Frankie Fey

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 42


During the prolonged evening meditations, Frankie's 'essential self' had begun to morph from a precious, secret, personal jewel inside his head, into a vague feeling that he was part of an all-encompassing consciousness that included every living creature on the planet. The idea was intoxicating. It meant his thoughts could change the thoughts of others! And that meant that if there were enough people thinking the same thing they'd be able to change the world!

Fortunately, this delirium only lasted until he caught a chill and was excused the night meditation classes to catch up on sleep. Another potentially dangerous change was his developing ability to remain mentally calm when stressed; able to meet pleasure and pain, praise and blame, good and bad luck, with genuine equanimity. A state of mind which, if controlled is very useful, but if permanent is more or less the definition of a zombie. It was his brain's way of coping with the insecurity of his position.

In the free time during afternoon meditation, Frankie continued walking up the track to an abandoned village, climbing the nearest hills, and gazing at the magnificent panoramas. Recently he'd been crawling around examining the multitude of small plants and insects. From higher up the track, the ancient stone monastery with its arched doorway and crumbling old bell tower perched precariously on the edge of a mountain, looked extraordinarily romantic. But then so did the villages. The sad fact that nothing ever lives up to our imagined ideals is the cause of much dissatisfaction. He realised that people always want things to be a certain way, and when they're not they sulk. If humans would only want what is possible, they'd not need retreats and drugs and psychiatrists.

Frankie needed certainty. Without it he was in danger of falling apart or doing something really foolish.

Constantly having to shelter from cold winds he failed to understand why monks would choose such a benighted place, although he understood their desire to escape from human society; brilliantly described by Edward Bellamy in his book, Looking Backwards that Frankie had recently downloaded from Gutenberg. Bellamy likened nineteenth century human society to a giant coach pulled along rough roads by the masses of humanity. The driver is hunger, and the seats on top of the coach are comfortable, well up out of the dust, with fine views. From their vantage point the few lucky passengers critically discuss the merits of the straining team. If a sudden jolt of the coach causes passengers to fall to the ground, they are instantly compelled to take hold of the rope and help to drag the coach, on which they had before ridden so pleasantly. It is therefore regarded as a terrible misfortune to lose one's seat. Those on top feel sorry for the poor wretches pulling them along, but never consider assisting them, even if the coach gets bogged down or comes to an impossibly steep hill. Hunger lashes the toilers so pitilessly many faint at the rope and are trampled in the mire. At such times the passengers will call down encouragingly, offering ointments and salves, exhorting them to patience while holding out hopes of possible compensation in another world for the hardness of their lot in this one. When the coach is travelling well again they are relieved, not for the toilers, but because they haven't lost their seat. The misery of the toilers at the ropes does not engender pity in the passengers, but pride in the value of their position and a determination to hold onto their seats even more desperately than before. If the passengers could guarantee they would never fall from the top, they would never trouble themselves in any way about those who drag the coach.

Most days when he was sitting quietly, men in rough peasant clothes would trudge past carrying bulky loads on their backs if they were going up, and compact loads if going down. They never acknowledged his presence, even when greeted. Sometimes they stopped at the monastery, sometimes they didn't. There was no point in asking the other monks; none spoke English and none showed the slightest interest in him, or anything else it seemed. The youngest was a mere boy of fifteen, the oldest a fellow in his fifties. All were lean to the point of emaciation. All seemed to have given up on life, accepting in bovine submission whatever fate befell them.

Every day Frankie became increasingly depressed.

One afternoon he was summoned for a chat with the Master who asked in heavily accented English if he had any questions about life.

Frankie shook his head. Life posed him no problems, and even if it had he wouldn't ask a man who thought starving himself and his flock of food and sleep was the way to live. 'It's interesting learning about life in a monastery,' he said without much conviction.

'What have you learned?'

'That there's little difference between lives of constant toil and unquestioning obedience in the real world and that imposed here.'

'The difference is that here they learn to accept their lot and stop complaining.'

'What about enlightenment?

'Their emotional burdens are lighter—that's a form of enlightenment.' His smile was smug and Frankie's distaste for the man became dislike.

'It seems to me they just become indifferent, accepting passively all the shit that's thrown at them.'

'Acceptance is not passive resignation. It changes the focus from fighting the present moment to working with the present moment. We need to accept and understand that it doesn't matter if we become stressed or calmly breathe deeply; the world remains the same. The bell of life will keep ringing. Failing to accept things as they are is a source of much suffering.'

'If humans had behaved like that from the beginning, we'd still be hunter gatherers.'

'Would that be a bad thing?'

Frankie smiled wryly. 'No, it would be a good thing—at least for the natural world.'

The Master nodded. 'So you approve of our methods.'

'No. Good ideas and behaviours should emanate from within the individual himself, not be imposed by force. You're taming them, not educating.'

'That's one way of putting it. But if they leave here they'll be able to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, be better workers prepared to accept lower wages, be more law abiding and better citizens.'

Frankie pondered the 'if' but decided not to go there. 'Better for the wealthy, but not for them.'

'There are always winners and losers, Frankie.'

The next day was clear and sunny after a heavy frost. Snow would be coming soon so he had to get out! After a strenuous walk Frankie found a private spot out of the wind to luxuriate in the thin sunlight that to him was the best possible tonic. Soon Wiley would return and he would escape with Shiv. His mood improved, he laughed and was suddenly able to see his situation objectively. He wasn't trapped, except in his mind.

