Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Don Juan in Helsinki: 16

So did Stina get the part? Surely, even though she corpsed one of her lines, and some of the other girls were much prettier. So why am I thinking of Stina, anyway? Because now I am walking back toward the city centre again and past the old Swedish Theatre, a round white landmark building filled with tourists today. How many hours have I spent inside that building, most of them while I waited for Stina, though I have also designed stage lighting there later. I am on my way back to the Torni to pack my bags. I have a reservation now at the Raddisson Grand Marina overlooking the harbour, and my spirits have lifted at last. It is at least a 4-Star hotel and some guidebooks even list it as a 5! This good enough for me! The suite will be much nicer and the bathroom twice as big. And best of all, no more Strawberry.

It is at that particular moment I catch a glimpse of a blue beret in the sea of faces on the sidewalk in front of me. At once my heart starts to race in my chest, and I cross the street very quickly against the traffic to catch up with him. Pedestrians part in front of me, and I see his face quite clearly for an instant, before he turns and tries to scamper away. At once I break into a run to chase after him. Close up, he looked even weirder than from far away. He exactly resembles a shaved cat, with huge very pale blue eyes swimming with liquid and a little patch of fine white fur on his wobbling head. Even his movements as he runs are strangely animal, as he has been forced upright and stuffed into his golf shirt and shorts. His bright gold Birkenstocks slap up and down on the pavement ahead of me; people stare in surprise as we race by. Has he stolen my camera? Picked my pocket? Finns consider it very rude and aggressive to chase a person even if he has--the police are expected to catch all criminals--but they are all too soporific from the the sun and their own hangovers to interfere. Now, despite the fact that I am very fit and healthful of course, as are all true Finns, it has been some years since I have run this fast, so i am quite a bit red in the face and out of breath by the time I come close enough to catch him. Which, as it happens, is the main lobby doorway outside the Hotel Torni--where I was going anyway. But now, blocking my path, is the most extraordinary person I have ever seen in my life, even stranger than the Gollum in the blue beret, who cowers behind him for protection.

I will take some moments now to describe this individual, because like it or not, he will be important to my story. And I do not like that fact, particularly right at this instant, because he is swaying from side to side nudging me with his huge belly, his great fat arms extended like two hams, saying in Swedish, 'Herr Likkanen, Herr Likkanen, forgive me, this is all my fault. This is not how I planned to meet you, but please, please, first you must calm down.' And so, after a bit, I do. After all, I really have no choice, do I? By the way, Swedish has no 'please' either, just like Finnish, but he is employing the old-fashioned 'be so good'. Which isn't really quite the same, is it? But it will have to do. 'I am Dr Ivar Pretorius,' he says, extending five little sausage fingers for me to shake. You will figure from these remarks that this Dr Pretorius is short and fat. He is very very fat. In fact, he is the grossest, fattest man I have ever seen in my life. He looks exactly like a big round butter-ball dressed, despite the heat, in a formal dark three-piece suit. Over this, he is wearing a dark blue cape like a stage magician! But worse is to come! Everything about his head is perfectly round as well, beneath gleaming little piggy eyes sunk deep into his red cheeks, he has red moustaches and a triangular goatee in imitation of King Gustav Adolf of Sweden, the famous 17th-Century 'Lion of the North'. On top of his egg-like head lies a sweaty blob of thick red-gold hair arranged in heavy oily curls. One comes down to cover the top of his forehead like a comma.The very sight of him fills me with disgust; not only his great fatness, but also his obvious connection with Gollum. Is he the Gollum's 'master'? Is this who ordered him to search my room? How does he even know my name? What are two such repulsive people doing in my life? They are certainly not spies or secret policemen, at any rate--no country would employ them, not even Sweden. Whatever, I do not want to know them. I brush past him, and flee like a celebrity through the lobby to the elevator. I will go upstairs and pack, and from the front desk have the bell captain arrange for a Taksi for me. Then I will check in at the Radisson and be safe.

But life is never that easy, is it? The moment I am outside on the pavement about to get into my cab, here is this horrible great fat fellow again jostling me and getting in my way. 'Please, Mr Likkanen,' he has switched to English. 'We must talk. Please. I have flown all the way from Stockholm just to meet you. I want to make with you a business proposition.' Well, that makes all the difference of course. Likkanen always can use a new customer. In fact, I become almost excited at the idea. Could he be a representative from the giant Svenska Metall, perhaps? Or a smaller one, Fagersta or Sandvik? Perhaps he is an eccentric millionaire owner of one of these smaller firms--this would explain his bizarre appearance. The rich are not like you and me, they never look in mirrors (in this, I am very very wrong, as you will see; this fellow spends his life in front of mirrors). What the devil is he a 'doctor' of, I wonder?

