The consul at sunset

Graythorpe stepped down from the covered shelter of the gangplank and into the midday furnace, blinking the sweat from his eyes as he struggled to set down his bulky leather portmanteau whilst rummaging in sundry pockets for the crumpled rag he termed his handkerchief. The dense wall of heat was suffocating, and he panted for breath as he searched frantically for the cotton square to mop the stinging liquid from his eyes and face.

Found! A triumphant flourish and flick, off with his wire-rimmed spectacles and then he buried his sweat-streaked visage in the grubby off-white material, gasping, snuffling, snorting, before emerging ruddy cheeked and surprised moments later.


Surprised at the tall thin shadow that now stood between him and the blazing shimmer of the sun, its edges seeming to blur and undulate like the rippling outline of a mirage. One bead of sweat burned unchecked into his eyeball and as he winced in acute discomfort the shadow stepped forward and took form. Blinking rapidly, Graythorpe stared nervously up at the immaculately dressed gentleman before him.

‘You are, I presume, Mr. Graythorpe?’ The voice was peculiar, not deep, nor fluting, but pitched between. To Graythorpe it seemed… well… almost natural. Natural in the sense of nature, as of the bubble and gossip of a stream over pebbles, or the busy rustling of crisp autumn leaves in a swirling eddy of wind. These fleeting thoughts briefly comforted him in the baking swelter of that dockside, and then almost as soon as they slipped from his mind he became aware that he was now in shade. The tall man had opened a large bright yellow umbrella which he held delicately in his white bony fingers above them. Graythorpe was astonished that time now seemed stilled, and that an inordinate amount of it had passed without a reply from him to the tall man’s question.

He cleared his throat and spoke ‘I – I am indeed. And you sir?’
“I, sir, am the Count’s aide. He has sent me here to assist you in your passage. Welcome to Cambodia. Now, if you would please come with me…’

Graythorpe felt himself move forward as if he were doing so outwith his own control. He picked up his portmanteau easily, and flowed alongside the tall man in the direction of a black motor taxi parked a few metres from the dockside. The umbrella seemed to shield them from much more than the intense heat of the noon sun. It seemed to create a vortex around them, and Graythorpe realized he had not been aware of his surroundings or the few people moving through the stifling day as everything seemed blurred or distorted, as if in a peculiar drunken haze.

In the cool of the taxi he took stock of his surroundings and in particular of his strange companion. He had not even been aware of his portmanteau being placed in the boot of the vehicle, and he puzzled further that the air in this rear compartment, shielded from the driver by darkened glass, was chill. There came no sound or indication of ventilation device…

The tall gentleman was stooped slightly in his seat, and the manner in which he inclined his head toward Graythorpe made his appearance more angular than he had first noticed. The man’s face was pale – deathly pale, Graythorpe realized, giving an involuntary shudder as he did so. The man turned his limpid gaze on Graythorpe and spoke again.

‘ I trust you have the information the Count requested?’
‘My dear sir, please be assured that I have all the Count requested with me and It will be my pleasure to convey this to him in person. Pray tell me, what manner of man is your employer?’

The tall man seemed to laugh as he replied. “Manner of man? Manner of man indeed… that you will find out in time enough and you may well regret the asking. He is a very busy man, Mr. Graythorpe. He is a family man, which occupies much of his time, and he has divers additional interests… you are familiar with the I-Pod?’

The question took Graythorpe by surprise. ‘Why, yes of course I am sir. A boon to the traveler and a great solace to the lover of music. Your employer has one such device?’

“He has… my employer is very old, and he was a young man in the age of vinyl…’

Graythorpe felt an unaccountable terror seize at his heart as he heard these words. Now he began to sweat again, but this was a cold sweat. The man continued. ‘Now he wishes to be more acquaint with this wondrous digital age. He spends much time in his room…’ here he paused, and leaned toward his now terrified companion, so that the spectrally aqualine face almost touched him. ‘… downloading…’

At that word, Graythorpe felt the compartment begin to spin, his vision blurring and his consciousness slipping away into a swirling darkness he had never before known. As he slumped into the seat, the last sound he heard was the tall man rapping on the darkened glass and ordering the driver to take them ‘home’… but via Lucky Market…

Sorry for the protracted absence, dear reader, but I have been as busy as the Count with life, family and work. Oh, and ‘downloading’. I will try to be a better blogger, honest I will, but please forgive my occasional abstention. In the interim, the little O has now become a walkin’ talkin’ drummin’ BIG O (breaking the hearts of toddling baby girls all over Phnom Penh), poor Ani has had to become much more patient with both of us, the cost of living has shot through the pointy pagoda-style roof, the days are getting hotter, I played at being James Burke for the children of the International School, Easter was a welter of chocolate, Dave has returned to Cambodge and the Tuesday quiz, and coming up we have a Ukranian food and Vodka party (!), a flea market, I’m off to Laos to see UXO and things for a week with my boss, and then la famille Sutherland-Mathur are jetting off to Sri Lanka for a bit of a break over Khmer New Year. Whew! Keep watching the skies, and (this Lost in) Space. Hope you are all well and happy, it’s good to be back!

Listening to – The Word Podcast (men of a certain age will find this hugely entertaining and very funny); The Divine Comedy ‘Promenade’ (Hannon’s best, methinks); Goldfrapp new album (very Wicker-mannish); Jack Bruce ‘the consul at sunset’ (great song); Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 (aye caramba!) and tons of other things.

Got slightly tipsy in the relocated Zeppelin Rock Bar last night (with Dave) and was delighted that owner Jun played Deep Purple ‘Flight of the Rat’ just for me. He even talked me into agreeing to play a solo gig there (ulp! Better start some serious practicing…). When I was about 16 that would have been my fantasy… over 1,000 vinyl LP’s and MY VERY OWN BAR to play them in… come to think of it, that still is my fantasy…

Goodnight, Vienna…