Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Thing About Satire ...

The thing about satire is that it is not real.

Satire often uses imaginary characters. Satirical characters often say nasty things, but these are imaginary opinions, written to dramatise in a funny way what the characters are like.

None of the Great Works written in my name are satirical - although you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise. But I know that people send me up all the time.  

I don't mind. Not just because I am God and therefore beyond - in a very real way - criticism, but because I know it's only for a laugh. I too have a sense of humour! (see religion.)

Frankly, I am amazed that I need to point any of this out. But then I have often thought that (see, in particular, The Ten Commandments).

Please therefore view my decision to post this from some twelve months in the future as what you might call metaphysical punctuation; a mild exclamation mark, expressed as a casual confounding of the space-time continuum as you know it.

Glad we've got that cleared up.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Tabs or Tabata?

Baffled boffins from PEPAC Science Department can’t decide which is better for smoking expert Principal Smith – fags or high-intensity physical exercise.

And ONE HAS TO GO, vowed Principal Smith today from his Smoking Training Camp at PEPAC Thailand offices in Bangkok.

“My smoking regime is specialized and sensitive - but I blow it with shameful orgies of high-intensity interval training,” admits the angst-ridden roll-up merchant: “It’s insulting to myself and all the work I’ve put in with complex carcinogens over the years.”

Would-be warrior and champion chugger Smith recently hit provincial headlines by renouncing his Moreton-in-Minge heritage and cockily claiming to be a countryman of kick-boxing Thailand.

But now all eyes are on how the tar-taming Fag-Meister deals with a potentially fatal body blow to his career in compulsive nicotine ingestion.

Kick-boxing “Tabata” is a concentrated form of exercise cooked up by slitty-eyed scientists from abroad to deliver a dangerous dose of stimulation. Martial-art junkies on the street – where Tabata has ended up - think it’s cool. But Smith targets trendy Tabata as an Asian Axe-wound in the side of his smoking programme.

“That Tabata shit FUBARs my smoking like you wouldn't believe.” Says Smith.

With smoking proven by PEPAC scientists to balance Kinespheric Chakra Auras and improve all fighting skills, it is unlikely that Smith, 20 year-pro of the smoking circuit, will be torn from his tabs any time soon.

“Colourful computer graphics have proven the clear health benefits of smoking. There is too the known-to-be-totally-proven fact that smoking offers a great example to children and impressionable minions.” Says Smith. “On the other hand, everybody thinks Tabata is cool, and we’ve all had a moment of thinking that. But, To Tabata, Just Say No.”

Principal Smith believes the brutal cage contest in his head between tabs and Tabata will be decided when he faces his debut amateur smoking bout.

“I will know 30 seconds into the first round whether I should have faced my demons and given up Tabata.” Warns Smith.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Wankered John's Taxonomy of Capitalism

Look guys, when I say "Taxonomy" I'm not talking about stuffing dead animals.

But I am talking about animals; the human animals that inhabit the moneyed world; the various species of human animals, differentially evolved to do specialist shit in pursuit of wafers of dead tree.

There's an idea floating round the Media Construct right now that drug cartels represent the system of capitalism in its purest form.

A clever guy has introduced this idea in a book. And it's doing very well. So capitalism is working for him at least.

I just wanted to toss my penny's worth into the pot:

Capitalism isn't a system, dude - it's just a bunch of people who've lost their sense of humour:

A PUNTER – who pays for something to happen

A CHIEF – who demands that something happen

A FIXER – who creates the conditions under which something can happen

AN ANALYST  who describes how something might happen

A BLAGGER – who promises that something will happen at some point if only they are given the right amount of cash

A MINION - who actually makes something happen

An ARTIST - who tells the truth about what does happen

A COMEDIAN - who tells the truth about what does happen by describing what might happen


The list goes on.  Where do you fit in?  Where do I fit in, man?

I'd like to pretend I'm a Minion. But I'm not going to lie to myself.

I'd say then I was a cross between an Analyst and a Blagger, but that would make me a politician - so throw that idea in a muddy ditch and call it roadkill.

I'll have to settle for being a Nobody.

I'm outside the System.

You can't taxonomize my species, dude.  Let's face it, you can't even tax me.

The Definition of Flat

Today, I have decided to express my enthusiasm for the state of human affairs in the form of the weather in South East England:

Just so there can be no confusion.

