An elderly lady named Špela Horvat was walking past the outdoor tables of a coffee shop across from the Hotel Park in Ljubljana when she had a dizzy spell and fell into the table of a man with a droopy moustache and hostile eyes, spilling hot coffee on his lap. The irritable man reacted spontaneously, shoving the lady to the ground and shouting “Pizda!” (whore). Some young men, university students, appalled at such treatment of an elderly woman, confronted the man, much swearing ensued, and the largest of the students moved to strike the man, who deftly—especially for a man of his age, roughly fifty—slipped the punch, captured and rapidly broke the arm of the student. The other two students moved in on the aggressive coffee drinker, were thrown off, to the ground, and before the man could kick their ribs, two other men joined the fracas, one of them grabbing the man by the hair, receiving an elbow to the ribs, while the other actually got a punch in that made the moustached man smile before he felled him to unconsciousness with a right cross. By this time the two intact students were up, and joined by two more students who had been inside the coffee shop. Surrounded by four young and fit men, the fifty year old did what anyone capable of doing so in that situation would do: he went berserk—in rapid succession flooring all four of them, one of whom he was kicking in the ribs when the man who had grabbed his hair did so again. Mandrake Pizdamonavić turned around and smiled, surprising the hair grabber, who paused in his assault long enough that Mandrake was able to smash his nose with his upper forehead, leaving himself surrounded again by the same four students he had just floored. He looked at them, shrugged, and floored all four of them again, by which time two police officers had arrived and were each in succession flipped onto tables—wood, splintered—leaving, what?, eight, nine? men writhing on the ground, when a police van pulled up and serious enforcers of law hopped out with clubs, the third of which stunned Mandrake, the fourth of which stopped his individual mayhem, and the fifth of which knocked him unconscious. Oddly, by this time the old woman had disappeared. No one saw her leave. Her testimony that the brawl was initiated by her rough treatment at the hands of Mandrake Pizdamonavić was therefore unavailable, and after a couple of hours at the police station, Pizdamonavić was released without charges. But by that time Todd Fullmer, if there is any connection, had left the Hotel Park and was on his way to meet Milan Kučan.
Of course, being a master stylist I wrote as if in the third person. If anybody noticed I’ll chop my own cock off and stuff it in my mouth.
Green Dragons and Fox Hunts
Listen M_________, before I forget, there’s something I want you to look into regarding the Kennedy assassination. It involves Israel. See, I was waiting for Kučan to arrive at his watering hole, when I struck up a conversation with this professor who seems to have the idea that the Jews run things over there. But he wasn’t a crackpot, per se.
I was gazing forward to my interview with Kučan, thinking what an impossibly quaint, even tidy, this little country is, with this little capitol: it’s famous for its dragons, for the three bridges over the slime green yet unslimy Ljubljanica stream. I know because, for one thing, hanging about a sort of tiny square by a statue of Prešeren their sad national poet, who I have it on good authority was a drunk like every single great Slovene literary man, when I heard an unmistakeably British voice asking, ‘Could you tell me where the three bridges are?’ And without waiting for a response, explained, ‘You see, I’m told there is a sporting shop near there and I must purchase cartridges, for I am off to hunt foxes.’ The dragons are green, as much gargoyle as dragon, and sit about atop the bridge railings like toys. This was all running through my mind, and as much so the fact that the former independence leader of the new nation could be found simply by asking about and learning where he takes his morning coffee, I was thinking all this when I realized this man was looking at me.
‘Mossad’, he said with a trace of wonderment. A light bulb had just flickered enough to subdue the triumph of discovery. He wore an Austrian mustache, not a Hitler, but shaven just too much in from the expanse of the lip as to look absurd and bureaucratic.
He too was in reverie, as it turned out.
‘What? No, I wasn’t speaking to you.’
‘How do you know to speak English to me?’
‘I have no idea.’
‘Well…fine. But what’s this eruption of “Mossad”’
‘Mossad, yes, well you see I was just reading an article in Delo that put it all together. We Slovenes, understand, don’t care all that much for American mysteries, but we are aware of them, and when they bear on world events we perk up our ears. I was just perking up my ears.’
‘Might I be privy?’
‘Funny—might you be privy. I love your language, teach it at university in fact. You go to the privy, to defecate or whatnot—‘
‘Whatnot, for the most part.’
‘Yet so casually ask if you may be privy. But never mind. Yes, you see the fact is that your Kennedy—’
‘Sorry to be a stickler, but I haven’t a Kennedy to my name.’
‘What a language, figures of speech. John F., I mean. On the rare occasion a discussion of American affairs leads to…to…well, such matters as Kennedy’s assassination, I do feel rather the need to respond with an opinion, even if it be rather light of, of aspect, or, or, or—’
‘I do know what you mean. What do you tell them?’
