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Black Ice: Chapter 5

...They fly north in matching pairs, white-haired, ruddy-faced, retired teachers, husbands and wives who have grown alike over the years.

The flight was full of them. All wearing shirts made from that stuff Scotsmen use for kilts. If you'd asked a question about Jurassic rock formation, every hand in the place would have been raised...

But journalist Sam Craven, on his way to Iceland to do a spot of spying for his country, meets a couple of characters on the flight who are far from the norm.

To read earlier chapters of Colin Dunne’s hilarious novel please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/black_ice/

At first sight you might've thought the flight was a reunion for brother-and-sister twins of a mature age.

People who fly south want to get things: like brown, drunk and laid. People who fly north want to look: they want to look at flowers and birds and scenery, and, as a rule, they stay white, sober and unlaid. They fly north in matching pairs, white-haired, ruddy-faced, retired teachers, husbands and wives who have grown alike over the years.

The flight was full of them. All wearing shirts made from that stuff Scotsmen use for kilts. If you'd asked a question about Jurassic rock formation, every hand in the place would have been raised.

I ate what looked like a bottled brain. It was a herring which, if not actually soused, had certainly stopped off for a couple. Raw and tangy, it tasted delicious. Icelandair haven't yet mastered the art of making all their food taste like wartime soap: how they get a licence beats me.

What with the big twins and the tasty brain, it was all getting a bit unreal and then, when I tried to doze off, I imagined I heard a coach-load of football supporters fly past singing, 'I'm Sitting On Top of the World'.

I opened my eyes. And, would you believe it, the man next to me was apparently trying to steal my shoelaces.

I didn't know what to do. So I just sat there and watched. His face was almost resting on my knee and his hand was scrabbling around by my feet somewhere. When he glanced up and saw me, he mimed, 'Sorry, won't be a sec.' With a wince across his dark impish features, he made a last dive and then surfaced with a plastic carrier bag from which, tinnily, came the music.

Dipping one hand inside, he pulled out a roll of pink lavatory paper on a pink plastic wall mounting which was artistically
rendered in the shape of a seated man with his trousers round his ankles. He pushed the man's cartoon-red nose. The singing ceased.

'Clever, isn't it?'

I decided he would definitely repay a little study, so I had a good look at him. Maybe forty or a bit less, thick black thatch of hair, thin features which had been handsome until someone had rearranged the nose with a baseball bat — or similar. It curved across his face banana-style. Yet despite that, all his features added up to an intelligent merry innocence.

'Look, do you see, this chap on the bog is meant to be singing the song . . .'

'Yes, I got that far myself.'

'Splendid, isn't it? Make me a million, this little chap will. By the way, Christopher Bell. Christopher not Chris if you don't mind — I'm not a condensed-name sort of person.'

We managed a hunched handshake, during which he insisted that I drink a brennivin with him. Somehow he dismissed my reluctance — I can't stand the stuff — and whistled up a stewardess and ordered in Icelandic. Before I could express my surprise, a head of silver bristle popped over the seat in front of us.

'An Englishman who speaks another language — and Ice¬landic of all things. We are seeing miracles.' He gave a dry whisper of a laugh and said something to Christopher Bell in a language that sounded to my ears like sprained Spanish.

Christopher retaliated in the same, then added: 'I'm afraid my Esperanto is pretty shaky.'

'You see,' said Silver Bristle, who had steel-rimmed specs and looked a vital fifty-ish. 'Your friend does not understand.'

'True,' I said.

'Excuse, excuse,' he said, with that dry laugh again. 'I hear this man speaking Icelandic so I ask him if he also speaks Esperanto. And, another miracle, he does. A little, most certainly. Here.'

He gave me his card which made him a German called Bottger who was something big in Esperanto. By this time the brennivin had arrived and Christopher had got a third for Bottger.

'Do you know,' Christopher said, rotating between the two of us, 'that the recipe for this stuff is still kept secret?'

'Thank God,' I said, as the first sip turned my face into a prune. 'Don't let it out, that's all.'

'I say, don't you like it?' he asked, sounding very concerned.

'Well, if you were an alcoholic it wouldn't stop you drinking, but it would certainly take the pleasure out of it.'

That brought us nicely up to that what-brings-you-here stuff. I told Christopher about my new employer (Grimm, not Batty, of course) and the Sexy Eskies, and he put his hand on my arm and said: 'Look at it this way — someone's got to do it.'

That made me feel like a hangman. Or an undertaker, perhaps. I wasn't sure whether that was an improvement or not.

Bottger, a solo twin, was planning on striding about the scenery in large boots, visiting old Esperanto friends, so they could talk about the rest of us behind our backs. That brought up another volley of the stuff, which Christopher translated.
'He says that if only people would take the trouble to learn Esperanto, we could all speak what is in our hearts.'

'That would mean war.'

'No, no,' Bottger chipped in, in impatient English. 'That is the point. No more wars, no misunderstandings, no troubles. We see into each other's minds.'

'If that stewardess gets to see into my mind,' I said, 'there'll be plenty of troubles, I can tell you. And how about you?' I asked Christopher. 'You're an international lavatory-paper smuggler, I take it?'

He wasn't. But only just. He'd tried a few things. Farming, publishing, salesman. He hadn't hit quite the right thing. He'd heard a tourist boom was coming in Iceland and he'd come north, fallen in love with the country and learned the language. So he was setting up an import-export business, with the musical paper-holder as his first move.

'People absolutely love them. They go like hot cakes at all the seaside places, I'm told.'

'And what are you sending back the other way?' Whatever it was, I thought it had to be better than those. Not necessarily, as it turned out. He planned to ship back shoals of stuffed puffins to an unsuspecting Britain.

I'd seen them in the shops there. Depressed-looking creatures, poised awkwardly on a chunk of lava. I didn't say so, but frankly I wouldn't have wanted to put all my money into stuffed puffins.

'But this,' he said, tapping the plastic bag, 'is my second million. Any chance of a free plug in that paper of yours?'

'Not unless you can persuade a female puffin to take all her feathers off.'

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