'Yo, javist,' I say to him. We will speak for the rest of the time in Swenglish, which I will not try to reproduce for you here. Take my word for it, it is far more comprehensible than Finglish. 'I'm just taking this cab. Why don't you join me, and we'll find a quiet place to talk.' The doctor is skipping along beside me on the sidewalk now, the Gollum skulking along behind. When we reach the Taksi, there is a problem; after the driver puts my bags in the trunk, we discover that Dr Pretorius cannot fit inside the car. He is too fat. The driver and the Gollum pull the front passenger seat forward as far as it will go, but even when the doctor is physically jammed into the back by them, using an ice scraper for a shoe-horn, his door still never quite shuts. A small crowd gathers to stare at this amazing sight. Finally off we go, the Gollum, whom the doctor has still never acknowledged the existence of or introduced to me, in the front, me wedged somehow in the back seat with my iBook and designer backpack.

'Take us to Helsinki's most expensive bar,' I tell the Taksi driver. Instinct tells me I do not want these two to know where my new hotel is. Whatever their business is, it is likely to be crazy business. But even I cannot yet imagine just how crazy.

'Herr Likkanen, may I ask how well did you know your grandfather?' says the fat man.

'My grandfather?' I say, very surprised by his question. What has my grandfather to do with my business?

'Your grandfather was Frederik Wilander, yes?'

'Yes, yes, of course, He died three years ago,' In fact, the last time I saw him was in 1983 during my mother's funeral. He looked very old and frail to me then, yet somehow he managed to live on for another twenty years all alone in his large flat at Odenplan.

'Your grandfather was a very great man. A very great man indeed, perhaps the most powerful personality in Scandinavia,' the doctor is saying now. Tears have actually sprung to his eyes, and he dabs at them with a little embroidered handkerchief. 'Certainly he was the nexus of the kingdom of Sweden. He was everything to me for many years--my dear friend, my mentor, my teacher. You are indeed privileged to have sprung from his stock. You knew, of course, that he was a Nazi?'

Oh God, so that is what all of this is about. Someone from Svenska Dagbladet called me in New York after his death and tried to get me talk about this. 'This is old news,' I say firmly. 'He was a national socialist, yes, but he never went to Germany or anything like that. Lots of Swedes of his generation held such stupid beliefs. Big deal. They are all dead now.' Well, all but the skinheads with their swastikas tattooed all over themselves. Surely this fat fellow, who appears to be about my age, is not one of them. He is waving his hand in the air in apparent relief.

'Of course, of course. For him all that was really just a hobby. I will tell you confidentially, all of us who were his brothers in the Lodge were very embarrassed by it. We are not political at all.' He says this last in a stage whisper. 'Lodge?', I think. Uh oh.

'Tell me truly, sir,' he goes on, his voice still very low, 'What do you know about magical belief systems?'' When I hear these words I give out a loud cry of annoyance and bury my head in my hands. Has the whole world gone mad? Is it now impossible to sell plumbing fixtures without belief in magic and fairytales and UFOs and the planet Gor??? It doesn't even have to be plumbing fixtures--I am an artist. I would happily sell drawings I make with a stick in the sand, if only i don't have to put up with such nonsense. I can tell I will need lots of viina tonight, as well as many cups of coffee.

I blame the Internet. No one believed in all these crazy things before it was invented. Life was simple. In fact, it was quite a bit like drawing with a stick in the sand. I know what you are thinking of course. Oh ho, Donho, you are saying, what do you know of poverty with your successful company, your expensive Manhattan loft, your Bluetooths and your iPods, and your 5-Star hotels, LOL! But actually, I would love to be able to afford the luxury to live in a mud hut in the Amazon myself. This is something important you should know about me, because it is key to understanding my complex personality. For example, my very favorite job that I ever had in my whole life was a bit like drawing in the mud with a stick.