‘I tell them it’s hardly likely that Oswald acted alone, that his Russian connection by itself demands that conspiracy be asserted. But that from the little available evidence from the little reading I have done, most of which assured me that there is little available evidence, I would guess that he was killed by rogue elements within the C.I.A. combined with mobsters and Cuban exiles. But now it appears that the C.I.A. is being more forthright about its assassination programs and so I would amend that to ‘elements within the C.I.A. And that the alternative is quite simple: inasmuch as he invaded Cuba, risked world war over Cuba’s right to behave as Turkey did—and the European media covers a few things you Americans probably never even hear of, but it is beyond question by now that during that famous October crisis, so quaintly put: ‘Missiles of October’. No offense. It is beyond question that we were spared all out nuclear war by sheer luck, for a Russian in a submarine was mistakenly given the order to fire and the attempt failed somehow. And added to that, the numerous attempts to assassinate Castro, and the likelihood of typical C.I.A. economic subversion. Taken together, why couldn’t it simply have been Castro who organized the assassination?’
‘Indeed. Yet we began with Mossad.’
‘Why not Mossad and Castro? You see, Kennedy had it in his power to demand atomic facility inspections in Israel and was going to do it, in fact was hell bent—perhaps that’s not fit here: is one hell bent in protracted diplomatic behaviour? Kennedy, in short—oh, look, here comes Milan Kučan: you know who he is?’
‘In fact, that’s why I’m here, to speak with him about the assassination of Kramberger.’
‘What a bundle of coincidences,’ he remarked and unfolded like an origami stork to a surprising height (probably only 6 2 or 3, but nonetheless surprising in the way big birds always are, and with a terrifying wing span).
‘Yes, but you were saying…’
‘No, that’s about it: Mossad has to factor in. Kennedy was not going to allow them to construct nuclear weapons.’
So, M_______, if you can dig up anything I would appreciate it. It appears I won’t be privy to a good English library in the near future.
Did Kramberger Kramp your Style?
So M_________Kučan showed up just then actually took the professor’s seat, and all that was remarkable about the man was that he is even shorter than one is led to believe by the fact that every single description of him refers to his dwarfery. That, and remarkable, brilliant white, tufts of hair muzzling his ears—without affecting his hearing. It was as if he had baby rabbits in there. Otherwise, he had a full head of well groomed white hair on his head and not another hair—oh, of course he did have eyebrows—not a single nose hair and a closely shaven, nearly adolescent face.
‘Dr. Kučan,’ I started right in. ‘I’m Todd Fullmer, American writer. I work assassinations. They tell me you speak excellent English.’
‘That’s very kind of them.’
A bulimic girl placed a coffee with milk before him.
‘Voda,’ he reminder her, and in seconds she had returned with a glass of water.
‘Can I ask you some questions? I know it’s not generally polite to go about an interview this way, but I didn’t mean to sandbag you, it’s just that I was told you were easy to find, an accessible man, open to conversation.’
‘Quite right. Formalities be damned. Sandbag. Means ambush, right? Bushwhack, drygulch. I watch a lot of American westerns. Best films in the world. My favorite is Ben Johnson. Especially as Bob Emery.’
‘I’ll talk to any man who knows his westerns.’
‘I’m afraid the topic is unpleasant.’
‘Assassination is unpleasant. If you’re talking to me, you must be interested in Kramberger. Or his monkey.’
‘Good bet. Kučan does all the fighting for liberty, Kramberger returns a rich man with a chip on one shoulder and a monkey on the other, becomes a friend of the common man, picks up 20 percent of the vote. Maybe Kučan won’t survive politically to enjoy his own accomplishments. And there’s the cover story: drunken hunter. Even I don’t buy that, not for a second. The problem is, Todd if I may call you Todd, that I have absolutely no idea who had him killed, or why. If you intend to look, to keep looking, look to the right. It was the right he was sucking votes from.’
‘That’s all very persuasive, Dr.—‘
‘Milan. I’m just an old fart at a coffee shop…’
‘I do intend to pursue it, I always pursue until I am satisfied.’
‘It’s all for nothing, Will. It’s all for nothing.’
‘But it’s not all for nothing. In this case, it’s for money for me, and to be quite frank, to keep me in this country long enough that my editor decides I need not go to Minsk, a place that, again, frankly, scares the shit out of me.’
‘Dead journalists. Are those assassinations?’
‘Of course they are. Why? You have any of those?’
‘Probably, but none that I know of. This has rapidly become a very cynical country. Not much is expected of our journalists.’
‘What if one was able to prove a connection between you and the assassination of Kramberger?’
‘But he couldn’t. I think I have explained why. I gave my word.’
