Discover more from John Bleasdale Writes On Film
Connery (Part 18)
A Speculative novel
It was Spring and I got an invitation to attend one of Taylor’s shows in New York. I knew she was in town because I watched her hosting SNL. I have to admit I was going through a bit of a rough patch. The news about Abu Ghraib had broken and suddenly everyone was very nervous about visitor’s logs and all kinds of stuff. Internal investigations were going on in Guantanamo as well as in all the detention centres in Iraq and Afghanistan. Suddenly people were having a think. I was confident that there was very little trace of me. Some pseudonyms were around by which I mean on paper or in databases and there was overlap and suddenly I felt that the US was not as hospitable a place, or as grateful an employer as it had once been. It took about a year to filter through, but work was drying up and my calls were not answered; emails not replied to; people would have passed me on the street without acknowledging me if that had come to that.
There was a refined hypocrisy here. Everyone knew that what they were doing was wrong but only with the pictures on the news did they see themselves and think: ‘ah yes, that’s really wrong. That thing I did. Hmmmm. It looks bad.’
It was like they had been out drinking and they thought they had behaved well, but then they saw the films from the phone cameras of the people on the next table to them and they saw themselves as obnoxious boorish bores, having fun at everyone else’s expense and not caring one jot about the comfort of others. Callousness on full display. It was an aesthetic as much as an ethical consideration. Even more so. Those pictures. It was the cheesy grins so close to the blurry nudity. The poor lighting, the male body exposed, dogs doing inappropriately non-cute things. There was revulsion and disgust. A mix of sadism and amateur pornography. When they came to make the movie, the lighting would be better, and Jessica Chastain would be in it.
Personally, I didn’t understand it. This was after all war. These were the enemy. The idea that they were prisoners – these men – in my opinion really didn’t mean much. I mean they were at your mercy. You could kill them. You could have killed them. And you hadn’t. Surely that meant that anything else you did to them was pretty much okay. Why not? You had allowed them life, so from that point on anything they got they ought to be thankful for. Unless they wanted to be dead in which case there was always ways to do that. And if at any point in the future, they had anything good to do then that was because you had allowed them to live so they owed you. It had to be said a little torture helped pass the time. It was so boring in those places. Boring and hot and smelly and nowhere to look that didn’t show you something depressing. They installed satellite television and sent DVD box sets of Sex and the City, The Wire and The Sopranos but if anything, this made it worse. Like living in a prison cell with a window overlooking a park where everyone was having a great time. To break down these men into something malleable which might (or might not) give you some valuable information, surely it was worth having a go? What else were they for?
The result of this meant that I was spending a lot more time in my apartment. The neighbourhood I was in was okay but I was on the third floor of the building and I could hear everyone around me and the roads were busy. Sirens sounded all night and for much of the day. We were living in a constant emergency. At first, I thought that I would enjoy not flying for a while. I had been up in the air and through airports: lounges and leg space had become defining factors in my life. For the past decade or so. But instead I felt cramped by the city, by my small apartment. I got a small addiction to waiting rooms. I would seek them out, hospital clinics, police stations, the DMV. I could spend days, sitting patiently waiting to be called though no one knew my name and I didn’t have an appointment. People around me were in pain, often angry, suffering, confused and mentally ill. It placated me temporarily. But then I had to return to my Bronx apartment and the sirens and the walls that pressed my skull. Nothing was stopping me from just going somewhere else. I had plenty of money, even without dipping into my illegitimate bank accounts. I was worried about my immigration status which was not as protected as I hoped it would be and might be actively withdrawn. One way of getting rid of me would be simply to not allow me entry on my return from a trip. This would come with no warning and a swift deportation. It would also mean that my freedom of movement would be hampered in the future. So, I contacted Arnie and asked for his help in securing another work visa with his company and he did one better and started the