Buddhism, Celtic Retreat, Country House, Crime, Drugs, Faith, Glamping, Hippies, Horror, Humor, marijuana, Meditation, Piranhas, Police, Short Story, Syrian Refugee Crisis, Syrian Refugees, Vedism, Yurts
Dawn had already lifted the hem of the night when Chief Inspector Andy Uberingham and his men retook Joppa Grange. The great liberator bounded happily up the stairs to present himself to the Worthingham family and their guests.
Uberingham was referred to widely throughout the Lothian and Borders police force as “Booby.” He was a large, misshapen man, who looked characteristically cramped, as if he had never remembered to stand up straight again after emerging from beneath a cottage ceiling. He had a peculiar, intensely glittering stare and huge hands which caressed everything around him endlessly. His tendency to make unpredictable movements, to whip around and stare you in the face, or to scramble spasmodically on the spot, left you faintly conscious that he might be genuinely unhinged. He was a supremely bumptious figure.
Mickey, or Detective Sergeant Reidy to give him all of his title, chased after his commander, pleading for him to stop and listen. “Sir, I think that the hospital should declare a major incident. There are fatalities, many injuries…”
“Good, good!” Uberingham replied. “Lovely house, eh? Tarted up a treat!”
“And the old lady on the roof, sir. She doesn’t believe that we’re real policemen. She threw a chimney pot through the windscreen of my car, sir.”
“Must have gone loopy,” Uberingham chuckled. “Shame!”
“Permission to use…”
“No, just starve her out. She’ll come down when she’s hungry.”
At the top of the stairs, Uberingham met Andrew Worthingham, who after his sleepless night could extend only the most distant, wooden semblance of a greeting. “The three men are in there,” he told them from afar. “And… I don’t quite know how to say this but… but I shot one of them in the leg.”
Uberingham winked at him. “Hold out your hand.”
“What?” Andrew peered at the policeman with an awakened impatience.
“Hold out your hand.”
Andrew didn’t hold out his hand but Uberingham pretended to smack it anyway. “Naughty boy!” With the eerie speed of the policeman’s action, Andrew had still jumped back.
Uberingham was now in the drawing room. It struck him that everybody was smoking, even the criminals, but he let this go.
The former hostages were experiencing that disagreeable renewed alertness which comes at the end of an all-night party, in which you are uncertain of whether to start the next day or formally conclude the last one. Should they have breakfast or attempt to go to bed?
“So it’s these three?” Uberingham inspected Strathearn and Beaufort, who were standing protectively around the mangled Upensky. “Yes, they look like real policemen. We’ll probably give them jobs once this is all finished. They can’t be any worse than half the bozos who are working for me currently. Mickey tells me they can’t even fish your mother off the roof.”
Andrew looked very serious at this. “Maybe Ted or I should try to talk her down?”
“Tremendous idea. Gosh, everyone’s ahead of me again.”
Now Ted was pestering him. “Tori went down to the kitchens earlier to look for Tycienski, the chap who first called you. She learned that one of the criminals is definitely associated with the retreat, our neighbours. We think that you should move fast – to catch them red-handed.”
“What a marvellous pow-wow we’re having! Ideas flying in from every direction.” But Uberingham was brought up short. “Don’t have a warrant though,” he reported glumly. “Spose I could send Mickey over to ask some soothing questions while we’re putting the dots on the i-s.”
And so Mickey was sent walking across the fields to the retreat.
By now it was day again and the landscape was stirring with the uncanny peacefulness of early morning, in which the world looks gaunt and everything seems futile. Mickey perused the blur of yurts ahead. People were already up and doing jerky, frivolous exercises; Mickey even picked out the gay absurdity of a Pilates ball.
“Good morning!” Mickey called to a group of campers who were between them swinging a skipping rope. They nodded back at him with friendly curiosity. He had taken off his cap and deactivated his walkie-talkie. “Can your chaplain spare a minute?”
The chaplain lived in the grandest of the shiny log cabins, within a rich fug of commingled pinewood and aromatic scents. She had been preparing herself for the day, performing her ablutions and gently chanting “I am powerful, I am powerful,” when Mickey knocked. The chaplain’s naked body and its firm breasts appeared momentarily youthful to the policeman, until his gaze rose with a swift mental shudder to a face so out of sync that it looked like a mask, the hag face of a woman in her fifties. The eyes sparkled with a motherly mischief, like the darting of a snake’s tongue, but she had then squirmed back, without any hurry, into her awaiting white robes. She unloosened her sand-white hair from its plastic cap and it swooped with a silent little clunk to her shoulders.
“Welcome to our sanctuary,” she smiled. “A global capital of world health and world peace.”
“World peace?” Mickey wished that he could see her breasts again and he hoped that this urge was not writ across his face.
“We have refugees here from all around the world. Refugees from Syria, from Afghanistan, people who are so crushed by corporate globalisation that they can no longer remember where they are from.” She smiled again, as if she was reciting a fairy story to an awed child. You little boy, you little boy, her eyes seemed to tease. “We are a world capital of equality and diversity.”
With a sensation of swallowing, Mickey’s head had cleared somewhat and he felt his feet back on the solid floorboards. He hazarded a smile himself. “I’m sorry to bring such news to a capital of world peace, but I’m afraid that there might be some threat to your community. Last night, your neighbours, the Worthinghams, were attacked and taken hostage by armed intruders.”
“You think our status as a capital of world peace amusing,” the chaplain chided. The latter part of what Mickey had said appeared not to have scanned. “Aamir, I want you.”
A young man, completely naked and with his skin a coffee-and-milk colour, strolled out in front of the policeman. He picked out Mickey with frighteningly clear, almost ghastly eyes. “Tell your story, Aamir,” the chaplain ordered.
“Sir, a year ago I was living in Syria when government controlled forces came to my house…”
“I think I can imagine his story,” Mickey interrupted, with a display of laughter.
“Look at his beauty!” the chaplain hissed fiercely. It struck Mickey that her mood was rolling about all over the place this morning, like a raincloud which was being bounced around a wind-tattered, brightening and darkling sky. “He is so pure, he dwells in such peace. This body alone can teach you more than any university. Listen to his story.”
“I had ten little children,” Aamir resumed evenly, as if he had never been interrupted. “And they took them out in front of me and stood them in a row and shot them one by one. My heart was broken ten times, one after the other. The pupil of my eye was expunged ten times. I died a thousand deaths ten times. After that, I sold everything I had and bought a ticket for a raft across the Mediterranean. We had to drink our own urine and then we had to eat strips of flesh that we had cut from the arms of a dead man. Then I made it to Calais and I was able to hide in the back of a lorry over the sea. I travelled throughout all of the UK to Scotland and this capital of world peace, where Hannah and her friends made me feel so welcome and so at peace. They filled me with all of their invincible energy and positivity. They taught me the Vedic recitation technology and I became an expert in peace creation.”
A schoolboy would have asked Aamir how much peace he had created. Nonetheless it was the chaplain who was smiling mockingly, with her eyes daring Mickey to utter any complaint about immigration formalities, the insect procedures of his own world. “Perhaps we should see what my boy can do,” she ventured.
She uncupped her hands to reveal a fluttering wing of fire. She bore this to a stump of wax which was as thick as a whale’s tusk and the whole room was immediately plunged into a swimming crimson light, a neon bloodstain.
Almost nonchalantly, but with unbelievable strength, the chaplain was shaking Mickey out of his clothes. He raised his arms automatically as she lifted up his vest. Aamir was now droning in a deep, guttural voice, and his intonations grew ever more rounded and strenuous until it seemed that you could trace the veins across them. The whites of his eyes swam up rapidly and bulged.