Thank you.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Mow Down Met

London Police Chiefs to shoot dead own officers who make arrests

Following the news today that a police marksman has been summarily arrested for shooting dead a suspect, the Met has announced that in future any officer found to have arrested a suspect will be summarily shot dead himself by other officers, who will themselves then be arrested by any other policemen still alive or out of jail.

(In line with police tradition, the new policy discounts female police officers altogether.)

"We are not sure that we have any marksmen left outside of custody to carry out the mass shootings we anticipate," a senior officer said in a press conference, "but this new policy is certainly in line with our cretinous strategy of ruining the lives of our own people for doing precisely what they're told. In this we have taken our cue from the British Army.

Asked by one incredulous journalist whether the Met had spotted the potential for an "immediate and exponential explosion of arrests and killings", the senior officer replied, "look, there is one thing the Police certainly don't do - and that's 'immediate.'  As for "exponential", that sounds like maths, so you'll have to ask the Numbers & Counting Officer at your local Nick.  And as for "explosion", that identifies you as a terrorist, which means you will be nicked.  But not by me."

A resigned-looking representative from the police workers union revealed that the arrest-and-die policy would "make fuck all difference to morale" because "police morale dived irretrievably with the Equality Act of 2010 and flatlined altogether a week ago when they said our tasers couldn't be made to look more like lightsabers in line with the new Star Wars film."

PEPAC novel: excerpt: "The Inciting Action"

The only thing more dangerous than a trained killer, his father had once said, is a trained liar. 
Richard therefore eyes the lawyer at his doorstep with suspicion.
Not only because, having received a prestigious legal education, Señor Francesco Hernandez is schooled in a certain controlled boisterousness with the truth; but, thanks to an early career in a Mexican drugs cartel of no less prestige, Francesco can also demonstrate a certain controlled boisterousness with a wide variety of personal weaponry — edged, rifled and otherwise. 
Francesco really is both a trained liar and a trained killer. 
Which, for most people, makes him quite a dangerous handful when he turns up unexpectedly at four o’clock in the morning — in military terms, almost exactly the perfect time for a pre-dawn strike on the enemy. 
But Francesco is not military.  Richard is not the enemy.  Richard knows Francesco the Lawyer-cum-Killer from childhood.  Francesco is his father’s right-hand man.  Inscrutable, intelligent and infuriatingly informed about everything, Francesco is the only person Richard has learnt to truly rely on.  Whilst, automatically, being ever-so-slightly wary of.
Right now Richard is too tired to be too wary as he stands in the doorway of his mews flat.  He wears boat shoes, a florid silk dressing gown and a puzzled expression — an unfortunate combination which makes him look like an eccentric aristocrat.  Richard does not consider himself to be an eccentric.  He considers it eccentric to read the Telegraph online, highly peculiar that people would choose to live in the Provinces, and quite beyond the pale to go to bed without pyjamas. 
What is for certain is that Richard doesn’t have the look of a man who sees a lot of early mornings.  He has that indefinable pampered look of someone who doesn’t know the meaning of rush hour or cashflow crisis.  Despite this, a resolute jaw saves him from looking puppyish; indeed, with an idea in his head and a couple of Clicquots in his belly, Richard has been known to radiate a certain dogged gravitas; then he becomes more solemn than usual and his forehead gleams and draw attention to the extent that his untidy, straw-like hair has begun to recede.
What we have here — the trained eye would conclude — is not your Alpha Male.  What we have here instead is a bumptious, bovine Beta, a scatty Young Fogey with a pudding’s chance in Hell of achieving anything useful. 
But those that really know Richard know better.  Pushover he ain’t.  Should he suddenly decide it is The Right Thing To Do, Mr Richard Espinosa-Smith will emerge, like a plucky gunboat, from a fog of dissolute whiffle and stolidly devastate any obstacle or opposition in his (often frighteningly unimaginative) path.
Richard will, it has been noted, fuck people up old-fashioned-style if he has to.
But he’s no Alpha Male.
What confronts Richard on his doorstep certainly is an Alpha Male.  Francesco — the cultured ex-sicario of Los Aguilás de Sangre, of Chihuahua province — is, as ever, attended by a cloud of fierce, distinguished aftershave that marks his territory like a sophisticated lion.  But what does he want?  And why does he think now is a good time to ask for it?  Military strike, social call, or the usual whimsical summons from his father — as far as Richard is concerned, whatever the most educated assassin in Mexico is playing at in Mayfair, it’s a bloody stupid time to turn up on somebody’s doorstep expecting a sympathetic hearing.  
Francesco doesn’t look like he is doing sympathy today.  His expression is very grave indeed.  So grave that Richard is about to joke sourly, “has somebody –“
“Your father,” Francesco says, “is dying.  You must come now.  Adelante.”

