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The Smith Manuscript Ashley Macdougal


First Published 2013 Copyright Š Ashley Macdougal 2013 All rights reserved

ISBN 978-1-4466-5638-9


To Suzy Mac, my heroin/e


Introductory Note A friend of mine who didn’t want to be named describes himself as a Bodhisattva - some sort of Buddhist monk. He sits cross-legged for hours in his pokey city flat chanting incantations. He once wrote a proverb in a letter and sent it to me when I was feeling down. It goes like this: One summer a Zen master lived by the sea in a small hut, set on the edge of a flat and barren landscape. The sea washed warm over the sand and the sand grains collected and huddled in groups. In their infinite wisdom the grains of sand formed to become pebbles. In time the pebbles became rocks, strong and sturdy and impervious to the sea. With an eye to the sky the rocks formed into boulders and stood proud of the sea and impervious to the wind. With the passing of time the boulders became strong and ambitious and, with an eye to the sun, many boulders gathered and formed a small mountain. The aloof sun knew that the mountain would never reach its own magnificent height, but the mountain, with the backing of its boulders, rocks, pebbles and the grains of sand with their infinite wisdom, knew only of its dreams and expectations and was happy. Be only like the mountain and never the sun.

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The Zen master who was all knowing and witnessed what happened took it upon himself to tell the story of the mountain and the sun. Maybe my friend (the one who didn’t want to be named) had smoked too much hash and read too much Kerouac, but it all made a lot more sense to me when I found that box buried in the sand on Spurn Point following the big winter storm in January of this year. The box had been dug into a shallow pit in the sand within an old ramshackle hut that had been used by the shipping pilots years ago, as described in the manuscript. The storm had removed just enough sand for the corner to protrude and Berry (that’s my dog) had been sniffing and barking and scratting at the corner, and that’s what drew me over to the box to see what all the fuss was about. As you’ll find out later, there was no key for the sturdy lock on the box and so I had to break off the hinges with a big screwdriver to get inside. Inside the box was a bound-up manuscript. Initially I wasn’t sure what to make of it, and so I contacted Alison, an editor friend of mine in London. We’d been in senior high school together and out of all of us idiots that graduated that year she was probably the only one who made anything of herself. Not

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some weed-smoking hippy, Alison had done well for herself and had useful contacts in the publishing business. Together we tried to find out who the narrator was and to track down some of the people who you’ll read about later (but of course not all of them). In the end we drew a blank, and so in an attempt to find out who these people were, Alison recommended publishing the story in its full unedited entirety, and then maybe someone will contact me and help solve the mystery. She also told me to write an introductory note about how I came to be in possession of the manuscript. So here it is. I was gonna fill this introduction with all kinds of adjectives to describe the story but Alison just told me to “let it be, what it is” and not cast my own opinions on it. She also told me not to include the Zen proverb, but I kinda like it so that’s staying in.

Ashley Macdougal

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The Manuscript:


Contents Cannes, French Riviera – Late September 2003: ......... 5 Chapter 1 (Encounter?) .................................................... 5 Chapter 2 (Retreat #1) ....................................................... Chapter 3 (Kronies at 72) .................................................. Chapter 4 (Entrer la Nuit) ................................................. Chapter 5 (Le Salle) ............................................................. Chapter 6 (Happiness Happening) ................................ Chapter 7 (Retreat #2) ....................................................... Chapter 8 (Opening Up) .................................................... Chapter 9 (Le Farfalla) ....................................................... Chapter 10 (The Dream) ................................................... Chapter 11 (Stretching Across Town) ........................... Chapter 12 (A Small Window)......................................... Chapter 13 (Figs Forgotten) ............................................. Chapter 14 (Murphy’s Bar) ............................................... Chapter 15 (Shrinking Room) .......................................... Chapter 16 (Dunes in June) .............................................. Chapter 17 (Sur la Plage) .................................................. Chapter 18 (Synergy) .......................................................... Chapter 19 (Along the Coast) .......................................... Chapter 20 (The Swirling Night)..................................... Chapter 21 (Monsieur Dubois) ........................................ Chapter 22 (A New Luck) .................................................. Chapter 23 (Last Tango in Juan) .................................... Chapter 24 (Back in the Cannes) ................................... Chapter 25 (Le Farfalla Fella) ..........................................