Mickey felt dazed and over-alert at the same time. His brain rattled and groaned like an ancient milk float which was climbing a hill. He was dimly aware that he and Aamir were naked, that they were running ahead like two little boys at bathtime. And indeed ahead, through the perfect bead curtain, was a pool of bright water.
The water was entirely clear apart from some little discs, about the size and colour of dead leaves, which appeared to be flitting about just below the surface.
“Piranhas,” the chaplain confirmed without drama. She then sniggered. “Very dangerous, according to the recognised material laws of our universe, according to the teachings of Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins and all of your most esteemed philosophers.”
Aamir, still chanting in his disembodied voice, stepped forward and placed a foot boldly into the pool. The piranhas all stopped flitting for a second and they then started to jiggle violently. Mickey’s instinct was to run and pull back Aamir, but the chaplain held the policeman quickly in place. Aamir was now standing in the pool. He squatted down to lie on his back, so that his body was wholly submerged. Incredibly, he continued to chant – Mickey could hear the mantra still gurgling under the water.
“Follow him,” the chaplain commanded. “Follow the maharishi.”
Mickey stepped into the pool and lay down beside Aamir. Water folded over his head and closed his eyes and blotted out his ears.
Yet he had already seen the piranhas snuggling against Aamir, dipping their heads to rest them gently against his limbs and face. A little platoon of them now proceeded to Mickey and they nestled around him, nuzzling him happily.
Had it all been a dream? Mickey awoke to find himself seated in harsh morning light, in the back of the family car from his childhood. His grandfather was at the wheel; his brothers were chatting noisily beside him. Unearthly sunlight slanted over the passing countryside in beams which were longer than the fields. Suddenly, there was a screen of evenly spaced trees running alongside the road and the sunlight flickered through these trees to create a silent hammering, the beat of strobe lighting, inside the car. Mickey’s brothers cackled.
I could stay here forever, Mickey thought mazily. And for a while, he did.
But the chaplain had beckoned the two men out of the water. Aamir put Mickey on his feet again and bright water crashed from all around them like ringing laughter. The piranhas wriggled back and bowed like dignitaries as the men strode out of the pool.
They walked from the cabin arm-in-arm, as peacefully as if along the path of a rainbow. The hum of peace which floated on Mickey’s brain was virtually stentorian.
A gigantic naked woman with a helmet of blonde hair and a lumpy, clay-coloured body rushed forward to seize Mickey’s genitals energetically in her hand. She crushed his balls and cock together in a merciless fist. Though Mickey shivered and remained unresponsive, the chaplain nodded her consent. The woman laughed and pulled Mickey by his penis through the yurts, bawling “come on, donkey” over her shoulder. Mickey was led over the labyrinth and to an untidy garden where hordes of wildflowers ranged into every corner.
The woman made love to Mickey and then Mickey made love to Aamir, whilst the woman lay in the flowers and laughed belchingly, like a drain.
Next, they all lay together and their eyes groped piteously over the vast blueness above them. You never really appreciate the oceanic scale of the sky until you stop and have a good look at it. This miracle is always above you every day, always unseen. Mickey felt too dopey to react to anything.
“There are lots of flowers here,” he commented stupidly. He felt like he had experienced all of the Sixties in less than an hour.
The chaplain was at his side again. “Herbs,” she corrected him. “We grow natural, organic produce, with no chemicals, which have been used by generations unbroken since the days of the Buddha.”
Mickey whispered something. The chaplain asked him to repeat.
“Are there any animals on the farm?”
The chaplain was amused. “You like animals? We don’t eat any meat here or drink any milk. This is a capital of world health and world peace. But we have cats and dogs and even a goat.”
Next, they had followed a network of crisscrossing paths amongst the flowers until they had emerged to look out over a sea of shaggy crops. Mickey’s hand trailed through the foliage and lost itself within a tangled, perfumed luxuriance. The farmers, many of them presumably Syrian refugees, were carrying pails of water to splash on the soil.
“And here is the goat,” the chaplain laughed. “The Syrians have even taught him to speak a little English.”