‘That one’s particularly easy—on of my favorites: The Wild Bunch.’
‘Yep. You’re a real straight shooter, son. But so am I. You can dig all you want. If you find something I may or may not be interested—it may or may not matter to me. And besides, chances are, the main perpetrators are dead. The noonday train will bring Frank Miller. If I’m a man I must be brave…’
‘Now there’s something to tell the folks back home. The father of Slovene independence is making fun of me.’
‘Not really. I’m just having a little fun. The retired life does agree with me, but I do admit sometimes missing the gravity of events.’
‘Like on Brijuni?’
‘That’s not a western.’
‘No but it could have been, could have been one of the best.’
‘So you were saying about Brijuni: I hit the target.’
‘You mean, of course that I cut a deal with those two swine.’
‘Yes. You had to know Tuđman and Milošević were going to go all out for Bosnia. The deal was Slovenia kicks off the gala brawl, the price is the Yugo army let’s you go.’
‘After a phony war.’
‘Of course, that’s exactly what happened.’
M, can you believe it. I looked at him at least a minute. He blinked, but only once or twice. No guile visible in the least.
‘You’re not making fun of me are you?’
‘But this is huge—why admit it to me?’
‘Because it’s obvious. If you walk out of a hotel room with a smile on your face and your wife sees you and checks to see who is still in the room and she’s smiling to, and naked on the bed…Well, you get the point, I suppose.’
‘I’m not writing about it, if that’s what you think. I’m not going to be thrown off the scent of the only political assassination in the history of Slovenia just for yet another goddamn Balkan wars story.’
‘The only political assassination in the history of Slovenia? Good god, son, have you done no research?’
I admitted that I had not, the whole business being new to me and all.
‘Go west, young man! About nine miles from Postojna, above. It’s called Predjamska grad, and there in 1484 you had the most spectacular assassination in our history, one of the finest assassinations in the history of the world.’
‘Tell me about it.’
‘I just did.’
He hadn’t touched his coffee. Now he did. People around here often do it that way. A long slurp and they’re off.
He didn’t even say goodbye. I wanted to call out, But stranger, I didn’t git yer name.
Nobody Likes a Master Stylist
At dawn as they headed out to the fields they found him, a bent black shape slumped against a tree. Just as the hops were tied to their posts, he was tied to his. Marko Medved first identified the odd shape as that of a man, and his predator eyes, honed by years drinking his own pelinkovec on the balcony watching for an event to approach his horizon. He covered his wife’s eyes. ‘This is something you must never see,’ he told Ljudmilla with great portent. ‘You mean that dead guy?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Okay husband, I will return home and prepare a vat of soup for our lunch.’ So she saw him, all right, but she didn’t see the black stain that had run from his seed source to form a delta of death on the fecund earth before him; nor would she ever know that the pipe in his mouth was not a pipe, but his own penis.
The police had no clues, not even to his identity. He had been spotted in Celje, and only one man at the tavern called the Dvojina Dolfe was found who had spoken with him. ‘He said he was a master stylist. I don’t remember anything else.’
He Never Writes, He Never Calls
You remember the one about the nun raped by the gorilla in Central Park?
Yeah, I never knew why it had to be Central Park. Wouldn’t it be better if it started with a gorilla escaping from a zoo?
Sure, probably, but it’s that damn punch line, that stupid fucking punch line that gets to me every time.
Who visits her in the hospital?
Depends who’s telling the joke. I like it being the Mother Superior.
Right. I like it being a psychiatrist called in by the Mother Superior after several months of lingering despondency.
Yeah, that’s good.
So then what?
Well, he simply says I know you’ve been through a hell of a trauma, but a long time has passed, and you refuse to speak, you hardly eat. We want to help you, but you have to begin to open up, at least a little. She lays there silently. Can you put into words what’s bothering you? And she turns to the shrink, tears in her eyes, and says, He never writes, he never calls.
Funny as hell. Gets me every time.
He never writes, he never calls. God, I love it.
Why’d they have us put it here?
Can you indulge in conjecture?
Safety in numbers, though at this point…
That last one was pretty gruesome.
The man over-reached, why fret?
True enough, but it was pretty gruesome.
So is this bit.
Among the worst.
Like Stambulov, only apparently not politically motivated.
Anyway, who keeps a gorilla for a pet?
Dead transvestites, as far as we know.
But in Ljubljana of all places?
And in Ljubljana’s high places.
Talk about quashing an investigation.
So what do we know?
Famous surgeon, worked on the elites, managed to keep a pet gorilla for a few years without but a few in her circle finding out. Hopefully a smaller circle engaged in sexual intercourse with the gorilla while it was drugged, some even—
Not so willing like the one in the joke…
I love that joke.