process of rushing through my citizenship application. This would limit my travel and mean a series of interviews and checks: all of which left me feeling isolated and exposed. Months with nothing to do but await the decision of faceless bureaucrats elsewhere. Meanwhile, my work for Mr. Arrow was also on hold. They seemed to have detected my difficulties and were also playing a game of wait and see. I began to not get out of bed in the morning. Just to lie there and beckon sleep back to obliterate the interim – the impending pause – that had settled on my life like a doom. I stopped going to the gym; stopped yoga; stopped swimming and running. I had very little impetus. No zest. No vim. It was at this moment that I really needed to talk but Dr. Habbermas had chosen to teach a semester at Colombia and was no longer seeing private patients. She fobbed me off with some ginger bearded, bald-pated, freckle-skinned replacement who answered the door in a hoodie and had a large poster of the original Ghostbusters up in his office. Dr. Mike ushered me in to what he described as his ‘man cave’ and I sat opposite him in an IKEA bought S-shaped chair while he steepled his fingers in a way that he had likely learned at some weekend retreat designed to make him look adequately pensive. I described to him my predicament in as loose and untraceable away as I could. I didn’t get into specifics. I had always been very careful. Oversharing would be a fatal mistake but a constant temptation. A residue of my Catholicism. I told him about my feelings and emotions, or at least the ones I had found in the depression websites. I wanted him to prescribe some medication, more out of curiosity than the hope it would do me any good. What was this Prozac everyone was going crazy about? Maybe I should hit him for Viagra as well, even though a recent visit from Jennifer had proven there was no problem in that department. It was my dreadful ennui, which by the way he pronounced ‘en-new-ee’. I was at that stage that I would try anything to just lift me out of this fat ball of greasy cotton wool into which I had fallen.
‘Let’s talk about your father,’ he said.
‘My dad died.’
‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ he recited. ‘Tell me about your relationship with him.’
So I did. I said, ‘My father and mother were both too young and irresponsible to have children, but she was Irish Catholic and strongly opposed to both contraception and abortion and sex before marriage and he was infatuated with her. So they got married and they had kids mainly because they wanted to have sex. Not because they wanted to have kids.’
‘Did they explicitly make you feel unwanted?’
‘What do you mean? You mean did they say straight out: “We wish you’d never been born. You’ve ruined our lives”, things like that? Yes. Absolutely that. We knew we were unwanted and they tried to live their lives like we weren’t there. They drank a lot and they did more or less what they wanted to do and if we behaved, they would take us along and if not, they’d leave us at home. They weren’t cruel or anything like that. They just tried to get on with their lives as best they could.’
‘I’ve got in your notes that there was physical abuse.’
‘Yes. It isn’t quite right to put that word on it. The violence wasn’t even violence. It was just what happened. And it was fairly easy to avoid. All you had to do was stay out of their way and not be too noisy, to come when they called you, not leave a mess, not break or spill anything, and you’d be okay. Taylor was pretty good at it. I took a bit longer, but maybe that’s just because she was older and so she had already learned by the time I came around. She certainly seems to have taken it a lot more to heart.’
‘Are you still mad at mum and dad?’ I asked her when I met her in the Green Room after her concert. The room was full of balloons as if it was someone’s birthday party and though I couldn’t be sure I suspected it might be Taylor’s. There were lots of people around who wanted to see her and I knew that she wasn’t going to give us the opportunity to be alone together in any way we could talk so I decided to just get into it there and then. She had a towel around her neck and someone handed her a drink that she had just held her hand out to request.
‘No small talk, huh Samuel?’ she said in that mid-Atlantic drawl she had perfected over years of interviews and junkets and performances around the world.
‘Of course I’m still mad at them. I didn’t come to dad’s funeral. How much clearer do I need to be?’
BANG one of the balloons said.
‘You didn’t miss much,’ I said. There were candies in a jar and I took a handful. I had recently become addicted to peanut M&Ms. The candy shell, the milk chocolate, the peanut. God. It was something I would need to address with Dr. Mike. I munched. ‘Uncle Mike was there. You know Billy went to prison?’
