Idiot Joy Showland

This is why I hate intellectuals

Month: March, 2013

Why George W Bush is the greatest living painter

Political violence is the continuation of art by other means. Wherever there are shock troops marching in the streets or big pyres of burning books or the sounds of mysterious gunfire near the parliament building at night, you can bet that behind it all flutters the soul of a sensitive young boy who always wanted to be an artist. Brutishness is easy; anyone can commit an atrocity in the right conditions. Violence requires a highly rarefied aesthetic sensibility.

Painters carry out wars of aggression. They’re in love with the image of things. Poets go for internal ethnic cleansing. The word must be properly spoken. Prose writers like revolutionary terror. The text is radically open. There have been fewer dictators from the other arts, but we could extrapolate. Photographers make good use of death squads; the gaze and the judgement are united in the click of a shutter. Sculptors are big on mass internment; the body is always already buried in the rock. Playwrights tend towards bureaucracy, musicians to exemplary massacre, film-makers to redistributive looting. Lenin and Mussolini wrote prose. Stalin, Mao and Ho Chi Minh were poets. Saddam Hussein wrote poetry alongside his anonymous novels. Churchill was a painter. Hitler was a painter, but he penned a few verses as well. George W Bush is a painter.

 This is the void. A line of detainees goes in, shackled, shuffling along in orange jumpsuits. Paintings of dogs come out. Nobody knows exactly what happens inside, or if they do, they don’t say.

George W Bush has produced fifty paintings of dogs. For every drone strike he ordered, he has produced one painting of a dog. For every round of golf he played while in the White House, he has produced two paintings of a dog. For every million Americans left unemployed at the end of his administration, he has produced five paintings of a dog. George W Bush has produced one painting of a dog for every thirteen US soldiers killed in Afghanistan during his Presidency, one painting of a dog for every hundred Palestinians killed by the IDF, and one painting of a dog for every two thousand, two hundred and thirty-seven civilians killed in Iraq since the invasion. Bush’s art teacher told reporters that he would go down in history as a great artist. I think she’s right.

There have been a couple of critical pieces on Bush’s paintings, and they all ask the same question: what do these paintings tell us about George W Bush’s inner life, or his psychology, or his presidency? They’ve all got it arse-backwards. If you follow that line you’ll only ever end up with trite reductive analogies. The running water represents Hurricane Katrina, or Bush’s need to atone for his crimes, or his fear of death; it’s a vaguely amusing parlour game, but not much more. If you want to know the truth, there’s no point looking at Bush’s self-portraits. You have to look at his paintings of dogs. The real question is: what do George W Bush’s dog paintings tell us about contemporary society? What do George W Bush’s dog paintings tell us about violence? What do George W Bush’s dog paintings tell us about art?

Imagine a creature from another world, something impossibly old and infinitely curious. Drifting between silent stars, she picks up a single stray transmission from an unknown planet in an uncharted backwater of the Milky Way. A picture of a dog. If our alien has eyes to see, she’ll be able to extrapolate our entire world from George W Bush’s painting of a bichon frisé on a blue background. A hierarchical class society looks out from its sad round eyes, capital accumulation can be inferred from the downwards tilt of its mouth, its outstretched paws tell you everything you need to know about the long slow decline of the nation-state. Most of all, though, our history is inscribed in the featureless blue plane on which the dog reclines. In fact, it’s swarming with tiny figures: child miners coughing dust, factory workers plunging from rooftops, women with acid scars bursting across their faces, people who wake up shaking from the bombs going off in their dreams, people who wake up shaking from the bombs going off in their ears. A society capable of producing that shade of blue leaves a lot of bodies in its wake.

Spend enough time looking at George W Bush’s paintings of dogs and it all starts to make sense. The war in Iraq was little more than the geopolitical expression of kitschy sentimentality. Imperialist universalism is the logic of the dog painting extended to nations and peoples. Radical evil is the weaponisation of bad taste. We’ll be greeted as liberators: of course we will, we love our dogs. History is on our side: of course it is, we like nice things. Our war will usher in a new age of peace and stability in the region: of course it will, we leave bright colours in our wake. George W Bush’s paintings of dogs represent a new height in Western society’s struggle to decouple art from violence. (This is why his nude self-portraits are all in bathrooms: only in the cleansing ritual is nudity non-erotic, and eroticism is after all only another form of violence.) It’s an impossible task. Violence and art are inseparable; the more you try to scrub the canvas clean of everything not clean and pleasant, the more hideous it becomes, the heavier the rain of bombs.

That’s why George W Bush is our greatest living painter. Nothing expresses more clearly the horror of existence than the most hated man in the world’s loving portrait of his dog. More than any gloomy conceptualist, Bush gives us the truth, the undisguised omnicidal violence of the nice and friendly. His paintings of dogs point towards the one subject all other contemporary art shies away from: the final extinction of the human race. Bright eyes and wagging tails, cities in ruins and skies scorched black. Art kills.