So the autopsy showed signs of remarkable sadism, not only the enlarged and torn rectum and torn tunnel, but badly healed broken bones. Some really sick shit was going on.
And that old report about the gorilla attacking a young girl—
Who irony of ironies is now a nun.
It says right in the report, his giant thing, something like that. Pink of course. The power of pink when it’s not where things should be pink. I mean, not that the penis itself was in the wrong place…
Right, anyway, now that’s our gorilla from the joke.
Unproven, little speculated on, but yes, it would seem so.
Well, I think we know the gorilla’s.
The doctor. Are we to accept that it’s merely another instance of human perversity? Is that acceptable?
It happened. The only thing is, to start with, the doctor is a woman who thinks she should have been a man. That alone is either fucking nuts—
I like that.
Yeah, me too. Where was I?
Maybe its nuts enough to be a woman and think you should be a man. It stands to reason that someone with such feelings would just become a lesbian. Why, if a sort of alteration of nature, further alter your nature?
But she does, probably because at the time a few famous cases existed. In a little way, so to speak, it was the thing to do. So she gets her cock—
From a factory and a surgeon, not a gorilla.
I am, believe it or not—I know we have to get this done—I am on the verge of fucking pissing myself.
All right, let’s finish quick. But the cock is an early model and…
No, no, fine, get it out of your system…
Look, now you’re spitting up.
Okay, okay, I got it. Control, I got control. But a dollop of piss actually did come out.
That may be for the best. In our circumstance little we do can be considered odd.
Nothing compares. But the prosthesis didn’t work, no better than an elongated limp penis. It was supposed to work, so it didn’t have proper…stiffness. So the theory is she is remarkably frustrated, and the leap from there to what she did is a fucking chasm, a broad and hideous fucking chasm, onto this side of which we must remain far from the edge.
You said it.
Neighbors heard banging. Presumably she was already dead, but the gorilla was definitely going to have his fun. When the cops finally arrived—it wasn’t reported as an emergency—it was quiet, so they knocked. They knew whose house it was. They were about to walk away when they heard something knocked over in the garage, a bicycle I think. The door was unlocked. They walked in, saw blood and limbs everywhere, the bitch was fucking skull flensed, not a typical gorilla maneuver—even some toes and fingers were bit off and spit out. Her tongue was half torn out, leading to the belief that the gorilla showed aggression—he woke up, perhaps having grown too used to the usual dose—she began to scream, he went after her tongue. The gorilla had a very minor bite mark on his right hand. And he was right handed. So the cops see this, and a fucking gorilla—imagine the surprise—
Right, just like the nun in the joke.
Absolutely. They see this contrite giant ancestor having backed into a corner, knocking over a bicycle—he heard them outside and assumed they were coming in after him. He was finished, ready to turn himself in, but the cops were in a state of grievous alarm, shock, and they emptied their revolvers into him so fast he died right there in the corner.
Which is why he never writes or calls.
That’s funny. Really.
Editor’s note: I started The Collidescope so that I could give a home to work that is true to itself rather than diluted by the artless concerns of marketing and audience pandering. The aesthetic of the journal reflects my own tastes, of course: writing that tinkers with the mechanics of language, that itemizes etymology, orchestrates melody, writing that is logistically illogical and acts as the ouija board of voiceless dreams. Rick Harsch’s writing embodies all this and more. I never thought that I’d be serializing an amazing novel from an amazing author. I’m both honored and excited. So dear readers, be sure to bookmark The Collidescope and check back every Sunday for new installments of Kramberger with Monkey: A Comedy of Assassination by Rick Harsch.
Let’s start by rewriting the goddamn author bio: Rick Harsch is 60 years old. He was run down and mauled by the literary scene in the late 1990s, his Driftless Trilogy coming out like three gusts from a pistol preceding a flag that says BANG. The pistol is plastic. The flag is tissue. He moved to Slovenia in 2001, 9 days after the attacks on NY and D.C., an innocent man about to find out that condition stretched all the way to naïve. He wrote a lot, but only last year was his fiction welcomed in the US again, with Voices After Evelyn and Skulls of Istria. Everybody says they are great. Not many people have bought them. This year he is getting two books published by River Boat Books, his magnum (finally a magnum) opus, if it is, called The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas, and a travel/sports book called Walk Like a Duck: a Season of Little League Baseball in Italy.
The book being serialized here by the young overmuscled writer George Salis is called Kramberger with Monkey. If you see fit, you can read these short chapters and see how a writer handles extreme adversity, as my fictional mouthpieces keep getting knocked off as the book goes along. It’s especially inconvenient when a death forces me into the second person. I’m used to being fourth. If you have time, please write and tell us whether or not you think the book should be bloodier.