‘Breaking and entering and assault and one count of GBH. He broke into this guy’s house; the guy woke up came at him with a poker from the fireplace and Billy punched him in the face and ran away.’
‘How’d they get him?’ Taylor leaned in. She was always fascinated by our extended family’s ability to get into trouble and almost never make a decent decision.
‘The guy whose house it was and whose nose Billy had broken was the sketch artist who worked for the police. [BANG, said another balloon.] He was able to provide them with an oil painting of Billy of photorealistic accuracy. And the police recognised Billy before he was halfway through.’
Taylor laughed at this. She let out a ‘Fuuuuuck.’ Denise, her PA, came over and whispered in her ear and then smiled at me. ‘To answer your question, yep, I’m still mad at them. But I also know that the difficulty I had growing up also gave me the means by which I survived that and by which I can survive this.’
I had heard her give a similar reply to Oprah. I didn’t purposefully follow Taylor’s career but now with the internet, I could sit and watch her on YouTube. I was always searching for what she would say about our family and I was rarely disappointed. She came back to it again and again and used it as source material for many of her songs, that and her apparent inability to find a boyfriend she liked. I was never fully convinced. Taylor seemed preternaturally capable of looking after herself. And as for all this guff about feelings, I imagined it as more part of the trade she was in than anything she genuinely felt.
BANG, BANG and BANG. Were people doing this on purpose?
‘Do you take multivitamins?’
‘I’m never sure whether multivitamins actually do anything or not.’
‘Okay, Sammy. It’s been good to see you. Did you enjoy the show?’
‘What show? Oh yes. It was too loud, but it was very good. Very moving.’
She shook her head and I could see that she was furious. It was funny. All these people around me were more important than me. There were celebrities and writers and record producers and businesspeople, tycoons who wanted to get caught standing in the background in a photograph or on a magazine spread, other rival musicians, members of Taylor’s own backing band, film and TV actors, lawyers, agents, music company representatives. And then there were the fans. The many, many, many fans. Cheering and screaming and weeping and crying, gnashing their teeth and pulling at their hair in frenzied displays of adoration. BANG – BANG!! And I was the person whose opinion she sought. I listened to hardly anything but old Dire Straits albums. Maybe some Genesis. What did I know about music? But here she was asking for her little brother’s approval.
‘I thought it might have spoken to you more than that,’ she said, unable to just let it go. ‘I thought you might have seen something in it. Heard something. Felt something. I was trying to be … honest.’
I laughed. ‘You think that I’m a monster and then you want me to hear you? You want me to empathize with you?’
‘Are you really so far gone?’
‘That I can’t be cured by a song, Taylor? Yes. I suppose I am.’
She nodded at someone across the room. Some prearranged signal I imagined. They came at me from two sides and someone was carving a line in the room to get Taylor out as quickly as they could. But I wouldn’t let it happen. I might have gotten slightly out of shape but I could bend anyone in this room in two without going red in the face doing it. And I wanted one more word with my sister.
‘Just one second,’ I said and stepped in close to Taylor. She shivered as another balloon BANGed. ‘All this you have; all this success is dependent on the fact that I never killed you. Remember that. You may hate me. You despise me. I know. But you and I are the same. You fake it a bit better than I do, but I can see you don’t really feel anything. Not one of those relationships that I saw you have through the magazines and talk shows. Not one of them touched your heart in any way whatsoever. They were a series of photo opportunities while they lived and then material for a new album when they died.’
‘Everyone’s a critic,’ she tried to laugh bitterly. Other people were listening in desperately even though I was talking quietly. Someone at the back of the room hushed someone else.
‘I let you have all this and we both know it. Look inside yourself and see what’s there. Have a good long look and tell me that I’m the problem here.’
I don’t know why I was so angry, but I was furious. Absolutely furious. A hand was on arm and a loud Asian woman was saying ‘Okay, okay, let’s just…’
The remaining balloons all banged into non-existence, cigarette lighters and cocktail sticks, nail scissors and flick knives had been applied simultaneously and the shreds of rubbery plastic fluttered to our feet.