When I was 15 or so I decided for some reason to work during my summer holidays down at the Kouppatori Morning Market Square selling ice cream to tourists. This ambition astonished my parents. Well, to be fair, any ambition on my part astonished them. Now, in those days, we did not have the entire summer off as you Americans do; we had all of July free, most of December for Joulu, two weeks around Easter, and many traditional and former religious holidays as well, rather like in Catholic countries. We also had a half-day of school on Saturdays every week, if you can imagine that. Even the weekend is an American invention. Why I decided to work at all, I cannot recall; it's possible I was saving up for something, a Vespa perhaps. But a true Finn loves to work. Now, there was no Sun Ice in those days, no Movenpick, no imported Baskin-Robbins or Ben & Jerry's. The company I worked for, Maanviljelijäin Maitokeskus, only even made ice cream in summer. My stall sold just three flavours: vanilla, chocolate, and either lemon, licorice, berry, or, for some strange reason, peppermint, depending on the day. There weren't so many tourists buying ice cream, either, and much of the market square still shut down at noon, so often I had free time on my hands. From boredom, I somehow got the crazy idea into my head to sketch caricatures of people and charge money for them. With my first wages, I bought an easel, a huge pad of drawing paper, and a set of water-colour pens and made a little sign. It was a terrific success. All afternoon long, families of Norweigians, Swedes, Germans, and British brought their children or their grannies over to me to have their profiles drawn--often I would add little cartoonish touches to make them laugh. so they would buy more ice cream. In the evenings, when the sunlight became cloudy and dim, and lights would go on at the hotels nearby, sometimes some of the girls would slip out to see me again. I would practice my English on those who spoke it, and we might go for long walks holding hands in the Esplanadi and even do a bit of snogging in the dusk of midnight. Once or twice even some bonking in the park. This is all I really want from life. just to sell my drawings, to eat some ice cream, to bonk a beautiful girl, and then fall asleep beside her and have lovely nice dreams. Likkanen could be happy forever only with that. Likkanen is really a most simple dude.

I raise my head from my hands and tell the driver, 'Make that a bar that sells ice cream.' He drops us off a few blocks away at the Mecca on Korkeavuorenkatu, not the best bar in the city, but certainly the most expensive. And the one which, I suspect, pays him the most to deposit tourists at its door. However, it will do perfectly, as it turns out; upstairs in the second-floor lounge, I can check in my bags, and there are plenty of enormous leather couches to house the vast bulk of Dr Pretorius. Since it is lunchtime, the place is mostly empty, and 'DJ Peppermint' is several hours away from arriving with his 'mix of eclectic, openminded house music', as advertised.

Sweating, Dr Pretorius orders both the duck and the veal with licorice-spiced onions, red peppers, and lime puree. By the time it arrives, he will be pink and panting with desire for it. He a is man who would eat the world if he could, it is a serious disorder. I order coffee and viina and the only ice cream they have, which is hazlenut. 'A bowl of milk for your friend?' I ask the doctor, who simply ignores me and plays nervously with his napkin. He has checked in his cloak at the door, with a theatrical flourish. The Gollum sits opposite us, sunk deep into a lounge chair, his white, hairless arms folded over his kneecaps like sticks. His eyes are half-closed and his head rocks up and down slightly on its long, sloping neck, as if he is sniffing the air. Occasionally his eyes will widen, and he will stare intently at something and open his mouth as if to speak--or feed--but he never does. He seems like the survivor of some terrible disease, AIDS, perhaps, or a profound mental illness. Have these two escaped from a lunatic asylum? No, of course not--no one could stay so fat eating in such a place. Or so thin. It is as if the doctor is eating, drinking, and talking for the both of them. Perhaps the Gollum does the bonking. Certainly such a fat man is not capable of it; beneath the pin-striped folds of his tent-like trousers, I notice, his belly completely hangs over his groin. But I do not question him how he manages a bonking life. I do not want to think of such things. it is disgusting to me. 'How did you know I would be in Helsinki?' I ask him instead.

'I have been in contact with your office for months. A Mr Jesper Pedersen,' he replies. 'He has been very helpful.'

'I assume you are not from Svensk Metall?'

'Oh no, it is not plumbing I wish to buy from you. It is something worth far more.' He licks his lips. 'Worth many millions of euros. I hope we can come to some sort of arrangement quickly.'

I shrug. 'I'm sure we can. But I'm very confused what it is you want to buy from me.'

'Oh, I'm sure you know what I am talking about, Herr Likkanen,' he says sharply. He is so melodramatic, that I am almost expecting him to say he wants to buy my 'soul'. But of course, that is quite a silly thought. My soul certainly isn't worth any millions of euros, ROFL! I can let him have that quite cheap.

'Not at all. I assume it's something you couldn't find when you looked in my hotel room.' When he hears this, he gives a great start of surprise and turns even pinker, then makes a few passes in the air with his hands,

'Ah ha, you have inherited the astral eye from your grandfather. I thought you knew much more than you pretended. Yes, I admit it, I am one of the two or three most powerful magicians in Scandinavia. Your grandfather, of course, was much greater, but now there is another here even more so. That is why I cannot stay here long, sir; the penumbra of Finland is very hostile and diffuse. The solar energies are far stronger than the lunar, on which I depend. Of course, that is typical of this time of year.' He shivers and, leaning forward, lowers his voice again dramatically. 'Even in the ancient Eddas the Finns were considered the most evil magicians; the one who rules this place now frightens even me.'

