Lately it seems as if there has been unauthorized activity at Flippist World Headquarters. Nothing seems to be missing, but I can't shake the feeling that someone is coming in and messing around with my secret stuff.
I've taken the precautionary step of installing a web cam in my pine-paneled garret in hopes of catching the intruder. Hopefully, and with a little help from my devoted readers, perhaps I can find out what goes on when I'm away. If you have a couple minutes to spare, click on the camera feed below and let met know (in the comments) if you see anything unusual. Thanks!
Apartment 62 opened onto a small patio with two benches hidden from the bustle of Reykjavík by a copse of shrubbery. The women who did the cleaning would pause there, sometime for a smoke, sometimes just to talk. I met them several times over the course of my last stay. After the second or third time I fell into a conversation with the supervisor of the crew: at first we talked about my bicycle, then about travel, and then about life in general.
She had moved with her husband and their children many times, living several countries. She was not impressed with Florida ("the dead years") but she spoke highly of their time spent living in a small Spanish town. She was glad to be back in Iceland ("for good!") She asked if I had visited Iceland previously and when I told her I was on my fifth trip she became even more animated. Literature, Theatre, Music, all of my Icelandic enthusiasms came gushing out. She had a story for every topic I brought up, and I even had a few stories of my own to complement hers.
As she was going back to work, she turned and shook my hand, saying:
"Yes." I could hear her sobbing on the other end of the line.
"Listen. I don't have much time to talk. I've been forced into acting as if I was Billy Clarkson, it's a long story, I need you contact Mrs. Robinson. Do you still have the letter I left you?" This was the end of trying to leave Molly out of the loop.
"I've already read it, Sean. She's right here, just a sec..."
"Sean, Robinson here. Speak."
"They're trying to squeeze me, to put me away so no one can ask any questions. Find out who's behind it- did you get the SD card?'
"I've got it."
"The files should tell you what you need to know. Do a massive analysis- there's a common thread here, but I think it's more than the Senator. Tag all proper nouns, and tabulate all names associated with them. I'm betting that the top three or four names will hold the key. I'm going to be moved somewhere tomorrow. Try to get that information out before I disappear. Make it seem as if it is coming from hackers, or Wikileaks, maybe even Al Jazzera, but who ever it is must be stopped."
"Will do. Billy's body is in the Seattle morgue, ID'd as yours, we're working on getting that cover-up exposed as well."
"Great, let me talk to Molly again."
"Sean, are you all right?"
"I'm OK, it wasn't a real bad wound, but I'm pretty much tied to a bed for a couple of days. I'm being held against my will, listen, they told me they'd put you in prison if I don't cooperate. Can you hide out somewhere?"
"I think so."
" Do it. People coming, I've got to hang up, love you..."
I had heard a commotion in the hall so I hung up and feigned sleep. I had recently been put in a private room—evidently they hadn't thought of removing the phone. The door opened and Senator Clarkson came in, with a couple of cameramen and reporters.
"Billy, how are you doing?" he moved close to me, making sure that the camera and video operators had a good view.
"I'm hanging in there, Dad. I could be worse."
"That's the spirit, my boy. You'll be up and around in no time."
"When can I leave?" I thought I'd put him on the defensive.
"Well, at least until we get the incident at the reception figured out, we'll be keeping you out of harms way."
"If there's anything I can do for your campaign, a press conference or anything, let me know, we could do it from the hospital."
A reporter asked, "Do you know who did it?" and then shoved a microphone in my face.
"No, I was sick, and whoever did it threw a jacket over my head before he stabbed me."
I could see one of the Senator's aides whisper in the Senator's ear.
"That's enough for now, boys, Billy is still weak, and we don't want to compromise the investigation."
"Just one more photo with William, Sir."
The Senator moved closer to my head, so close that I could smell the gel in his hair.
