The Life of Henry Fuckit
25 Talking of armed robbery
It was Ivor Hopper who triggered in Henry a passing interest in firearms. They were seated on their barstools looking out through the open door to the harbour and the sea beyond the wall. Both felt pleasantly weary after a morning on Fish Hoek beach playing touch rugby with Ivor's mates, fooling about in the waves and soaking up the hot sun and the cool southeaster. Now it was easy to feel the relaxed freedom of mild intoxication, and Ivor waxed eloquent on the merits of a playboy existence.
"Man, this is lekker. This is the way to live. What could be better? What more does a man need?"
"Well, maybe some good food. In the medical trade I believe it's known as hypoglycaemia. I have all the symptoms: faintness, weakness, tremulousness, visual disturbances, confusion, palsy, personality change and, above all, hunger." They ordered fish cakes and fried potato chips, and Ivor continued to extol the free-and-easy lifestyle of an unencumbered bachelor.
"You know, one doesn't need much to live like this. The best things in life aren't free, but they don't cost a whole pile of money. It's a pity we don't live in a society that caters for individuals like us. A modest pension for life and in return a commitment to stay out of the job market, make room for those obsessed with the capitalist work ethic, those driven by insatiable greed to possess THINGS. And we could undergo voluntary vasectomies, thereby helping to diminish all this rampant procreation that has overcrowded and overloaded the planet. It makes economic sense. But no, the society we find ourselves in is terrified of the likes of us." He shook his head regretfully. "They would be threatened by our incomprehensible happiness."
Henry was in full agreement with these sentiments. "I'm afraid you are dreaming of a utopian world beyond the realms of possibility. We can't look to Society for any assistance. On the contrary." A coloured waiter of diminutive proportions appeared behind the bar bearing a tray laden with four fat fish cakes, one large platter of golden yellow chips, smoking hot, salt, pepper, vinegar and a large plastic squeeze-me tomato of sauce.
"God, but this looks good! This is the ultimate! Place before me a naked young wench, all eager and panting, and require me to choose - I'd toss a towel to her and tell her to await my pleasure, and I'd sate myself on this superior pleasure. Then I'd see to her. Probably in a half-hearted, unsatisfactory way. But what the fuck? A man must eat." He squirted a puddle of tomato sauce onto his plate, took up a fish cake in his left hand, dunked it in the sauce and took a mouthful. With his right hand he began on the chips. Henry followed suit with grunts and other non-verbal utterances of appreciation.
At length Henry paused to drink deeply of his beer before asking a rhetorical question. "Do you know why these fish cakes are such good value for money? The ingredients would be in the dust bin if we weren't eating them."
"Tastes alright to me." Ivor looked unperturbed but gave the last half of his second fish cake a precautionary sniff. "Smells alright too."
"I'm not suggesting anything unsavoury or unsafe. It's just that I happen to know a little about the preparation of this dish. Mrs Hildagonda De Groot, the housekeeper at Ingachini, was a very competent cook and, being Dutch, hated to throw away food of any description. If it wasn't fit for European consumption it was fed to the dogs and the black staff. Whenever we had fish we knew we would be getting fish cakes a few days later. A very simple recipe: a cup or two of leftover fish flaked finely, two or three leftover potatoes mashed, a grated onion, one beaten egg, one tablespoon of cake flour, a sprig of chopped parsley, a few scrapes of nutmeg, a dash of Worcester sauce, salt and pepper. Throw the whole lot in a bowl and mix till stiff, then fry spoonfuls in hot oil. As easy as that. It makes sense for a hotel to recycle the leftovers and sell them cheap to the dronkies in the public bar."
Ivor was almost finished with his meal and was looking thoughtful. "What you're actually saying is that there exists the possibility that the food that I have just eaten was partially masticated in a former life. The fish might have borne the denture marks of Colonel Blithering-Wickforth, or some other honoured guest. The potato might have been lodged in the windpipe of some old codger before being coughed up onto the floor and then converted into fish cake."
"Exactly." With a split match Henry picked a morsel from his teeth, took a mouthful of beer and proceeded to light up his pipe. He blew a cloud of smoke towards the door and watched its transformation as it drifted into the sunlight. "Apart from dreaming of the Perfect Society, have you no other ideas on how to lead this idyllic life without having to work? Surely there must be a way." The barman cleared away the plates, wiped the counter and placed before them another two beers.
"I'm afraid I can only fantasize. Winning a prize, inheriting a fortune, stumbling on hidden treasure. Kid's stuff, you know."
"Robbing a bank?"