A soft footfall caused him to tense, ready for action. What action he had no idea. A snapping twig. Unable to bear the uncertainty, Frankie sprang up and away, landing on a rock beside him, crouching like a nervous panther.

'I've disturbed you… apologies. I didn't realise anyone was here. I'm Michael.'

The speaker was of medium height and build, probably in his forties, dressed in heavy padded trousers and a fleecy coat with the hood pulled up. Impossible to judge his physical characteristics, but the voice and language was American English. He took a deep pull on his cigarette and tossed the butt away.

'That's litter.' Frankie remarked reflexively.

'It's biodegradable, and the ants love them,' the man responded in a pleasant baritone. 'You're Frankie. I recognise you from Lu's description. But you're leaner, harder, older and not so cuddly as I expected.'

'Lack of food, plenty of exercise and I've never been cuddly.'

'You look good.'

'Are you chatting me up?'

'Yes. I've a proposition.' He paused and gazed off into the distance.

'So you didn't stumble upon me by accident.'

'No, I followed you.'

'A stalker in the mountains—good title for a book.'

'Do you like being a monk?'

'It's mind bogglingly boring and pointless… perhaps that's what's ageing me.'

'I wouldn't be surprised.'

'What's your proposition?'

'Wiley told us about your independence, common sense, intelligence and personal charm, so as I'm looking for an attractive, fit, fluent English speaker as manager of a new nightclub, I wanted to offer you the position.'

'Here? In the mountains?'

'In Kolkata. I've just received an email informing me that the people who want to dispose of me have themselves been disposed of, so it's safe to return.'

'Just you or all three of you?'

'All three. We've a string of nightclubs across India.'

'I'm not qualified. I've never managed anything.'

'You've managed your life and finances very well.'

'You've checked my bank account?'

'Isn't the Internet wonderful?'

'It's a privacy and security nightmare.'

'Wiley told us you didn't object to his advances, and that's another reason I want you—it's a gay club.'

'I did object to his advances, and I'm not queer.'

'And you're not homophobic.'

'When are you going?'

'Today, because Wiley will be back the day after tomorrow.'

'He has my valuables. I'll have to wait till he gets back.'

'You don't honestly think he's going to let you leave, do you?'

'Why not?'

'You know about this lucrative hideaway for wanted men, and how he charges through the nose to keep the unwanted members of wealthy families drugged up until he disposes of them after they've been 'missing' for a reasonable time.'

Frankie's innocent heart froze mid beat. He sat down on the rock with a thump. 'So that's why they're all like zombies. I've never had anything to do with drugs so it didn't enter my head. But the Master? Surely he…'

'It was his idea.'

'But…but where do they get the drugs from?'

'You've seen porters passing every day, drugs on the way down and guns on the way up. Over the hills and far away is a mountainous country that is planning a revolution. Wiley's a middle man for many unpleasant things.'

'So when he goes away he's…?'

'Undoubtedly. So, are you going to hang around waiting till he shoves you off the cliff?'

'He's already tried that once. What about that girl… Shiv?'

'She's coming too. Lu has a job for her. So… if you're coming we'd better get your stuff.'

'I'm coming!'

Back at the monastery they were met by Lu and a bloated, balding, greasy Englishman called Algy. Both the others were dressed in slacks and blazers, stacking suitcases outside the main door. Shiv in his sari was assisting. He looked up in relief when Frankie walked in. Neither of the other two showed any interest.

'Wait outside Wiley's office.' Michael jogged down the corridor and returned seconds later with a fireman's axe. After smashing the office door he did the same to the cupboard and told Frankie to get whatever was his, while he went to ask the others if they wanted anything of Wiley's before he smashed the place up.

Frankie quickly put on his shirt and concealed his passport, debit card and money in the secret pockets. There were about a dozen other passports and credit cards as well as bundles of rupees also in the cupboard, so he grabbed a passport of a similar size and colour, a Visa card and a small wad of rupees, and stowed them in his satchel along with his other clothes, so if Martin made a rough check he wouldn't wonder where the real passport was. The rest of the money he added to his own, hoping it wouldn't be noticeable. The shirt was bulky and made of a canvass-like material, so even when the pockets were empty it looked the same as when full.

When Michael returned, Frankie was zipping up his trousers. 'That feels better,' he said in relief. 'That bloody monk's robe made me feel an utter idiot.'

Michael was too busy smashing every thing in sight, especially the electronic gear, to respond. Three minutes later they joined the others waiting for porters.

'What's Wiley done to annoy you?' Frankie asked Michael.

'The bloke who told me it was safe to come back also told me that Wiley was the one who informed on us. That's what.

Six porters arrived, hoisted the luggage onto their backs, then headed a procession down the stony path.

They'd been walking for about ten minutes when Algy shouted, 'Any moment now!' They stopped and crowded the edge of the track, looking back towards the monastery.

A sudden flash of orange was followed a full second later by a deep thudding boom. The ancient structure quivered, collapsed and became just another small landslide tumbling down to the raging river far below. For the second time that day Frankie froze, turning wide-eyed to Michael who was already striding boldly down the track.

'The monks? Those men and boys? That fifteen year-old kid?'

'How long to you reckon they suffered? Ten seconds? That's if they even realised what was happening. They were for the chop anyway in a year or so. We did them a favour.'

Frankie had to run to keep up. 'We could have told the police about the place and freed them.'

Michael's laugh echoed off the hills. 'The police will have had several fingers in this pie. Welcome to the normal world where dog eats dog and the devil takes the hindmost. Come on, I thought you were fit. It'll be dark before we get to the bottom if you don't speed up a bit.'

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