As I was setting up my gear in a dark area of the park I became aware of two young women in the shadows. One spoke with what I took to be a French accent, the other spoke American English. We were there for the same reason. The stillness of the air and the cloaking effect of the darkness made voices seem as if they originated within my head: words became thoughts, without no visual cue of a speaking mouth the effect was a bit eerie. In the sky above us there had been hints of something coming for several minutes now. Things of this nature one can never be sure of, but we were ready:
I was looking through the trees to the northeast when it began. I spoke my thoughts: "Here it comes!" The women turned; the one with the accent let out a little yip of delight and then we stood still, overwhelmed:
The French woman began to croon, "Oooh! Oooh! I luff Iceland, I luff Iceland!"
We lost Steve Kramer. Artist, musical visionary and founder of The Wallets, Steve was one of the brightest lights of the 80's Minneapolis and New York music scenes. He went on to have a successful career in commercial music. He died in his sleep Saturday night in Utah, where he was attending a film festival.
We never knew exactly what would happen when Steve took the stage, his many personas sprang from a seemingly unlimited well of ideas. His extravaganzas at First Avenue were the stuff of legend:
"Who is William Clarkson? Senator Clarkson's only child from his first marriage, Billy Clarkson, as he is known to friends, had been previously notable only for his absence in his father's presidential campaign. No longer. At a private reception last night for the Senator in suburban Richmond Virginia, William Clarkson was found unconscious on the floor of a bathroom with a knife in his abdomen. No suspects have been named. A spokesman for the FBI termed the investigation as 'ongoing'. William was a 2006 graduate of Carnegie Mellon university, majoring in computer science. The young Clarkson was described by former classmates as 'brilliant but erratic' and also as a 'ladies man'. Since graduation he has stayed out of the public eye: he was a minor player in a Silicon Valley start-up, he dabbled in commodity futures, and was evidently involved in the operation of an on-line role-playing game. We've learned that he had returned to the United States just the day before the incident, entering the country with a replacement passport. It is not known at this time where he had been, but his return flight was via Icelandair."
Molly looked at Billy's picture in the graphic beside the news anchor. The resemblance to Sean was remarkable. She had often wondered why Sean never talked about has college days, even when she had pressed him on the issue. She looked at Mrs. Robinson, who evidently knew a lot about the connection between the two men. Molly and Mrs. R had gone into a "media bar" near Seattle's Pioneer Square where one could be bombarded by three news channels simultaneously while getting wasted at the same time. The clientele were mostly intense men—news junkies who couldn't be out of the cycle even while relaxing.
"Have you figured it out yet, Molly?" Mrs. Robinson was texting while she spoke. "The stiff in the morgue is Billy, and Sean is evidently in the hospital in Virgina. What I can't figure out is why he made the switch. There must have been a compelling reason for him to go underground. Let's compare timelines. When did you last have contact with him?"
"It was the 4th, in the morning."
"That was when I got the last email from him as well. He was to meet Billy later that day. Billy was killed just after midnight, the 5th.. That would have been 5 p.m. here, still the 4th."
"And I was picked up by the FBI around 8PM for questioning."
"Molly, were there cameras, or mirrors in the interrogation room?"
"Yes, there was a large mirror, I remember looking at myself when I was crying."
"They were threatening you, yes, with prison?"
"If the Embassy had already gotten to Sean and made him watch your interrogation, he may have gone along with a plan, I don't know exactly what plan, or who is behind it, but I do know that Billy was involved in some heavy stuff."
"And now I'm involved."
"Sorry, Molly. Sorry that this thing has spiraled out of control, We'll keep you covered. I've already messaged the coroner to get the dental records of Billy and Sean from their old university. Once the press gets a hold of those results the story will explode and we should be able to get Sean back."
Molly's phone began to buzz. She looked at the screen and frowned.
"I don't recognize the number. Should I pick up?"
"If it's anyone you don't know, just say 'wrong number'."
"Hello?" Molly listened for a few seconds then said "Yes" and began to shake.
She mouthed "It's Sean" to Mrs. Robinson and began to cry.