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Every Hugo Chávez obituary in the Western press

Darth Hugo Destruktor Chávez, the outspoken and inflammatory Venezuelan leader, died yesterday in Caracas when the Invisible Hand of the free market reached down his throat and shook loose his gall bladder. He is survived by his four children and his millions-strong army of terrifying cyborg drones.

To his supporters and those implanted with his mind-controlling Chavismo-chips, Chávez was Emmanuel, the reborn Christ. To his detractors, he was Double Hitler. As ever, the truth is somewhere in the middle – while he was certainly born, he was not Christ; and while there was only one of him, he was most definitely Hitler.

Hugo Chávez exploded onto the world stage in September of 2005, when he took the stand at the United Nations General Assembly to complain at length about the air conditioning. However, he first came to prominence in the hitherto-unknown land of Venezuela in 1992. In that year, he and a band of avaricious raiders attempted to steal the Seer’s Eye, an enormous sapphire kept in the vaults of the Federal Legislative Palace. Thankfully, his plot was foiled, and the stone was destroyed before it could be used as a component in Chávez’s Ionising Doom Cannon, a laser weapon that would have been capable of extinguishing the Sun.

However, that which is dead cannot die, and Chávez escaped the dungeon dimension he was cast into to come to power in 1998. While not going so far as to actually do anything remotely dictatorial, Chávez was far from a democratic leader. Instead of competing honestly in elections, he provided services and raised the standard of living for the people of Venezuela, ensuring their gratitude and thereby gaining an unfair advantage at the polls. Much of the funds for this insidious election tactic of ‘making things better’ were rerouted from the newly nationalised oilfields: through this wanton kleptocracy, billions of petrodollars were withheld from deserving rich white people. Under his rule, the murder rate soared; a tend analysts have linked to his predilection for riding round Caracas slums at night and picking off pedestrians with a hunting rifle.

Absolutely nothing happened in April of 2002.

On the international stage, too, Chávez made some severe missteps. From his innumerable lazy Sunday morning lie-ins with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, in which he and the tie-hating weirdo spent hours curled up together on the sofa watching reruns of Friends, to his decision to travel back in time to 1939 and sign the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on behalf of both nations, Chávez maintained a policy of automatic support for tyrants, dictators, traffic wardens, accordion players, queue-jumpers, and other evildoers.

For all the vaguely defined suffering that I’ll assume he’s caused, Chávez’s death opens up new opportunities for Latin America. Freed from his yoke, leaders across the continent are now free to abandon his schemes for mutual assistance and non-usurious development lending. Only a broad network of grassroots citizen activists stands between the Venezuelan people and the rapprochement with financial imperialism that they definitely want, even if they don’t know it yet.

I’ve always thought that a good way to test the sincerity of anyone who claims to be on the Left is to find out their attitude to Hugo Chávez. Those who try to disavow him tend to be, in general, useless: they want a pure, ideal socialism, not socialism as a real material movement. Chávez wasn’t perfect. In some areas he went too far; in many he didn’t go nearly far enough. Nonetheless the immense good his Bolivarian Revolution has done for the people of Venezuela – and for people across Latin America and the world – is undeniable. What must be remembered, though, is that Hugo Chávez didn’t do any of this alone. His achievements were those of every doctor, teacher, worker, farmer and organiser who worked to improve the lives of those around them. The social movements he helped build and connect will long survive him. Descanse en paz. La lucha sigue.

Future Europe – Ahmet Weshke and the mystery of the falling man

Recently I came across this piece in the Wall Street Journal by the litigation-happy racist Niall Ferguson, a man with a face like an undercooked Jeremy Clarkson and opinions to match. Writing in 2011, he takes it upon himself to paint a picture of how Europe will look in ten years time. It’s an awful article. Sometimes the sheer stupidity of his predictions is gobsmacking: war between Jordan and Israel – really? The reintroduction of Austrian nobiliary particles – really? George Osborne, the ‘Iron Chancellor’ – really? Of course it all plays into his ideological agenda, but that could be forgiveable if he’d simply done it better. Ferguson’s worst error is one of genre. True to form, he takes a smugly objective overview of the political developments over the course of his decade, without ever stopping to think how life in Future Europe might actually be lived. It’s inherently inaccurate. The Europe of the mid-21st Century won’t look a thing like Ferguson’s prediction. It won’t be a calm appraisal. It’ll be pulp fiction.