'By magicians,' I say, 'You mean stage magicians, I take it. Like at children's parties.'

This sends him into gales of bubbling, chin-wobbling laughter. Even the Gollum cocks his head and looks sympathetic, as if he would like to join in. 'Yo, yo,' the doctor splutters, 'Stage magicians! The Wilander wit. How I have missed it.' Our drinks arrive: coffee and viina for me, coffee and a vat of Coca-Cola for the doctor. The Mecca Lounge is dim even with the afternoon sunlight radiating through its curtains; everything is earthtones, brown and beige, which to be honest is just a bit last year. Music whispers from the ceiling, lounge classics from 60s TV shows mixed with the latest tracks from Ibiza, and rarest of Scandinavian luxuries, air conditioning drifts over to us from the gleaming chromium bar, bearing with it the cool smell of spirits and wood polish.

'How much do you know of your family history?'

'I hate history,' I tell him.

'I will tell you something of it then, Herr Likkanen. Forgive me, but you are not being honest with me. You are a very stubborn man to deal with.' I cannot shut him up, so I treat him as I would any sexy woman--I forget what he says as soon as he says it and just think of bonking. My problem is that I have no one specifically to imagine bonking with at this moment, so I find myself thinking of the Strawberry instead. Ugh! His meal arrives. But still Dr Pretorius keeps talking.

'The history of Swedish magic begins even before the birth of our greatest mystic, Emmanuel Swedenbourg,' he says in Swedish now, cracking a duck bone with trembling anticipation. I cannot fail to notice that he has not washed his hands. 'In 1346, in fact, when the "Brotherhood of Swedish Magicians" was formed in Stockholm. Since then we have survived many wizard wars and religious persecutions; if you are ever interested in the details, I have written a book on the subject. In 1908, there was a great rebellion against its Grand Master, Count Orlando Staaf, by a group of younger mages led by Tiberius de Wrang, Oscar Krook, and his wife Signe. The Krooks' daughter, Fairgun, married Frederik--she was your grandfather--and when Krook died in 1949, your grandfather Frederik became 'Alderman' of the magical chantry, as the Grand Master was now termed by the rebel mages. Now, Frederik, as you know, had been very influenced by the Aryan mystical cults popular in Europe in his youth, such as the Ordanen and Thule groups, so he was very sympathetic to the German Nazis. Among them, he had many close friendships and contacts, which is how he came into possession of the document we now wish to purchase from you.' Finishing the duck in a few greedy mouthfuls, Dr Pretorius now turns his attention to the veal. His napkin is tucked into his cravat like a great bib; streams of grease trickle down his chins. 'Then comes the threat from Finland.' He gestures with his fork. 'In order to cement an alliance between the two countries, Frederik marries your mother. Frika, into the family of the Finnish mages. And all goes well, until you are born. Then the alliance ends, I'm not quite sure why. But from that point on, you might say the "magical essences" of the two kingdoms are at war again. Only you can bring them back together again.'

'Me?' Ah, at last I understand. I am really Harry Potter! Of course, now everything makes sense, ROFL!

'There are many types of magic, Herr Likannen. There is the magic of the individual, whether earthly or etheric. There is the magic of the Invisibles, who come in many shapes and forms and histories. There are the adepts, the Awakened Masters, like myself. And there is the magic of stones and trees, of locii, of cities, even of whole countries and kingdoms. The racial identity of a people is a form of necromancy by itself. Roma was a goddess as well as a unifying idea. Your grandfather believed in this; this was the principle he was attempting to refine when he had his youthful flirtation with National Socialism. This was what he was still working on when he became senile. But he was not working from a tabula rasa, oh no, quite the reverse. He was in possession of a guidebook, which, no matter how coarsely and profanely written, was also an occult Rosetta's Stone. You ask how I know? Because I have seen it, touched it, read a few pages from it--Frederik permitted me this before he locked it away. You are his heir, sir; somewhere in his effects is the document we are seeking. I can say no more aloud. I do not want the Finnish warlock to overhear this conversation.' I shouldn't think you would want anyone to overhear it, I think to myself--particularly a shrink, LOL!

'I can honestly say, I totally don't have a clue what you're talking about,' I tell him instead, finishing my ice cream. All this talk has made me surprisingly hungry. For some time I have been observing the doctor's companion, the Gollum. I am trying to imagine this poor creature as a normal person, able to talk and to eat and move about without creeping and cowering, because he is reminding me of somebody I know. He is about thirty or so, I decide, and might even be a handsome sort of fellow if he were not obviously mad and anoerexic. Then suddenly, I realize who he resembles: me...in fact, he looks quite a bit like me! Perhaps instead of a secret daughter, I really have some sort of secret son.