Candy Store, near Ingólfstorg, Reykjavik, 22:57 12 October, 2012
One thing I've gotten away from is eating candy. I'll have chocolate covered peanuts as something to tide me over between meals, and I will partake of 90% dark chocolate, but all those things made primarily of sugar which I used to suck and chew in my youth are gone from my diet. Giving it up wasn't even a hardship. Sugar just doesn't do it for me any more.
The sight of adults in this candy store late at night, buying their provisions for the Rúntur, elicited a bittersweet emotion in me. Children still, entranced by pretty colors and intense flavorings, burning the candle at both ends—but only just a tiny, tiny bit. It's only a little candy, what's the harm?
Nothing like last week's January thaw to rekindle dreams of summer. It's cold again now but it could be worse: the middle of January and only a couple of nights below 0° so far. Still, just the thought of shorts and a t-shirt and sandals makes me a bit restless.
A novel by Arnaldur Indriðason
Harvill Secker, London, 2012
Originally published in Icelandic in 2009 as Svörtuloft (The Black Fort), Arnaldur Indriðason's second crime novel without Inspector Erlendur is set in Reykjavík in 2008 during the run-up to Iceland's financial meltdown. This time the main character is Sigurdur Óli, an investigator in the homicide division of Iceland's CID.
A convoluted plot involving sex, blackmailing and murder is set into motion when Sigurdur tries to help an old school chum who is being shaken down for his involvement with a "swingers" group a couple of years earlier. The list of persons of interest expands rapidly- taking the detective into the dazzling world of the newly-rich banking class. The author further explores class stratification in Icelandic society in a parallel story about a pathetic young alcoholic whose demise is not completely unrelated to the corruption Sigurdur finds at the top.
This may be the most unrelentingly bleak of Arnaldur's crime novels since Voices, Sigurdur Óli's distaste for much of Icelandic culture (he prefers American Baseball and Football) is fully justified by the actions of the novel's characters. Arnaldur does use the City of Reykjavík as a vivid backdrop to the story and there is a lot of background here for those bitten with the "Iceland bug".
I could hear the doctor just fine, but I was going to hang on to my semi-conscious state for a while longer while I sorted out the mess I was in. I remembered coming to in the ambulance, just as it was driving into the hospital complex. Everything was blurry. As I was wheeled into the emergency room, I passed out again, whether from the loss of blood or a sedative, I didn't know. Someone at the reception must have had a strong reason to kill Billy. It may have been the woman who had been talking to me, or it may have been one of the other women who Billy had used and then discarded. Or, it may have been someone else, someone with political motivations or even someone sending a 'message' to the Senator. I could even imagine that someone was trying to get me—not Billy, to shut me up and end this 'double-life' intrigue for good. Whatever the case, I knew that I had to get messages to Mrs. Robinson and to Molly telling them I was still alive. I wondered if Mrs. R had received the greeting card with the SD card which I had mailed from Iceland. These lines of thought dissolved when the doctor lifted my right eyelid with his thumb and shone a light into it. I let out an involuntary groan.
"Good, good, you're coming around William. I'm Doctor Keller, can you speak?"
"Yes, yes, I need some water." An attendant squirted a small amount of water into my mouth from a squeeze bottle.
"You certainly do need water! You must have been quite dehydrated before the incident with the knife. The IV will have you back to normal in no time. Tell me, when is the last time you ate a meal? Your intestines were empty, lucky in a way, it made putting you back together much easier. You were also lucky in that the knife went in cleanly, with almost no tearing of the abdominal wall. It could have been much, much worse."
"Mr. Lucky, I guess, that's me. I haven't eaten much in a couple of days. I find it hard to eat when I'm traveling. " I managed a wan smile.
"That's the spirit."
"Where am I?"
"You're in the secure recovery room of the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. It's a precaution since the investigation of the incident is ongoing. If you're up to it, the FBI would like to ask you a few questions."
"OK, I think I can handle it."