Ahmet Weschke woke up in a bare room stinking of liquor fumes and the prostitute’s perfume. His Interface was still hissing silently in one corner of the room. Onscreen, the face of a newsreader drifted like a spectre above a roiling sea of static. He chucked a shoe at it; the image stabilised. Ahmet dressed himself hurriedly and wolfed down a breakfast consisting of three slices of bleached-white bread as he watched the morning headlines. It was the same old shit. A bunch of fanatics had declared another Islamic Emirate in a valley somewhere in the massif central. This was happening every couple of months now. Some dumb kids straight out of a banlieue madrassa would drive into a rural region and burst into the farmhouse of some rotund Gallic swine-farmer; they’d shoot him and maybe a couple of the local villagers they found enjoying charcuterie or dressing immodestly, then raise the black flag of jihad and wait for the European Army paratroopers to come and dispatch them as quickly as possible to Paradise. It made sense, really; better a nice little burst of rape and plunder followed by a swift death than decades tramping around a gloomy concrete suburb. The other items were just as predictable: more pictures of emaciated English refugees milling around the Scottish border, more helicopter footage of the interminable riots that were destroying Los Angeles as comprehensively as an earthquake, more grim reports of mounting Chinese casualties in Kazakhstan, more dull analysis of the land deal with the Saudi Empire as it collapsed into an acrimonious squabble. Enough.

As he hurried down Holzwegstrasse to the S-Bahn station, Ahmet tried several times to adjust his tie before giving up and stuffing it in his pocket. The train was packed with perspiring commuters; the air inside was humid with sweat and spittle. More people clung to the handles on the sides and the roof – doing so wasn’t strictly legal, of course, but after the number of bodies on the lines had started to seriously impact the network’s efficiency the corporation running the transit system had decided to put handles on anyway. Everyone on the train was Goggled; their irises were pale, their gazes immobile. The only people who didn’t wear Goggles were the religious fanatics, the most impoverished of the guest workers, and the police. Officers of the European Department of Civil Order were forbidden from using AR: only the police still believed in the real world.

Commissioner Traugott was waiting at his desk when Ahmet arrived.
“You’re late,” she said. “And you smell of booze.”
“I didn’t have time to shower. You’d rather I was even later?”
“If you want to look like a slob, it’s up to you. We’ve got a case. Bankenviertel. Apparent suicide. Suspicious.”
“What, has Denmark gone bust again? Come on, Angela. I’m a good detective. I don’t need another fucking depressed banker.”
“It’s not quite that. You’ll see.”

The body was naked and twisted, dashed with fragments of concrete, one knee bent backwards, one elbow embedded in a shattered paving stone. From one side of its head a tongue lapped against the pavement. The other side had exploded into a constellation of blood, brain and skull. The index finger of his left hand had been cut off. A clean straight wound. Above the body rose the sheer glass infinity of the EuroBank Tower, painfully reflecting the sun’s fury. Somewhere up near the eightieth floor, one window-pane was broken. Ahmet was in a foul mood. He’d expected his EDCO card to get him whisked straight through the checkpoint into Bankenviertel; instead the Israeli private security guards had made him wait for ten minutes by the reinforced wall that surrounded the business district while they checked his credentials. At least the civilians in line had been able to entertain themselves with their Goggles. Ahmet had counted concrete slabs instead.
“Let me guess,” he said. “Cleaner? Fell in the middle of the night?”
Officer Hans, looking slightly ridiculous in his blue-and-gold uniform, gaped at him. “Just because he’s black doesn’t mean he’s a menial worker,” he said.
“It’s not because he’s black,” said Ahmet. “Look at his teeth. Discoloured, one premolar missing. This guy isn’t a banker. And the scar across his thigh, there. Looks like barbed wire. So, probably a refugee, possibly an illegal. And the inflammations, over… there. Venereal disease. Am I right?”
“He’s not a banker. We did biometrics. He’s registered. Joseph Kutenge. Came over in ’31 with all the rest. You know, when the Congo basin went dry… but here’s the thing.”
“What?”
“OK, first of all, he wasn’t wearing Goggles.”
“So what? Not everyone uses augmented reality.”
“But it’s unusual, isn’t it? Shit, even my mother wears them, and she remembers the DDR.”
Ahmet wondered how many years Hans’ mother had before she’d have to enter the euthanasia process. Maybe she’d been saving up and could afford the monthly life-extension payments. He hoped so. He liked the kid, even if he’d never let him know it. “What else?” he said.
“Kutenge works in a warehouse outside of Offenbach. Menial labour, like you said. There’s no way he’d have a Bankenviertel pass.”
Ahmet glanced at the high concrete wall rising above some of the lower buildings near the edge of the business district, shimmering in the day’s heat. “Then how the fuck did he get in?”
Hans shrugged. “That’s the question.”