Richard does not panic.  He knows that people die.  Even in Mayfair.

PEPAC novel: excerpt: "The Courses"

“I thought it might be another course.” Volunteers Richard, as the Bentley glides on to Park Lane and heads left towards Hyde Park Corner.  “As usual.” 
“As usual”: how would you say that in Spanish? He wonders.  No idea.  As usual.  The only Mexican Spanish Richard can remember right now is a single phrase, and that, he will admit, is of questionable utility: “Chinga las Sandías!” which translates as “Fuck the Watermelons.” 
Chinga las Sandías!  He only remembers that through an unforgettable combination of repetition and heat on the meat of his brain, with an overseer employed by his father repeating the phrase approximately a hundred times a day under the beasting sun of Chihuahua, Northern Mexico just five months ago. 
That was on the most recent of the “courses” that Raul had insisted he take over the years; months-long sojourns abroad under the instruction of various (so-called) experts in a baffling array of fields, all announced at a moment’s notice by the unexpected arrival of Francesco, no explanations offered, and little discernible benefit gained. 
On Richard’s Chihuahua trip, Chinga las Sandías! was pretty much all that El Jefe, the fat, sweating peasant who supervised him with a squint and a grudge, would say. 
Richard would ask about the watermelons.  And why shouldn’t he?  It was a pertinent enquiry: all he would do all day (with not inconsiderable personal effort) was load watermelons neatly into battered, open-top lorries, only for El Jefe to throw them about and squash them with his size 12s as he tinkered endlessly with various parts of the lorries’ bodywork. 
The role of the (mostly ruined) watermelons remained ambiguous.  And El Hefty (as Richard wittily nicknamed him) seemed equally reluctant to reveal the rationale behind his endless running repairs, which seemed to intensify as they actually got going and drove towards La Frontera (whatever that was). 
At first, Richard assumed that La Frontera was the Spanish word for the border with the US, which lay very close to the North.  But El Hefty’s reaction to this suggestion this made him think again.  When questioned about La Frontera, El Hefty would become very animated, almost panicked, and adopt a ferocious pantomime scowl of disapproval; “La Frontera,” he would growl, visibly exuding even more sweat, “es asunto secreto, muy secreto.”
In triumph, Richard latched onto the word “secreto.”  A secret, then! 
So El Hefty can’t have meant the US border, because that was hardly a secret, was it? 
Weighing the evidence, Richard came to one inescapable conclusion: he and Hefty were, effectively, second-hand car salesmen.  Richard was certain there was a model of car called a Frontera.  There was probably one called Asunto too, and maybe even one called Secreto; so with all these names of exotic cars being thrown about and this never-ending interest in the bodywork of the lorries, part-exchange must be the name of the game; maybe part-exchange with the part about consent exchanged for something else, but who was he to question how his father made his money? 
But how did the watermelons fit into the picture?  Were they deployed as emergency supplies should he and Hefty become stranded in the jungle?  Maybe they were barter goods for exchange with primitive (and presumably dehydrated) jungle peoples?  Or were they required as a form of business tribute, a complimentary gift considered de rigeur in the second-hand vehicle market of Northern Mexico? 
He never got to the bottom of it, as all he and El Hefty would do was drop the lorries in the middle of a banana bush or some-such and get a lift back to Cuidad Juárez with some chaps who seemed to live permanently at the jungle drop-off point, judging by the rather tasty assault rifles they carried to keep wild animals at bay. 
Maybe they used the melons to feed the wild animals?  As a peace offering? 
For all Richard knew, they used the bloody things as ammunition.  Because, try as he might to clarify the issue, the only response that El Hefty would give was to shrug, spit on the floor, and tell him to fuck the fruit items in question.
Well, Hefty me old mucker, the watermelons fucked you in the end.  On Richard’s final mission into the jungle to achieve God-Knows-What, the mutinous mound of fruit in the back of their lorry shifted on a corner on a mud track, tipped the vehicle over and knocked El Hefty unconscious (which was a start), and it all lead to El Hefty being accidentally shot six times in the back of the head at close range by Los Federales who turned up to investigate the crash (which was a definitive finish).  Strangely, Los Federales too had a fascination with the lorry’s bodywork.  And no interest at all in the watermelons.   Maybe it was a cultural thing.
As one of his father’s “courses” went, the Chihuahua trip wasn’t half as interesting as others he had taken. 
Zurich had been good the year before (lovely in the Summer, super totty, lots of bore-jaw about money though, especially “Jew Diligence”, which had struck Richard as a little risqué). 
Russia had been an eye-opener, although the weather was a blow and the totty apparently all pre-owned, according to some primitive feudal arrangement, by spiv-like “barons” in disappointing suits.
The highlight was two months spent on an airfield near St. Petersburg with some raddled rough types from Spesnaz — Special Forces, don’t you know!  And what a bunch of alcoholics those chaps had been!  No Special Brew for them!  No no, they used to drink the stuff used to clean the wiring on the gigantic Antonov transport planes that littered the airfield.  Miles of wiring, so miles of hideous moonshine.  They swore by the stuff.  Frequently.  Imaginatively.  And eventually died by it, by all accounts.
Africa, much to his surprise, had been Richard’s favourite.  It had always looked to Richard that Africa could do a lot better, given its high historical percentage of Christians and lack of snow.  And look at the size of it!  Look how green it is!  How the Hell could people be starving?  Must be some sort of gigantic, ongoing cock-up at senior management level, he concluded.
So he was expecting some pretty shoddy arrangements on the ground — queue-jumping, people not speaking English, that sort of thing — and he got them.  That was tolerable: when in Rome, and all that.
The poverty, disease and terrifying violence of anarchic Sierra Leone somehow passed Richard by.  He was more preoccupied with the frankly appalling attitude of the locals, who, for some reason, were not keen to work under UN protection; love nor money could not convince them to build the bridge he was expected to produce over the Rokel river 25km outside Freetown.  They kept running off into the jungle.  He ended up doing most of the hard stuff himself, which he enjoyed. 
But nobody could explain why they hadn’t just employed an engineering firm to do the job in the first place!  Which was infuriating.  All this “volunteering” business seemed needlessly, and embarrassingly, amateurish.
On the plus side, he got to see the exact spot where the Paras and the SAS had slaughtered the West Side Boys (the foolish gang of drug-crazed ne’er-do-wells that had somehow captured some soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment) and floated the corpses down the Rokel into Freetown as an “impact statement.” 
Not only that, but Richard managed to get his hands on a gold-plated AK47 alleged to have belonged to the captured "Brigadier" Foday Kallay, leader of the West Side Boys, which his father had arranged to be smuggled back to London, fully functional; it is hung, proudly, in the kitchen above the cat’s bowl.   Some “impact statement” that, he had thought, rather smugly, on behalf of the cat: steal my whiskas, and receive instantaneous punishment in the form of a hundred rounds per minute from a gold-plated celebrity artefact.
Best of all about Africa — and this was rather puzzling — were the little kids running around playing football.  Everywhere he went Richard was dragged into a kick-about with gaggles of smiling, highly-skilled children.  From one dustbowl to the next, he embarrassed himself with his appalling lack of co-ordination and speed; rather like one of those big black water buffalo trying to outmanoeuvre a herd of gazelle. But he didn’t care.  He was happy.  There was something all very  … well, he’s never been able to put his finger on it.  Meaningful, but meaningless, somehow, in a nice way.

PEPAC novel: excerpt: "Meanwhile ..."

Meanwhile, some forty miles to the North West of Hillingdon in the village of Tweedale, nestled deep in the beech forests of the Chiltern Hills, a High Court Judge sits in the grand sitting room of his Tudor manor house.
Sir Ronald Armitage is a smug, fat little man.  Big, round spectacles and a flat nose make him look like a goggle-eyed toad.   Replete and slumped in a Louis XV armchair, he is all Toad now, and happy within his Hall. 
To hand, on an antique occasional table, are a drained tumbler of whisky (Speyside) an opened packet of painkillers (Tramadol), and the local paper (the Tring Gazette; turned to the Births and Deaths page).    
In the hearth of a handsome, stone fireplace, the embers of what Sir Ronald’s wife calls a “Summer Heartener” have almost given up the ghost, holding out silently as pinpricks of red in the gloom. 
Earlier in the night, the Judge had indeed been heartened by the heat and light of the fire, had been struck by nostalgia too by the honest, yet mysterious, tang of woodsmoke; but whatever memory had been evoked he could not recall, nor was he sure that specifics were commonly a part of the mental process of nostalgia at all.  Just one of those cognitive peculiarities on which entire professions, myths, obsessions — wars even — were so flimsily based.

The Judge is lethargic now.  Tranquilisers, natural and pharmaceutical, throb gently through his bloodstream.  He is content to let this quiet hour pass him by as it pleases.

PEPAC novel: excerpt: "The Beef"