Judging by his gray hair, the agent must have been one of the FBI's most senior investigators. He showed me his ID then settled in to an upholstered chair, a chair which looked as if it had been taken from an executive office. This was going to be a big deal.
"Are you feeling up to this, Mr. Clarkson? If you feel you can't continue please let me know. Any information you can give us will help in the investigation, time is of the essence."
"I understand. Go ahead."
"I am going to ask this to make sure we cover all bases. Did you stab yourself?"
"Is there anyone who was there who you think stabbed you?"
"No, I don't know."
"You had been seen talking to a woman before you went to the bathroom. Did you know her?"
"She said we were lovers. I told her that didn't remember her. She got upset."
"Understandably. You've had many lovers? Others who were at the reception?"
"There may have been. There were many, when I was younger."
"Are there any other person or groups of people who would want to do you harm?"
"None that I know of."
"What do you think happened?"
"I don't what to think anymore. All I know is that I don't want any part of this."
"You don't have a choice. I'll ask you again, did you stab yourself?"
Jófríður Ákadóttir, 11 October 2012, Faktorý, Rekjavík
I had gone into the club a little early and wandered upstairs during the sound check. The singer, without makeup and still in her street clothes, was demonstrating to the computer operator how she wanted a musical transition to flow. Her body was the instrument and it did indeed flow; a natural and unselfconscious movement; mesmerizing.
I watched for a few minutes until the sound man came up and motioned for me to leave.
I came back when the club was officially open, got my drink and headed for a dark corner off the right side of the stage. The singer was with the opening act, now dressed and made up for the show. It wasn't exactly the kind of music I usually enjoy, but it was good: moody, atmospheric, mysterious, drenched in echo; a dream realized. The singer's movements seemed to reflect an internal struggle, as if she were holding herself together to keep from dissolving in the music. As the trio continued to play the noisy crowd quieted a bit; I became thoroughly enchanted:
This card, found in an old book, brought back the memory of one of those little rituals of my childhood- the door to door magazine salesman. As I was growing up, at least until early 1960s, my life was so uneventful that the appearance of a man at our front door wearing horn-rim glasses and a fedora and selling magazines was the highlight of the week. My mother would actually buy some: Good Housekeeping (later to be replaced by Redbook), Life, Readers' Digest, and perhaps a teen magazine for my sister and Popular Mechanics for me. This went on until the mid 60s when bulk mail became dominant and Publisher's Clearinghouse started running their sweepstakes.
It is hard for me to imagine the business plan- how this way of selling could make any money at all. We've had magazine salespeople come to our door in recent years, but they are kids doing it as a fundraiser (working for nothing) and some of those were just plain frauds. But my mother's "magazine man" worked door to door for a living. It was a different time; now most mass market magazines are on the brink of extinction.
There was also a Fuller Brush man who came around from time to time, but that's whole 'nother story altogether.
To: MollyBee23@SeattleBestMail.net From: M.Robinson@ADRinc.com Re: Sean
Molly, I received something this morning which confirms your doubts. Meet me at aluminum tree in the sculpture garden 5ish? And bring the clearest photo you have of Sean's face. Mrs. R
To: M.Robinson@ADRinc.com From: MollyBee23@SeattleBestMail.net
Re: Re: Sean
I'll be there, 5 it is.
On the sculpture garden plaza Mrs. Robinson found Molly looking at an image of Sean on her iPad.
"Molly! You found a shot of Sean? Good. Let's go inside; I've got something to show you."
The women went into the pavilion and got coffee before they sat down. Mrs. Robinson opened her folder which contained some papers and a couple of photographs.
"Molly, zoom in and look at the right eye of Sean in your photo and give me an approximate position of the brown flecks in his iris—as if they were numbers on a clock face."
"I see a small one at two o'clock, a larger one at 7 and another small one between 9 and ten."
"Now, look at this enlarged section of the photo I received as an image file today- the right eye."
"They are they same."
"Now look at the other eye."
"The same pattern is on each eye in both photographs."