~

Kutenge’s body was being loaded into the police van, draped in an antiseptic-looking white sheet. The forensics team had been and gone, sweeping their Portals over the corpse, crouched over the dead man like a flock of vultures. Back at HQ, a computerised visualisation of the crime scene would be built and pored over: impact velocity would be calculated, a crowd of skinny analysts would try to determine whether Kutenge had fallen from the window or been pushed. Ahmet didn’t trust the analysts: they got results, but it wasn’t real police work.
He drew Hans to one side. “I want you to go to this guy’s house,” he said. “Talk to his wife. Give me more to work with than Brussels statistics. I’ll have a look round the EuroBank Tower.”
“Are you kidding? I can’t go down there, boss.”
“Why not?”
“Kutenge lived in the Offenbach Camp. Look at me. I look like a fucking Hitlerjugend. In uniform, as well. I wouldn’t last five minutes.”
This was true. Police never investigated any crimes in the refugee camps. If the militants there grew too rowdy, or if there was a particularly shocking massacre, a European Army unit would storm in and dispense some crude justice; enough to shut the liberal bloggers up for a couple of weeks, at least.
“Anyway,” Hans continued, “Traugott said she wants Detective Haufman to talk to the people inside.”
“She fucking didn’t. Why’d she do that?”
Hans flinched. “Look at how you’re dressed, boss.”
Ahmet grunted. “OK,” he said. “I’ll go to Offenbach. You stay here. And if that fucker Haufman tries to enter that building, shoot him.”

Ahmet left his jacket in the car. He undid the top three buttons from his shirt and slicked his hair back a little with spit.
“How Turkish do I look?” he said to the driver.
“You not been in the camps before, sir?”
“When I was younger. And thinner.”
Past the sterile zone of barbed wire and tarmac that surrounded it, Offenbach Camp was a mess. Washing lines hung between plastic tents and corrugated-iron shacks. Suspicious eyes glanced out from dark alleyways, sometimes accompanied by the oily gleam of gunmetal. Women stirred oil-drums filled with soup behind signs in French or Arabic or English. Ahmet tried not to peer too ostentatiously at the map in his hand. If he could wear Goggles this would have been so much easier; as it was he had to navigate the camp by instinct. Kutenge’s house was near the centre, a tiny bungalow built from exposed cinderblocks with glassless windows. Ahmet recognised the symbol of the United Nations stamped onto one of the concrete pillars: this place was old. He knocked on the door.
It was opened by a tall woman in a faded Vietnam World Cup 2030 t-shirt and grubby shorts. “Que voulez-vous?” she said.
“Mrs Kutenge? My name’s Ahmet Weschke. I’m with the police. Do you think I could come in?”
She frowned. “Is this about Joseph? I already know.”
“I just want to ask some questions about him. So we can find out what happened.”
She looked puzzled, but let him in. Inside there was a mattress on the floor, a plastic table with some rickety chairs, and a stove. A muted Interface was propped up against one wall; onscreen a minister paced up and down a stage, yelling silent hosannas. “There is nothing to ask. Joseph worked in the warehouse. He went to work every day and then he came home. He went to church. He did not drink. He did not gamble. There is nothing to ask.”
Ahmet thought of the sores around the dead man’s genitals, but he didn’t say anything. “Do you know what he was doing in Frankfurt? How he got in?”
“No. He didn’t come home last night. And then today I am told he is dead.”
“You don’t seem very upset.”
“Last year my two daughters were shot here. In the camp. I have cried enough. I have cried all my tears.” Her expression soured. “And where were you when my children were killed? When a child dies in the camp you are nowhere. But when someone dies so that rich men have to look at his body, then you care about him. It is sick. It is sick!” She stamped her foot, but her anger seemed somehow feigned. The woman’s irises were a misty grey. Who else could be looking out through those eyes?

~

Somehow, Ahmet found himself at the back of the room as Haufman explained his team’s findings. A hologram of Kutenge’s body spun slowly above his desk. “The lack of injuries associated with glass impact is consistent with our working hypothesis,” Haufman said. “It appears Kutenge first broke the window, then jumped through. We consider it statistically unlikely that he was pushed. Motivations are unclear. A political statement, perhaps.”
Traugott tapped her fingers on the table. “But how did he get in?”
“The Bankenviertel Group have kindly agreed to release their CCTV records, which we’re still analysing. But Kutenge was a refugee. He arrived here at Marseilles. He certainly has plenty of experience in climbing barriers.”
“Whose window was it?” said Ahmed.
“I’m sorry?”
“Whose window was it?”
Haufman sighed. “The office belonged to Jeremy Smythe-Braistwick.”
“The CFO? The one who’s trying to sell half of Europe to the Arabs?”
“Yes, the CFO of EuroBank. Herr Smythe-Braistwick is co-operating fully with the investigation, and he’s asked us to pass on his sincere condolences to Kutenge’s survivors.”
Afterwards, Ahmet was approached by Officer Hans. “You think Smythe-Braistwick killed him, don’t you?”
“I don’t think anything, Hans. I collect all the facts I can, until I know.”
“Sure, boss. But you think he killed him, don’t you?”
“I think someone was leaning on Kutenge’s wife. When I spoke to her she was Goggled. And I know there’s no way he could have climbed that wall. Thousands of people got out of the camps in Marseilles, they were falling apart. Nobody gets into Bankenviertel if they’re not invited. Frankfurt could be nuked and the people in there would be selling short on radioactive debris the next day.”
“So someone brought him in?”
“I’m not saying it was Smythe-Braistwick. Not necessarily. But everyone knows the bankers get up to some pretty kinky shit after office hours. So let’s say there’s a couple of them, high-level board members, cruising round Offenbach as the warehouse closes. They see some poor black refugee they like the look of. They drive him into Bankenviertel, bring him up the tower, do whatever the fuck they do, then credit him a couple of Euros and send him back to the camp. They do this a couple of times, maybe. But this time something goes wrong. They push him too far, they get too sadistic. That missing finger… So he complains, or resists, and in the struggle, he gets flung out the window…”
“Haufman said the window was broken first.”
“Haufman’s a moron. OK. I’m going to take a shower, and then I’m going to call on Herr Smythe-Braistwick. I want you to go through the CCTV from Offenbach. See what Kutenge did when he left work. See if he got into any cars.”