'Of course, you are a businessman. You must entertain other offers. I understand this. Let us merely say, the Swedish Chantry cannot afford to be out-bid. I will start with an offer of five million.'

'Euros?'

'Dollars. But I strongly suggest you agree quickly, Herr Likkanen. The longer you wait, the more people will come to hear of this, and...well...' He spreads his arms to symbolize catastrophe. 'The document can be stolen, lost, destroyed. Its reality is always very fragile even at the best of times. With such mystical works, meanings can alter after a reading or two. Words begin to swim on the page. Type rubs off on your fingers, ink disappears. Don't delay, is my sincere advice. In fact, I implore you to make up your mind soon, for the sake of the whole world.'

The whole world! Well, I warned you, didn't I? I told you this guy was totally crazy. Now it is important for you to understand this--Likkanen does not believe in magic. No, no, not of any kind, not even astrology signs or lucky numbers. Likkanen believes only in reality, in what his seven senses tell him, and in science. And, of course, in bonking. And the thought of my grandfather being a 'powerful mage'--well this is quite a hilarious idea indeed. My Morfar Frederik was certainly no magician, he never even did any card tricks for me. He was just a sad, lonely old man, a retired chemical engineer who never recovered from his wife and then his daughter's deaths and so went quietly senile in his big empty, lonely apartment. Occasionally I would get letters from his neighbours and once or twice, a bulletin from Swedish Social Services. All this talk of 'wizard wars' and such is just some more Internet craziness IMHO; more than likely this 'Dr Pretorius' and his 'Finnish warlock' are just two Star Trek cultists who have had some big fight at a Trekkie convention over an episode detail or a starship specification or something. Still, I am always very polite to madmen. "Well, I will consider your offer very seriously, of course, once I find out what you are talking about. But now I'm afraid I must really be going. I am taking a short journey to a spa in Oulou, and I don't want to miss my train. But I will email you.' I stand up. We formally exchange handshakes and business cards. 'No, no, don't get up.' I say, smiling, to the Gollum, 'I will see myself out.' It would be weird if he was my long-lost son, wouldn't it? Somehow I am already feeling protective of him. As well as repelled, of course.

To Dr Pretorius I say only, 'I will be in touch with you.'

'Oh yes,' he replies, attacking his veal. 'Oh yes you will. The Invisibles tell me you will be needing a large sum of money very soon.'

Whoa, dude, I am telling myself all the way to the hotel, those are two crazy mothers. And of course, I have no idea what they are even talking about, this 'magical document' they want to buy from me. But...well, there is something I have not quite mentioned to you yet. When my grandfather died in 2003, he left me everything. The flat I sold at once, of course, along with his old furniture--the cash-flow came in very handy at that time. But also there was a safe deposit box of his in a Stockholm bank which I never bothered to have emptied. To be truthfully honest, I had forgotten all about it. There is no key to it, just a number combination, based on a certain date that he once made me memorize. I decide to take a short side trip to Stockholm in the next few days in order to to open up this box and have a look inside. And if there is anything in there that looks like the 'Necronomicon' or whatever, I will be happy to sell it to this great fatheaded moron for $5 million. Who wouldn't? Suddenly Likkanen is happy again. And when Likkanen is happy, the whole world is happy.

The Grand Marina is no Burj Al Arab, but it will do. I check in under the false name of 'Mr Seppä' (ha ha, that means 'Mr Smith' in Finnish), then take a long, luxurious shower in my nice big bathroom. Free of the Gollum following me everywhere and with no Strawberry to nag me, I can do what I like again. My time is my own! I decide to take the new Helsinki Metro out to Itakeskus, the largest indoor mall in all Scandinavia, and go shopping at Stockmann's. I will buy lots of expensive clothes. Then I will stay up all night drinking coffee and viina and eating sweets. And so what if I should happen to fall asleep again? The thought of eating Stina as well isn't really so bad. The prospect of a bit of easy money makes anything more palatable. Though, of course, I think to myself, it's hard to imagine that guy really having $5 million to waste on an old manuscript. But I refuse to let this thought damp my good mood. Perhaps he is an heir, too. Before I go, I check my email again to see if there is any reply from Stina. But still nothing. Except of course many kind messages from lawyers in Nigeria finding heirs to large estates. I need to move on, I decide. Perhaps on Monday I will try to telephone Maarit.

Next time: Wing-man at Studio 54.

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