‘You’re just like me, Taylor. We’re both sociopaths. And we’re both looking to profit from our psychoses.’
‘What did you mean by saying that? What were you hoping to achieve?’
‘I don’t know, Mike,’ I said. ‘I thought that when I got the tickets she was trying to reconcile, but in the end, she just wanted to show off to me. It was like she was saying look at where I am and look at where you are. Now, normally that would be fine. I’d be happy to go toe to toe in that sort of competition. I wouldn’t say I’d win but usually I have a very good life, it’s just at the moment, it is much more difficult.’
‘This is because of the government work that you told me you can’t talk about has ended?’
‘Can I speak candidly? I mean, I don’t think there’s much point having these conversations if I can’t be absolutely sincere and I need to know that I can trust you.’
‘Absolutely, Stuart. You be straight with me and I’ll be straight with you.’
I knew this wasn’t actually the case. I knew that if I talked about the commission of a crime, he was supposed to report it. That omission decided me. I smiled and covered my face with my hands, rubbing at the skin there: a gesture that I had been repeating so often that I was beginning to think it was compulsive, like my nose picking which had really got out of hand.
‘Okay, so here it is Mike,’ I said. ‘I’ve killed a large number of people in my life. I’m a murderer. I don’t get any particular joy from the killing itself, but I really like the anticipation and the planning and I love the getting away with it. Absolutely love it.’
‘Stuart, this is…’
‘No, please let me finish. I know it’s painful but I feel if I don’t get it all out, it’ll just fester inside me.’
‘Is that loaded?’
‘Yes. And the silencer screws with my aim but we’re sitting very close so that’s not really an issue. Stay really still while I finish what I have to say. It won’t take long.’
I checked my watch. I paid for an hour and I had over forty minutes left. He would have another patient coming but that would be after a ten-minute buffer Dr. Mike used to write up his notes, go to the toilet and have a glass of water.
‘I haven’t got time to list everyone I killed and there wouldn’t be any point. And I don’t want to give you an insight into the mind of a madman either, primarily because I’m not mad. I just have this facility for killing people which I’ve managed to make money from. A substantial amount of money. And let’s face it America is built on killing people and not worrying about it from the very beginning of its history until today. I’m basically America in this analogy.’
‘What do you want to tell me?’
‘My fury my anger with my sister was about wasted time. I had lost my way. It had been very cushy working for the intelligence services both of my own and your country. My first murders had been purely amateur affairs. I took risks but my only gain was the personal satisfaction I took from it. My dad said that the secret to a happy life was to make your hobby your job. He went to a job he hated every day of his life. Every weekend was ruined by him brooding on Monday’s arrival; every holiday, he was already counting down the days he had to go to work. And so I had it made, right? I’d made my talent something that got me paid, very well paid and it gave my life security and some sense of purpose. This last part was nonsense, obviously. Getting missions was nice but I had no sense of mission. I just enjoyed the structure of getting that kind of external validation, I think you’d call it.’
‘Why would you seek help from a psychiatrist if you already knew about this? I mean is it that you want to stop? You need help?’
‘I just didn’t have many friends in New York so I wanted someone to talk with. That was about it. And you guys oversell yourselves so badly. Dr. Habbermas was very good for me in that sense and I think she knew what I was using her for. She was no dummy. Mike.’
‘So why were you depressed?’
‘I don’t think I was really depressed. I think I was unhappy.’
‘Okay, unhappy then.’
‘This unhappiness owed to the fact that this validation had been withdrawn. My area of expertise no longer felt valued. I was hampered.’
‘This is not going to help though.’
‘This? Our situation here? Don’t worry Mike, this won’t be a problem. You’ll be killed by a client who doesn’t exist and the police will investigate and they’ll put out a picture of a thirty something white male and it will look like every other thirty something white male. I’m not an idiot. Billy’s the idiot.’