Chapter 26 (Pursuit Resumed) ........................................ Chapter 27 (Into the Bellybutton) .................................. Chapter 28 (An Insidious Tic) .......................................... Chapter 29 (In and Out) .................................................... Chapter 30 (Over and Out, Retreat #3) ....................... Chapter 31 (Over) ................................................................ Spurn Point, East England – February 2004: .................. Epilogue ...................................................................................


The Smith Manuscript

Cannes, French Riviera – Late September 2003:

Chapter 1 (Encounter?) In my nightmares I see a man with a distinctive tattoo. The tattoo is a serpent - inked in a black tribal style - and it rises up his neck from the right side of his shirt collar. The serpent’s murderous intent is obvious, its head is in profile and is contorted into a chilling sneer with fangs clearly visible. The man is dressed immaculately in a crisp white suit and, with the exception of the tattoo, looks every part the respectable businessman. With absolute certainty I know that this is the man who has wrought unbelievable suffering on my family - a suffering that has compelled me to find him and bring an end to the nightmares, and hopefully find peace and perhaps some sort of justice – whatever that means. The question of my own teetering sanity had raised itself, with the decision to come to Cannes on a whimsical supposition that this was where the tattooed man would be. That decision appeared now to have been completely justified. The exact same tattoo of my tormented, recurring nightmares was clearly visible on the neck 5


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of a man who was standing less than ten feet away from me. He was dressed as in the dreams. He looked happy and strolled along the seafront away from me now, with what looked like his wife or lover. They held hands, gazed at the yachts moored out in the bay and moved with such nonchalance that they appeared to occasionally stagger backwards before progressing lazily onwards. They seemed so carefree. The sun beamed from the highest point in the sky and cast the blackest shadows onto the concrete slabs beneath them. They exchanged penetrating glances and giggled without a word being uttered. The midday promenade was a fluster of activity and teemed with sun-worshipping tourists, transiting to and from the beach. Some yachty types in comfortable deck shoes, slacks and polo shirts buzzed around a restaurant menu display. With the random ebb and flow of the beachside brigade serving as an adequate visual filter against my own lanky appearance, this allowed me to pursue the man with the tattoo of the dream unabated, although I dropped back about thirty metres or so to be certain of evading discovery once I was sure it was the tattoo. A little further up the couple crossed the Boulevard de la Croisette and stopped at the window of a small jewellery store on the corner of Rue Franรงois Einesy, presumably to admire an array of flawless offerings presented on miniature crushed velvet cushions. A couple of 6


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minutes passed and then, with an eager leap, the girl grabbed the man’s arm and they both disappeared into the store. Having not yet crossed the boulevard I perched myself on the promenade wall and observed from a distance, waiting for the couple’s reappearance. I hadn’t at this point thought about how to approach them. I just knew that it had to happen. Seeing the tattoo that had filled my dreamscape for so long back in England, and within just a few short months of arriving in Cannes, had filled me with a sense of dread. However riding shotgun with the dread was a feeling of mitigation at having made the right decisions in pursuit of such powerful and overwhelming apparitions. Nevertheless, sitting there on La Croisette in the bright midday sun knowing where the tattoo finally was had engulfed me with a nauseating panic. It was a feeling I had experienced a couple of years earlier when foolishly agreeing to do a bungee jump at a local park near my home in England. A drying of the throat as the crane hoisted the small cradle into the air; the man going through the routine of checking the harness and clipping on the bungee cord to the leg straps, like an executioner coldly running his final point-checks. I remember seeing the treetops around the park, way below the level of the cradle, and yet it kept going upwards. Then the cradle’s ascension slowed and stopped, and then just silently rocked to-and-fro in the air. When it 7