Ivor laughed and his good eye shone with a manic light. "Often, man, often. But it always ends in a fuckup." Henry nodded, eager for the privilege of entry into the Hopper imagination. "Right, well, I don't like the revolting Greek ball of grease, anyway, so he's a choice victim and I can enjoy myself. I hate patronising his shop but it's convenient and he gives credit. Bright white fluorescent light; pyramids of grass green Granny smiths on indelible blue tissue; heaps of bananas and pineapples; pockets of potatoes. Too often I've been witness to scenes of violent unpleasantness. Shouting in patriarchal Greek at his young wife - not a bad looking woman, don't know what she sees in him, his money probably. He cuffs a coloured slave for standing idle - "Whata ya theenk? Whata ya theenk? Ya theenk ya does a fuck-all in my shopa. Ya theenks I pays ya fuck-all? I keeck ya fucking black arse." And even gives his grey old idiot father a verbal horse whipping when he drops a tomato. The trouble is I know the bastard's got a gun. Have to choose the moment carefully. A quiet moment. Only the old man at the till, Basil at the back in the cold room. The old man's not looking; step into the cold room as Basil reaches down a tray of lettuces; grab him by the blubbery neck and bang his face down on the shelf, four, maybe five times; then throw him across the floor to land spread-eagled in the corner, eggs and chickens and boerewors and cheese cascading down on him. Aim a tremendous kick at his bursting trousers as he struggles to get up; try to inflict enraging pain. Slam the door shut, never having given him the chance to see his assailant. Then I run to the front, shouting to the old man, "Your son, your son! He's dying!" Basil's banging on the door, the old man rushes, mouth open. I rip open the till, grab the notes, all the notes, stuff them into a hollowed-out pawpaw. Close the till and hurry to the back. "Hey, what's the trouble? Can I help? Did you see him? I saw him. A fucking coloured ou - big, huge, with a knife. Are you alright? Shouldn't you call the police? Wipe the blood, man. He skopped you in the balls, eh? Fuckin bastard. Your wife will be disappointed. Or maybe not, ha ha. Yah, of course, must have been a big guy. Maybe two, three of them? Yah, could have been. What they do that to you for, Basil? You good guy, Basil. Gentle. You not Greek poes. No ways!" And then the pawpaw falls right through the bottom of the packet, bursts open and spills notes all over the floor in front of the doubled-up retching little pig, and his eyes nearly fall out of his head onto the floor as well. He screams in Greek and I know I have to kill them both. Quick. An execution for the sake of not having to go out there and make a stupid honest living. Forget it. Not Basil."
When Henry's laughter abated and he was calmer, he said, "Ivor, I love it. This is what I thrive on. What about the bank? You must have planned any number of bank robberies."
"Not really." Ivor was modestly offhand. "Only one, actually. Standard Bank, Fish Hoek Main Road." His voice took on the callous tones of a hardened criminal. "There's no point in fucking about with small fry like Basil. The paltry amount in his grimy till wouldn't keep me in idleness for more than six months. No. If you're going in for armed robbery then it might as well be Big Time. Might as well do it properly the first time, that's what I say. Take enough to live on for the rest of your natural days. Alright, so I plan to rob the Standard Bank. I've bought a 9mm pistol from City Guns and it's fully loaded and feels heavy in my pocket. I'm quite prepared to shoot the shit out of those cabbages and turnips working in the bank. I'll put a little terror into their lives so that their eyes look like the eyes of real human beings. Life will never be the same. For years they'll be waking at three in the morning sweating at the image of my finger tightening on the trigger. Every time a car backfires in the street they'll be cowering under their desks. Right. It's just going one o'clock. The black guy at the door must be the security guard, judging by his ridiculous uniform. Very sophisticated! Doesn't even have a knobkierie, for Christ's sake. He stands in the vestibule waiting to lock the doors, just one remaining customer. I walk up the steps, bold as brass and cool as a cucumber, show him the big jute flour sack. Open it in front of him and say, "Can you tell me what's in this sack?" Puzzled, he bends over and peers in. I jerk the bag up over his head and shoulders, expertly pull it down to his waist, tighten the nylon drawstring. Snarl through the coarse fabric, "Madala, you make one sound and I shoot your head clean off your body with makulu mbumbulu." I close the heavy outer doors and bolt them. Now I'm inside and stride across the banking hall to the Manager's Office, knock sharply on the door and enter. Or try to enter. But the fucking door is locked. There is one of those two-way speakers with a push button and a red and a green light. Press the button and the red light comes on. I push the button again. Sweat breaks out all over and I feel like a bowel movement. One of the tellers calls across, "The Manager's out to lunch. You must make an appointment." It's beginning to go horribly wrong. The last customer heads for the door. A loud twanging noise as my nerve snaps and I rush for the exit just ahead of the customer. The security guard still stands motionless like a bewildered chicken waiting for dawn. Grapple with the bolts, wrench open the door, burst out into the glare of sunlight and a fresh breeze. I walk away from a non-event, away from another failed attempt at laying my hands on some easy money. I'm afraid my imagination is incapable of producing a satisfactory plot, or of reaching the intended climax." Despite Henry's obvious delight in the story Ivor sounded momentarily dejected. Then he brightened. "But hey, maybe my versions are more true to life than most fiction. Real life is one big fuckup anyhow, isn't it?"
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