The goat cavorted up to Mickey on his hind legs, with his white beard magnificently distinguished. “Join-us-you-ng-man,” he chanted in a strangely robotic and disjointed voice. “Join-us-join-us-join-us-join-us.”
The goat bobbed and weaved menacingly in front of Mickey, with his forelegs paddling in the air, and Mickey was anxious to turn and run. He blundered back. The chaplain eyed him wisely. “Yes, let’s return to my cabin,” she decided, placing an arm around Mickey’s shoulders. The goat was led away, still shrieking to itself.
“I’ll just borrow your loo for a second,” Mickey said apologetically once he was back at the cabin. Inside, as soon as the door had closed behind him, Mickey had produced the chaplain’s own mobile phone from where it had been previously obscured in the palm of his hand. Apart from this, he had still not a stitch on him. He sat down on the toilet and dialled Uberingham’s number.
“Marijuana, sir,” Mickey reported tersely. “There’s literally a farm and great fields of the stuff. At least a thousand plants.”
“Excellent work, Mickey! Tell them to smoke as much of it as they can while they still have the chance. We’re going to be down on the place this afternoon like a ton of bricks!”
At noon, the police convened on horseback to commence their assault. The first wave of mounted police set off jangling across the fields.
Uberingham had loaned a police helicopter to a BBC news crew, to get as much good publicity for this raid as possible. His gangling figure was now seated atop a glorious snow-white charger and he was leading the first cavalry wave.
He was yelling incoherently through a loudspeaker. It had been insinuated to the BBC team that it would be helpful for everybody if the Chief Inspector was kept generally in frame. Uberingham, a boyishly vain man, had later reiterated this advice without embarrassment. He wanted to watch himself on the television news in the pub that evening. The helicopter henceforth trailed after the first wave of horses.
“This is the police! The game’s up! Come out and all hand yourselves over!”
Whilst most of the campers were running to retrieve their possessions from their yurts, the Syrians had taken stock of the police vanguard and they were bemused by what they saw. Compared to Bashar al-Assad’s forces, these officers resembled overexcited students in fancy dress. The Syrians materialised to pepper the horses with stones, skipping back with glee from the occasional, ineptly deployed tear-gas canister.
There were urgent exchanges over the police radio and the decision was made to send in police with riot shields and dogs as reinforcements.
In the headquarters of the centre of world peace, the chaplain and her fellow peace experts were throwing everything that they had at the police charge: prayers, mantras, a laser of love, an artificial earthquake of positivity. The chaplain was stamping about spitefully and flourishing a wand in the middle of the mayhem. When nobody was looking, Mickey had arranged a marijuana leaf daintily over his genitals and waddled off to rejoin the police. Finally, the chaplain spun around to Aamir in exasperation. “Burn the crops! Burn everything!”
Flames soon leapt up as energetically as if they were jumping over swords. They were so piercingly bright that the surrounding landscape appeared to glower and go out like a damp coal. A bloated white goliath of smoke was trying to stand upright, but it flopped over and sprawled on the wind. A flailing arm slapped straight into the BBC helicopter.
The helicopter dipped, rose drunkenly, and then fell so low that police officers dived en masse to the ground beneath it, covering their faces. It was surely filming some amazing footage.
At last, the helicopter had plummeted so far that it would never come up again. A fountain of flame splashed into the air.
Most of the campers were running to inhale the marijuana smoke. When they had drunk their fill, they slumped and rolled in the grass blissfully. Police dogs were weeping and demanding to be cuddled.
The goliath was trying to stand again and this time it sagged inexorably, sending its billowing rolls of fat into the oncoming cavalry wave.
The police officers remembered to cover their faces but they were not quick enough to protect their horses. The creatures slid, zigzagged, and buckled. They scampered absentmindedly away from the melee. Chief Inspector Booby, his charger plunging earthwards, his troops dropping off their horses, swiped his cap in the air and wailed, “Oh no, what a total disaster!”