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came to the crunch I couldn’t move. I remained routed to the spot looking down eighty metres or so towards the small patch of grass below and the tiny pink faces of the crowd. With the cradle still swaying gently and calmly in the breeze the most awful feeling of nauseating panic swept over me. The park below began to rotate wildly and before passing out I clearly remember the man who worked for the bungee company issuing final instructions: “Just lean for’ard mate,” he said in a thick Sheffield accent, “Gravity’ll do the rest. Trust me. You’ll be fine.” Further up the promenade I could see Benni swaggering along towards me with a huge smile on his face. He’d probably just lined himself up with the wife of some big shot Parisian antique dealer down in Cannes for a conference. Benni was a real card and a good friend. He worked at the Majestic Barrière Hotel serving up twenty-euro cocktails at the beach bar. With access to the well-heeled tourists, he may not have been able to afford the cocktails he served up, but he did milk the role for everything he could. The Majestic’s beach area has a jetty that juts fifty metres out from the shoreline. To set the scene: the jetty is a hive of lone women strapped into couture Dior and Chanel swimwear, soaking up the sun whilst their husbands are either at one of the conference centres or playing poker in the casino. Benni called these women “la vedovas di confinò” which, to us at least, meant widows of the 8


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conf [erence and cas] ino or just confinòs for short. This shortened version also has a rough translation of “confines” or “confined”, which kind of ironically ran against the grain for our free-spiritedness, and particularly for Benni who could never get to grips with the “confines” of any long-term relationship. Any milking of the situation by Benni was usually played out when he was asked to take a Cosmopolitan or a Martini down the jetty to one of the “confinòs”. He would throw them a cheeky Italian smile and a wink, and this was sometimes enough to tip them over the edge of their vulnerability. So when returning to collect the signature for the room tab, Benni would occasionally receive an additional slip of paper with a request for some of the off-the-menu services that even the hotel manager didn’t know about. The Majestic was my first residence when I got into town and was my initial base camp from which I located my second and present residence, my apartment on Rue des Fréres Pradignac. Benni was very much an Italian me, so we got on like a house on fire from day one. The first time I saw him I was walking along the same stretch of promenade with my big leather holdall, fresh off the bus, when he bounded up to me and said, ‘Hey man, you’re English - no?’ ‘Erm, yes that’s right,’ I replied. ‘Are you looking for a room?’ At first I thought he was just some wide boy 9


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touting to get me into a hostel to get his commission, so I lumbered on and tried to ignore him. And then he cranked up again: ‘My name’s Benni, I work at the Majestic beach bar.’ He pointed to the name tag and the Majestic Barrière logo on his shirt and then held out a hand. He’d managed to neutralise the situation because I’d heard of the Majestic Barrière Hotel. It’s one of the big-time seafront palace hotels and plan A was considering asking if they had any rooms available, along with some of the others on the front. Then he came out with the plum line that reeled me in: ‘I can get you 25% discount on a room and a free Martini at the beach bar.’ Bingo, full row, left to right. That’s how I got into the Majestic for my first couple of weeks. After that plan B was to get something more permanent, so I started looking for apartments. Fortunately Benni had contacts and knew of someone in real estate, who had an apartment on his books that was way underpriced for the area. When Benni came along with me to view the apartment I think he liked it more than me: ‘This is perfect Smith. Bars around every corner and only two blocks back from the seafront.’ He had a good point and to be truthful I’d not seen anything this good for the price, so I signed on the dotted line, right there. He came from a working-class family in Milan, drawn to the bright lights like many of us moths are. I normally had a lot of time for Benni, but 10


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today I was going to have to get rid of him quickly. The couple in the jewellery store were still in there and I couldn’t let them get away – although if fate had presented me with this chance encounter for a reason, then I felt sure I would get a second and maybe a third shot at this, but I still couldn’t take that chance – maybe they were only in town for the weekend. Benni bounded up to me like a big-faced, faithful pooch and gave his usual wink. He made a loud double clacking sound with his tongue on the roof of his mouth, and then to further cement our comradeship drew an invisible gun from an imaginary thigh-slung holster, raised it up to hip level, pointed it towards me and pulled the nonexistent trigger. ‘Ciao Smith, how are you today my friend?’ I feigned a slow-mo bullet impact to my right shoulder by throwing it back and covering the wound with my left hand. ‘Ciao Benni my boy,’ I replied, trying to keep focused on the store across the street. ‘You seem in good spirits, and your aim is getting better. How goes the confinò hunting?’ ‘It goes very well Smith. I am making some good progress with Rosliné. She is from Paris and her husband plays cards, which is good for me. She has, how do you say, a drop-dead body. She is drinking Champagne like a fish and I expect she will fall under la seduzione potente di Benni very soon.’ He said this with a nod of the head and a cocksure 11