The elevator in the EuroBank Tower was bigger than Ahmet’s apartment. He stared at himself in the mirror and flicked a yellow particle from the corner of his eye. Kutenge and Smythe-Braistwick, Smythe-Braistwick and Kutenge. Both refugees, in a sense, except Kutenge had to trek across a continent, riding in some warlord’s pickup across the Sahara and launching himself into the toxic seas of the Mediterranean; he had to escape the Marseilles refugee camp before the Army liquidated it, he had to cross minefields and hide under bushes from drones. Smythe-Braistwick probably just jumped in his helicopter and touched down in Frankfurt while London was still burning.
Ahmet was received in Smythe-Braistwick’s office, a huge, tastefully empty space. The broken window had already been replaced. Smythe-Braistwick – tall and thin with fashionably long hair and an artificial-looking tautness to his face – greeted him from behind his desk. “I must say, Mr – Weschke, is it? I’m a little perplexed by your appearance here. I’ve already spoken to your colleague, not three hours ago.”
“If you’ll permit,” growled Ahmet, “I’d like to follow up on Detective Haufman’s enquiries.”
“By all means. Can I interest you in a drink?”
It was an effort, but Ahmet ignored him. “Have you ever been to Offenbach, Herr Smythe-Braistwick?”
“Jeremy, please. And occasionally. But of course I don’t like to go too near to the camp.”
“So if I were to search the cameras there for your numberplate, or your face, over the last week, I wouldn’t find anything?”
“I highly doubt that. Why do you ask?”
“You weren’t in Offenbach at any point yesterday.”
“Yesterday, Mr Weschke, I was in here until ten in the evening, meeting with my associates in Riyadh. At ten o’clock I was driven to my home in Bad Homburg. My car passed the Hessenring checkpoint at about, oh, ten forty-five. Please do check. You’ll find everything I say to be true.”
“And you locked your office after you left?”
“The door here has biometric security. It can only be opened by myself or my secretary.”
“Then how did Kutenge get in?”
“I don’t know, Mr Weschke. I presumed that answering that question was your job rather than mine.”
“Mr Kutenge was Congolese. You have something of a history with that part of the world, don’t you, Jeremy?”
“I assume you’re talking about ’28. It’s so tiresome. I didn’t cause the famine. Failed government policies caused the famine. Kleptocrats and demagogues caused the famine. I traded commodity futures. At the same time I was selling short on Icelandic wheat. There was no famine in Iceland in 2028.”
“A lot of people still blame you, though.”
“And I’m sure they have every right to think what they want. As I told your colleague, I believe Mr Kutenge’s suicide was a kind of political protest. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to attend to.”

Hans was beaming when Ahmet returned. “You were right, boss,” he said. “OK. Firstly, Kutenge was credited four hundred thousand Euros yesterday. Anonymous transfer, so we’d need a subpoena. But then I looked at the footage. Kutenge left the warehouse at six thirty last night. The other workers all take the bus back to the camp. Not Kutenge. He walks up Seibenstrasse, stands on a corner – then look.” He pulled up an Interface. “A black Mercedes pulls up. Kutenge gets in.” Onscreen, the car pulled away, past the rows of low corrugated-iron buildings. Its windows were tinted.
“Where’s it going?” said Ahmet.
“I followed it until it crossed the river. Then after Kaiserstrasse the cameras cut out. Power failure, apparently. When they come back on again the car’s gone. I don’t like this, boss. It goes deep.”
“Did you run a trace on the car?”
“Of course I did. But you don’t need me to tell you who it belonged to.”

He was waiting when Smythe-Braistwick came out. The man was striding on his spindly legs out from the glass canopy of the EuroBank Tower, his long coat flapping around him in the night wind, looking like a Victorian vampire who’d discovered cocaine and exfoliating skin cream. Ahmet wanted to pounce on him, beat his skull into the concrete. He wanted to kill the fucker for having the nerve to think that he could murder someone, even a resident of the camps, and get away with it. Instead he walked out in front of him and presented his EDCO card, all proper and correct, before slipping on the handcuffs and making the famous announcement enforced by the European Court of Individual Rights.
“Herr Smythe-Braistwick,” he said. “Under paragraph eight, subsection fourteen of the protocol on the accused, I hereby inform you that you are suspended of those rights delineated in lines thirteen to eighty-four inclusive and line one hundred and twenty-eight in chapter seven of the declaration of the rights of the citizen; also that you are hereby included under the definition of an ‘arestee’ as delineated under paragraph three of the European Department of Civil Order working charter, with your legal responsibilities being given in paragraphs four through nine…”

~

“You’re off the case, Weschke,” said Commissioner Traugott as Smythe-Braistwick left the building. “In fact, as of now, you’re suspended. We know exactly where he was all last night. You arrested him without filing a report or consulting me, without a shred of actionable evidence. What on Earth did you think you were doing?”
“My job,” said Ahmet.
“Well, it’s not your job any longer. Herr Smythe-Braistwick’s people were kind enough to send us their own dossier on you. Whores, Ahmet? In your position? It’s unconscionable.”
“You’re not giving the case to Haufman.”
“As it happens, no. A communiqué from Brussels came in. The Kutenge case will be handled by the internal banking regulator.”
“You’re fucking kidding.”
“Bankenviertel is their jurisdiction. Go home, Ahmet. Leave your gun. The tribunal’s convening next week.”

There was nothing to do, except to buy a bottle of whiskey and hope that when he woke up again his gun would once again be on his bedside table, his EDCO card would still be valid, and the Kutenge case would recede into a bad dream. The Interface was still running when Ahmet returned to his apartment, still tuned to the rolling news stream. A row of EA troopers were standing in front of an angry crowd throwing rocks and hoisting placards. Nous sommes tous Joseph Kutenge. Another camp, another mob; this one didn’t even seem to be in Germany. They’d built an effigy of Smythe-Braistwick and were busy tearing it apart. Burning European flags coughed black smoke into the sky. The soldiers were grinning. They’d love nothing more than to be able to empty a clip into that ungrateful mob, and soon enough, they’d get the order. There’d be another massacre, and it was his fault. Ahmet switched to an entertainment stream. A new gameshow: minor celebrities tried to have sex on stage while the audience shouted antaphrodisiac words at them. “Brezhnev and Honecker kissing!” shouted one. “Unemployment is at sixty percent in Portugal!” yelled another. A woman stood up. “Joseph Kutenge!” That got a round of applause.

Ahmet was woken the next morning by a knock on his door. He shambled over. It was Haufman.
“The fuck do you want?” he said. “Come to gloat?”
“No,” said Haufman. “I’ve come to help.”
“You can help by fucking off.”
“Listen to me, Ahmet. I know we’ve had our differences, but you need to listen. You were right. You were right about Smythe-Braistwick. He knew Kutenge.”
“Have you told Traugott?”
“You’re not getting reinstated. She’s right, you shouldn’t have arrested him. But now you’re off the case you can help me find out the truth.”
“I thought it’d been turned over to the internal regulators.”
“It has. Can I come in?”
Ahmet let Haufman in and flopped down on his bed. “Talk,” he said.
“Hans showed me the footage from the warehouse near Offenbach. Kutenge’s been getting in that black Mercedes, every other week, for six months now. But the night he died, the data’s gone haywire, the cameras keep cutting out. Someone’s been trying to mask his movements. Not very well, by the looks of it. So I looked at the records for Smythe-Braistwick, and it’s a mess. He was negotiating the Saudi land deal in his office and attending a board meeting and taking a piss all at the same time.”
“What does any of this have to with me?”
“You’re off the force, aren’t you? I can’t do anything now. None of us can. But you’re just a private citizen. You can fly out and confront him about it.”
“Fly out?”
“Smythe-Braistwick left Frankfurt this morning. He’s gone to Athens.”
“You want me to go to Greece? Unarmed? Are you crazy?”
“I’ve already booked your flight. You want to solve this case, don’t you? You want your job back, don’t you?”
He did. More than anything in the world.

~

Bullet-holes still ran along the walls of Athens International Airport. Outside, the complex was surrounded by three lines of European Army tanks. From his seat in the plane, Ahmet had seen the deep scars running through the city where all the buildings under the flight lines had been razed. Ever since the Acropolis had been dynamited, Athens was only useful for its airport, ferrying tourists in armoured cars to one of the privately-owned Greek islands. Those islands still above sea level were meant to be nice: little rustic havens, full of charming goat-herders smiling for the Chinese tourists. Ahmet had never been, of course.
Haufman had given him an itinerary. Ahmet squinted at it through his hangover. Flying had never agreed with him. Right about now Smythe-Braithwick would be lunching with Prince Faisal in the green zone around Syntagma Square, near the parliament building where what remained of the Greek government tried to pretend that their entire country wasn’t a wholly owned subsidiary of EuroBank.
A bus pulled up in front of the concourse. “Zone one!” the driver shouted. The machine-gunner on the roof stared into the middle distance.
As they drove along the fortified expressway the odd Molotov cocktail would smash against the reinforced windows. Then the machine-gunner would fire a few quick bursts into the buildings on either side. Ahmet had planned to sleep on the journey; that clearly wouldn’t be happening.

He caught Smythe-Braistewick just as his lunch was finishing. The banker had shaken hands with a man in a keffiyeh outside the restaurant. Prince Faisal stepped into a waiting car and was sped off. As soon as Smythe-Braistwick was starting to take his loping walk back to the Hotel Grande Bretagne, Ahmet leapt at him, pinning him against a wall. “Tell me what happened,” he said.
His victim squirmed. “Mr Weschke? I was assured you’d been relieved of your duties.”
“I have. I’m just a private citizen here, same as you. And you’re going to tell me everything.”
“This is absurd. Commissioner Traugott will hear of this, I can assure you.”
“Look around you, Jeremy. You’re not in Frankfurt any more. It might be pretty quiet here, but I reckon I could march you just down the road and see how you fare outside the green zone. Have you ever had to fight? I have. I’ll admit, I was never top of my class in combat exercises, but I reckon I could hold my own. How about you? You’d better start talking. You’d better start telling me the truth.”
Smythe-Braistwick gulped. “The truth?”
“I know you killed Kutenge.”
“I didn’t kill him! You idiot. You want the truth? I loved him.”
The words almost knocked Ahmet off his feet. “You what?”
“I loved him. Oh, but he had his wife, I don’t know how he felt, I don’t… but he was so strong. He was so unlike anyone I’d ever met. I’d never hurt him. Never.”
“You loved him? You loved him and you let him live in the camp?”
“I tried to reason with him, I did. I offered him an apartment in Frankfurt. He refused. He told me he wasn’t a prostitute. He was so proud…”
“You lied to us.”
“Of course I did. As you said, he lived in the camps. He lived behind his concrete walls, and I lived behind mine. You think I could just say that I was in love with a refugee? I’d be ruined. We’re not supposed to cross those walls, Mr Weschke.”
“You gave him the key to your office.”
“I registered his fingerprints. And he killed himself. I know there are… cultural differences around our kind of love, but I never expected…” Smythe-Braistwick looked as if he was about to cry. Ahmet stepped back from him. The man’s face flushed red. “And don’t you think I’ve had quite enough hurt without you following me across Europe to say that I murdered him? Are you satisfied now?”

Ahmet’s flight back to Frankfurt wasn’t until the next morning. He took a room in an anonymously boxy hotel in the airport complex. All the hotel Interfaces were in use, so he bought a set of disposable Goggles and took them up to his room. Well, he wasn’t governed by EDCO rules now. As he slipped them over his eyeballs the little discs started to vibrate; it wasn’t painful, but not particularly pleasant either. As they did so everything around him started to change. Objects grew outlines. Colours were brighter, richer, more saturated. A gauzy glow settled over the hotel room. As he looked out of the window, a carpet of grass unfurled over the wasteland of rocky scrub and demolished buildings that surrounded the airport. There were wildflowers dancing in the breeze; here and there a rabbit would leap out of the dewy pasture. This was how most people saw the world: looking at the dead earth and seeing a meadow.
A series of icons faded into view, hanging over the horizon. Ahmet called Haufman in Frankfurt. “Smythe-Braistwick didn’t kill Kutenge,” he told him.
“That can’t be,” said Haufman. “We know he did. We have evidence.”
“We were wrong. They were in love.”
“And lovers never quarrel? You were on the beat once, weren’t you? You’ve seen what people in love can do to each other. Listen. The camps are getting out of hand and the regulators aren’t doing a thing. We need to solve this. And soon.”
“You’re a fucking cretin, Haufman. Don’t you get the feeling someone’s being set up?” Ahmet rubbed his hands in his eyes. One of the Goggles fell out. “Fuck,” he said. As he bent down to retrieve it, a bullet smashed the window above him and buried himself in the hotel wall.
There was a brief silence. “What was that?” said Haufman.
“The fuck do you think? I’m being shot at!”
“OK. Ahmet. I need you to be very calm here.”
“I’m a fucking Buddhist.”
“Did you see who fired at you?”
“Of course not.”
“I need you to look.”
“You’re kidding.”
“I’m receiving your visual feed now. Just glance at him. Just for a second.”
Ahmet slowly raised his head above the broken window. A dark figure, shimmering in the heat, was standing on the roof of another glass building across from the hotel. Through the Goggles he was outlined in white, a rainbow arcing around him. Another shot raised a cloud of feathers from the bed.
“Did you get him?” said Ahmet.
“Hang on. Well, he’s not Athenian. Military rifle. Israeli merc, by the looks of it.”
Two more shots broke the mirror behind him. “So what do I do? I’m not armed, for fuck’s sake.”
“Sit tight, of course. You’re in one of the most heavily guarded places in Europe. He’s got another thirty seconds, then he’ll have to get out of there.”
From behind the hotel came the sounds of helicopter drones.