You must do this alone.”  Francesco exits the car with characteristic grace and paces towards a giant, gleaming motorbike Richard hadn’t spotted parked behind the hut. 
The front passenger door of the Bentley closes with a muffled whoomph.  Richard is left alone with Gerardo the chauffeur and a lot of questions.
But face the dragon and all that!  Enter the dragon, is it? 
Enter the plane, forget about the dragon and strangle the old bastard, more like.
Au revoir, Gerardo,” he says with more cheer than he feels.  He gets out of the Bentley and is met by an invigorating breeze.  The stairs leading up the entrance to the jet beckon.  His duty beckons, as does his future.  Something of a Star Wars moment this!  Chariots of Fire, that sort of thing!  The raw whiff of gasoline in the air is exciting. 
The cabin door is open, attended by one of his father’s Swiss staff.  Bongi or Mongi, some bloody ridiculous name, elegant Germanic-looking totty trussed up in a black trouser-suit and a false smile.  A cross between a brain scientist and a trolly dolly.  Implausibly fit, obviously, but Richard has his mind on the Great White Hunter, not his trophies.
“Your father will see you now.”  Mongi (or Bongi) says pleasantly.  As if his father is a ruddy dentist!
“Jolly glad to hear it.”  Says Richard curtly, not looking at her, taking the steps fast.  Not the time for pleasantries, my dear.  Mongi Bongi takes a step to the side as he advances, he’s through the door, turns right — and there’s his father laid out on a bed.
Or, at least, he assumes this is his father.  The face peeping from an expanse of neatly-ironed white sheet is obscured by tubes and bandage and tape.  Richard gets the impression of a squidgy, jaundiced walnut being the focus of some sort of scientific experiment.
Raul Espinosa had always looked a little like a shrunken, darker version of Albert Einstein without the preposterous hair: fleshy features, bright eyes with hooded eyelids, bushy white eyebrows.  His face a likeable, fleshly conflation of mischief and amiable potential.   
The invalid in the bed looks to have encountered one of Einstein’s Black Holes and shrunk almost to nothing.  Surrounded by high stacks of electronic medical equipment and flanked by two ramrod-straight doctors dressed in white coats and face masks, Richard’s father looks tiny.
Mongi Bongi closes the cabin door and the air pressure changes.  The noise of the wind outside is cut dead.  Richard does not notice.   
There is a sign of life from the bed: a twitching hand is visible and it is clutching, for some reason, the pristine white sheet; it looks like a claw, a claw with veins.  Surprising the old boy’s got any blood in him at all at this stage of the game!  But clutching, quite literally it seems, onto life. 
Maybe?  Or maybe it’s rigor mortis?
Richard looks at his father’s minions for answers.  But the doctors are inscrutable behind their face masks.  Mongi Bongi is concentrating on being professionally dispassionate in a suitably Swiss manner. 
Richard is soon put right.  His father – neither asleep, comatose or dead — suddenly farts loudly and chuckles weakly.  Elastic tendrils of spittle arc between his lips, lips that look like mean little slivers of cooked liver.  His eyes open half-way.  He peers at Richard.
Ricardo, que onda?”
“I wish you wouldn’t say that.  You’re not a bloody surfer.”
“And nor are you … you look like … like aristocrat lay-about, mi huevon.”
“I wish you wouldn’t call me that, either.”
 “I know.  Of course I know!”  Raul grunts.  “What does a father not know of his son?”  He tries to clear his throat.  “I knew you would come.”  A contented, slightly wry, look flits across his eyes. 
More gently, he adds, “I knew you would come.”  As if that is somehow all that he does need to know.  Raul growls in his throat somewhere and lets his eyelids fall. 
Richard is aware of the incessant bleep of the heart machine (or whatever it is).  He notices for the first time that there is a haphazard, almost desperate, air to the arrangement of medical machinery and supplies in the cabin, despite the immaculate bedclothes.  There’s a veritable cascade of dusty-looking paperwork down the side of the bedside-cabinet-thing.  Although his father’s usual luxury paraphernalia has been removed to make space for The Deathbed, the cabin is cramped.  The lighting chaps have gone crazy and lit the place up like an abattoir.  It smells, of course, like a hospital. 
And, here’s the rub — there has been, as yet, no offer of a cup of coffee, caffeinated or otherwise!  Which, bearing in mind the 45XR can fly 2300 miles without refuelling, bodes ill for anybody remotely human stuck onboard the next time she takes to the skies!  If she ever does! 
Richard is trying very hard to take this fin de siècle moment in his stride, he honestly is, but with equal honesty he has to admit that it is all rather a vex.  He’s only just got on the bloody plane and already he’s bursting to take down the prim Mongi-Bongi a notch or two.  He would gladly knock the dumb doctors over like bowling pins.  The notion to strangle his father with his own pristine bedclothes is far from unappealing. 
And what’s even more annoying than his father is the fact that Richard can’t help but find him annoying, which Richard will gladly and shamefully admit is a bloody poor show under the circumstances.
Suddenly his father’s eyes open fully.  There is a gleam there.  A fierce determination.  The claw-like hand stranded above the sheet begins, inexplicably, to shake.  The growling noise from his throat intensifies.  His nostrils flare, like a horse. 
Is he on the point of a seizure?  Is this The End, already?
“Relax, mi huevon!  I’m not kicking on the bucket yet.  But you need to know something.”
“Ok?  Ok, he says?  Que madres!  Ricardo, hay un problema, un …”  Raul begins to cough.
Richard waits, trying out his acting skills with a look of benevolent patience.  He is rewarded by the charming spectacle of his father wiping his mouth on the bed sheet.  The two doctors stand impassive, obviously trained not to interfere without being asked. 
“Son, there is … there is … “ Raul begins to cough again.  A sheen of sweat gleams on his forehead.  The beeping from the machine accelerates.  The two doctors remain motionless.  The coughing continues.
Exasperated, Richard volunteers: “I can see there’s a problem, you’re bloody dying!  Are you going to tell me what of?”
Raul shakes his head, frowning, and coughing in a consuming spasm.
“Cancer?”  Raul continues to shake his head, still coughing.
Richard tries again.  “Heart disease?” 
Same response.   More coughing.
“Come on dad!  This is … well …”  Richard doesn’t know what to say.  Unexpectedly he has hit a wall of some form of Emotion.  He doesn’t like it. 
So he goes on the offensive.  “Or have you managed to poison yourself at last?  Too much totty?”  Richard glances meaningfully at Mongi Bongi, who remains, impassive, at his left shoulder.  “Too much tequila?”
Raul knits his bushy white eyebrows in irritation.  His coughing only intensifies in the struggle to reply.
Richard knew that would stir him up.  Raul has never touched a drop of alcohol in his life, let alone that God-awful cactus-crap tequila.
But then, just as it looks like his father is going to manage a reply, there is another electronic beeping to join the heart machine, and an irritating droning, buzzing from somewhere.  This place is like air traffic control, all this bloody noise! 
It’s a mobile phone and Mongi Bongi is quick on the draw.  Si?  She mutters, eyes on Raul as his coughing fit slowly subsides. 
Listening for a moment, she nods her head curtly.  She addresses Raul:  Es Francesco.  El esta en la casa.  Vamos?
Raul looks like he is going to cough again.  But he fights.  He manages a shallow breath, and then another.  Staring rather oddly at Mongi Bongi, he looks conflicted (constipated actually, thinks Richard). 
Then Raul’s lips flatten into a tight grimace, and a light falls from his eyes, almost in resignation.  Si. 
The now familiar accompaniment of the beeping machine intensifies.
He’s going to start bloody coughing again, isn’t he?
But Raul doesn’t cough.  Just as Mongi Bongi is about to end the call, he strains forward and speaks urgently.  Pero … pero no el asunto del niño.  No!” He gestures feebly at the phone with a twitch of his fingers.  “Dice.”
“Pero no el asunto del niño.” Repeats Mongi Bongi down the phone.  She waits for a response.  “Gracias a dios, si.”  She ends the call.
What “business about the boy”?  Did they mean him?  He’s not a boy!  He’s almost thirty!
Well, enough is enough.  Time to establish some sort of order in this fiasco.  Time to roll out the big guns and risk some of the old lingo del Sombrero. 
Richard fixes his father with a resolute, demanding look, opens his mouth to speak, feeling determined and foolish at the same time … and magically, actual Spanish words roll off the tongue, and he’s got far more in the tank, as it turns out, than Chinga las Sandías:
“Usted decía que hay un problema.  Con que?  Somos nosostros, tenemos un problema?”
Raul evinces no surprise at Richard’s resurgent language skills.  No, Ricardo, es tu quien tiene la problema.”
“Me?  I’m the one with the problem?”
Raul is silent for a moment.  The beeping machine slows down.  Richard can hear his father breathing through his mouth.  Raul extends his tongue slightly, and bites his top lip.  Evidently, he is on the point of saying something he doesn’t want to say.
“Son, you have always been a disappointment to me, yes?  You know this.”
“Yes, dad.”
“Disappointment — no es problema.”
“No, dad.”  Richard genuinely agrees.  Why should it be a problem?  A problem is what happens when that fantastic girl from Latvia agrees to join a shooting weekend at Cornelius Waddington’s and you lock your Purdeys in the back of the Aston Martin— now that was disappointing.
“Sons are meant to disappoint their fathers.  It is La Moda Vida.”
“Quite so.”  Says Richard, slightly puzzled that his father is choosing this moment to refer to a pop song by Puerto Rican heart-throb Ricky Martin.
“You have friends in Spesnaz, yes?  But you are not James Bond.  You do not need to be.  You have always been yourself and that, that Ricardo, is all we can ask of anybody, I will assure you of this.”
“But what is the problem?”
You are not the problem, my son.”  Raul sighs with great intensity.  “The problem is me.  La problema, una chingada de problema, es  … es que … the problem is that there is no money.” 
“Money.  None.”
Nada.  Gone.  All of it.”
“All of it?”
“All of it.”  Raul eyes Richard slowly for a moment, a flicker of mischief returning to his face.  “There are more important things, mi Huevon, than money.”
“What about this … the, the … plane, jet, the bloody Learjet?”  Richard knows he is sounding petulant.  But he is in shock.  This is an outrage.
“Leased.  Bought back.  And sold again.  Muy complicado.  Not mine, es por certo.
“The businesses.  In Mexico!  You own half of bloody Chihuahua for God’s sake!”
“Not anymore.  RICO.  Or whatever aquellos cualquieros are calling it nowadays.  The Government.  Los Federales.  And the States.  They have it all.  Complicated.   Bankers, lawyers, all these men in suits, they play with my property like marbles in an alley.  Like .. gutterkids … con los granujas del favela!  Que cabrón!”
“Fifteen billion pounds?  Fifteen billion quid, and you’ve lost it all?
“It is good to see you angry, Ricardo, but I am surprised.”  As much as he can in his weakened condition, Raul affects a haughty expression.  “I was not going to give any of it to you anyway.”
“What?!”  Richard can actually feel the pulse in the side of his neck.
“I am joking.  Of course.”
“This is the time for jokes?  Christ Almighty!  What about the European conglomerates?  Rorco?  Nadelswerke?  The manufacturing plants!  I’m surprised the German economy hasn’t ground to a standstill —”
Raul lifts his hand with authority and raises his eyebrows at Mongi Bongi.  She whips out her superphone, whizzes into an app, checks a few figures, and shakes her head. 
“Not as yet.”  She reports.
Raul shrugs, as if destabilizing the strongest economy in Western Europe is the least of his worries.  Which, as far as Richard is concerned, it is.
“To Hell with the bloody Krauts!” Richard is almost spitting with exasperation now.  “What about us?  What about me?  The factories, the plants in the rest of Europe?  The cement, the sand, the … building stuff?”
“South America then?  Columbia, Paraguay?  What are your guerrilla chaps going to do now?  What are the government going to do now?”
Raul says nothing, patiently.
“The Dutch principalities.”  Richard is emphatic, a touch of hysteria beginning to flirt with the upper register of his voice.  “The Caymans!  Your banks, yes, the banks!  Surely the banks have got clear?  They get out of everything!”
“Out of debt, yes.  Out of jail, no.”
“The plantations, the sugar, wherever the Hell they are?”
“Gone to Hell, yes.”
“The hotels, Honduras?”
“Vacancy — new owner.”
“The mines?”
“Not mine.  Anymore.”
“The laundry business in Tyneside, for God’s sake!”
“I do not like to make more of the punning at your expense, Ricardo, but … cleaned out.”  Raul allows himself a little smile.  “All cleaned out.”
“OK, OK, the farms, in Australia, Queensland, all those cows.  There must be a bloody cow left, somewhere, surely?”
“Well — well what about the Business, la Obra?” Richard blurts out.
Raul stays silent.
“Well?”  Richard is defiant.  La Obra, ‘the Work?’  You’ve never let me near it.  And now it’s all gone?” 
Richard scans his father’s face for a response.  Getting nothing, he carries on, “and I’m not saying that it’s any of my business, but …”
“Nor is it any of my business, boy, not any more!”  Raul explodes with laughter.  Gracias a dios!  Let’s leave it at that.”  He shrugs, apparently relaxed.  “There is nothing left.”
Infuriated, Richard explodes with desperation: “but … but, what about Mongi Bongi?!”
“Mongi Bongi? What is this?”
“Mongi bloody Bongi here!  Your bit of skirt!  How are you paying her?  She must cost a fortune.”
“Aahh, you mean Mondri, Mondriana.”  Raul remains unconcerned by Richard’s excitement.  “She is from Macedonia,” he adds a little smugly, as if Balkan provenance somehow explained everything. “She is a friend.”
Mongi Bongi lifts her chin very slightly and stares, a little too hard, straight ahead.  Richard is glad to see she is not immune to shame, not made of ice, after all. 
But damn his father’s bloody delusions!
“She is not from Macedonia, not looking like Claudia Schiffer, and she is not your friend.  My arse!  She’s been wiping your arse and God knows what else and she’ll want to be paid.  How are you going to do it?”  Richard is worried about his father now, and angry with his foolishness; both firsts.  “And what about these doctors?  They don’t do much for free, that’s for certain.”
“These are not doctors, Ricardo, they are US Marshalls.”
“I have agreed to co-operate, to make things easy.”
“But why.  Are.  They.  Here. NOW?”  Richard spits out each word, furious that the silent, masked figures are playing witness to his father’s last minutes on earth.  Yanks?  Pantomine yanks with handcuffs instead of stethoscopes?  Talk about over here, overpaid and … what was it? … whatever …
“Over my dead bloody body!”  He shouts.
“Calm down Ricardo, calma!  Raul is secretly proud to see his son so protective.  El huevon is soft, that’s for sure, for all his own patient attempts to harden him up, but he has ardor. 
“One trip, I said, Ricardo!  One trip only!  To see my son, I said.  My only son.  And here we are.”  Raul’s face lights up. 
For a moment, in an unexpected flash, Raul looks fiercely alive, as if he is playing like a child at this Deathbed nonsense, enjoying the drama and silly fancy dress.
And Richard is horribly, deeply, touched; or at least he assumes that is what has caused the sudden strangling, dusty-flustery feeling at the bottom of his throat and an otherwise unaccountable unwillingness to think nasty thoughts.
The feeling does not last long.  Particularly as Richard is beginning to join the dots and realise how the Americans fit into the picture.  As one, the doctors-cum-marshalls shift a little on their feet, showing signs of life for the first time, their eyes not meeting his own.  Their body language screams guilt.  He eyes them scornfully.
“I see — one last trip, one last tip, that sort of thing.” 
A minor triumph, to put two corrupt colonials in their place.  But now what?  They’re not the only ones here for the money, Richard has to admit. 
And the message has finally sunk in.  “So dad, I’m up the river without a paddle.  Or whatever it’s called.  I’m done.  I’m fucked.”
“Aahh, fuck this, fuck that … never mind that.  Not everything is gone.”
“Really?”  Says Richard dejectedly, determined to deny false hope.
“There is hope, son.”
“But is there money?”
“If there is hope, there is no need for money.”  Raul eyes his son, hoping for a flicker of assent.  There is none. 
His son is no mercenary, but he’s no saint either.  Raul sighs.
“But yes, there is hope that money will be made again.  There is, Ricardo, one business left.  And it is yours, legitimately.”
“Oh?  What is it?  A fish and chip shop?  A beauticians?  A funeral parlour?  Sorry.”
“There is one business left.  Your business, Ricardo.  And it is called PEPAC.”
“You have the pronunciation.”
“What does it do, make colostomy bags?”
“Yes, funny, yes … No, boy, PEPAC …  I will tell you about PEPAC.  I will tell you what PEPAC can do that no other business can.”