the Count's personal effects, the kind of briefcase a travelling businessman might delve mysteriously inside whilst seated on a train, and you are on your knees opening it, peering in at an expanse of red baize, thinking the case is empty, noticing something else, removing the false bottom, studying its contents and fingering the small plastic bags and testing the identity of the fine white powder when several men in dark uniforms brandishing weapons and credentials enter the room and discover you frozen in this pose trying to diffuse a potentially awkward situation by offering these gentlemen a light-hearted smile and a congenial greeting.

But you can't.

You are drooling everywhere, uncontrollably.

50.
Immediately after your arrest, being questioned several times. It is only a matter of finding out who you are and that doesn't take very long because you already know. Then someone explains that investigations are underway into your private life and this makes you go quiet for a while.

49.
A lamp shining directly into the chair where you are seated.

48.
What is your relationship to the Count? Do you live in the same house? Do you cook Italian food together? Do you eat Chinese takeaway or at authentic Cantonese restaurants? Do either of you have a home somewhere else? Do you sleep in separate rooms or the same room? The same bed? Do you climb the stairs together at night? Do you share a similar taste in American TV movies? Has intercourse ever taken place? Do you lay together in the morning longer than is actually necessary? Do you have any plans to get married in a small town registry office? Did you first meet socially or professionally? Do you spend leisure time together? Do you go ten pin bowling? Do you rent suggestive videos? Do older neighbours think of you as a couple? Are either of you religiously inclined? Do you look after any small children who are not related to you in a strictly biological way?

47.
"What is the point of all these questions?" you ask.

It is then they start hitting you.

46.
Graphic beating.

Reminded of similar situations you have read about in Hubert Selby Jr and once doubted the veracity of. The violence ceases abruptly and without explanation.

45.
The authorities are tall with blue deep-set eyes. They are reasonable and on the whole quite pleasant, though they prefer to remain impolitely hidden in a kind of semi-darkness.

Your mind wanders...

You imagine a well-bred woman finding the authorities attractive when they are alone in groups. "What an unusually striking visage," they remark to one another.

You stare at the desk.

The teak gleams back, mockingly, triumphantly.

44.
They want to know everything. You tell them you know nothing about nothing. They believe you, but say things look black anyway. They say things look so black you are likely to be imprisoned for a very long time because of all the impressive evidence they have stacked-up against your character. Then they allow you to see what prison would be like for a while, so you can get used to it. You sit down on a hard bed and think about this for several hours, the smell of stale prison food lingering around your nostrils.

43.
All your possessions taken away. Soon discovering that when you live alone in a cell without any possessions, life ceases to be of much enjoyment:

"Can I have them back?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"You might injure yourself with them."

"That is unlikely. I never have done so before."

"That doesn't matter in the eyes of the law."

(Your request for a free sex phone line is brusquely turned down.)

42.
The Doctor.

For the first few hours, you sit opposite the Doctor playing parlour games, batting abstract scenarios to and fro like ping-pong. But even sitting has become problematic for you now. Sitting in the same manner as the Doctor would make you overtly conscious of mirroring her exact position, as if you didn't have a personality of your own and were merely imitating her posture. So you sit awkwardly, legs spread slightly, hands resting on each knee, trying not to slouch or appear either too masculine or too feminine.

41.
"What can you see the Count doing now?"

"Removing his shirt."

"I see. Is he taking off his jeans?"

"No. He is still wearing his jeans."

"What colour are the jeans?"

"Blue. A deep, abiding royal blue."

"Do you see any significance in the colour blue?"

"None."

"Is he still removing his shirt?"

"Yes."

"What is taking so long?"

"He is being very deliberate. Lingering over each button."

"Is he with another woman?"

"Several."

"What are your greatest faults?"

"I am easily unsettled. I am vaguely irritable. I am regretfully nostalgic."

"Is the shirt off yet?"

"Yes."

"What do you see beneath the shirt?"

"Breasts. Two of them."

"Is he with another woman?"

"Several."

"How do his breasts appear to you?"

"Quite magnificent."

"Are they full?"

"Abnormally so."

"What do they remind you of?"