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semi-grin which all seemed to point toward a done deal. ‘Well Benni I wish you every success in your endeavours, you dirty dog. You’ll have to let me know how things turn out with La Bella Rosliné. For now, however, I’m afraid I have to attend to other business.’ ‘I too have other business. I have to go to the Carlton for assistance with re-stocking our Cristal. It’s been very popular today, with the Americans as well as with Rosliné.’ ‘What time do you finish today?’ I asked. ‘The bar closes at seven.’ ‘OK, meet me at Le 72 Croisette at eight o’clock. I want to hear more about La Bella confinò Rosliné.’ ‘OK. Ciao Smith. See you at eight.’ ‘Ciao for now Benni.’ Benni was gone moving down the promenade and across La Croisette with that inimitable swagger that made him look like he was deeply involved in a tune on his iPod, except there was no iPod, just Italian Benni, swaggering, inimitably. I continued to hang around at my lookout post trying to maintain focus on the jewellery store across the road, legs feeling like jelly. There was the continual drone of the traffic and the occasional blast of a horn. Something I’d always noticed when coming on holiday to Mediterranean cities when I 12


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was a child with my parents was the excessive use of the car horn. There seemed to be a fairly simple mathematical equation at play and you didn’t need the brains of a NASA man (or woman) to see what was going on; temperature multiplied by number of vehicles on the road equals rocketing stress levels which in turn equals increase in frequency and amplitude of horn use - therefore the warmer the climate the more frequent was the sound of agitated motorists hitting the horn. It does however seem to carry less weight the more it happens, and is usually met with an innocuous “what did I do wrong?” kind of lifting of the hands and shoulders. If someone toots you in England, the initial retort is either a one or two fingered gesture, depending on whether to go with the American singular or the English plural. None of these thoughts were particularly helping with my concentration levels, and after the initial elation at the sight of the tattoo I was beginning to get a little frustrated at the lack of action. There was no apparent movement in the jewellery store. They must have been in some serious negotiations back there. Despite my growing concerns I hadn’t really anticipated making a move towards the store at this stage, but clearly my legs had. They were already making their way towards the pedestrian crossing with body, arms and head along for the ride. I really had no idea what I would say. Perhaps just play it cool: ‘Hi - I’ve 13


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just been following you for the past fifteen minutes, can I talk to you?’ Yeah right Dufus - maybe an approach that would allow you to finish the sentence before getting a fist planted in your face would be preferential? OK, maybe: ‘Hi there - I’ve spent the last six months of my life waking up in cold sweats because of your tattoo and I don’t know why.’ Better, at least they’ll just run away instead of resorting to physical violence. I was acutely aware of the beads of sweat tracing down my forehead now and dripping off my nose and the insane bouncing heart in my chest, really insanely bouncing – trying to get out like a deranged schizoid in a soft cell. I knew that I wouldn’t have a line prepared by the time I got there because I was already crossing the boulevard with a quickening pace. As I zeroed in on the shop front my pace quickened further, but this time not out of fear of confronting the couple but rather out of the opposite – a fear that they may not be there. No lights were on in the store; there were no miniature crushed velvet cushions in the window and a notice taped inside the door unmistakably read à vendre – for sale. The store wasn’t trading and clearly hadn’t been for some time. I pinned myself up against the glass door to take in the impossible truth; an empty shop and a delusion fermented in time to create these people that didn’t exist, hadn’t existed, and then a familiar shockwave of nausea rushed up from my feet enveloping me. As I turned to run down the adjacent side street to 14


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throw up out of public view, the pavement yawed sadistically, sending me reeling into a crowd of people, and if that wasn’t bad enough the pavement then rushed upward to meet me with a clattering thud before the nausea finally found it’s opening and very publicly surged out onto the pavement.

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