‘I know you want me to keep talking, but we don’t have much time if I’m going to clean this up and get out of your hair.’
‘Shush. Mike. Or I’ll gag you. Okay.’
Tears were running down his face. He exerted a huge effort to stop his mouth from trembling.
‘I realized that the real validation I needed wouldn’t come from other people it had to come from within. I had to go back to the core of who I was and ask myself, why am I doing this?’
‘Why are you doing this?’
‘Because Sean Connery told me to.’
‘He told me that I should be who I wanted to be. Do what I wanted to do. And that’s what I’m doing. And it doesn’t matter if I do it for a job or I just do it because I like it, it’s who I am. Do you understand?’
‘It isn’t who you are. You can be somebody else.’
‘Wouldn’t it be hilarious if that was the right answer, Mike. And I decided, yes, I’m going to change my life and not murder anyone any longer, but then I’d still have to kill you because now after what I’ve told you, I couldn’t possibly let you live. You see, if I let you live, you would go to the police and …’
‘Come on, Mike. You absolutely would. Don’t embarrass yourself.’
He slumped back in the chair. He was desperately trying to think of some solution, some combination of words that would unlock in me the sympathy he needed to survive but he was clever enough to understand that I was telling the truth.
This wasn’t some delusion. The Sean Connery thing might be questionable but still, I had done the things I had said I had done. And he had already realized that all the little things, the minor inconsistencies in my story, the way I was paying for this via a bank he had never heard of, the warning Dr. Habbermas had given him before he took over: all of these jigsaw pieces came together to create a convincing picture consistent, if not identical, with what I was telling him.
And now he was going through his other survival strategies – a leap; the possibility of a misfire or the gun jamming. It would be risky, but I was going to kill him anyway so the risk was negligible against the certainty of his fate otherwise. But then if he did it that would be it. Whereas if he waited, someone might turn up. Some deux ex machina might intervene. The cavalry or the cops. Though that never happened.
How would someone even get into the room? And if they did what would they do? His next patient was a wry homosexual who for some reason couldn’t stop crying when he went to the zoo and had a fixation with trying to get himself beaten up. How was he going to save the day? All these thoughts – as a result of the adrenalin pumping into his brain – were whipping around faster and faster. Other inappropriate thoughts came and went with lightning speed. This is like a movie. Who was going to walk his dog? Would he never see Carol again? Would she care? The book on the shelf was a hardback edition of the Donna Tartt novel. He’d really like to read it right now. Why hadn’t he spent more time reading? He liked liquorice.
‘How does it feel Mike?’ I asked. ‘Let’s just be very clear. In a minute, maybe two. I’m going to shoot you in the head. Then I’m going to come over to your body – not you anymore, note, just your body – and I’m going to put another bullet in there. Then I’m going to dig those bullets out of your skull with a knife. I’m going to be very careful not to get blood on me. But don’t worry about that. I’m very good at it. Then I’ll clean your office like a professional. I’ll take all your notes, your diary and your laptop and I’ll take them with me. When I close that door, I won’t stop to look back at you. I’ll already be thinking about something else. And I’ll be in a much better mood than when I arrived. Which in a slightly ironic way will mean you have done your job. Now, Mike. What does it feel like from your perspective?’
‘This is cruel.’
‘You’re being very cruel. This isn’t fair.’
‘But how do you feel now? What are you thinking?’
‘Thinking? I… I’m relieved. I guess.’
I swapped hands with the gun and rubbed my wrist and then swapped back. If he’d been committed to jump me that would have been the best moment. I’d offered him the option.
‘Relieved?’ I said. ‘How so?’
‘I’m going to die and that is not what I want. But I’ve been a good person. I’ve done a good job of living my life. I would have preferred for it to have gone on a few decades longer, but I can say in all honesty I’m extremely happy, relieved, delighted … not to be you.’
‘Explain that in detail,’ I said.
And I shot him in the face.