"The past. Regret. The time I was an alcoholic."

"Is that upsetting to you?"

"No, I was much happier then."

40.
The game over, you sleep for what seems like days but could be weeks or hours.

39.
The Deal.

Asked to infiltrate an international drugs cartel on their behalf. You agree, not knowing how people actually go about such things.

38.
Jogging on an indoor sweat machine. Drinking kiwi-flavoured health shakes. Reluctantly adopting a low-calory, low-cholesteral third world dietary regime. Quitting coffee. Not drinking alcohol excessively in public places. Only partaking in the occasional glass of Claret with your high-protein evening meal. Fitted with a chestnut brown Gucci suit and a D&G leather jacket. Taught how to fire an Uzi at people. Having your hair shaved by Vidal Sassoon. Issued with a regulation secret service hair care and make-up kit. Handed a semi-automatic pistol which you must keep in your handbag at all times. Your instructions appearing mysteriously in an unlikely place...

37.
An authentic tapas bar around noon. Sitting there for over an hour, a couple alongside you at right angles, the woman in a blue dress, the man in a pink suit, talking intimately about Leonard Cohen. When your contact finally arrives, she strongly resembles Jacqueline Sassand, the film actress. She puts a hand out for you to shake. Oddly, she behaves like this isn't really her hand at all. (You shake it anyway.)

36.
"I am Xandra Virago," she says and snaps a glass eyeball out of her left socket, wipes it on the sleeve of her suit, regards it in the palm of her hand and pops it back into its socket again with a brutish click. You laugh nervously and sip thick Spanish sherry from a small silver goblet.

35.
Her story? It comes to light over a course of black olives: a former high class call girl and CIA agent, she was happily married in Los Angeles until she was called back into service to help free a top agent from a maximum security Cuban jail. She has suffered mental and physical abuse from her first husband, a senior law officer, and her many aliases include: Victoria Wigstaff, Jo-Jo Monro, Kitty Clothmaker, Viennetta O'Sleep, Dennis Telford, Annabella Kent, Zara Flock-Mistress, Karina Singer, Gloria Wool, Joan Emigre, Lady Cardigan, Anna Panting, Sammi Welch, Jill Chair, Mary Tavern, Elizabeth Shoals, Kathryn Lamarr and Deanna Winger. She is also Gemini -- like you. (A good thing? you wonder.)

34.
" -- I am about to open a window of possibilities for you. A window of possibilities. In return for a little cooperation."

"I really don't think I can help you. I don't know what you want. Look -- what is this? What do you want from me exactly?"

"I want to open a window of possibilties. There will be considerable benefits if you cooperate in this matter. You'll be handsomely rewarded for your assistance. I'm sure we can come to some arrangement. I'm sure we --"

33.
"Who can I trust?" you ask.

"No one," says Xandra, confidently.

"No one?" you reply.

"No," she says. "No one. Not even me."

You eat another slice of octopus pizza and consider the situation.

32.
(A secret wire runs from your inside pocket right down into the front of your pants. Plain clothed people in a van parked outside can hear your every word. You are vaguely aware that your current actions in some way endanger your continuing existence on the planet. You imagine if your deception was ever discovered you would be murdered in a highly unpleasant manner; possibly strapped to a table with electrodes protruding from every orifice.)

31.
Bundled into the back of a white stretch limo -- the plot thickening around you the way a good pasta sauce should. "My abduction from Piccadilly Circus was a particularly painful experience," you later recall.

30.
Inside, an elderly man in glossy evening dress. If pressed you could only describe him as severely physically disabled: the head of a tiny man, the body of a jellyfish. His arms are stunted-tenticles, his ears dwarfish, unusually angled, and he seems capable of breathing only through some antiquated ventilation apparatus attached to his mouth by a rubber mask. On his lap is a small hi-tech digital device with a keypad, its tiny screen streaming with a frantic rush of shooting stars. Xandra Virago is here too -- which throws you a considerable distance emotionally. "I apologise for the strong arm tactics," she says. "But I told you that you couldn't trust me. Anyway, meet Mr Baltimore..."

Mr Baltimore doesn't move.

"Hello," you say finally.

The white stretch limo pulls slowly into traffic.

(Mr Baltimore still isn't moving.)

29.
"You and Mr. Baltimore are both involved in an investigation of sorts. A remarkably similar investigation. An investigation into past experiences of people. Painful experiences. Strange experiences. Vivid experiences. An experience so wounding that whether it happened yesterday or twenty years ago doesn't matter. These events in a person's past can remain vitally important regardless of their distance from them time-wise. It is an investigation not into motive or means. An alibi is not being established. It is an investigation into meaning... meaning, do you see? Mr Baltimore has a hatred of the limelight, of publicity. He also has an extreme prejudice against photographers. He has nothing to hide, as such. If he did have something to hide, what would it be? No, he has nothing to hide but everything to lose. From adverse propaganda. If Mr. Baltimore wants to find something out or if Mr. Baltimore wants to get something done, he often goes about it in an admittedly unusual, idiosyncratic way. Mr. Baltimore is descended from the landed classes, you see. Mr. Baltimore is a multi-millionaire and as is the way with multi-millionaires he can do absolutely as he pleases. Now Mr. Baltimore has become aware of you and your UNICEF work and your new assignment. Mr. Baltimore likes you. Mr. Baltimore believes you can help him in a certain matter. Mr. Baltimore doesn't like the authorities. Mr.Baltimore doesn't like officials. Would it surprise you to learn Mr. Baltimore has a past? Mr. Baltimore likes honest individuals: honest individuals always come with a price tag. Usually dangling from their back passages, wagging eagerly like a curly piglet's tail..."

28.
"I see," you say. (You are totally confused and understand nothing.)

27.
She is tapping lightly on an elegant unisex briefcase. "We are offering you the key to a whole new world, a world you can only have previously dreamt of or glimpsed on TV. A world where your wildest dreams can come true. Where you can fulfil your darkest fantasies. You will have no time for light entertainment. Interested?" She is all smiles: all perfect gleaming teeth; the limo making a sweeping turn, careering (dramatically) round a corner, then veering away in a completely different direction, passing through a darkened underpass, everything (momentarily) smothered by a thick blouse of darkness...

26.
Feeling dazed and semi-lethargised, you have oral sex with Xandra Virago on the floor of your hotel bathroom. Unclothed, she reminds you of Julia Roberts in The Pelican Brief. "I come from a place where inspiration, sight and meaning are one," she says. "A place where you carry your experiences with you, on your head like your hair, or on your back like a small rucksack."

"Where?" you ask, confused.

25.
Meeting Mr Wint and Mr Kidd in rented Kensington accomodation. Negotiations are watched over by two Kalashnikov-toting heavies. They zealously guard the complimentary breakfast buffet of assorted Danish pastries.

24.
In a dazzling tuxedo at the Ritz. After the wine waiter leaves, conversation passes from Kevin Costner to Christian Slater to Tom Cruise to Kevin Bacon to Patrick Swayze to Tom Hanks to Denzel Washington to Dustin Hoffman and back to Tom Cruise again. You share the taxi home with Lara Flynn Boyle.

23.
Various disguises. A Porsche-driving chartered accountant, a boring computer salesman, an out of work law lecturer. An eye-patch, an occasional hat, an unconvincing Scottish accent. All strategically employed at appropriate moments.

22.
The opening night of Orpheus! The Musical with Parker Posey. In Notting Hill you meet Alicia Silverstone, Will Smith and Chris O'Donnell. In West London you are lured into the ladies cloak room by Racquel Welch. At Dancerama you find yourself discussing the later works of Immanual Kant with Toni and Bamboo, the latest Scandinavian underwear models.

21.
A quandary. You have become so popular and successful that you now enjoy your drug-dealing career and don't know which side you are on anymore. You have been drawn into a world of corruption where you occupy a morally ambiguous middle-ground. As a result, you wrestle hourly with your conscience in the Ladies room.

20.
Flying out to Jamaica with Neil Tennant on a scheduled BA flight, you discover Paul and Linda McCartney with all their children, Mick Hucknell and his entourage, and a Channel 4 film crew filming a documentary about Placido Domingo are all on board. During the flight you eat small portions of pre-packaged broccoli then watch Brecht In Love! the latest Oscar winning biopic starring Joe Pesci and Sandra Bullock.

19.
A dentist is shot dead in South Africa.

18.
Berlin. Taking Julia Ormond to a Kandinsky retrospective, discussing its meaning afterwards over diced crayfish in coconut milk. By chance you managed to pick out his early watercolours, although you actually know little about his work. Then, that same Easter, visiting Sidi Bou Said with Kate Moss. "Kate Moss!" the one-legged beggar boys cry, hopping up behind you. "Kate Moss!" (Skateboarding with Wesley Snipes in the Alps, you decide, is not your bag.)

17.
In Amsterdam, an old lady is pushed into a canal.

16.
Standing at a 35th street New York deli counter with Liz Hurley. Dean Martin's "Ain't That A Kick In The Head" suddenly shudders out of the store radio and your mobile starts to vibrate forebodingly in your back pocket: "Don't answer it, please," pleads Liz. "No," you say. "I must. It's vibrating."

15.
Paris, city of myths: city of light, of romance, of culture, of fashion, of gastronomy, of architecture, of gay and lesbian wine bars. Strolling along grandiose avenues, magnificent monuments resonate with the echoes of a turbulent past. Everybody here wears black: especially the girls, their skirts short and sexy. What could be more seductive than walking by the riverside quays on a summer evening as dusk thickens under the lime street lamps, sipping cognac in the early hours, slowly and significantly turning up the lapels of your knee-length silver trench coat...?

14.
"... Ou est le Metro le plus proche?... Ou sont les toillettes?... Je cherche une auberge de jeunesse... L'addition, s'll vous plait..."

13.
Juliette. A pretty and gifted young cellist. Sitting by the Seine together witnessing the rare and mysterious final moment of the setting sun, the Green Ray which makes it easier to better understand your own feelings and the feelings of others. "Lawns in Paris are meant to be looked at and praised for their greenness, not sat upon," she warns you.

12.
Returning to your room with Juliette, you shut the windows, lock the doors, turn off the phone, unplug the clock. You wear no clothes for days. You sleep standing up. You eat horizontally on a small Persian rug. A romantic affair follows during which you discover there is no greater fulfilment in life than listening to Bach's Art of Fugue together in empty churches. (Also, you acquire a taste for cunnilingus. You have never experienced cunnilingus like this before: so sickly sweet, like a yam.) The pretty and gifted young cellist called Juliette is shot by an East European hitman from a third floor window. A strange doctor takes her body away for further forensic tests. Awkward questions nag at the back of your head. Leading an unbearably lonely existance among the low rent prostitutes of Lyons, not one day goes by when you don't think about her. (Juliette...)

11.
Juliette. A high-speed chase through the streets of San Francisco. Later, several thousand feet above the Grand Canyon, you confront an ex-Soviet bomb guy on top of a cable car. "My name is Yuri," he says. "But that is unimportant. This isn't the time or the place for small talk..."

10.
Arriving at the Warbucks Hotel only to be struck from behind by a blunt instrument in the laundry room. Waking in a strange bedroom and finding yourself strongly implicated in the murder of Teddy, the gay son of the wealthy hotel owner. From the shape of the indentation in your head, guessing you have been assaulted with a monkey wrench. A situation as grave as this one has not arisen since your mother last walked the earth. Phoning Interpol, the man on reception not believing a word of your story. Soon pursued across America by everybody from foreign agents and Mafia hitmen to the CIA and MI6. The Tel Aviv flying squad become involved at one point, although admittedly not for long.

9.
Wearing false beards and cleaning dishes in unfamiliar fast food outlets. In poorly lit surroundings, you are struggling to unravel the truth behind your mysterious situation. (You suspect you are struggling because you always conduct your investigations in such poorly lit surroundings.) One afternoon your cover is exposed by a maverick cop, possibly the sickest individual in the whole of the 15th precinct. Oddly he believes your story and wants to help.

8.
The cop is called Marcello. He is impotent and wears a Frank Zappa moustache. At first sight you hate each other, but later you become close friends.

7.
Marcello is thrown from a speedboat and drowns. Only his filofax of criminal names and addresses survives, conveniently floating back up to the surface.

6.
Heathrow. Rio. Lisbon. Brussels. Bruges. Rome. Venice. Barcelona. Madrid. Prague. Parma. St Petersburg. Moscow. Cape Town. Then Heathrow again. A coincidental 747 terrorist hijack. Feeling like Bruce Willis. Bare chested and gleaming with sweat. You keep a .45 colt automatic down the front of your pants in case of such emergencies and a sash of bullets over one shoulder because you like the masculine effect it creates. You discover a happily placed parachute. The plane explodes loudly, filling the sky with pieces and falling luggage. Who is going to clean up this mess? you wonder.

5.
Travelling down Tottenham Court Road, your eyes catch sight of someone who looks remarkably like the pretty and gifted young cellist Juliette sitting in the very next bus. You disembark, grab a cab and give chase. You lose her under the statue of Eros at Trafalgar Square where, weeping, you encounter a friendly Doomsday cult of shaven headed former advertising executives.

4.
Kidnapped and held hostage in a Wiltshire mansion. Chained alongside an autistic boy. The cult is a "front" for Mr Big's various international drug operations, you discover. Time passes in a series of long slow dissolves. You help the boy come to terms with his disorder and he dies quickly in your arms, having learnt things. You escape, blowing up the mansion on your way out.

3.
Battersea Power Station. Finally meeting Mr Big. It is a dark night and you are sitting in a gloomily lit warehouse-style location. In person Mr Big is actually quite small. A dead man sits in the chair next to him. Throughout the meeting you remain scrupulously silent. Mr Big is so self-absorbed he thinks he is actually carrying on a conversation with you. (His confession is secretly recorded on the latest DAT equipment you have strapped between your legs.)

2.
Ambushed. On the waterfront... later... yardies, yippies, yakuzas... streaming everywhere like wind... a form of gangland etiquette... brushing them off... one by one... bare-knuckled... like Bruce Lee... a pink Ferrari swerving through a stack of boxes... the driver... a golden blonde... beckoning over like a powerful feminist subtext... you don't know her... you leap in anyway... bullets rebounding from your skin... not puncturing your body the way bullets should... tyres screeching... zig-zagging through Central London... the golden blonde... casually raising her Ray Bans... revealing... oh, the horrorŠthe horror... the face of the Count... smiling... slyly checking his eye-liner in the rear view mirror...

1.
Casanova's Chinese Restaurant (original wood flooring, huge dressers, 40 ft aluminium light rig): the Count wearing a red tube dress, red neck tie, red python boots and long blonde wig. Sitting opposite the Count, sipping an Oriental Martini, glancing at your watch. He is more feminine than you now, you note, prettier, more attractive. Warmer also. His clothes exude the emphatic air of outlandish expense. His breasts are fuller than yours, beautifully enhanced. His teeth are perfectly straight. "Prawn crackers and plenty of them," he bids the waiter in a wanton tone. He is "vivacious" and "bubbly" now. What did you ever see in him? you wonder. And what does the future hold? The sea bass on your plate is frightening. Not at all what you expected. Silently you try the weightless potato sorbet instead.

0.
"It all began while I was tracing the history of scrambled eggs... a thankless task... meanwhile discovering my sexuality... in a green tin box I kept in the loft... so I split for South America... took up driving Red Cross ambulances... wearing a roseate chiffon gown... through war-torn Peru... nobody looked twice... it beat the conservative life back at the castle..." The Count is demurely slicing a lightly grilled, richly stuffed guinea pig. He is currently writing his autobiography, The Countess of Monte Cristo, at the table, while he dines.





ABOUT THE AUTHOR

HP Tinker, 32, lives in the North of England. Since he started writing in 1997, he has had more than half a dozen short stories published in Ambit. He is currently working on a novel entitled The Man Who Would Be Mute. Visit The Swank Bisexual Wine Bar of Modernity, the official HP Tinker website.




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