"And now look at this- the full image- and tell me what you see."
"It's Sean, sitting in a cafe, in the daytime, holding a foreign newspaper up to his face."
"It's Icelandic. Now look at the date on the paper."
"It says 5 Maí, this year."
"The morning after Sean was supposedly killed. You are right, he's alive."
"Where did you get this?"
"It was in a memory chip, hidden in a greeting card, mailed from Reykjavík on the 5th - look for yourself." Mrs. Robinson handed Molly the card.
"Not dead yet. Your eyes only. Wait for instructions. What does it mean, Mrs. Robinson? Why hasn't Sean called or at least sent us an email? "
"I'm not certain why, but the body in the morgue isn't Sean's. How did you know it wasn't, Molly?"
"There is a scar on Sean's chest just above his heart, from a bite mark I gave him once."
"Oh my. That would usually be too much information, but I'll make an exception in this case. I've got too much information as well, information which was also on the SD card. It may explain who is behind this situation, but I am not at liberty to talk about that. We need to go back to the morgue—make them do a dental record check—I'll tell them that the company's life insurance policy requires it. That may buy us enough time to find out what has happened to Sean."
As she spoke, Mrs. Robinson's phone began to buzz. She read the text message from the office:
Breaking news- Billy C stabbed- TV is all over it- pls advise...
"Molly, we may find out sooner than I thought. Pull up a news feed on your iPad."
Faye and Rich Lewis, Whitey's Bar, Minneapolis, 2012
A year, one revolution in the earth's orbit,
The world is always changing, yet it also remains the same.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Heaven help up all if we were doomed to live our lives in an eternal repeat, ala the film Groundhog Day.
That side of the internet which consists of original, self-published material is not immune from the ravages of time. Blogs, special interest sites, even the occasional inspired twitterer have each in their own way managed to lift my spirits.
Many of them have "closed up shop" or just drifted away. That has always been the case in this still very young medium, but it seems that the close of 2012 seen more than its share of casualties. Maria, ECS, Darien, Things, Monday Note, have all seemed to come to an end. They might come back some day, in another form perhaps, but it's perfectly OK to leave the sur-reality of the internet—it isn't as important as living one's life to the fullest.
But there are always new voices, I've found several new Icelandic sources this year, with Larissa's Ð and Þ (eth & thorn) leading the way. Gemma's Seattle based blog has shown promise as well in covering the Icelandic scene. Pascal Pinon, those musical twins from Iceland, have developed their self-titled tumblr into a very effective showcase for their music and art; it is a model for how to create an entertaining and original showcase which is more than just a bunch of recycled promos.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention Auður Ösp's I Heart Reykjavík, a great example of a tourism blog. She's starting a newsletter as well, where I suspect she will continue in her tradition of lively writing (I've been following her in one form or another for nearly nine years!) Check out her current post. She has always inspired me with her wonderful outlook on life- both real and virtual.
And so, in light of all this rambling, I'll commit myself to another year of FITK. If that sounds as if I'm being sent to a mental institution the similarity is no accident. More randomness in 2013, for sure, but I will definitely finish the "serial fiction." I've been dreaming the new chapters—sometimes it takes more than one restless night...
Note: The picture at the top doesn't have much to do with the post beneath- it's just two of my favorite people, doing what they enjoy. Doing what you enjoy? I guess that is the theme of this post, after all!
Of all the mysteries of my existence, none is more inscrutable that this short road in my home town. Did the city engineer run out of naming ideas? Perhaps this was the result of a typo; he may have written "street" as a placeholder on a planning map to insure that it wouldn't be labeled as an "avenue" and the map was then published before a proper name was assigned.
Maybe one the the town fathers was named Street. His car would have been named "Desire", no doubt.
I like to think that it was in honor of Della, Perry Mason's faithful secretary/unrequited love, although "Della Street" would have made a far cooler name than the redundant "Street Street".
And just to prove that I didn't make this up, here is a screen shot from Google Maps, showing Street Street in its entirety: