It’s late at night in the President’s private apartments. All is quiet. Outside, the night sky swirls with stars, but the only ones who’d care are fishermen eager to read next morning’s weather conditions. As ever, the beauty of nature bores the locals.
President Matías Guili sits on the sofa and mulls over the afternoon’s events. Earlier in the evening, he visited Angelina’s for a small snifter of cognac and commiseration, too preoccupied for much else. It’s been one hell of a hard day.
Today’s events call for otherworldly insights, the kind a spirit he knows can provide. He must summon him properly but can barely bring himself to say “Lee Bo,” the ghost of a name.
He rises from the sofa to fetch a candle, which he lights with the seldom-used coffee table cigarette lighter and places in the equally clunky ashtray beside it. Then he gets up again and turns off the room lights. No drafts enter the room, yet the flame wavers briefly before coming to a stable pinpoint of illumination. As age increases, so does ceremony. He looks at the candle and shakes his head; nothing but protocol lately. Politically, he pretends to tackle each and every situation, but it hardly takes more than a superficial mental swish. Real judgments are rare; he merely moves from ceremony to ceremony. Not once in the last year has he actually had to shift out of autopilot. Probably the last time was that Tamang decision. And he wonders why the days are so monotonous?
The flame stays perfectly still, not a flicker of movement. He stares until all thought settles like ash. Presently the flame appears to flare. He strains his eyes, then looks up to see sitting there before him…Lee Bo, glowering head-on. Matías nods. The apparition nods back.
Lee Bo—the erstwhile Leigh Beau—is formally attired in late eighteenth-century English frock coat, kinky hair tied behind in a queue, an intense scowl on his black face. His dark complexion could make him a Navidadian beachboy who chases pale-limbed Japanese tourist girls as they deplane; only his clothing and stern expression would seem out of place.
“Been a long time.”
“Aye,” says Lee Bo in a mannered basso profundo. “How fare the islands in my absence?”
“Lots going on, but nothing new at all. Same as ever here below.”
“Words becoming a man half unencumber’d of this mortal sphere.” The voice trails off into echoes, this visible form a mere shadow of his real self millions of leagues away. “Or do you feign this distant air?”
“Just as you might be putting on airs for me.”
“Nay, a cursed habit, that.”
“You speak from experience? Your time in London?”
“My conduct is inconsequent. ’Twas you who summoned, was it not?” Lee Bo steers the conversation back on course.
“So it was. I called you because something’s come up. Today, an entire bus disappeared on the way to Diego with forty-seven Japanese and two Navidadians on board.”
“Not each conveyance shall reach its destination,” muses Lee Bo.
“True. But the problem is this one bus—why didn’t it get there? It’s not the general principle but the particulars that concern me.”
“Ah, but did not you yourself just say that tho much transpires, little signifies? The vagaries of one coach, methinks, are of scant interest.”
“I’m a politician, so by day at least, I can’t be so casual about things. A bus has gone missing, and I need to know. Was it a natural accident? Was it a plot? And if so, by whom?”
“And the diff’rence? Is not the plotting of the human mind a work of nature?”
“If I wanted to take a philosophical view, I’d turn in the keys to my office. Politics is a hands-on job. I can’t just look on from above the clouds.”
“The coach is safe. As are those on board.”
“Then you do know! Who’s behind this?”
“Ah, the undercurrents are deep indeed.”
“When will they return?”
“Alas, I can no more divine the morrow than the next man, being privy to but one small part of the present scheme of things, as you must know.”
“I suppose so, yes,” admits Matías, even as his mind races to consider the ramifications of the delegation’s predicament. Yet if Lee Bo can’t read the future, who is he to try?
“This Suzuki is an evil knave,” says Lee Bo out of nowhere.
“There are no saints in his position.”
“Nay, far worse than that. The reek of money is on him, the stink of blood and filth.”
“That too comes with the job. Though his proposal does have its appeal.” He assumes the spirit already knows of the plan to build up the Island Security forces.
“As well it should. Man was born to desire medals and regalia and his own men-at-arms. Once the thirst for wealth and women has been quenched, that is.”
“Damn my honor. Do you trust them, tying me to Japan with that half-assed scheme?”
“’Tis a difficult strait that lies ahead. Especially when your own ship rode in on a wave of independence.”
“Promising a clean sweep of Japanese ties served its purpose. It got me elected.”
“Not once, but twice.” A momentary silence falls between them. “Tho ’tis deep inside, you have a mind to see the islands return to Japanese thralldom. You’d have Japan stay a short sight out to sea for an aire of freedom, whilst granting you boon and protection all the same. You’d like to see that, wouldn’t ye? You’ve always been more Japanese at heart than any Japanese.”
“Think so? I can’t really tell, myself.”
“It lies frozen and awaits the thaw, perchance in that miracle cooker in your servant Itsuko’s larder. Yet from the headings you have taken, I can tell: you fain would tell them to abandon this pretense of oil stores. You’d have them lay in a full-rigged naval base as grand as anything the Yankees have, the better to check the Chinaman’s advances in the South Formosa Sea and the Spratlys. Propose that, and ye’d no longer be some tick on the map no one e’er heard of. You’d be world-class. Have you no such ambitions? That lot who toppled the gate are after the same thing.”
“That lot? Who?”
“The waves are moved by many tides.”
“Damn it, man! Do you have something against proper names?”
“’Tis no longer my world. I see but the pitting of forces and take no int’rest in affixing names each to each. To be sure, you have a dire conspiracy in your midst, above and beyond whate’er plots you may ascribe to Suzuki and Kurokawa. Either you fail to notice or already think you know…”
“And which would be better, from your perspective?” asks Matías inadvertently.
“I merely observe the theatre of this world,”
answers the spirit with neither expression nor gesture. “’Tis most enjoyable, but brooks no comment. I favour your conversation, but ’twould not do for any words of mine to alter the course of the drama. All is as natural phenomena: we may predict the weather but ne’er control it, therein lies the fascination. And yet I do espy a seed of turbulence in ye that might well sprout a typhoon. Most promising.”
“Then there’s still something I can do about it?”
“Can and must,” laughs Lee Bo with a dry, ghostly cackle that echoes back two centuries. “Just last night, you met with someone who will o’ershadow your future more even than this Suzuki.”
“Who do you mean?”
“Aye, you noticed all right. You were quite taken.”
“And we talked?”
“Nay. You did only behold. But that trice suffic’d to cast her spell.”
“That new girl at Angelina’s?”
“The very same. Think on it. That face bewitch’d you. Made you yearn to see her, to speak to her, somewhere without Angelina.”
“Possibly. But haven’t I shown interest in new faces there before?”
“’Tis diff’rent this time. Heretofore was common lechery, pursued with Angelina’s grace and knowledge. Better she indulge your appetites wi’ plain consent than leave ye to nibble in secret. Full confidence has she in your mutual affections.”
“I didn’t look at the girl that way, not this time. For one thing, she’s there as a maid.”
“Nay, you didn’t view her with a carnal eye. But mark my words, that wench will furrow deep in your life.”
“Come on, I just heard she was from Melchor and looked her over. I used to see faces like that as a kid, but that’s all.”
“Aye, the countenance of a clan given to spiritual insights.”
“So whose side is she on?”
“Neither friend nor foe. Naught in this world is fix’d from the very outset. Tho ’twould be wise to pay court to her. Methinks your courses are bound to cross and mark a turning point.”
“Now that you mention it, Angelina did say the girl was maybe psychic. But only about little things.”
“Clairvoyance has no great or small. ’Tis the doer makes bold or weak. Nor shall the clairvoyant necessarily profess all she knows. Any more than all vessels disclose true position…” And with that, the spirit vanishes.