Ahmet was moved to a high-security room, but he still didn’t get much sleep. He pulled his duvet onto the floor and lay down there, watching pornography on his Goggles. In the airport the next morning he bought a succession of four hundred-Euro coffees while he waited out his flight’s six-hour delay. He cleared Greek airspace as the sun set, twitching, wired as hell.
Just as they were coming in to Frankfurt a pair of Air Force jets descended upon the plane. Suddenly all Goggles were turned off; people craned towards the window to see what was going on. Throughout the city the lights were dead; only the Bankenviertel still glittered behind its concrete cage. The Maim reflected a sea of fire. Across the river, Offenbach was burning. A few fires cracked from the north bank, and explosions rose like budding tulips in the middle of the inferno. The refugees had broken their chains: Joseph Kutenge was being avenged.

~

Ahmet’s flight was diverted to Brussels. He liked it there, and decided to stay for a few days while the fires were put out. Some of the area around the European Quarter was still scarred from the nationalist bombings, but the new complex was pleasant, if you ignored the biometric cameras and remote-controlled guns on every balcony. There were even a few new parks around the Place du Luxembourg. There was no refugee camp in Brussels. Brussels was safe.

Ahmet knew who had killed Joseph Kutenge.
The window had been broken before he’d been thrown out. The CCTV data had been messily scrambled. It was all a trick: a murder expertly disguised as a murder sloppily disguised as a suicide. The footage from Offenbach the night Kutenge died hadn’t been partially redacted: the whole sequence had been slotted in. Someone had picked up Joseph Kutenge that day, but they weren’t in Smythe-Braistwick’s car. Someone much more powerful than any petty European banker.
It was a matter of waiting for them to find him. There wouldn’t be any mercenary snipers in Brussels; the automatic guns were everywhere. So he waited. That took three days. In the meantime, he wandered about the city: he drank whiskey on a bench by the pond in the Parc Léopold, he ate fufu for six hundred Euros in Ixelles, he watched the news. The Kutenge revolt that had broken out across Europe had been put down. Smythe-Braistwick had stepped down, citing personal reasons. The Chinese were announcing a new offensive in Central Asia. The world kept turning.
On the third day a black car pulled up suddenly alongside him and he was bundled in. Sitting across from him was the man he had been waiting for: dark-haired and stern-faced, with a sculpted beard and an antique cane resting across his lap.
“You’re not a hard man to find, Mr Weschke,” he said.
“Nobody is, these days.” Ahmet leant forwards. “It was you, wasn’t it? You killed Kutenge.”
“I suppose I did. If it helps, he was dead long before we threw him from the window. We are not barbaric.”
“You tried to frame Smythe-Braistwick. He was obstructing you. He wouldn’t make concessions.”
“He was very disruptive to the arrangement, yes. But there was one thing I hadn’t counted on.”
“Yeah. Me.”
“That’s correct, in a way. Never did I expect that the EDCO would send someone as staggeringly incompetent as you. You didn’t inform your commissioner before arresting him. You didn’t even wait until the full extent of our interference with the security systems had been uncovered. And your personal… degeneracy even managed to leave the investigation in the hands of a gang of sympathetic banking cronies. You very nearly ruined the entire plan.”
Ahmet didn’t say anything.
Prince Faisal al-Saud laughed. “It doesn’t matter, though. Smythe-Braistwick is out of the picture now, and the land deal can go ahead. On our terms… Nothing to say to that, I see?”
“One thing,” said Ahmet. “Look into my eyes.”
“As I thought.”
“Look into my eyes.”
Faisal stared.
“I know what you think. The police don’t wear Goggles, do they? But I’m not a policeman. Prince Faisal, say hello to Commissioner Traugott of the European Department of Civil Order. Prince Faisal, say hello to the world.”
The prince stared into Ahmet Weschke’s grey eyes and saw, hovering above his own reflection, the glint of cold metal.

~

Two years later, after a lengthy enquiry, the Saudi land deal was ratified. From the Atlantic to the Urals, ancient forests and vineyards were torn up to become vast square fields of wheat and soy. Villages were flattened. Lakes were filled in. The sprawling cities of the Middle Eastern desert would be fed. Europe had finally found its purpose in the world.

That same day, Ahmet Weschke was found dead in his cell. A brief investigation concluded that he had committed suicide. Detective Hans Keller dissented from the official verdict, insisting that his former mentor had been murdered. The case was not re-opened.

The refugee camps continued to grow. The Kutenge revolt and its brutal suppression were not forgotten. Millions remained, waiting for the day when they would sweep the cities with all the terrible justice of a tidal wave; waiting to claim the world.

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